Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Bike Predicament

The Fuji Tahoe SL hardtail MTB is made in Taiwan with its 21-inch aluminum frame size (with an effective top tube length of 24.8 inches) would apparently cost about US$2,100 in the U.S., but at least 15% less in Taiwan if it were made available here. This is the bike I would use to tour Taiwan and Japan.

I sold my Kestrel before I left Kona 19 months ago, and since returning to Taiwan, I have been riding an old MTB that is somewhat small for me. When still in Taipei, I occasionally visited bike shops after being informed that at such and such a place they could sell me a tri-bike or something like that.

However, it was easy to get a little disillusioned, as road bikes in stores seldom were over 50cm, and parts and things imported from overseas were very expensive. At the same time, most of the money I was getting was being used to pay for fairly extensive repairs to our former apartment, and I was so busy I did not have any time to ride, no were there many places to ride anyway.

Having moved to Kaohsiung in Southern Taiwan one year ago, I realize that if I had the time, I could bike and train, too. The roads are relatively flat, it seldom rains, and if you ride about 20 minutes away from here you are very much in the countryside. Of course, there are bound to be quite a lot of 35-ton trucks hauling dirt or other cargo, but at least they are fairly easy to see.

Recently, I have been thinking of getting a mountain bike, the idea being that I could carry necessary things for extended travel (with overnight stays elsewhere) and venture on to more isolated roads where the surface may not be very good (to visit the indigenous "mountain" peoples, for instance).

So about two weeks ago, I started visiting various bike shops in Kaohsiung that stock Taiwan-made brands, like Giant, Merida and GT (which apparently is American, although the bikes are made here). By trying to learn about how to determine what is an appropriate bike size from reading articles on the Internet and also asking salesmen and looking on the Internet websites, it appeared there was a fairly good range of bikes for taller people. However, none of the shops actually stock these large (actually XL in my case) bikes, for obvious reasons. In addition, when I ask them if they can get hold of a bike my size made in Taiwan that I could buy were I to visit a bike store in the UK, I am told either the large bikes are now manufactured in Europe or the company (which makes them here) hasn't got any in stock and is not planning to make any for the foreseeable future, or that the export department is like a separate company, etc. It makes me wonder whether I should just wait until I go overseas and buy one there and bring it back.

Today, I visited another bike shop that sells the Fuji brand of bikes. I like the name (since it sounds Japanese to me), and from reading the catalogue I noticed that the bikes are generally longer than other brands with comparable seat tube lengths (which is good for someone like me with longish arms). The store manager even went so far as to say he would phone the head office to see if he could get the larger sizes that appear in the US catalogues and are made in Taiwan. So maybe there is a glimmer of hope, and maybe with some arm-twisting I might be successful.

Another thing that interested me was that Fuji has a tri-bike called the Aloha. I think that it has that name because it is a way of being friendly when you whizz past someone and leave them in the dust. And, guess what, they sponsored Matt Reed, at least in the past as I don't know who he is with now. Matt is 6' 5", so a little taller than me, and he would need a larger bike than someone like Lance or Macca.

The Fuji Aloha road bike (up to 60 cm), a cheaper model to that which Matt Reed was apparently sponsored to ride. To justify having a bike like this (if I could get one), I would need to spend a lot more time training than I am now, time that I don't really have, and I would need to spend more time in places like Kona where I would have people to train and race with. So maybe something to dream about for the future.

So I don't really know if I will eventually be told that I can get an appropriate bike through them or whether I will just be riding a 17" MTB indefinitely. Money is of course an issue in the case of a tri-bike. Not that I don't have any, but this year the focus is on one of our son's first year college expenses, and so I would be wiser to just think about a relatively cheaper MTB for now.

One thing is that I don't really want to compromise and end up either buying something too small (like the Kestrel was (57 cm?), which is why I did not bring it back) or something too cheap that is poorly designed and built. Only the other day, I almost in desperation bought an MTB for US$550 that was almost big enough, etc., but which actually felt pretty awful. The Kestrel in Kona at least taught me how something good should feel.

Should my present inquiries lead nowhere, I guess the next step will be to try to locate the factories where some of the good frames are made - they surely must be on this island somewhere. Maybe the bike in the end won't have any brand name, but if it is big enough and feels good, it should at least be able to do its job on the Queen K.

1 comment:

ShirleyPerly said...

Good luck with your continued bike search. Personally, I think fit is more important than a name. My travel bike, for instance, is not at all known for speed/racing. However, it is incredibly comfortable and sturdy (and plenty fast for me), which makes me want to ride it often, what a good bike should do in my opinion.