Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bad Bike Biz News From Bedford PA

Anybody who watches the bike biz probably saw this one coming from a mile away, but it bums me out just the same.

Bicycle Retailer and Industry News
is reporting that Dorel (current corporate overlord of Cannondale, Schwinn, GT, and Mongoose) is moving production of Cannondale bikes offshore and laying off 200 of the 300 employees at the Cannondale factory in Bedford, PA. If you can stomach it, here's a link to the corporate-euphemism-encrusted Dorel press release on the BRAIN site.

I'm no jingoistic "Made in the U.S.A." zealot/xenophobe (far from it), but a Cannondale cranked out of a Taiwanese "Center of Excellence" (that's apparently Dorel-babble for "place we do stuff") just isn't a Cannondale, in the same way that a Rolling Rock brewed anywhere but Latrobe, PA is just some beer in a green bottle. Having worked for a 'dale dealer just up Route 30 from Bedford, I've walked through that factory, met the ladies at the sewing machines, and shook the hands that normally held welding torches and paint guns. We saw a prototype of Shaquille O'Neal's gigantic frameset with a pocket-sized "weld/paint test" frame parked alongside it for comic comparison. We watched as the CNC laser cutters sliced out perfect miters. We saw dozens of testing machines dutifully jiggling parts to failure, and a "wall of shame" of the parts and frames that failed, with their jiggle-cycle-counts marked on the wall as a kind of final grade.

I probably sipped some Cannondale Kool-Aid on those tours (the joke was that no shop employee could end a tour without ordering a bike), but it still felt like it meant
something that the bike under me came from just over Laurel Mountain, welded by people I'd actually met, people who made a decent wage turning tubes into bicycles, people who were proud to be making all their bikes right there in Pennsylvania instead of just sending a blueprint overseas and pulling the results out of a shipping container. Hell, even the way Cannondales were packed seemed to indicate a level of pride and seriousness that made everyone else's packing jobs look haphazard -- and anyone who's unpacked a Cannondale from one of the old clamshell boxes (or tried to duplicate that unique "bicycle sandwich" packing job to ship a bike) knows what I'm talking about.

I'm sure the "new and improved" Cannondales will be fine bikes. And I imagine that whoever holds the welding torches and paint guns in Dorel's Taiwanese "Center of Excellence" will bring the same skill and pride to their work that I saw in Bedford. Maybe they'll even make (relatively) good money doing it.

But somehow, the end result just won't feel like a Cannondale.

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