Despite various bicycle shops proclaiming one bicycle brand over another, it appears that not one of the brands of bikes mentioned is made in Britain. This surprised me when I went looking for a new bicycle. Since I ride a great deal and having done so for over twenty-five years, I am fed up with what I call the, "cheap bikes" - the ones where I constantly have to get new parts fitted. I have had a good number of bikes over the years - none of them expensive, but all imports - the last one from Tunisia. That isn't to say that bicycles aren't made in the UK today, high-street bicycle shops and independents alike can identify some manufacturers, but they are not what you would call, 'off-the-shelf'. They are nearly all made-to-order. By contrast China manufactured over sixty-three million bikes complete in 2008.
To buy a British-made bike, a punter will, more than likely, need to have it made-to-measure and hand-made. This is fine if a person can afford the sort of price that you would expect to pay for hand-made luxury. But supposing someone only has a few hundred pounds to spend (or less!). Are we, then, destined to buy only imported machines? Sadly, the answer seems to be yes. In years - or perhaps decades - gone by, it would have been specialist bikes that would have been imported from, say, Europe, and other, cheaper varieties imported from the Far East, like China. But 'globalisation' has stripped many manufacturing industries from British soil and sent it overseas. So, what constitutes 'British-made'? Is it a Good that is designed and built in its entirety by British workers or simply a Good that is assembled by British workers from imported components? If a bike is imported from overseas because it is made in a country on an assembly line where the labour rates are much cheaper than those of the UK, why are these machines still so expensive? If a hand-made bike can be made in Britain in a week for a couple of thousand pounds, is it beyond the realms of possibility to have an assembly line in the UK that can utilise British workers making bikes for the same 250 GBP to 1,000 GBP that we are already prepared to pay for an import?
Maybe it is a reminder back to the days of British Leyland in the 1970's and 1980's when British made cars were just no competition for their Japanese counterparts. Yet, when the likes of Honda and Toyota brought manufacturing expertise into Britain, it was British workers that were, and still are - current credit-crunch aside - the labour force behind these facilities. So, does that make their products (in the UK) British-made?
Britain is slowly being stripped of its engineering heritage. Trades like Fabrication, Coded-Welding, Fitting, Sheet-Metal Working just to name a few, are on the decline, with some colleges unable to attract young people back into these skills. It is a Catch-22 situation. It is good to know that highly skilled engineering companies still exist in Britain, able to make hand-made, quality bicycles, so why cannot we bring affordable bicycle manufacturing production lines back to Britain?
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