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(Hand) Made In China

Chipps follows the path of an Asian-made bike from concept sketch to mountainside testing.


I’ve always wanted to follow the development of a product from first-sketch to final product, but it’s easier said than done. Many companies are rightly wary about opening themselves up to outsiders, especially journalists. There are all sorts of intellectual property worries in letting someone see behind the product designer’s wizard’s curtain, not to mention potential embarrassment if it all goes wrong.

I’d mooted this idea to a few companies over the years and usually received replies along the line of ‘Great idea! It’s never going to happen…’ Finally, though, Simon Wild and the team at Saracen Bikes agreed to let me come along on a factory visit to see how things get made. Simon went further than that in fact. He’s proud of his suppliers and of the work that Saracen’s factories do, so I had carte blanche to shoot any photos I wanted, ask any questions, and to really try to get an idea about how a complex modern mountain bike is brought to the shop floor for you or me to buy.


You know those trick shots in snooker where the player hits one ball and the chain reaction causes every other ball to land in the pockets, all at the same time?

That seems a good analogy to start with for bike design. You’re trying to set things in motion, over a period of months, sometimes years: the product design, the component spec, the ISO testing, the production, the component assembly and painting, the shock tuning, the samples, the brochure photography, the graphics, the finished bikes arriving by container – everything, so that it all culminates in that one model being available for sale on a particular date. Preferably a bike that the customers will have heard about through advertising, and seen used through team sponsorship, with a dealer and warranty backup, in this year’s hot colours, with the best new suspension design and fitted with the latest must-have components. All of that needs to happen for every model in the range, every year. And when that’s done, there needs to be something in the pipeline for next year. It’s quite a treadmill.

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About Singletrack

This issue has adventures from every corner of Britain, plus features from far flung corners of the globe. Whether you’re stay-cationing or joining the jet-setters, this summer issue is sure to have you occupied for those hours by the pool or sheltering from the rain outside your tent. (Hand) Made In China – We get unprecedented behind the scenes access to some of the bike factories in China and Taiwan. Is it a sorry sight of oppressed workers in shabby conditions? Or skilled bike builders in state of the art facilities? Classic Ride: Northern Ireland – Ian Bailey finds us a rare legal loop around the trails of Northern Ireland. Trail Hunter: Snowdon – Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it can’t be a classic. Tom Fenton opts for the dawn raid on the highest peak in Wales. Bike Test: Killer Hardtails (in Innsbruck) – Three tough trail hardtails from Kona, Nukeproof and Trillion make the trip to Innsbruck to see just how capable a modern hardtail can be. Group Test: Hi-Tech Tyres – James Vincent checks out the current generation of burly rubber. Is there such a thing as a tyre for all seasons? Or even a tyre for a whole Lake District ride? He’s been getting the punctures so you don’t have to. Interview: Keith Bontrager – Keith has been designing bikes and components since the eighties. He invented the mantra ‘Cheap, light, strong – pick two’ and has been behind Trek’s component line for over two decades. Chipps tries to get a little more than the usual stock answers to the stock questions. Column – Jason Miles discusses the merits of riding the wrong bike. Room 101 – Charlie the Bikemonger decides which bike world items and issues shall be thrown to the bears, or whatever it is that lives beyond the door of Room 101, and what shall be allowed to continue to roam our earth. ST Recommended – We’ve picked three products so good that you need to go out and buy them now. All of them. Oddball: Fuel – Coffee…