The Tapei skyline
Finding The Way Forward
After nearly 2 years of development and testing, Hinton Bikes [Edit: now Flit] is getting ready to ramp up towards manufacturing.
Our job has been to design an ebike that folds easily, is as light as possible, and can survive the wear and tear of daily use in busy cities. After countless hours of sketching out ideas, building prototypes, testing them to destruction, and then returning to the drawing board to do it all again, we feel that we are as well prepared as anyone can be for this task.
What we have spent the past few months looking for is a bike manufacturer that can deliver the level of quality and consistency that our design demands. This is a vital part of bringing any new product to life, but is especially true for electric folding bikes where the quality of the frame is key to ensuring that it lasts for longer than a couple of years of regular use, and there are dozens of electrical and mechanical components that have to be integrated and work together seamlessly.
Initially, we had tried to do this as close to home as possible. But after speaking to a few old industry hands, we found that mass manufacturing aluminium frames in the UK was going to be beyond our reach for the moment.
The problem that we came up against again and again was that the UK manufacturing supply chain simply isn't set up for making aluminium bike frames at scale as things stand. There are a few reasons for this: the bike industry lost most of its skilled TIG welders to the automotive and aerospace industries in the 30+ years since Raleigh stopped manufacturing aluminium frames in Nottingham; a lot of the know how and tricks of the trade have been lost in that same period; and the UK doesn't have the tightly integrated ecosystem of relevant suppliers (eg. fork specialists, fixture builders, heat treatment) needed to build aluminium frames at scale.
The UK does still have a very proud tradition of making steel framed bikes, and a much smaller number of carbon fibre frames, but for aluminium frames, we would have to set everything up from scratch. Based on some recent bike factory openings elsewhere, this would cost about £10m, money that we, as a small team with big dreams, simply do not have access to.
After months of research and talking to riders, bike shop owners, and bike manufacturers, we were sure that we wanted to build our ebikes in Taiwan. Not only is Taiwan one of our favourite countries to visit, with incredible food and dramatic cycle routes across tropical mountain ranges, it also has an advanced economy that sits at the hub of the global cycle industry. Whereas some other countries in the region specialise in making low cost bikes at high volumes, the bicycle manufacturing that remains in Taiwan itself is among the world's most sophisticated, with dense supply chains, advanced manufacturing processes, and a rich pool of highly skilled designers, engineers, welders, machinists, and assemblers. It is no mistake that a country which leads the world in manufacturing complex products like medical equipment and semiconductors also makes some of the world's best bikes and ebikes.
Eurobike - the beating heart of the cycling industry
Our lucky mascot in Taichung City, Taiwan, and a useful landmark on the way home