Hellohello. This is the second installment of our interviews on independent bike projects. On her recent travels in the United States, L met Gary Main of Big Rapids, MI. He happens to own the last remaining bike shop in town! This was quite a contrast to London (3% of people working in central London commute by bike), and also to Portland (5.8% commute by bicycle), where she later visited: “Less people ride bicycles in the United States than in almost every country throughout Asia and Europe, with the exception of England, with whom the United States is tied (along with Australia).”
Netherlands 27%, 18% Denmark, ~10% Germany, Finland, and Sweden. In Tokyo, Japan, “it is estimated that more people ride bicycles to local train and subway stations each day — as part of their work commute — than there are bike commuters in the entire United States.” (Zack Furness, One Less Car, 4)
In Portland the bike business is booming, but in small town America local businesses including bike shops, are suffering not only from the recession but also from the big name/big box shops like Walmart that sell lower quality bicycles for cheap (see quoted passage below on the bicycle industry). L speaks to Gary on these issues, “corn-gas society,” as well as how Gary is keepin’ it real in MI.
“It would take an awful lot of education and some simple modifications of people’s driving skills, then there would be a lot of people riding bikes, just like in Europe. Yaknow, I mean I get people coming in here all the time, I say: ‘Why don’t you ride your bike to work?’ ‘Oh! It’s two miles!’ ‘Wait…10,000 ft. And you wanna buy a car, pay exorbitant insurance, pour gas like mad into this car by yourself, and drive four miles a day. 20,000ft. Instead of getting on it and riding a bike, and improving your health and maybe living longer. You cannot legislate morality. You cannot create common sense. There’s no cure for stupid.”
“There are a number of mitigating circumstances leading to the demise of the U.S. bicycle manufacturing aside from international competition, including mismanagement, corporate greed, and the failure of certain bicycle companies to adapt to particular trends…Rather, we are meant to see the company’s missed opportunities, lack of innovation, and brand deterioration as the hallmarks of its failure, as opposed to seeing the entire bicycle industry as a symbol of everything wrong with globalisation and the corporate race to the bottom…
Huffy Bicycle Corporation, then largest in the United States [July 1998], closed down its Celina, Ohio factory and fired the entire staff of nearly a thousand workers despite high overall sales that year (previous years were financially tumultuous)…Huffy went on to close plants in Mississippi and Missouri in 1999, firing 1,800 workers who were already paid $2.50 less per hour than Celina’s $10.50 wage. The company moved a number of these jobs to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, where workers earned less than $4 per hour, before closing operations in 2001 in order to centralise manifacturing operations in a Chinese factory where workers earned 25 to 41 cents per hour while logging sixty-six to seventy hours per week (up to nineteen hours per shift).
Including Huffy, five corporations (Dorel, Dynacraft, Huffy, Rand, and Kent) and their subsidiaries now comprise roughly 80 percent of the U.S. bicycle market, while the other 20 percent of bicycle are largely produced by three additional corporations (Giant, Merida, and Ideal) that similarly operate via a network of supply chains and outsourced labour that is difficult to accurately map out. Consequently, it is incredibly hard to find out where most bikes are made, never mind gaining access to clear information about the actual labour conditions and environmental practices connected to specific bicycle factories ” (Furness, 214).