Bicycles, it seems, are everywhere — and seemingly more plentiful all the time. The trade data would support that contention.
Motor vehicles are at least quite plentiful, if not increasingly so, and the trade data would support that as well.
In areas that are urbanizing at a rapid pace, as is Greater Miami, that spells trouble in the worst-case scenario and difficult challenges in the best-case. Once again, a cyclist’s death on Key Biscayne at the hands of a driver has brought the issue to the fore.
Motor vehicles are the nation’s second-leading import, behind oil. Through November, the United States imported $140.38 billion in automobiles, a statistic that does not take into account vehicles manufactured in the United States, including by most large foreign automakers.
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Bicycles, meanwhile, are the nation’s No. 225-ranked import, with a value of $1.36 billion, according to WorldCity analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. There is virtually no bicycle manufacturing in the United States on a mass scale anymore.
But the reason it seems like there are so many bicycles out there these days is because imports into the United States continue to increase in value. Imports didn’t top $1 billion in value through the first 11 months of a year until 2008, as the global economic collapse was beginning. But these imports have topped $1 billion every year since then except in 2009, at the bottom of the decline.
Most other U.S. imports took longer to recover.
While the 2014 total, when released later this week, is not likely to top the record set in 2012, it will almost certainly be the second-highest total on record.
It doesn’t stop there.
There are, of course, seats, lighting equipment, pedals, frames, wheels, inner tubes and tires. Put all these together with the bicycles themselves, and the total through the first 11 months of 2014 totaled $1.78 billion, just shy of the 2012 record of $1.87 billion.
But what is happening in the motor vehicle business — foreign manufacturers finding savings by manufacturing in the U.S. South and in Mexico — is not happening in the bicycle industry. It remains an industry dominated by China and, to a lesser extent, its neighbor, Taiwan — at least as far as bicycles themselves go.
That is, in part, because cars and trucks are heavier and, consequently, more expensive to transport across the Pacific Ocean and into the Port of Los Angeles, the Port of Long Beach and other West Coast ports. That makes manufacturing closer to home more attractive.
Not so with bikes.
China accounted for slightly less than 70 percent of all bicycle imports into the United States through the first 11 months of 2014. As impressive as that might seem, it is less impressive than it once was. For seven of the eight years between 2003 and 2010, it accounted for more than 70 percent.
Gaining meaningful market share in the past four years — China has not topped 70 percent since 2010 — has been its neighbor, Taiwan. Together, for the last decade, the two have controlled at least 96 percent of all U.S. imports, a true dominance.
A majority of these bicycle imports once came into the Port of Los Angeles. Until 2006, the percentage did not drop below 50 percent. In 2011, the percentage entering at the Port of Los Angeles dropped below 40 percent, and it has stayed below 40 percent ever since. Picking up market share in that time period have been its neighbor, the Port of Long Beach, as well as the Port of Savannah and even the No. 15-ranked PortMiami, which has seen its market share increase from a negligible 0.27 percent to a slightly less negligible 0.60 percent. Savannah, meanwhile, has gone from 1.62 percent to more than 8 percent, with most of that growth in 2013 and 2014.
While the majority of the bicycles themselves come to the United States from China, that is not the case with the accoutrements — the tires, lighting and safety equipment, pedals and more.
In fact, four of the seven other categories — tires, rims, frames, and pedals and cranks — are more likely to come from Taiwan than China, though China ranks No. 2 in three of the four cases. It ranks No. 1 in the other three categories, where Taiwan is not No. 1.
A quick snapshot of the other categories related to cycling:
For the first time since 2008, a majority of bicycle tire imports will come from Taiwan and China. Before that, Germany and Thailand had been major producers.
The rims and spokes that once came from France and Italy — each topped more than $2 billion as recently as the first 11 months of 2007, when they ranked No. 1 and No. 2 — now come from Taiwan and China. The total imports of spokes and wheels from France have fallen from $2.02 million through the first 11 months of 2007 to $614,438 in 2014 while Italy’s total swooned also, from $2.08 million to $261,147. Taiwan and China now account for slightly less than 75 percent of that market.
Taiwan dominates the frame and fork category, though that dominance continues to shrink. After capturing more than 60 percent of the market four straight years, between 2008 and 2011, it has been below 60 percent two of the last three years. China is rising.
Taiwan also leads the world in imports of pedals and cranks into the United States, although Japan accounted for more than 20 percent through November of 2014 and Malaysia more than 16 percent. China ranked fifth, though its total has doubled in just three years.
China leads in the other three categories, inner tubes, lighting and other safety equipment, and seats. In the area of seats, Italy, ranking third behind No. 2 Taiwan in seat imports, still was accounting for more than 25 percent of the total U.S. imports through November of 2014. That market, for one, is not yet dominated by Asian imports.
Of the eight total categories, only two were on track through November to set records for the year: the category that included pedals and crank gearing and parts, up steadily in recent years, and the category that covered lighting and other safety equipment. The imports of lighting or signaling equipment for bicycles have more than doubled since 2009.
Ken Roberts is the founder and president of WorldCity, a Coral Gables-based company that pays attention to the impact of globalization on local communities. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Imports of bicycles and related equipment into the U.S.
Change in rank
November 2014 YTD
Total bicycles imports, parts
Bicycle frames and parts
Rubber bicycle tires
Bicycle pedals and cranking gear parts
Bicycle inner tubes
Bicycle lighting or visual signaling equipment
Bicycle rims and spokes
Source: WorldCity analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data