It’s a euphoric vision: A world without
wars, without borders. We become one globe united in the
pursuit of harmony, happiness, commerce, exploration. It’s
the vision of civilized mankind since recorded history began.
Despite the universal appeal of this vision, expanding technology,
global communication and improved access to education and
health care the human race has fallen short of this, the grandest
It seems the lesson of history is that a state of global harmony
is impossible. As I type this the U.S. monitors 46 “land
disputes” around the world. These “disputes”
are wars of various intensities. Of the 193 countries recognized
by the United States, 23.8% of them are at war. U.S. military
forces are deployed in “approximately 130 countries”
according to a U.S. Government source. The source adds,
“That I can admit to…”
What does this have to do with cycling and triathlon? Well,
quite a bit. This topic touches every part of lives. The way
it is woven into the bicycle industry, and the industry into
it, is fascinating.
Stay with me for the next 2000 words. I’m
making an argument for how the globalization of the cycling
industry is erasing borders and spearheading the effort to
save mankind one bike sale at a time.
Our store is in Dearborn, Michigan in the
United States. This is a car town, headquarters of Ford Motor
Company and home to automotive vendors and manufacturers.
We are five blocks from the massive Ford Engineering and Design
Center on Oakwood Boulevard and one mile from World Headquarters.
In Dearborn Ford Motor Company and the other two members of
“The Big Three” are considered American companies.
They are the sole survivors of an age when, in 1937, there
were no less than 33 domestic U.S. car manufacturers. Now
their number has been reduced by 90%. Only three remain. Two
of those are in trouble.
Why that happened is the subject of business history, not
this editorial. What remains in the wake of seven decades
of down-sizing is an ethos among some Big Three employees
to “Buy American”. Especially among the ranks
of the United Auto Workers labor unions that do the heavy
lifting for the surviving U.S. automakers. There is the feeling
that buying American is tantamount to sustaining our economy.
It is viewed as a closed loop. You work in America, you spend
in America, and your money stays in America. The logic is
as straightforward as hanging a door on a car, tightening
some bolts and collecting a paycheck for it.
The problem is, the logic has broken down. Now robots hang
doors. Money, and its perceived buy product, improved standard
of living, recognizes fewer and fewer borders and slips across
the remaining ones with less and less resistance. The illusion
of trying to keep the money in a closed loop economy is like
trying to grasp water. It keeps flowing downward in an economic,
Zen-like watercourse way. The harder you try to hold on, the
faster it seems to slip away.
While our political, cultural and societal progress toward
one world has been mired in conflict and fraught with frustration
our commercial endeavors toward a unified globe have rocketed
forward by comparison. It never fails. When wars are fought
over ideologies or religions they grind on for centuries.
When wars are fought over money they are settled quickly to
the benefit of one party or another.
Governments try to hash out the details of how to combat
the AIDs epidemic while self-made billionaires with net
worth greater than third world countries have funded the
effort privately. Since it is their money they don’t
have to ask Congress. These Kings of Commerce saw an urgent
need and filled it. Google the name Bill Gates and hit the
“News” tab. You will see pages of results chronicling
his global philanthropic efforts, including a proposed $200
Million anti-AIDs initiative in China.
Erik Prince is a philanthropist leading a commercial endeavor
doing an end run around government bureaucracy to move toward
a safer, more prosperous, united globe. Erik is an ex-Navy
S.E.A.L. who founded a company called Blackwater Security.
Blackwater provides private intelligence gathering, analysis
and security services to countries that can’t do it
on their own, including his largest client, the United States.
Blackwater guarded the new Afghan President from assassination
attempts and helped relief and security efforts following
hurricane Katrina. It’s another example of how commerce
has succeeded where government has fallen short. Blackwater
and other private military contractors (PMC’s) have
focused on a new market for their services: The United Nations.
PMC bosses are busy pitching their services to the U.N. as
a peace keeping service for hire. There is a lot of sense
to this as the men and women of a PMC are motivated by commerce,
not a radical religious doctrine or political agenda. Two
of the largest exports from the U.S. are education and security.
Erik’s company is at the leading edge of exporting the
later without the specter of a looming government agenda.
The inescapable conclusion is that business is leading the
way toward peace. Global business. The little bitty bike industry
stands in the center of the effort toward a unified, peaceful
world. And the bike industry is part of the commerce-driven
initiative toward a global peace and unity.
In our store we occasionally have people ask us where a bike
is made. That’s a loaded question, and it’s usually
motivated by either some perceived economic allegiance (“Buy
American”) or some attachment to antiquated generalities
that certain regions produce substandard goods. Like all generalizations,
these ideas are usually more incorrect and uninformed than
they are correct.
As a result of these ill-conceived biases bicycle manufacturers
have become either immensely protective of the origin of their
products or obnoxiously loud about it. The truth is a bicycle-
any bicycle, is the product of a global economy and the profits
are shared globally. The more globally they are shared, the
greater degree the little bike industry contributes to the
acceleration of a truly integrated world market. The closer
we come to all being on the same commercial “page”,
the less fighting we get around to.
The fact of the matter is that the numerical majority of high-end,
high quality bicycles manufactured to the highest standards
are not made here in the U.S. Another fact of the matter is
that since the production has shifted off shore during the
early ‘70’s the technology has vaulted forward
and the quality gone up while prices have either fallen (especially
in 2007) or remained stable indexed against other durable
The logic here is pretty simple: As a planet, if we are all
immersed in commercial trade with one another we have neither
the time nor the motive to fight. We’re too busy making
money. Before you dismiss this simple logic as folly allow
me to share a rather charming anecdote that brings this concept
We have a customer who is quite a fine fellow, and a 23-time
Ironman finisher. He is always poised and polite, always humble
and graceful. It goes without saying he is quite an athlete.
He is an automotive engineer who moved here from Japan. While
chatting in our store he told me the story of how his father
was in the family garden one morning in 1945. As his father
tended the garden he suddenly noticed a brilliant flash in
the distance and turned to see that, “Something had
gone wrong with the sun.” It was the detonation of Little
Boy, the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.
A short time before that day when my customer’s father
witnessed one of the most horrifying events in human history
my own father had been working on a project here in the U.S.
The project in the Boeing factory in Seattle, Washington,
was so top secret he was not allowed to tell my mother about
it. My father was busy working as a draftsmen and engineer
on the Boeing B-29 Superfortress: The plane that dropped the
atomic bomb on my customer’s father in Japan.
Now, the son of these two men stood in a bike shop in Dearborn,
Michigan and did business. I consider it an honor to have
him in my store since he is a gentleman, an athlete and sportsman,
an educated man. Our father’s traded nuclear punches.
He and I trade commercially. Motivated by the universal desire
for peace and prosperity one generation has come full circle
from nuclear war to local business. A more micro-perspective
argument for globalization would be hard to make.
The lesson here is simple: Political, religious and societal
agendas tend to create boundaries. Commercial agendas tend
to erase them.
A modern leader in the argument toward globalization is author
and scholar Thomas P.M. Barnett. Barnett wrote The Pentagon’s
New Map, his insight into the factors that differentiate a
Taiwan and Thailand from an Afghanistan and a Somalia. Barnett
contends that the degree of connectivity with the global community
and economy determines a country’s role in that community.
“Villain” countries like Somalia and Afghanistan
are rife with criminals, terrorists and even modern pirates
(22 pirate attacks off the Somali coast in the last year)
largely because they are disenfranchised from the global economy.
A clear line differentiates countries that are part of Barnett’s
so-called “Non-integrated gap” and his “Functioning
Core”. Barnett’s vision is a hopeful one, and
the most viable case for globalization- and peace- I’ve
seen in three decades.
As I type this at least one country teeters on the brink of
the abyss that is the Non-Integrated Gap. Thailand leads the
Asian Rim in soft goods manufacturing. I have visited Thailand
a few times as an athlete and tourist, and was there five
weeks ago on The King’s birthday. The government had
just been overthrown in a peaceful coup by a soft-gloved military
junta. The King rules the popular conscience, the military
rules the government. Love for The King of Thailand is widespread,
and we joined in the celebration of dining, touring and shopping
with particular excitement. We even got a glimpse of the world’s
largest airliner, the Airbus A380, at the new Suvarnabhumi
Airport, there on a feasibility test.
We were in Thailand for the Laguna Phuket Triathlon, my favorite
triathlon in the world and one of the most beautiful and well
produced races anywhere on the planet. In the post-Tsunami
era the region has recovered completely and then some. Tourism
is more opulent and polished than ever.
But dark forces are at work. Thailand has fallen victim to
a recent spat of minor bombings, kidnappings and even gruesome
beheadings that have a coppery Middle-Eastern aftertaste.
On New Year’s Day nine bombs exploded in Bangkok. The
political turmoil that has, until now, been peaceful threatens
to equate the region with other Southeast and Southwest Asian
regions that have unstable governments, dangerous cities and
an ominous rime of terrorism. The thing that is saving Thailand
is their people, their King and their export economy. There
is too much on the table for companies to let Thailand fall
into entropy. The King’s government will mandate the
military to clean up shop and keep the streets safe for the
Thai’s, tourism and commerce. Thailand will quell the
insurgency and remain the beautiful destination and burgeoning
economy it is because of their strong manufacturing base,
tourism and connections with the outside world. They are not
isolated. They are not a Somalia. The line between the functioning
core and the Non-Integrated Gap is drawn well off shore from
the white sand beaches of Thailand, and it will stay there.
The Laguna Phuket Triathlon is an example of that. This year
the event set records for attendance.
Another example of the success of integrating an economy across
borders is the European Economic Union. There are already
about 170 different currencies in the world. Prior to the
E.E.U. and the standardization of Continental European money
into the Eurodollar there were more. Now that everyone in
Europe is on the same sheet of monetary music the economy
plays a sweet tune that has diminished the value of the dollar
as the European economy buzzes with vitality.
I make the argument that globalization in the bike industry
not only produces nicer derailleurs and carbon fiber bikes,
but also a safer world to live travel and race in. The more
we turn our backs on that, build walls on our borders and
try to live in a unsustainable closed loop economy the faster
we accelerate our demise.
That is a good reason to focus on the most important things
about buying a bike (how the thing fits you) and let the