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Out of the Box.
By Tom Demerly.

Sarah in Paris

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 of goals.

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 goods.

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 into focus.

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 rest go.


© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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