Steve Worland’s weekly post: I just spent a pretty intense week travelling around China and Malaysia
It’s strange how it’s always the same people every time that delay the bus departure, the same people every time who take way too long to set up the most irrelevant photos and the same people every time who seem more interested in assessing their alien surroundings than in assessing the obviously inspired production processes we were there to see.
That alien surroundings obsessive was me. I’ve never been to that part of the world and I’m afraid my attention was focused far more on the people, the environment and the scary road etiquette than on the hubs, the shoes, the pedals and the wheel assembly processes.
But I still came away with a collection of totally positive, and frankly quite surprising, feelings about the way the Japanese bike componentry giant runs its operations in countries that are mainly chosen for their cheap labour force. My worst imaginings had conjured up swarfy sweat shops, random streams of chemical effluent and undernourished worker bees in Maoist-clone overalls. The reality was almost the opposite. The factories appeared to be cleaner, tidier and much better organised than any I’ve ever visited in the west. The overriding impression was one of a casually deligent workforce. And the canteen lunches were superb… but then I’ve always been a fan of Chinese food.
Okay, we were spoilt a bit. We stayed in hotels where the only Chinese guests wore shades and arrived in big black cars with black windows. We were force-fed at least one major banquet every day. The rice wine was topped up between every one of the nine courses. I ate things that I was probably better not knowing the origin of. And, best of all for bike journos who still haven’t got over the thrill of occassional freebies (er, yes, that includes me), we got to take home a complete set of Shimano’s new all-purpose and very subtly logo’d anatomically shaped clothing and the new shrink-to-fit shoes. I’ll be writing more about the trip, and the shoes, and some other interesting new stuff, in the mag soon.
Despite my initial reservations about the stupid amount of travel for a few hours in factories (obviously I will now be using eco-friendly chain lube and platting my own shoelaces to carbon-offset the flights…) this turned out to be a fascinating trip that balanced the facelessness of a large
corporation with a hell of a lot of faces.