Stella Yu has often been referred to as the most powerful woman in the bike industry. Few riders have ever heard of her, however, and many haven't heard of Velo, the utterly dominating company she founded in 1979, and continues to run in a very much hands-on fashion.
And yet, chances are extremely high that the saddle you're riding right now was made in her factory, regardless of the name on the cover.
Video: Velo saddle factory tour
Today, Velo manufactures saddles for essentially everyone and is the undisputed 800lb gorilla. And by everyone, we mean nearly 100 percent of every enthusiast-level saddle sold either aftermarket or OEM, with the exception of just a handful of upper-end models.
According to Yu, Velo made more than 15 million saddles in 2013 comprising an extraordinary amount of variety. That's enough to outfit everyadult-sized bicycle sold in the United States last year (through both bicycle shops and mass merchant channels), with nearly four million to spare.
Regardless of what brand name is on your saddle, chances are high that it was made by Velo in Taichung, Taiwan
Moreover, Velo operates four factories in both Taiwan and mainland China, its engineers hold more than 60 patents, and the main facility alone employs 1,200 workers. Velo occupies a similar position in the bar tape and grip market, with four million sets of tape and 20 million pairs of grips made last year.
Even so, only a small number of cyclists have any idea that Velo is behind it all – and that's exactly how Yu likes it. Although Velo does have an aftermarket presence, the bulk of its business is contract manufacturing. Put another way, its goal is making other companies look good, with OEM saddles that don't just fill a line on a spec sheet but are actually comfortable to sit on, offer suitably high performance and look good.
Velo does have an aftermarket line but most of its work is for others
Yu suggests the reasons for Velo's success are simple to understand: the factory delivers consistently high-quality product for a reasonable fee (and on time); its substantial in-house R&D group provides a wealth of development support for its clients; and the company deliberately makes the entire process easy for its customers – even adapting to modern just-in-time manufacturing practices for the countless nearby bicycle assembly facilities that Velo supports. Perhaps what was and is most important, she says, is good old-fashioned hard work.
"From my experience, the reason people continue to go to Velo is a combination of factors," said Giant's road product manager, Jon Swanson. "They are always pushing saddle manufacturing techniques and technologies, and at the same time they have always provided me with great service and competitive pricing. When you are thousands of miles away and your contact at any third party manufacturing house is always ready to help out and very quick to respond to any sort of inquiry, it significantly bolsters your confidence in that working relationship."
We recently toured Velo's primary factory in Taichung, about two hours south of Taipei. While we weren't allowed to quite see everything(Velo doesn't want to give away all of its secrets, after all), it's impossible to go through the facility and not be blown away by its scope and efficiency. Take a walk for yourself in the image gallery above, and see how the magic happens. We guarantee you'll never look at your bicycle saddle the same way ever again.
For more information head over to www.velosaddles.com.