The market for bikes designed for typical female anatomy is growing rapidly, and the industry is striving to meet the needs of masses of women who are taking up the sport.
Recently Bonnie Tu, founder of Liv and Chief Financial Officer of Giant Bicycles came to Australia. At 64 Bonnie loves life and loves cycling. She’s still young at heart and her presence, honesty and passion for cycling are much larger than her diminutive stature suggests.
In July, Liv was launched as a fully independent brand separate from Giant and alongside this exciting news was the production of 100 Limited Edition Avail 1 Bikes and a donation of $15,000 for the Breast Cancer Network of Australia. It was at the launch in the Liv Sydney shop, that I caught up with Bonnie and gained some insight into the inspiration behind the brand.
BICYCLING AUSTRALIA: Welcome to Australia! It’s good to see within the Liv fashion line there are many options when it comes to colour choice.
BONNIE TU: I think women should be brave enough to try everything. Not just stick with one thing and never change. Except maybe one husband (laughs).
BA: Where did you grow up, and where do you call home?
BT: The place I call home is Taiwan. I was born in Taiwan, raised in Taiwan and educated in Taiwan. And even my business is based in Taiwan.
BA: You have been travelling quite a lot since the launch of Liv in July. Do you ever get homesick?
BT: I feel at home wherever I go. I don’t get tired of seeing new places or meeting new people. Maybe it’s because my family is scattered all around the world.
BA: What is your earliest memory of riding a bike?
BT: My first memory would travel back to my fourth grade year. I was about 10 years old. We rented a 20” bike and I rode it. At that time Taiwan was very poor so unless you were quite well off, you didn’t have a bike. So I had to rent or borrow a 20” bike, and this is how I learnt how to ride.
BA: When did you first get involved in the cycling industry?
BT: It was in my final year at university. I was studying literature. In a family gathering, somebody mentioned setting up a bicycle company and I was the first one to say, I second that! So in the very beginning it was a family business. But now of course it is not. It is a public company. This was in 1972 when the Giant Bicycle company was born.
BA: What do you think are the most important benefits of cycling as an activity and part of your lifestyle?
BT: Cycling fascinates me. Because when you are doing the cycling you have to have a kind of endurance. And you have to be focused. So because of this, it influences you a lot. You can become more committed and more confident. From there no matter what part of your life it is; your business, your home life, or even your philosophy. Things will change. So you become more confident and independent.
And I think the most important part of the cycling is this. If you ask an older woman, younger woman or the world number-one racer, she will tell you, it’s the freedom.
BA: I understand Liv encourages the social benefits of cycling, but I think what you say about riding purely for the benefits of your own well being is a really big thing; to give yourself some headspace and thinking time.
BT: Yes. Yes. This is what Liv is all about. It’s not just about ‘buy the clothes and ride the bike’. The main mission for Liv is to encourage women to take up cycling. Based on my studies and research, it is one of the best sports for women.
Especially after women come to the age of menopause. Your circulation slows down; one of the best ways to activate this is to take up cycling. Actually, I have asked my colleague to focus on the study of this, and get all the facts. Because Liv is not a brand about gimmicks. It is a brand that we sincerely suggest and propose to females. Liv is about the riding. And if the Liv product can meet your needs, then please try and see for yourself. I hate forcing things onto the consumers. We have to make sure that our products meet the consumer’s needs. That is the most important thing.
BA: What is your most memorable cycling experience?
BT: In cycling I can tell you endless stories… (laughs). But really the one that stands out was in 2008 when Liv started. We organised an elite team of female riders in Taiwan. Some very influential people, famous Taiwanese celebrities, including song writers, book writers…
BA: So these women were not elite cyclists?
BT: No. Not cyclists, just very influential people. They included managing directors of large companies, journalists, and actresses. We had about 15 women and I gave them six weeks of coaching on the weekends. They had previously ridden a bicycle but they were not very confident. Then off we go for a tour around Taiwan. The total distance was 966 km. And during the trip, some interesting things happened. Most of these high profile women are generally very difficult to deal with. Especially the famous ones. But to my surprise we all got along very well and became good friends. Nobody said ‘I cannot do it’. So that proves that women are invincible. (laughs).
BA: But we’ve always known that… All jokes aside though, cycling is a great equaliser. The most important thing is that you are on the bike and enjoying yourself.
WE ALSO SPOKE WITH JO HALL FROM GIANT AUSTRALIA ABOUT THE LIV TEAM AND PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT.
BA: How many people work on the LIV team?
JH: There are five for marketing, three for Liv gear, six for bike and each country will assign their Liv angels. In total, there are around 30 of us working for Liv globally— not including ambassadors. Abassadors are people we work with like Marianne Vos, Jolanda Neff and Shannon Galpin all women with passion, who love cycling.
BA: Who are the main designers and test riders on the LIV team and what is there experience?
JH: Abby Santurbane and Cassandra Chou are Liv global category managers, together they lead a team from Taiwan to do bike design, engineer and color/graphic. Liv team is lucky to have riders from performance to entry lifestyle, therefore we will find suitable candidates to test different positioned products. For example, before we launched Envie, we asked Marianne Vos to be our test rider back in 2012.
BA: Where is the development done?
JH: Liv products are designed and developed majorly in Taiwan. Majorly based in Taiwan, we have a complete bike team and gear team to support Liv global product development. However, we always have Liv Angels around the world to feed us latest trend, demand and market watch.
BA: It would make sense to use vast R&D from the Giant range – how much info is shared between Giant and LIV?
JH: You can take it this way; Liv is a standalone brand form women’s cycling, separate from the Giant group, that can utilize all kinds of resource that Giant has, from manufacturing to the latest developments in technology. Our specific Liv category managers keep Liv product focussed purely on our female consumers without being distracted by the men’s offering. Additionally Liv’s product planning and strategy is independent from Giant. It’s a ‘best of both worlds’ situation; an abundance of technological capability and product development on hand, and free reign to use it to develop products for our focussed market.
BA: We have seen the Avail; what other models or styles of women’s bikes are you working on? When will they be released?
JH: As we always mention, Liv is made to empower all different types of riding for women. So we are actually working on projects like…getting more women on bikes and riding. A super-easy entry bike to teach women how to ride a bike is coming very soon; in early Q2 2015.