In 1971, Japanese educated engineer King Liu had just seen his eel farming business destroyed by a typhoon. He got some partners together and managed to raise $100,000 to start a bicycle manufacturing company outside the port city of Taichung in Taiwan . They called the small company Giant. Chinese born Tony Lo, 24, sold Liu his trading company and became part owner and a manager for the fledgling bicycle factory. One of Giant's earliest clients was West Coast Cycle. Giant manufactured the Nishiki.
Giant saw Schwinn turn to Japanese manufacturers in 1972 as demand outpaced Schwinn's Chicago plant at the outset of the American bicycle boom. Giant began courting the biggest name in bikes the following year. An order from Schwinn would legitimize the startup. It took four more years. Giant produced its first Schwinn World ten-speed in 1977 and Schwinn was impressed with the quality.
At the beginning of the 1980s Giant was manufacturing 100,000 bicycles per year for Schwinn. When Schwinn's workforce went on strike in the fall of 1980, Giant shipped Schwinn 80,000 bikes in five months. Production returned to normal after the strike, but Schwinn's aging manufacturing capabilities were not being upgraded. Giant could produce chrome-moly frames. Chicago Schwinn could not. The American company became increasingly reliant on the Taiwanese manufacturer, sharing both manufacturing and design expertise. In the fall of 1982, Giant shipped 130,000 BMX Schwinn Predators, Schwinn's first successful BMX entrant. By the end of the year, Schwinn shifted most of its production to Giant and closed the Chicago plant.
In 1984, Giant produced Schwinn's first chrome-moly mountain bikes, the Sierra and High Sierra. They were an instant success and unit sales triple three years in a row. Giant shipped half a million bikes to Schwinn that year, 2/3 of Schwinn's sales. In 1985, Giant produced 1 million bikes, most of which went to Schwinn. By 1986, Schwinn depended on Giant for 80% of its inventory.
Meanwhile, the Giant label was on very few of the bikes the company was turning out. They had a reputation for quality within the industry, but actual riders did not demand a Taiwanese built Giant. As early as 1981, Lo began fostering the Giant brand name. It was launched in Europe in 1986. In 1985, the unimaginable occurred. Schwinn and Giant began negotiating the terms of a Schwinn-Giant joint brand. The deal was outlined, but never came to fruition. It did, however, mark a major turning point. Giant was now an equal of Schwinn's.
The tide had turned. Schwinn knew it and began evasive maneuvers. In 1987 the American cycle company struck up a deal with China Bicycles (est. 1984) that gave Schwinn a 1/3 equity stake and promised to shift the majority of its manufacturing to the new company. But it was too late. Giant could put out 1 million bicycles in a year. Schwinn could barely sell that many in 1987. Giant put all of its brunt behind the Giant brand and went head to head with Schwinn on its own soil. By 1991, Giant was selling 300,000 branded units, a little more than half as many bicycles in America as Schwinn who would declare bankruptcy the following year.
In the mid 1990s Giant fully lived up to its name. At $380 million in annual sales, Giant was the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world.
No Hands, The Rise and Fall of the Schwinn Bicycle Company, An American Institution, by Judith Crown and Glenn Coleman, 1996.