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Univega was founded by Ben Lawee in 1970 in Long Beach, CA. Ben was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1926, and immigrated to the United States on a freighter in his teens1). In the late 40’s, while attending Columbia University, he worked at the bicycle shop of George Joannou and moved to California as West Coast sales representative for Joannou Cycle Co. Joannou Cycle company is known today as Jamis Bicycles. 2)
The Univega brand continues to exist, although now they they're made in the USA, which is different than Univega's import only origins. See: https://www.univega-usa.com/ Univega is owned by Kent International. The Univega brand also exists as a German brand, with the same logo, presumably owned by Raleigh and selling Chinese imports, which is in turn owned by Accell.
Ben Lawee & associates
1982 Alpina Uno
1982 Alpina Uno pinterest
1983 Alpina Ultima
The Alpina brand was split into Pro, Sport & Ultima models. The Ultima had chromed and anodized parts with all around better components. See catalog: univegacatalogs
This model lineup continues at least through 1986, with the re-introduction of a low end Alpina Uno in 1984. 3)
Production by 1984 moved to Taiwan, perhaps because Miyata became a direct competitor? 4)
1983 Alpina Ultima flickr
1984 Alpina Pro
This example may be a 1983, as the components match the 1983 catalog. Except that our 1983 has an old SuperBe Tech L, a fatally flawed derailleur, which was period correct. This example has a SunTour MounTech GTL (1982-1983).
1984 Alpina Pro bikeforums
1985 Alpina Ultima
This has an unusual SunTour SuperBe Tech rear derailleur, possibly with a MounTech GTL cage. Maybe to give it extra chain wrap capacity? The SuperBe Tech was out of production by 1985, having failed in the market. 5)
1985 Alpina Ultima buzzbombbicycles
1986 Alpina Sport
Shimano Light Action RD-525 (1986)
1986 Alpina Sport ebay
1989 Alpina Team
Full Shimano XT group set: hubs, shifters, cranks & derailleurs.
1989 Alpina Team buzzbombbicycles
1990 Alpina Comp
SunTour XC Comp derailleurs front and rear, with lots of Ritchey goodies.
1990 Alpina Comp mtbr
Univega led the early mountain bike sales explosion of the 80's, selling 60% of all the 5,000 mountain bikes sold in 1982. By 1988, 70 million mountain bikes were being sold, many of which were Univegas.
It's unknown how much market share Univega held by the late 80's, but early on they were king.
Guesstimates give production numbers of:
- 1982: 3,000 (a)(b)
- 1983: 20,000 (a)(b)
- 1984: >60,000 (projection from a)
- 1985: >150,000 (projection from a)
As of 2020, the largest bicycle manufacturers were:
1984 Univega catalog https://univegacatalogs.wordpress.com
. 3000 from The Birth of Dirt: Origins of Mountain Biking, by Frank J. Berto, 3rd Ed. 2014
. 20,000 from The Birth of Dirt: Origins of Mountain Biking, by Frank J. Berto, 3rd Ed. 2014
. 60k & 150k guesses from https://www.worldometers.info/bicycles/ combined with https://nbda.com/bicycle-industry-data-overview/ and http://www.ibike.org/library/statistics-data.htm. It's likely that these are low. Someone was making many millions of mountain bikes by 1986. Who?