|The VeloBase History of Univega
|Univega is a brand of bicycles, created during the bike boom of the
1970s by Ben Lawee (1926–2002) — who founded Lawee Inc. to design,
specify and import bicycles manufactured initially in Italy by Italvega
and subsequently in Japan by Miyata.
Prior to creating the
Univega brand, Lawee had been the importer of Motobécane bicycles in
the U.S. and had created the Italvega and Bertoni bicycle brands
manufactured in Italy.
Lawee marketed the Univega brand using
the taglines "Discover the Difference" and "Ride it your way" and began
marketing their Alpina series of mountain bikes in the early 1980s.
competed in the U.S. with domestic and European bicycle manufacturers
including Schwinn, Raleigh, Peugeot and Motobecane — as well as other
Japanese manufacturers including Miyata, Fuji, Bridgestone, Panasonic,
Nishiki, Lotus and Centurion. Japanese manufacturered bikes succeeded
in the U.S. market until currency fluctuations in the late 1980s made
them less competitive, leading companies to source bicycles from Taiwan.
In 1996, Univega along with Nishiki brand was absorbed by Raleigh's parent company Derby International in 1997.
Lawee, who was born in Baghdad, Iraq and emigrated to the U.S. at age
19, attended business school at Columbia University, and became a sales
representative for George Joannou Cycle Co. of New Jersey and Miami,
Florida. He later purchased Jones Bicycles in 1959 — growing a single
store into a multi-store chain. He sold the retail chain in 1965 and
began importing Bianchi and Legnano bikes, as well as becoming the
national distributor for Raleigh and Motobecane — later founding and
operating Lawee Inc. He sold the Univega brand to Raleigh in 1996 and
retired from the bicycle industry. Lawee had two children, David and
Monique, with his wife Ariela. He died November 8, 2002.