Univega is a bicycle brand created during the bike boom of the 1970s by Ben Lawee (1926–2002), who founded Lawee Inc. to design, specify, and import bicycles initially manufactured in Italy by Torelli as Italvega, and subsequently in Japan by Miyata.
In the late 40’s, Lawee worked at the bicycle shop of a Greek Cypriot, George Joannou, and subsequently moved to California as West Coast sales representative for Joannou Cycle Co. In 1959 Lawee buys the Jones Bicycle Shop in Long Beach, growing this single store into a multi-store chain and then sells the chain of stores 6 years later and becomes national distributer for Bianchi, Motobecane and Raleigh.
Ben was constantly angered by bikes that were either too expensive or didn’t meet his customer’s requirements. He wanted robust, affordable bikes with innovative technology that were really fun to ride. Prior to creating the Univega brand, had created the Italvega (Italian Star) in Italy. His Bertoni brand appeared after the creation of Univega.
Lawee marketed the Univega (Universal Star) 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. In 1985 Lawee moved Univega Headquarters to Signal Hill California in his new building designed by Randy Morris and Brian Corntassel of Phelps Morris Architects, Long Beach, CA. Univega now had a competitive look that would last another 11 years of success.
Univega 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. Bikes manufactured in Japan succeeded in the U.S. market until currency fluctuations in the late 1980s made them less competitive, which led companies to source bicycles from Taiwan.
In 1996, the parent company of Raleigh Bicycle Company, Derby Cycle, absorbed Univega along with the Nishiki brand of bicycles.