Thursday, February 12, 2009

Beware of knock-offs!

I haven't done a consumer advocacy post in quite a while - but there hasn't been much to report on. This story even slipped my mind a few times. I first caught wind of it on the NBDA dealers e-mail list and haven't really seen it mentioned anywhere else. But a Google search turned up this article from a weekly publication in Specialized's Silicon Valley backyard:

Sleazy Riders

Morgan Hill–based Specialized Bicycles fights off wave of dangerous Chinese counterfeits
By Jessica Fromm

SPECIALIZED Bicycle Components reports that it has seen a surge in counterfeit carbon bike frames mimicking the company's top-of-the-line models circulating on the Internet. Fake framesets being sold under their the Specialized brand have gotten so prevalent that the company believes a Chinese counterfeit factory must be producing the nearly identical replicas. 
One of the top names in bicycles in the United States, the Morgan Hill–based Specialized began seeing an influx of the bogus bikes last year, predominantly sold on websites like eBay and Craigslist. Though the company has long been the target of counterfeiters for its apparel and parts, a company spokesman says this is by far the largest and most aggressive operation they have seen. 
"We get knocked off on plenty of other things, but this frame was pretty interesting because it's such a high-profile product," said Mark Schroeder, Specialized's director of engineering. 
"In China, we're one of the biggest name brands, except we don't actually make or sell the bikes," he says with a rueful laugh. "In mainland China, our logo is really popular to put on bikes that are obviously not our frames." 
To the eye, the sham framesets are near duplicates of Specialized's 2007 and 2008 S Works Tarmac SL frames, which come in red and blue. Their carbon construction and composite is markedly different, however. The knock-offs have no serial numbers on frame or fork. 
James Lucas, general manager of Calmar Bicycles in Santa Clara, an authorized Specialized dealer, says the Specialized model that is getting ripped off sells for up to $7,000 in his shop. 
"They are my biggest brand," Lucas says. "Any time you have a brand name that is really recognizable, it gives people incentive for fraud. It's not as pervasive as, let's say, Rolex watches, but it does happen from time to time." 
Though he has never encountered a counterfeit Specialized frame in his shop, Lucas says he has seen other forged frames over the years. Fake frames often get discovered when the unsuspecting owner takes the bike to a shop to get it repaired. 
Big-Time ScamWheel Away Cycle Center in Campbell has been an authorized Specialized dealer for more than two decades. Center manager Jake Workman says that he was surprised when he heard that people were counterfeiting carbon frames, because the process and tooling required to manufacture them is so complex. 
"It's very expensive to manufacture a carbon bicycle frame today," Workman says. "It's not only labor-intensive, it's equipment-intensive. The nature of carbon—it's just a fiber like cotton; basically, it's a bunch of string assembled into a bike frame. The latest generation of technology is being applied to carbon bicycles—Specialized is at the forefront of what they can do." 
Specialized, whose main testing labs and headquarters are located in Morgan Hill, has stated publicly that a Chinese counterfeiting factory is ripping off its designs. Specialized came to this conclusion after customers started contacting the company around the world, complaining of quality problems with its Tarmac framesets. 
The duped customers said that their purchases were bought online, and most often shipped from China and Taiwan. 
Matt Adams, co-owner of Mike's Bikes, says that any time a consumer buys a Specialized bike online and not through an authorized dealer, there is an inherent risk. 
"With all the manufacturing done in China now, there's a lot of theft in design and knock-offs," Adams says. "You just don't know what the real picture is, what are the conditions, what's inside. But people can command a premium because it says 'Specialized' on it." 
Workman agrees that if somebody did have the machinery to manufacture carbon bike frames, it would be pretty tempting to copy the shape of a reputable high-end frame and just slap a label on it. "They're one of the top three bicycle manufacturers in the world, and they make great stuff," says Vance Sprock, owner of Cupertino Bikes. "Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, I guess."
(Read the rest of the article here:

Just goes to show that you can't be too careful. The value of your Local Bike Shop extends far beyond the guys who show up to your local charity rides and tweak your brakes and derailleurs for free (work that you've been putting off since the same ride last year because you don't want to pay for it). These people stay late at the store and arrive early to order parts, turn wrenches, clean toilets, and pay bills in spite of their nagging families begging for more quality time. These people forgo higher wages in other industries which many of them are more than qualified to be in - for the fulfillment of working at their passion.

And, when your bike is broken or has a problem, these people go to the supplier and advocate for you because they've been in your position before with a part that has failed them and they know the pain and disappointment. Unless your part is a bootleg - in which case there's nothing they can do to help you.

Read my most popular consumer advocacy post (and pro-bike shop rant) here:

Thanks for reading!



  1. wow, that's really scary.

    i just put a deposit down on a new frame...i knew i wanted to get it from my LBS but now i'm doubly glad i did so!

  2. Just had a knock-off Felt carbon frame come through the store. Looked pretty legit - but no serial number on the frame and the graphics were ever-so-slightly off from the original.

    Appears that this certainly not isolated to Specialized nor is it over...


    Head's up, folks! Be aware of what you're buying and always error on the safe side - even if it costs a little more.



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