British brands are Chinese carbon clones?

by bikeboy76   January 20, 2013  

This is a synthesis of a few threads I have seen on road.cc in the last year. I read that the New Starley bike and PlanetX are actually using standard Chinese frames and wheels that are imported and branded and obviously marked up in price. I don't know if this is true but a poster here said it is widely know. I posted on a thread about new Zipp wheels retailing at about £1700 and said I had seen similar PlanetX wheels for £400 which I fancied; someone replied saying that you would 'feel' the difference between the two. Finally there was a long running thread about someone's 'Chinarello' that they had built from clone parts from a website discussing the bike's performance and cost.

So what I am asking is this; obviously Chinese parts aren't just made out of balsa wood and these British brands are sticking their names on them, but are they a reasonable investment? Are they 80/90% the quality of some big name US/Italian labels at half the price (which would be worth it) or do the prices genuinely reflect the difference in quality? Should I just buy what I can afford now and have a dream Italian bike in my mind for the future or wait?

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It's a really complicated area. Lots of brands design in their native country, then get the manufacturing done in China, as you're no doubt aware. Picking parts out of a catalogue is going to happen, but then that's always going to be the case.

It happens with components (Tektro brakes are often relabelled as "bike brand X" specific, for example), so no doubt it happens with frames too.

Now, there's obviously a lot of very high quality stuff coming out of China, but no doubt there's substandard stuff too, so you have to ask, what are you paying for here?

There's going to be an element of cost associated with the brand, but there's more to it than the label. Go to a reputable manufacturer and you're getting the backup of a decent warranty, and also they have their good name to preserve in the event of any issues. They should also have QA people on the ground checking the manufacturing, reducing the likelihood of an issue in the first place.

Does the difference in cost reflect the difference in quality? If you're just looking at the item, maybe not. If you're factoring in everything else that wraps around it, maybe it does.

posted by thereandbackagain [152 posts]
20th January 2013 - 22:54

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Its not just bikes.

I know this is not about carbon frames. But I just looked at the washing instructions on my new Endura jacket.....Born In Scotland is their slogan...

Made In China Angry

Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [8825 posts]
20th January 2013 - 23:09

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Was it ever thus.

I remember that my Orange P7 bought in the early nineties was designed in the UK, made in South Korea. Orange were clear about why; Korean's did the best job at the time, because they had massive steel expertise from ship building.

I like buying from the UK when I can. Shutt VR, Carradice etc, but frankly there are times when an import is going to be as good, if not better, than UK makers, for the same price or less.

posted by thereandbackagain [152 posts]
20th January 2013 - 23:23

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£15 for a pair of Choakley Jawbones delivered. Great looking sunnies, 3 different lenses, cloths and carry case. I bought them for info as much as anything, reasoning that the price paid was something I could afford to lose. But they arrived as promised and in comparison with a mate's 'real' Oakleys there seems to be no discernable trade-off in performance.

Same mate is a salesman for an eyewear company and states matter-of-factly that brands like Oakley are paying pence for each frame unit.

I'm a bit conflicted about this because I appreciate the value of brands and their quality control and service etc. But I break/lose/damage sunglasses for fun so I'm fed up paying hugely inflated sums for them.

nostromo's picture

posted by nostromo [65 posts]
21st January 2013 - 10:57

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Hmm... so just go for a bit more performance now, i.e. any aero wheel is going to be an upgrade over my big standard wheels, and leave the top of the range stuff for the future. Trust in British stickers I guess.


Suffering from Low Cadence.

bikeboy76's picture

posted by bikeboy76 [1257 posts]
21st January 2013 - 13:33

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I have a set of chinese carbon wheels, cost me about £400. Done 2700 km odd on them so far, and no problems to date. Quite pleased with them.

posted by Paul J [608 posts]
21st January 2013 - 13:54

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a couple of things to mention:

1) because two bike frames *look* the same it doesn't mean they *are* the same. There's lots of open mould frames out there, but using the mould and filling it with Toray T700 carbon will give you a very different bike than you'd get if you used basic, high-resin-content matting. That's not to say that all Chinese/Taiwainese frames you can buy direct are low-grade, because they're not. But make sure you know.

2) if you buy from a UK distributor or brand you'll pay more than if you go direct but you'll invariably get a warranty and it'll be backed up by UK trading law. Plus, you'll have a point of contact if something goes wrong. Those things are both worth something; you have to decide what they're worth to you.

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7330 posts]
21st January 2013 - 13:56

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I think there's a distinct difference between two aspects of this:

Firm based in UK/USA?wherever, designs items, then has them manufactured in China or somewhere. Not a huge amount wrong with that really - sure, it would be good for the local economy to keep the manufacturing here, but no-one is going to pay enough for the item to cover UK wages etc. It's still made to the design specification, so the quality isn't (or shouldn't be) an issue. See Spin cycles as an example, they even have their own titanium craftspeople in their own factory, in China.

There is also the legit Chinese company, doing their own thing in the same way as any other company. Unfortunately, I can't honestly name any due to the market mostly consisting of the above, or sadly, the below.

Then there is kit that originates in China completely but with questionable origins. This may or may not be branded, and may or may not be a copy of something else. If it's branded, is it a copy, or is it simply an out-of-hours/unofficial run of the genuine product, or even a home-brew run using moulds bought from the factory to produce replicas of last year's official product? If the company that did all the R&D etc isn't seeing any reward, they might just not do that R&D in the future. This is where it just gets too murky and results in the 'legit' Chinese manufacturing operations being tarred with the same brush as the dodgy ones.

The other thing that gets me is all the talk of "it's made in the same factory so there's no difference." What a load of bull. Just looking at frames (and I'm no expert), the types/grades of carbon, layup direction, number of layers, where it's used, techniques, monocoques, lugs, geometry, temperatures, QA, testing, acceptable tolerances etc etc are all variables that could make a WORLD of difference between an entry-level and a high-end frame made in the same plant.

So when Starley cycles were mentioned as using an open mould (which I believe is similar to the idea to open-source software), that doesn't mean it isn't top quality. There are known to be some very good open moulds out there, but what gets put in them might vary hugely. Regarding Starley specifically, the jury is still out for me until I find out more about them. They *might* be ace.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3116 posts]
21st January 2013 - 14:23

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notfastenough wrote:
So when Starley cycles were mentioned as using an open mould (which I believe is similar to the idea to open-source software), that doesn't mean it isn't top quality.

precisely so. open mould means that you're offsetting the cost of the mould manufacture, which runs into tens of thousands of pounds, and instead paying a usage fee which is a lot less. there's still a lot to do. what carbon to use, how to lay it up, how to finish it... all of those can greatly affect the finished frame. there's CEN testing to be done too.

road.cc runs from open-source software. but we like to think it's not just the same as any other open-source site Smile

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7330 posts]
21st January 2013 - 14:34

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Planet-X have been badging up generic/open-mould stuff for ages as well as buying exclusivity in some cases, and as you can see they aren't the only ones. That doesn't make it bad. Merida and Trigon make frames for big names but decided to sell under their own name.

Quote:
Should I just buy what I can afford now and have a dream Italian bike in my mind for the future or wait?

You have to decide for yourself, I'm afraid. Will having that Italian marque on your downtube make a difference to you? If so, then you'll have to start saving. Or why not go secondhand?

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1947 posts]
21st January 2013 - 16:49

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You may also get stung by import duty/tax. Friend of mine bought some carbon wheels very similar to the £400 Planet X versions and about £30 cheaper by the time he'd paid the uk import duty..

Anyhow you should really support yer old fashioned local bike shoppe, otherwise the high street will end up full of nail bars, hairdressers and chazzers Big Grin

Fringe's picture

posted by Fringe [1081 posts]
21st January 2013 - 17:01

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We won't have to wait long until a lot more good quality carbon is made in the UK.

The intention is for the UK to become world leaders in composite technology in the next 10 years, and there's good money in it.

Maclaren already make all their carbon in Woking, and I think Hope have started to make some stuff.

Sir Velo

Raleigh's picture

posted by Raleigh [1728 posts]
21st January 2013 - 18:13

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Moda are working on a UK-built carbon frame too...

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7330 posts]
21st January 2013 - 18:16

12 Likes

"Orange were clear about why; Korean's did the best job at the time, because they had massive steel expertise from ship building." So costs had now't to do with it? Angry

onward ever onward

bikecellar's picture

posted by bikecellar [224 posts]
21st January 2013 - 18:21

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This may shed some light on who makes what- Some interesting names that crop up..
http://inrng.com/who-makes-what

posted by simonb [3 posts]
21st January 2013 - 19:06

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that list is interesting, but it's not totally accurate - the entries on Merida and Spcialized aren't correct, it's more complicated than that, Merida own a slice not the whole company (I think they accepted equity for debt as a supplier when Specialized hit a rocky patch in the 90s). The one on Cycle Sport and Cycling Weekly isn't right either - Time Warner got ride of IPC the parent company a few years back. Selle Royale own Fizik not the other way around. Giant make some Colnagos, but I'm fairly certain that isn't under licence it's just that they make some Colnagos for Colnago, just like they make bikes for a number of other major bike brands.

Who makes what, where is something that changes all the time as brands look for the best deals from suppliers and who owns them, and where, doesn't usually have any bearing on where they are made.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4136 posts]
21st January 2013 - 19:30

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nostromo wrote:
£15 for a pair of Choakley Jawbones delivered. Great looking sunnies, 3 different lenses, cloths and carry case. ..

...Same mate is a salesman for an eyewear company and states matter-of-factly that brands like Oakley are paying pence for each frame unit.

I'm a bit conflicted about this because I appreciate the value of brands and their quality control and service etc. But I break/lose/damage sunglasses for fun so I'm fed up paying hugely inflated sums for them.

I am with you, however we must not forget that there is a big difference between:

1) Oakley Jawbones, clearly had a LOT of expensive R&D, prototyping (getting new things done in far east is a nightmare...) and invested in them and are a step above the competition. The fact that they can get them made for pennies (pounds???) is to recoup investment. This is worth 1000s% margin

2) someone rebranding a "chinarello" but taking on the warranty, import, exposure to changes in demand, etc. this is worth 10s% margin

3) someone commissioning a "chinarello" with changes, again taking on the prototyping and a bit of R&D, but nothing like getting like the jawbone made. this is worth 100s% margin

a final point is quality control... when the factory is making a run for a big brand, they will be all over it, when they are doing their chinarello... not only will the quality control diminish, but they will be made out of hours, with potentially inferior materials and may even be seconds, rejects, etc... while your chokely hawbones may look amazing, I would chuck the lenses and put some real ones in as you cannot get a new set of eyes or retinas from China...

roadie come mountain biker come single speeder and back again

posted by cborrman [84 posts]
21st January 2013 - 21:21

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Raleigh wrote:
We won't have to wait long until a lot more good quality carbon is made in the UK.

The intention is for the UK to become world leaders in composite technology in the next 10 years, and there's good money in it.

Saw some of the best carbon wheels I've come across at the Bike Show on Saturday. Designed and made in Folkestone UK - ARC Carbon Wheels.

Can we have a road test Mr Editor?

posted by AWP [72 posts]
21st January 2013 - 22:04

8 Likes

bikecellar wrote:
"Orange were clear about why; Korean's did the best job at the time, because they had massive steel expertise from ship building." So costs had now't to do with it? Angry

I'm not saying cost didn't, but if you can get equivalent or better quality at the same or lower price, then you're probably going to do it, aren't you? They're a business, not a charity.

posted by thereandbackagain [152 posts]
22nd January 2013 - 12:41

9 Likes

bikecellar wrote:
"Orange were clear about why; Korean's did the best job at the time, because they had massive steel expertise from ship building." So costs had now't to do with it? Angry

I remember Cy from Cotic saying that he first tried to get his steel frames made in UK and those he approached were dismissive of what he was doing or just not interested (as well as being more expensive). The Taiwanese firm he dealt with couldn't do enough, they were totally set up to do exactly what he wanted.

That's not to say UK builders can't or won't make nice bikes. The resurgent interest in steel and the popularity of the UK Handmade Bike Show (http://www.bespokedbristol.co.uk/) is encouraging.

Oakley charge what I consider to be silly prices for a pair of plastic sunglasses and trade on their association with athletes and celebs. If people want to buy them that's fine, but it's not a surprise that someone can turn what appears to be the same thing out for a lot less.

You can buy expensive branded protein/energy drinks or bulk maltodextrin from MyProtein etc. Some brands take the p*ss but others, like Torq, put a great deal of time, effort and money into running race teams and events.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1947 posts]
24th January 2013 - 12:33

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This stuff about the Chinarello stuff being made out-of-hours, with no Q&A isn't right.There are of course fly-by-nights, and small time traders re-selling stuff on eBay and Alibaba, with various levels of service, and guarantees from next-to-none up. They're buying stuff inside China from who knows where. You could get a good experience, or you might not.

However, there are also plenty of Chinese companies who've been selling cycle-related stuff for years, and are effectively building long-term brands. Such as Farsports, Gotobike, Yishunbike, Deng Fu, Hong Fu, Fly Xii, Great Keen and others. They have the same incentive to keep a good image as western brands do.

You do have to make sure you get the returns policy, and who pays what costs in such cases, agreed in advance. You don't have statutory consumer rights in China. You have no general right of return, other than what you agree with the retailer at the time of sale. So get all your T&Cs clear in advance!

posted by Paul J [608 posts]
24th January 2013 - 15:12

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cborrman wrote:
I would chuck the lenses and put some real ones in as you cannot get a new set of eyes or retinas from China...

What do you base that on? Confused

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posted by koko56 [320 posts]
24th January 2013 - 19:45

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.

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posted by koko56 [320 posts]
24th January 2013 - 20:08

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cborrman wrote:

a final point is quality control... when the factory is making a run for a big brand, they will be all over it, when they are doing their chinarello... not only will the quality control diminish, but they will be made out of hours,

It's tempting to believe this, but processing times are largely dependent upon thinsg like cure times etc and won't change much between different runs. Likewise, the concept of QC is pretty out of date and companies now rely heavily on quality assurance (e.g. selection of suppliers, training and competency assessments for operators, standardisation and dopcumntation of processes, continual improvement, operator in process inspection etc). You can't inspect quality into a product and they will have defined processes that make an acceptable frame to reduce internal reworks to a minimum, they won't have a separate crap process that they decide to use for non OEM frames.

Also, the Chinese companies probably get paid more for their frames they sell direct than they will for each frame bought, en masse, by the large bike manufacturers. I doubt there is much difference between the frames at all.

However, as far as the purchaser is concerned then, as already stated above, buying from a reputable UK company gives you peace of mind.

As a disclaimer, I don't know anything about bike manufacturer, but I have worked in both process engineering and quality assurance roles in the aerospace industry for 20 years and I can't imagine they are that different.

posted by Chris James [183 posts]
25th January 2013 - 11:13

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Raleigh wrote:
The intention is for the UK to become world leaders in composite technology in the next 10 years, and there's good money in it.

Maclaren already make all their carbon in Woking, and I think Hope have started to make some stuff.

This'll be the investment in graphene technology, all £10m of investment? I guess we'll be able to exploit that just like carbon fibre which was first made in the UK in the 1960s...

I work in aerospace and defence and we are still world-leading in some areas, but a lot of the technology is owned by the US Government and is not available for commercial exploitation without their authority.

Make mine an Italian with Campagnolo on the side

posted by monty dog [364 posts]
27th January 2013 - 22:42

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How about a Carbotanium frame? I hear that Richard Hammond talking about the material last night on a popular television programme. He said it was stiffer/stronger than carbon but just as light.


Suffering from Low Cadence.

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posted by bikeboy76 [1257 posts]
28th January 2013 - 12:04

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