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From Faukleys to Chinarellos - BikeBiz uncovers bike counterfeiting market

Trade magazine conducts in-depth analysis of trade in knock-off bikes, parts and clothing

In the most in-depth analysis of the nature, extent and impact of counterfeiting on the bicycle industry we’ve seen to date, UK-based trade publication BikeBiz has published a series of articles called Faking It that look at the issue from a variety of angles.

While BikeBiz’s audience is primarily within the industry, the series of articles – handily available also as an individual PDF, Word document or e-book – is also essential reading for anyone thinking of buying (or who has perhaps already bought) a ‘Chinarello’ frameset, a pair of ‘Faukley’ sunglasses or some other knock-off.

Themes include why people buy items they know or suspect to be counterfeit in the first place, where fake items originate and how they are distributed, safety implications and the efforts brands are making in combating the fakers.

> BBC show Fake Britain looks at counterfeit bike components

Taken together, the series of articles is a fascinating read, and helps dispel some myths – one of them being whether, as many assume, a ‘Chinarello’ frameset made in the same factory as an original Pinarello.

The amount of time and money some brands are putting into protecting their intellectual property is also an eye-opener, and again and again a comparison is made with the fairground game whack-a-mole – the moment you shut down one online seller, they pop up elsewhere.

> Buy a fake, risk death, support slavery – says bike industry

Another common theme lies in the motivation for people buying fakes and thereby providing the counterfeiters with their market – with the biggest reason being that there is a belief among some that some brands, with the prices they charge, are ripping off the consumer.

That same consumer, of course, isn’t deterred from buying a fake product which may give others the impression that he or she has bought from that brand – albeit one that could be made from inferior and in some cases dangerous materials).

But what they won’t have done there is contributed towards the costs of research and development or marketing or other aspects that make the brand desirable in the first place (nor indeed to the expense of it protecting its trademarks and copyright).

And they won't benefit from after-sales service, or being able to seek legal redress should something go wrong - in all probability the vendor will have disappeared, at least in that form.

That relates to products bought from China at a too good to be true price, but there  are also consumers who believe they are actually buying a genuine product, from eBay in the UK, for example, but unwittingly end up with a counterfeit one.

We regularly see forum postings on road.cc from people who have bought or are thinking about buying a frameset from China – back in 2012 for example, site user Wheelz bought a ‘Pinarello’ frameset and sought advice on how to build it up (that’s the bike being put together in the picture above).

He was up front about knowing it was not the real deal and that he would tell riding colleagues where he had sourced it from ... although at the same time, of course, to a casual observer, the bike is branded Pinarello (which leads to a whole new discussion of why you’d want to give people that impression),

BikeBiz’s investigation, conducted by executive editor Carlton Reid, underlines that when it comes to counterfeiting not everything is black and white, whether in terms of safety, or cheap versus expensive prices and that in reality the situation is more nuanced.

Head here to get started – where you will also find links to each article as well as to download them all collectively as a PDF, a Kindle file, an eBook or a Word document.

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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15 comments

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steviemarco | 7 years ago
1 like

I'd rather spend £400 on a good/branded aluminium frame than a fake carbon one.

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CliveDS | 7 years ago
1 like

I always wonder what it feels like to ride a fake bike down a fast trickey decent. Can't be a good feeling.  

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harman_mogul | 7 years ago
0 likes

Splendid research and writing by Carlton Reid on a topic whose importance stretches beyond the bounds of the bike business...congratulations!

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pablo | 7 years ago
1 like

The bike industry like any other is based on aspiration you see someone riding the latest and greatest and people can't help themselves because marketing says your not 'cool' unless you buy this product you'll be faster! Which is tosh.

when your buying a new bike your not just paying for the bike and I'd be suprised if the actual bike at the end of the production line is 50% of what you pay for it.  Vast chunks will go to the Marketing machine, transportation, customer service, warranty, and a small proportion to design and development.  Most people don't see any value in this which is why they are tempted by the Chinese carbon because it closer to its real production cost.  Bespoke bike and small boutique brands will be a completely different story but the volume brands will be working on big margins to pay for everything else.

If the Chinese sorted their own brands out and sorted the perception of quality (buy being open and applying to some standard bodies etc they'd be just as good as all the brands we know and love.  Only problem with this is they'd be just as expensive. 

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monty dog | 7 years ago
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It's only in the interests of the trade and manufacturers to concentrate on fakes whereas in their attempts to set-up cheap, offshore manufacturing they've probably created over-capacity and combined with Alibaba and ebay a ready marketplace for low-cost manufacturers to peddle their wares - the law of unintended consequences is that they've now created a supply of relatively cheap, unbranded products that isn't going to go away.

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Roddders | 7 years ago
2 likes

Cyclists have been knows as being tight for years and will have no qualms in buying a fake product.  Perhaps if you went into detail where the money from these fakes goes that might help?  Mafia / Organised crime / drugs and people smuggling / ISIS etc will all be profitting from the fakes industry.

So what if it only costs a small amoutn to make a pinarello / oakley glasses. They have had to pay the designers to create the products in the first place, pay for the testing, pay for products that they didn't go to market with, pay for marketing etc, etc.  Pay what you want, don't buy top end gear if you don't want to pay for it but don't support the fakes.

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Carlton Reid replied to Roddders | 7 years ago
3 likes
Roddders wrote:

Cyclists have been knows as being tight for years and will have no qualms in buying a fake product.  Perhaps if you went into detail where the money from these fakes goes that might help?  Mafia / Organised crime / drugs and people smuggling / ISIS etc will all be profitting from the fakes industry.

So what if it only costs a small amoutn to make a pinarello / oakley glasses. They have had to pay the designers to create the products in the first place, pay for the testing, pay for products that they didn't go to market with, pay for marketing etc, etc.  Pay what you want, don't buy top end gear if you don't want to pay for it but don't support the fakes.

Many official bodies like to claim all Chinese fakes are linked to the mafia/Isis etc, as I say in this mafia piece – apparently I should fear for my life – but there's no evidence for such claims.

Those faking bikes are economic – ie IP-theft – criminals. They risk $8000 fines, that's all.

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Rixter replied to Roddders | 7 years ago
0 likes
Roddders wrote:

Cyclists have been knows as being tight for years and will have no qualms in buying a fake product.  Perhaps if you went into detail where the money from these fakes goes that might help?  Mafia / Organised crime / drugs and people smuggling / ISIS etc will all be profitting from the fakes industry.

So what if it only costs a small amoutn to make a pinarello / oakley glasses. They have had to pay the designers to create the products in the first place, pay for the testing, pay for products that they didn't go to market with, pay for marketing etc, etc.  Pay what you want, don't buy top end gear if you don't want to pay for it but don't support the fakes.

Well said. If these fake goods didn't come with brand names, how many people would buy them, very few I suspect.

Also how would people feel if the company they worked for was being knocked-off by some Chinese competitor? People seem to have no qualms about purchasing stolen/illegal goods, as long as it didn't negatively impact them.

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hawkinspeter replied to Rixter | 7 years ago
0 likes
Rixter wrote:
Roddders wrote:

Cyclists have been knows as being tight for years and will have no qualms in buying a fake product.  Perhaps if you went into detail where the money from these fakes goes that might help?  Mafia / Organised crime / drugs and people smuggling / ISIS etc will all be profitting from the fakes industry.

So what if it only costs a small amoutn to make a pinarello / oakley glasses. They have had to pay the designers to create the products in the first place, pay for the testing, pay for products that they didn't go to market with, pay for marketing etc, etc.  Pay what you want, don't buy top end gear if you don't want to pay for it but don't support the fakes.

Well said. If these fake goods didn't come with brand names, how many people would buy them, very few I suspect.

Also how would people feel if the company they worked for was being knocked-off by some Chinese competitor? People seem to have no qualms about purchasing stolen/illegal goods, as long as it didn't negatively impact them.

I've recently been shopping on AliExpress for some cheap Chinese carbon components. I bought a seat post and an integrated stem/handlebar for my bike. Funnily enough, I was trying to buy ones that don't have known brand names as I would rather people know that it's cheap Chinese carbon. I thought that the handlebar didn't have a brand name on it, but when it turned up I was disappointed to see that it had Cinelli written on it.

I'd much prefer the "knock-offs" to have their own brand name as that would make the products more "honest". I see the fake market as an inevitable consequence of big brands pushing the manufacture of items to cheap Chinese companies. Yes, it means they can produce £300 items for £20, but the flip side is that the same Chinese companies just make more of them and sell them as fakes. I'm sure that there is less quality control with the fakes, but cheap Chinese carbon is still plenty strong enough for general use. I'd be interested to hear if anyone has had a major failure of carbon parts.

 

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Ananke | 7 years ago
2 likes

The question as to why people are buying the fakes and copies is pretty clear: the genuine branded versions are extremely expensive for the average pocket.

The argument for the difference in cost has always been 'we produce a high end quality product, and invest a lot in research'. That really is only part of the story. There has been quite high inflation of bicycle prices in the last few years primarily driven by the 'rise of the MAMIL' with large disposable incomes.

Companies do what companies should do, and seek to maximize profit by pricing as high as the market will bear for their top end bikes which seems to be in the £4k-9k range. For those of us who are fortunate, then it's not such a big deal, but for the average consumer it's unobtainable given that's a sizable chunk for a deposit on a mortgage.

I have little tolerance for counterfeiters, but there are a few things that could be done to discourage the grey market:

1) Put more marketing effort into the entry/mid level machines to make them almost as aspirational as the dream machines. There are still wonderful bikes to be had in a more affordable price bracket.

2) The big names should compete with the grey market. If they can: produce branded products that are as good as the copies, while ensuring a safe product, for almost the same price. Given the choice, most consumers would go with the branded version and it would probably kill off the market for copies.

3) Reduce prices. This, however is a hard pill for the manufacturers to swallow as there may be a limited window in which they can take advantage of the cycling boom in the middle-aged segment before they find something new to do (at a guess between 10-30 years). An over-production of  fakes and copies may be a sign that the pricing isn't quite right though, so it should be something that should be considered.

 

 

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surly_by_name replied to Ananke | 7 years ago
0 likes
Ananke wrote:

There has been quite high inflation of bicycle prices in the last few years primarily driven by the 'rise of the MAMIL' with large disposable incomes.

This is elitist bollox. More people cycling has meant prices have come down in real terms even before you get to the disruption that direct sales companies like Canyon, YT and Planet X have caused.

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Ananke replied to surly_by_name | 7 years ago
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surly_by_name wrote:
Ananke wrote:

There has been quite high inflation of bicycle prices in the last few years primarily driven by the 'rise of the MAMIL' with large disposable incomes.

This is elitist bollox. More people cycling has meant prices have come down in real terms even before you get to the disruption that direct sales companies like Canyon, YT and Planet X have caused.

 

Don't you mean 'anti-elitist bollox'? I don't think so, there is some evidence for this: 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/active/recreational-cycling/11056942/Why-...

I was more talking about the higher end of the market being driven by this factor, rather than the low/mid end.

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jollygoodvelo | 7 years ago
0 likes

I'd like some carbon forks for my hybrid to replace the useless and heavy old Suntour suspension forks.  How much do I have to pay to ensure that I'm buying genuinely unbranded carbon forks and not fake carbon forks?

 

The answer of course, is that it's completely impossible to say.

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McVittees | 7 years ago
4 likes

Personally I'm not interested in wether or not these cheap Chinese imitations are rubbish or not.  I wouldn't buy an imitation of a branded product - that's asking for trouble. What I think is a much more interesting story is the quality of own brand cheap Chinese carbon.  I have some £400 Ican Carbon clinchers and may get one of their 29er frames (both of which come with a two year warranty). These are the sort of products I'd like to see tested and reviewed but I suspect it's not the industry's interest to say, "well, yeah to be honest, these are pretty much as good as your £1200 top branded frame/wheels/bars".

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Carlton Reid replied to McVittees | 7 years ago
4 likes
McVittees wrote:

Personally I'm not interested in wether or not these cheap Chinese imitations are rubbish or not.  I wouldn't buy an imitation of a branded product - that's asking for trouble. What I think is a much more interesting story is the quality of own brand cheap Chinese carbon.  I have some £400 Ican Carbon clinchers and may get one of their 29er frames (both of which come with a two year warranty). These are the sort of products I'd like to see tested and reviewed but I suspect it's not the industry's interest to say, "well, yeah to be honest, these are pretty much as good as your £1200 top branded frame/wheels/bars".

 

This is covered in the Faking It series. It's the "open-mold" article, in which I state that these frame are as tough – or possibly even tougher – than branded products. They likely won't be as light, cos they'll be over-engineered. I also state that the industry might not find this fact palatable. 

However, you've got to consider the warranty issues etc.

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