There was more legal trouble in the international cycling world this week, but this time the culprits were bikes, frames, and accessories, not riders. Chinese counterfeiting of bicycle components is on the rise.
This week, working with Homeland Security investigators in Houston, Specialized—known for iconic models like StumpJumper—shut down several international web sites selling counterfeit gear, and froze more than $90,000 in PayPal and other accounts. Andrew Love, the main forgery officer for Specialized, told BikeRadar that counterfeiting has been increasing rapidly.
In 2007, Love said Specialized shut down $20,000 worth of counterfeit goods, and just five years later, that amount had risen to $5.2 million. He noted that while counterfeits varied in quality, the best fakes are getting better all the time, making it difficult for consumers to spot the real deal from the knockoff.
This hurts more than just the company brand. After putting the false frames through quality control, they failed the fatigue and impact tests, sometimes in very dangerous places. In some cases, the main frame even broke from the handle bar’s aluminum shaft.
“It’s a matter of time before someone gets killed on one of these things,” Love told BikeRadar. “You could count on the fingers of one hand the failures we had on carbon Tarmacs, [but we] recalled 12,000 bikes and gave people huge credits. The counterfeiters have no allegiance beyond getting past the sale moment, and that’s where it stops.”
Love believes the primary threat comes from factories in Taiwan, where some Specialized frames are made. “I think we face about four factories that have gone to the dark side, one major one for frames and one for apparel,” Love said.
The rise in counterfeits coincides with the growth of online shopping. Consumers using new mobile apps can scan barcodes in bike shops, then hunt for the same products online. Often they are led, instead, to the knockoff merchandise.
Consumers in in Asia and the UK were more aware of potential forgeries, clued in by the lower prices. Buyers in the US and Japan, on the other hand, were more naïve, Love said.
Love’s advice for spotting the knockoff? Look to the price and the origin of the product. Though not always an option, Love’s best advice was to compare the item with its authentic counterpart.