There are many more fake Strida folding bikes in circulation than real ones, says the bike’s designer Mark Sanders. The fakes are not made to high standards, he adds. Aliexpress and other Chinese e-tailers are also awash with poor-quality Brompton fakes. "If we don’t do something to protect the innovators and the risk-takers, they won’t be there in the future," Brompton boss Will Butler-Adams tells BikeBiz.
Mark Sanders, designer
Mark Sanders designed the distinctive Strida folding bike in 1985. The bikes are now made in Taiwan by Ming Cycle.
"There are eight or so Chinese factories making Strida fakes. There are perhaps ten times the amount of Stridas produced in the faking factories than out of the official factory. Most of them stay in China, or countries that abut China; a few trickle through to Indonesia. "Strict quality control is ignored on a fake. I feel scared for people who buy these products.
"It’s awful when small to medium sized companies spend a great deal of time doing R&D and testing, and then somebody will just copy all of that work. The original concept took massive effort. I spent every waking hour obsessed with this project.
"Sadly, there’s no international IP police. [To tackle the fakers] you’ve got to hire a local lawyer in China, which costs a fortune. It costs about £1m to defend a patent, so IP law is only as good as your bank balance.
"Ming Cycle joined Alibaba.com as a supplier to lodge "take-down" complaints. Now the fakers get a warning notice on Alibaba if they try to use the word "Strida". There are many factories copying my designs – I move on and innovate. You either make something new, or you spend your whole life whack-a-moling."
Will Butler-Adams OBE, CEO, Brompton Bicycle
The iconic Brompton bike was designed by Andrew Ritchie in 1975. The bikes have always been manufactured in London. In the early 1990s Brompton licensed its designs to Euro-Tai of Taiwan, and a joint venture company – Neobike – was formed to manufacture the bikes and distribute them in Asia. Former executives from folding bike maker Dahon joined Neobike, but quality control and counterfeiting issues eventually led to court cases, convictions and prison sentences. Fake Brompton bikes can be found on Chinese e-tailers, although they are not labelled as Bromptons (bizarrely, sometimes they are labelled as Stridas.) Will Butler-Adams joined the firm in 2002 and has been CEO since 2008.
"It’s really sad that there is a bike pretending to be us, selling off our reputation and all the time, energy and work we put into delivering that reputation by taking care over what we make.
"Fake products are bad for UK PLC, and if we don’t do something to protect the innovators and the risk-takers, they won’t be there in the future, and that will be bad for the British economy.
"We created our own faking problem with the ill-fated deal with Neobike. We taught them how to make them – that was a mistake. Ten years later we cancelled that agreement because they made such a bad job of it. They outsourced it, and the people they outsourced to outsourced it.
"There is a perception that a bike is a simple thing, but it needs real consideration and thought because that simple thing is whizzing along at 40mph. The consequences of failure are significant. It’s not hard to make a bike, but it’s hard to make a bike that customers will still be using in ten years’ time.
"Not all fakes are rubbish; there are better and worse examples out there. But our bikes have to be robust – they are used day-in, day-out. A 17-stone rugby player might be jumping over kerbs, doing 10 miles each way, [with the bike] getting an absolute pounding.
"[Deciding whether to go after the fakers] is a balancing act. You could spend your entire life trawling the internet and getting obsessed with companies copying you that you get distracted from your core business.
"Factories can try to copy the Brompton but they can never get it right – we spent 30 years developing it. The chain tensioner is our design. The extrusion for the rim is our design. The tyre tread is our own design. The brake levers, the brake callipers, the front carrier block, the hinges, there is so much weirdness about the bike, but the barrier to entry to make a Brompton properly is huge; several millions of pounds in tooling costs. In many ways, we are protected by the uniqueness of the product.
"China is maturing all the time. Trying to deal with copyright and patent issues in China five years ago was a nightmare. Chinese brands are trying to rip off other Chinese brands, so the whole legislative control is getting better all of the time.
"The best defence against copying is innovation. You’re adding value, improving the product. The incubation period for innovation is about three years. Moving faster than the copiers is the best tactic. Businesses should go into battle by sprinting forward, and every now and again stop, pull out a grenade and lob it at the competition – what you don’t want to do is get distracted with an all-out battle because all your competitors will come whizzing past you because they’re not being distracted."
FAKING IT – Inside the shady world of counterfeit bikes, clothing and parts is a series of 20 articles. For offline reading convenience the 25,000 words can be found on an illustration-rich PDF, a Kindle file, an eBook and a Word document.