Fake sense of security – counterfeit helmets are not for headbangers

Back in 2014 BBC’s Fake Britain programme reported on a fake Giro cycle helmet. “It’s part of a growing industry, where the fakers are trying to make money out of the success of cycling,” said reporter Matt Allwright.

Charity cyclist Andrew McCreery of Northern Ireland had bought one of the fakes from Amazon.co.uk, not realising it was from a Chinese merchant.

“Seemed to be of good quality, seemed good value for money and it was just a brand which we had recognised as widely used in the cycling world, so we presumed that would probably be the safest bet,” said McCreery.

The “Giro” helmet cost £35, a saving of £15. It arrived a month later, and didn’t appear to be the genuine article.

“The initial concern was the weight,” said McCreery, “it seemed to be much lighter than other Giro helmets. It had light-foam and some type of cheap plastic veneer over the top of it which didn’t meet the edges in the correct places. The only place this helmet was fit to go was in the bin.”

£35 lost; lesson learned. But at least McCreery didn’t try to wear the fake – they offer next to no protection, found the BBC.

Fake Britain took a suspected fake Giro helmet to testing and certification company INSPEC in Manchester. INSPEC has testing rigs that allow it to evaluate products for European safety standards. The fake Giro had an inferior retention system to the real thing and, unlike the real thing, it was destroyed by INSPEC’s tests.

INSPEC’s lab manager Andrew Nelson had an assistant test the real and fake helmets for the legally-required European standard for bicycle headgear, EN 1078. The helmets were dropped from a height on to an anvil-shaped surface, a stand-in for a kerbstone. The standard for the shock absorption test includes a maximum permitted acceleration of 250g. For each of the impact tests performed “we’ll be looking to make sure that the helmet gives a value which is lower than that maximum,” said Nelson.

The real helmet was tested first. It registered peak instantaneous acceleration of 82.3g, well below the 250g limit specified by the standard (the US Consumer Product Safety Commission helmet standard has a limit of 300g).

Next, the genuine product was tested impacting on a flat surface. This resulted in an acceleration of 187.3g, still well below the limit of EN 1078.

The fake helmet didn’t fare so well – it exploded on the anvil and wasn’t able to take the flat surface test. The fake lid registered peak instantaneous acceleration of 1209.8g.

“That’s nearly five times over the golden 250g safety limit,” said Nelson. “And that’s also exceeded the maximum that we can record with our equipment, so the value could even be higher than that.”

When the fake helmet – now in two pieces – was taken to neurosurgeon Lewis Thorne of the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London he expressed his shock:

“To find that people are prepared to put other peoples’ lives at risk for the sake of a small profit is totally reprehensible.”

It’s now tougher to find fake Giro helmets on Amazon.co.uk but there are plenty that look like Giro helmets, and many that copy Catlike’s distinctive round vents as well as other distinctive designs on other brands of helmets.

Many of the lookalikes on Amazon are sold by SkyTeam4u. Click a bit further and this is revealed to be DeSheng Wangluo Keji Youxiangongsi of Shenzhen, China. This company sells lookalike but unbranded helmets for as low as £14.95 – those who buy them are setting themselves up for disappointment.

Daniel Asare bought one in February 2015, and left this scathing review: “Flimsy, very lightweight and does not fit head properly.”

Furthermore, the helmet “looks cheap and has no tested safety certificate or marks to confirm it is safe to use.”

Asare was also disappointed in the long wait for delivery, but it was the quality he most complained about, although for £14.95 what exactly did he expect?

“Not value for money,” he concluded, “it’s just cheap and not fit for purpose.”

Many of SkyTeam4u’s helmets have faux carbon fibre plastic covers, making them look pretty trick. The “20 Air Vents Sports Road Bike Cycling Safety Helmet with Visor” for £15.95 explicitly states that it’s made from “Carbon fiber.” Knock off the “er”.

While most of the Chinese helmet sellers on Amazon state their lids meet the requisite safety standards, the lookalike helmets from SkyTeam4u do not.

Making and selling poor quality knock-off helmets is “not an economic question, it’s a moral one,” Specialized’s IP investigator Andrew Love told BikeBiz.

“Fake helmets fail all the CE and CPSC tests horribly. Counterfeit helmets are extremely dangerous – there are deep moral issues surrounding the production and distribution of these fakes.”

Love added: “The dangerous aspect is visual; authentic helmets often look very close to real from the outside. But the fake helmets have not been constructed or are able to pass CPSC impact testing, so although they look authentic, they do not provide any of the safety qualities that an authentic helmet does. It’s frightening stuff no matter how you cut it. Law enforcement takes these issues very seriously, and acts fast when they pop up.”

Love means law enforcement in the US, but authorities in China have been stamping down hard on helmet fakers recently. In 2015 Xie Zhenxiang was sentenced to nearly three years in prison in China for selling fake cycling goods, including Giro helmets, on Alibaba’s TaoBao.com.

Giro is a US brand owned by BRG Sports. Martin H. Nguyen, BRG’s in-house legal counsel, told Bicycle Retailer that there are no genuine Giro products on TaoBao.com:

“The images depicted on TaoBao.com for supposed Giro products show components, geometries, orientation, size, and labels that are inconsistent with Giro factory specifications. Also, no Giro reseller or distributor is authorized to market or sell through online marketplaces without express written authorization given on a case-by-case basis. Currently, TaoBao.com is not an authorized marketplace, so any purported Giro products sold on TaoBao.com are presumptively considered counterfeit and are treated as such.”

Giro’s executive vice president and general manager Greg Shapleigh told BikeBiz:

“Giro has always taken the position that counterfeit products in the helmet industry pose a significant risk to public safety. For this reason, we work hard to educate the cycling community about the importance of eradicating counterfeit products and, where necessary and appropriate, we participate in a wide array of counterfeit suppression and eradication efforts, including cooperating with federal investigations.”

In a warning to consumers about “fake bicycle helmets that break upon impact”, Michael Walsh, the director of America’s Customs and Border Protection’s IPR Policy and Programs Division said:

“We ask that shoppers be wary and do their homework. Counterfeit and pirated goods are poor quality, harm legitimate businesses, and can pose health and safety risks to US consumers.”

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.

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