When is a Pinarello not a Pinarello? When it is a Chinarello

Ride a fake Pinarello and you risk "serious damage and/or death", claims the Italian company, adding that counterfeit frames have had "worrying structural failures". This doesn’t seem to deter purchasers, purchasers such as "Bikebandit" of the US. Bikebandit bought his "Dogma F8" from HK FeiFan Trading of China via the Chinese online retailer DHGate. (Feifan is no longer listed on DHGate, or on Alibaba.). Bikebandit paid $599 for his fake, from a factory that, to all intents and purposes, no longer existed one month after his purchase. (This isn’t strictly true – the factory still exists, but the trading name has been refreshed; in China leopards change their spots on a whim.)

On an "unboxing" video he placed on YouTube Bikebandit mused: "If you were expecting a real Pinarello you bought the wrong product".

Describing his bike as a "replica", he added: "Six hundred bucks is a pretty good deal if you don’t mind owning a Chinarello." Bikebandit spent $5,000 less than if had he bought a real Dogma.

"For what I intend to use it for it’s fine," he told the 66,000 viewers of his video.

Bikebandit posted a follow-up video two months, and 1,000 miles, later. "The bike’s holding up great," he reported. "No cracks, no breaks, no nothing." One happy customer.

Pinarello isn’t so happy. Its IP agent has blocked tens of thousands of listings of Chinarellos (listings can include multiple items) and closed down over 3,000 online storefronts, including HK FeiFan Trading.

The Italian company is a victim of its own success. Thanks to Miguel Indurain in the 1990s and more recent Tour de France victories from Team Sky riders, Pinarello is an eminently desirable brand. Couple this desirability with a relative shortage of bikes and the attractiveness of low prices when buying fakes from China, and it’s easy to see why Chinarellos are such hot property – they often look identical to the real thing, and, say their fans, they don’t ride like a "sack of potatoes" as some critics claim.

The real Pinarello frames are made by Carbotec Industrial of Taiwan and China. This factory does not have a "third-shift", producing the "same-but-cheaper" frames for sale to street-wise Westerners sticking it to the Man.

"If [Pinarello and other] companies can shut down their factories in their home countries to move [their] manufacturing in China to profit from cheap labor and lax labor laws I can save a few bucks from buying products from those same people that branched out from those slave factories," BikeBandit justified to himself on a YouTube comment, offering no proof for either claim.

"James Nolan," writing on Bikebandit’s YouTube page, expressed the view of many when he claimed "the people who are laying the carbon into the molds are … doing it in a factory that makes major ‘real’ brands."

Nolan continued: "The factory that makes these probably makes more money on these fakes than on the ‘real’ bikes so it’s in their own interests to make them as good as possible."

These type of claims are frequently voiced by Chinarello purchasers. In order to stem the flood of fakes, Pinarello uses anti-counterfeiting specialist Convey. The Italian IP consultancy stamps on the online merchants used as fronts for the counterfeiting factories.

One of the factories which once produced Chinarellos was Great Keen Bike. The website for this trading company now defaults to a counterfeits page controlled by Specialized. Clearly, Great Keen Bike once made fake Specialized frames, too. Great Keen Bike is now a number of different companies, including Greatkeen Bike Sport Equipment, GKB Sport Equipment and other variants, including deliberate mis-spellings of Great Keen. Its store on Aliexpress, if you believe in unicorns, was once the Bicycling Editors’ Choice.

Convey may have successfully zapped many of the above-the-counter online mentions of Pinarello from the many-headed monster that is Great Keen Bike, but when I contacted the company posing as a consumer interested not in the leading marques on public display on Aliexpress but a Dogma, "Jerry GK" replied with an image of all the F8 frames he could still supply.

When I asked where to place the order I was sent an Aliexpress URL which flew under the radar by not mentioning "Pinarello" – but the frame shapes were the same, and photos sent to me from Jerry via the Aliexpress direct-messaging service were of Dogma frames complete with Pinarello decals.

After digging on Great Keen’s many websites, BikeBiz found, tucked away, a low-resolution photograph of a trade-show stand. The company name above the booth was grainy but, after enlarging and sharpening, it appeared to be "Trident Thrust". Putting that name into Aliexpress brought up Dongguan Trident Thrust Sport Equipment, a factory on Alibaba.com, and situated in Huangjiang Town, 20 miles north of Shenzhen.

This factory –- probably the one that makes Great Keen’s Pinarello’s and its other fakes – also makes Thrust, an own-brand frame. The company exhibited this brand at the 2014 edition of Asia Bike in Nanjing, China, a partner show to Germany’s Eurobike.

"Jerry at Greatkeen Bike aka Trident Thrust is an old "friend" of ours," Convey’s Michele Provera told BikeBiz.

"We have closed more than ten of his accounts on multiple platforms, with several hundreds of offerings taken down for fakes from Pinarello, Colnago, Canyon, Cervélo, Bianchi, Lapierre, Campagnolo, 3T, FSA, SMP, and others."

Thrust may be an own-brand but it, too, is guilty of IP theft, says Provera. Many of the shapes used by Thrust frames encroach on the design-rights of companies represented by Convey, and Provera has been able to have them removed from Chinese retail sites (they usually reappear again, in slightly different guises).

Provera says Thrust has breached the technology patent on the 3G disposition of Campagnolo spokes, the design patent on the F8 frames, the technology patent on the Look Z-crank and the S5 frames, and the patent on the hollow body and reverse nose of the SMP saddle.

Provera keeps close tabs on Trident and its various profiles on Chinese retail websites – he clamps down hard on IP infringements. Other brands are less belligerent. Trident/Great Keen openly sells fake frames from Ridley, Cipollini, De Rosa, BH, and Wilier.

Trident is probably not the only Chinese factory producing fake Pinarello’s but it’s certainly one of the most persistent. On the plus side, when pushed, Trident does not claim that its factory makes the genuine article. Still posing as a consumer I asked Great Keen’s Jerry whether, as many consumers believe, the real Pinarello frames were also made in his factory, "Haha, nope, friend. [Pinarello] have their own … factory," he replied. "Mine is not original."

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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