When a fake isn't - open molds vs. the knock-offs

No-name versus brand name.
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No-name versus brand name.
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Aliexpress.com sells carbon bicycle frames. Amazingly, it also sells the clamshell molds needed to make these frames. Carbon cycle frames are baked in these molds. Despite modern non-tube carbon frames being called "monocoques," they are not, in fact, made in one piece. They tend to be molded in two pieces, stuck together with glue, and then the joins are concealed with a carbon-and-resin mix. Premium cycle brands pay Cream and Competent factories for the creation of bike- and size-specific molds, and these molds are not used by other companies. Competent and Cowboy factories also produce generic "open-mold" cycle frames using molds that are, in effect, rented out to all and sundry.

These Chinese-made open-mold frames are cheaper than proprietary frames from the premium brands. Open mold frames can be remixed by using different rear triangle or bottom bracket configurations leading to unique looking frames at a fraction of a cost of making an entirely new design.

Open mold frames are available consumer-direct from Competent factories or they can be purchased from domestic suppliers. Planet X in the UK is one such supplier. Some bike shops also offer own-brand open-mold frames, painted in shop colours.

Now, an apology: the term “open mold” might be well-known on cycle forums but, technically, it’s not correct. An open mold is one that’s “open” – it doesn’t have a top; the sort of mold used for car hoods. Bike frames are made in clamshell molds, made in two halves. The correct term for “open mold” is “open design”. (“Public- or “common-mold” are also used.) However, the incorrect phrase has now taken hold in bike circles so throughout the rest of this series of articles when “open mold” is used I mean “open design.”

Chinese open-mold frames don't have names; they have numbers: three digits after FM (FM stands for frame mould). So, FM099 is an open mold frame baked in "frame mould ninety nine". FM099 is also a familiar looking shape - it looks an awful lot like the Specialized Venge. In short, it's a knock-off, and is known online, wink-wink, as the "Fenge."

FM098, on the other hand, doesn't encroach on any design rights - it's a popular frame, available from consumer-direct from vendors such as HongFu and Deng Fu.

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Name is a rip-off, frame shape is the FM086

The FM086 time-trial bike is also available from many vendors. Even though it's an open-mold frame, available to all and sundry, German brand Stevens sells an FM086 under the product name "Super Trofeo". The bike's blurb makes no mention of its generic origins. Instead "countless hours" were spent "in the wind tunnel to create these aero-optimized tube shapes" and "countless hours of engineers' know-how" were used to hide the brake behind the fork. "We did our work," claims Stevens, "now it's your turn."

The FM086 still looks trick, but it's now actually quite dated - the 2016 version is the FM087.

Chris Mei of VeloBuild, a Chinese trading company that sources and sells open-mold frames told BikeBiz that 30 percent of VeloBuild's sales are to Europe, 65 percent to North America and five percent to Australia.

Open-mold frames sometimes get a bad rap on internet forums - usually for issues with internal cabling and frame misalignments - but it's important to note most of them are not fakes, they are no-name frames. When bought from Competent factories or vendors there's no reason to suspect open-mold frames will be any weaker than private-mold frames made by Cream factories.

Some open mold frames may have been built to very high standards with premium carbon. Others not. There's no way of telling which is which, and generally very little comeback available.

Warranties on no-name open-mold frames tend to be much shorter than warranties offered by premium brands with their private-mold frames. (Wheel warranties can be as low as three months.) Sending the no-names back to China is expensive and time-consuming.

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FAKING ITInside 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 a PDF, a Kindle file, an eBook and a Word document.

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