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The Cycling Industry: Middle Aged Men In Counterfeit Lycra

As cycling jerseys have become ‘cooler’, the number of counterfeits have grown. Safety concerns are arguably less pertinent than with other cycling products. However, fakes pose a real threat to the innovators that have worked hard to build their brands and loyal customers.

The Cycling Jersey Scene

Cycling jerseys are cool (mostly). Visit any vintage market and you’ll find racks of brightly coloured, bobbly nylon and lycra from the 80s and 90s. You’ll see the same jerseys popping up at 2am in techno clubs; and the skin-tight garish styles and zip-up collar silhouettes are echoed in modern streetwear collections. It’s fair to say then, that the brief monopoly that middle aged men in lycra (MAMILs) held in cycling fashion through the early 2010s is over.

Equally the modern cycling jersey market is the most diverse it has ever been. Whilst brands like Castelli and Rapha dominate, there are countless smaller labels delivering quality goods and original designs. However, the ‘cycling boom’ of the early teens is over. Although this may mean less dad-bods in skin-tight lycra (definitely good), it also means the cycling jersey businesses that grew out of the increase in popularity of road cycling are facing a seriously tough test (not so good).

Consumers prepared to shell £100+ on a jersey have begun to deplete and the cycling market has grown more mainstream. Competing with the middle aisle of ALDI offering everything one could don whilst clipped into their racer is becoming harder. As the relentless fast fashion machine dilutes the culture, these brands find themselves struggling to turn a profit. Ever the innovators, companies have reacted. Many taking sales in-house and building exclusivity through high profile collaborations, limited production runs and slick e-commerce retail. Nonetheless, in a difficult market, these brands’ inherent creativity isn’t always enough to ensure steady revenue. Even worse, their previous success has brought another challenge, counterfeiters!


Counterfeiters do not tend to discriminate when it comes to the products they copy. Furthermore, the problem threatens just about every consumer sector. For every fake Gucci handbag there is a fake box of washing powder. For every dodgy North Face jacket there are countless counterfeit baby teethers. The problem is also growing with the number of counterfeits manufactured increasing by 15% each year. Although China and East Asia still account for most of production, fakes can pop up just about anywhere.

The cycling industry feels the pain as much as anyone. Unlike with many luxury goods, there are serious implications of fakes entering the market. Firstly, when it comes to components, frames and helmets, safety is key. The quality ensured by strict controls on real products is not guaranteed with fakes. Consequently a counterfeit bicycle part or helmet could cause serious injury, even death, if it were to fail during use. When it comes to cycling apparel and accessories, quality is also key to performance. Undoubtedly, the breathability of a 10 pound knock-off jersey will not compare to the innovative fabrics of companies like Gore or Castelli. Aside from these issues though counterfeits across all cycling products also represent a theft of intellectual property, undermining the hard work of brands and designers and diverting revenues away from legitimate and hardworking innovators towards organised crime and illicit factories.

Counterfeit Jerseys Online

Just as more and more consumers shop online, these consumers are also turning to platforms like Alibaba, AliExpress, DHGate and Wish where, mostly Chinese based, sellers offer extremely low prices for all sorts of goods. These platforms are rife with fakes and the cycling jersey market is one of the worst hit. Like every other product, as cycling jerseys have become ‘cooler’ they’ve become more popular to fake. It is often assumed that counterfeiting is only a problem for big brands. However, a quick check of online marketplaces instantly shows that the smaller companies are also being copied. Northwave, Morvélo, MAAP, Café du Cycliste, VOID, Santa Cruz, Black Sheep, Chapeau!, Pas Normal Studios, Victory Chimp, Love the Pain to name just a few, are all under attack by copycats.

To determine the true nature of the risk, SnapDragon completed an extensive investigation into cycling apparel on the afore mentioned sites. The results were alarming. Using our proprietary monitoring and detection software we were able to train our image recognition and search term algorithms to identify 1000s of highly suspicious listings likely to be counterfeit. Of all listings on AliExpress with more than 100 previous transactions, over a third are highly likely to be fake. On Alibaba, where transactions are wholesale and business to business, there are similar problems. On DHGate and Wish, shockingly more than 75% of the cycling jerseys we identified were highly likely to be fakes. These suspect listings raise a few questions for brands. Are they really counterfeits? Why are people buying them? And, most importantly, what can be done about them?

Are all these listing really offering counterfeits?

In short, for the most part, yes! It can be hard to ascertain if there is truly a counterfeit product behind an online listing. It is often the case that sellers are trying to ride the coattails of successful brands. Most often by stealing images or brand reputation to sell a similar product without manufacturing a branded counterfeit. These kinds of infringements are still a threat and still divert revenues and tarnish reputations. In the case of cycling jerseys, most illicit sellers are offering counterfeits, either made to order or sitting in stock. How do we know this? Because a brief look at consumer reviews reveals photos of direct counterfeits being unboxed in living rooms across the globe.

Counterfeited in lycra

Why do people buy fakes?

There are a variety of reasons why consumers may buy a counterfeit online and a lot of fakes are purchased unknowingly. However, the crux of the issue is that, mostly, fakes are much cheaper than the real products they imitate. This perceived ‘bargain’ will always be the number one draw towards counterfeits, be this for knowing or unknowing consumers. Fake jerseys are cheap for a reason. There are no design costs, fabrics and labour practices are often unregulated and technical development is non-existent.

Nonetheless, as cycling jerseys don’t hold an obvious safety function, buyers who will not risk a fake carbon fork, may well still be prepared to buy a fake jersey. Many in the hope of gaining the prestige of the brand name and design, without paying the higher retail price. Whilst fakes are often subpar, in fit, quality and function, the perceived, and for the most part, real risk behind a fake jersey is not a deterrent for many. Of course, many consumers want the real thing and these cycling brands have built loyal followings through sophisticated marketing campaigns, commitment to quality and superb customer service. However, the issue remains, as the market has become more mainstream many consumers want the brand prestige but aren’t prepared to part with the brand’s asking price.

What to do about the problem?

As a brand, addressing the issue is best approached as 3 pillars.

1. First is to prepare and secure your brand, most vitally, register your intellectual property:

  • Trademarks, particularly word marks – that is the actual written terms as opposed to logos and figures, allow you to enforce against copycats using your name with far greater ease.
  • Trademarking your brand name and logo offers good ROI, just remember to register in all relevant territories and the appropriate product classes (25 for footwear and clothing, 12 for bike and bike parts are a good place to start).
  • Where pertinent you may wish also to register unique jersey designs to strengthen your protection against copycats stealing your aesthetics without using your branding.
  • Copyright is a global unregistered intellectual property right and can be very useful in enforcing against the misuse of your images online and in some cases can be enforced against the theft of your designs.
  • It is very common that counterfeits will be listed using your official images to make them appear real or of higher quality than they really are. Copyright can be used to remove these images and limit the damage.

2. Second is to educate, yourself and your customers – build brand loyalty through information:

  • Whilst revealing that you have fakes may seem like a risk, it will strengthen your brand long-term. Tell your customers where they can buy real products and, vitally, where to avoid buying from. This is a strategy many brands already adopt, with dedicated pages on their website highlighting how to avoid buying a counterfeit.
  • You can also show customers why a $10 fake jersey is not better value than your $100 one. Tell the story of your product, the hard work, skilled labour and resulting salaries that goes in to each one. At the end of the day the online consumer clicks a button and expects a jersey. Tell them why the real one is worth it and tell them why the fake isn’t, because they may not find out on their own until they’ve made the purchase.
  • In response to stagnating revenue, many brands are also taking e-commerce in-house and building exclusivity through limited runs, collabs and a selective retail network. This can have a positive impact in fighting fakes too. Not only does it make it far easier to understand and monitor your distribution network but as consumers expect to pay more for a bespoke and exclusive retail experience less and less of your target market will have any interest in scrolling through drop shipping e-commerce sites for ‘replicas’.

3. Lastly, (and where SnapDragon can come in) make sure you defend against the illicit sellers online.

  • Whilst legal action can often be prohibitively expensive, employing an online brand protection strategy does not need to be. Software has made the monitoring and detection of counterfeits effective, efficient and affordable. The same proprietary algorithms we used to do the research for this blog can be employed by brands, and you, to proactive identify fakes and copies.
  • These fakes can then be reported and removed through the official channels of the platforms they are listed on. SnapDragon does this on behalf of our clients every day and can have listings removed in as little as 4 minutes.
  • There is a perception that online action is ineffective unless it is followed up offline, usually because, without seizures, the fake products will continue to exist for sale. There is some truth in this, and a joined-up brand protection strategy is always recommendable. For some brands, their main objective is stopping the oxygen supply through delisting, to ensure that fakes cannot be purchased online. For other brands, gathering intelligence along the way is crucial because further off-line action is important. No matter the strategy, acting against fakes online will strengthen your brand and reduce the opportunity for counterfeiters to profit from your hard work

If you would like to learn more about our research project mentioned in this article or would like some advice on brand protection, please get in contact.


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