2300 euros for 850 grams of carbon? This is the amount you pay for a high-end hardtail frame from a major brand. Easily. Is this a fair, comprehensible price or do we pay a huge premium at the local bike shop? Many bikers actually pose themselves this question. And quite a few set off for exploring alternative ways. This is apparent in hundreds of pages in the mountain bike forums where the advantages and disadvantages of various direct sales are discussed in detail in Europe as well as in the USA. Basic message: “With a tenth of the price you don’t run a great risk with the direct purchase and if for any reason you were not completely satisfied you would return the goods.”
The commercial relationship between West and East seems to function as is confirmed in the forums. Serious problems are described rarely. Western owners were mainly satisfied by direct purchases. Between the lines it becomes however clear that the consignees are quite tolerant with shortcomings. The obligation to rework or an imperfect finish which would result in a complaint with a brand manufacturer is occasionally accepted. Serious problems with frame breakage in the case of direct imports are not documented, examples for carbon seat posts breaking off are however found. The fact that individual coatings and frame markings go wrong from time to time is also clearly visible.
The strong demand for the direct imports made us curious. We wanted to find out what Chinese goods actually deliver and the differences with regard to the big brand manufacturers. We therefore bought two frames by choosing a way that most bikers choose, i.e. through Aliexpress, a subsidiary company of the Chinese retail giant Alibaba. Aliexpress is a trading platform connecting Asian providers with their Western customers. Compared to a pure direct purchase from the manufacturer the platform offers additional security: In case of problems an arbitration process is initiated securing the purchase similar to the one of ebay. In addition, the feedback of other buyers is available through Aliexpress as well as details as to the size of the company and the piece number produced.
In the test lab of Zedler-Institut the frames are to prove that they meet the common standard for mountain bikes. No big deal in our opinion...
The number of manufacturers interested in selling small quantities directly to Western end consumers is manageable. What Chinese want most is to ship their goods by containers. Among seven suppliers appearing quite often we finally choose Works Well, mainly due to their good delivery conditions. The price of 300 euros per hardtail full carbon frame already includes the airfreight. The indicated frame weight of 1050 grams is not recklessly light, we therefore assume that the frame is likely to work.
The purchase process works troublefree, the purchase confirmation is given quickly upon purchase and the shipping message rings in your inbox one day following the purchase and every contact is in understandable English. After twelve days already our order arrives in Frankfort, remains however in the customs. This means additional import sales taxes and customs duties as well as handling charges for the courier service dealing with the customs paperwork. The price of the frames raises by 90 euros per item. The frames quickly pass through the customs. Two days later the parcel service arrives. Finally, handing out of presents. The frames are delivered in such an extravagant packaging as if made personally by Christo. During unveiling tension increases: Pure black, proper surfaces – the processing pleases at first sight. Thru axles and spare drop-outs for standard quick-releases are included.
Then, the frames are examined carefully in the BIKE laboratory. The pressfit mounts made of carbon are reworked and correct in diameter. The bearing seats for the integrated headset bearings strike by the atypical light pressfit which is technically still acceptable. The frames are straight, the installation dimensions match. A test assembly shows that the cable routing inside the frame also works without problems. The geometry with steep steering angle is a bit conservative, the stiffness values are proper and identical for both test samples. There is no boost standard yet. With 1150 or 1162 grams the weight is higher than indicated, but with 18.5 inches we did not order the smallest frame size.
This means everything ok? For the time being yes. In the BIKE lab the mechanics assemble affordable custom bikes already in mind. But the most important test is yet to come: In the test lab of Zedler-Institut the frames are to prove that they comply with the ISO 4210 standard compulsory for mountain bikes.
Author: Robert Kühnen
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