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Brompton boss frustrated to be fighting "war of attrition" against rip-off rivals

"The moment you finally put it on the market, all of that innovation, all of that risk, someone comes along and says 'oh, thanks for telling me how to do it, I'm just going to rip you off'."...

Bromtpon Bikes' CEO Will Butler-Adams has detailed the "war of attrition" the iconic folding bicycle manufacturer finds itself battling, pointing to a host of cheaper brands copying designs across China and Europe.

Speaking to the Telegraph, the brand's managing director said the ongoing issue is just one part of the challenging post-pandemic cycling industry picture, and made the comments just weeks after he bemoaned "bloody Brexit", rising energy bills, the pandemic, cost-of-living crisis and supply chain issues made worse by the Russian invasion of Ukraine for Brompton's pre-tax profit falling 24 per cent despite revenues rising 40 per cent year-on-year.

Calling the copycat problem "very serious", Butler-Adams explained how it takes "four to five years to develop a product or evolve something" only for other manufacturers to move in once it goes to market.

"Whenever you innovate you take risks, you get things wrong, and then the moment you finally put it on the market, all of that innovation, all of that risk, someone comes along and says 'oh, thanks for telling me how to do it, I'm just going to rip you off'," he said of the problem.

Brompton C Line Explore

"I wouldn't say it's a campaign, more of a war of attrition with copies. You know that you're making progress if people are copying you – it's a complement as much as it's a pain.

"We've been in court cases, been to the high court in Europe, design registration, copyright, all this stuff. You spend money on it and it's serious. But actually you're never going to stop it."

> REVIEW: Brompton C Line Explore

One such case came in 2020 when Brompton sued Get2Get in Belgium over the South Korean manufacturer's Chedech model folding into the same three positions as the British folder.

2022 Brompton C Line Explore - folded 2.jpg

"The reality is that what we're making is pretty complex," Butler-Adams continued. "Our titanium bike is hyper, hyper cutting edge. Somebody might be able to copy it but they wouldn't understand what they're doing, so they sort of try and guess.

"Well, if they guess, this isn't a handbag or a watch. If it breaks and you're whizzing down a hill at 35mph, that's not funny. You're going to hurt yourself. Do people want to save £150 on the rip-off one and find themselves with their front teeth smashed out?

"China is our largest export market now and funnily enough the risk from copies in China isn't from them making them in China and shipping to the UK and Europe, because they can make them in China and sell them in China."

Expanding on the difficult times being experienced by the bike industry that he mentioned in an interview last month, Butler-Adams again noted Brompton's 40 per cent rise in sales over the year to 31 March 2022, despite the company's pre-tax profit falling 24 per cent to £7.3 million.

> Is this CHPT3 collaboration the coolest Brompton yet?

And he warned the slowdown in demand from the heights of the pandemic means retailers have been left with excess stock.

"People aren't wanting to go mountain biking or road biking [on holiday] because they're all back to going abroad," he suggested. "Many independent bike dealers have a real cash flow problem and unfortunately I think we will lose quite a few."

Speaking in February, Butler-Adams also outlined a combination of factors contributing to the challenging time, including Brompton's supply chain being affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and tensions between China and Taiwan, with both Ukraine and Taiwan producing titanium used in the folding bikes' frames.

2023 Brompton C Line Explore - riding 4.jpg

The Telegraph reports Brompton is working on plans to move parts of its supply chain away from China and Taiwan for fear of a potential invasion.

"We are very unlike most other bike brands, where... we make most of the parts ourselves. But we still need some of those unique, very bike specific elements," Butler-Adams said in January.

Last week, Frog Bikes, the children's bike manufacturer, released its annual accounts for the same financial year as Brompton's stated earlier, reporting losses of more than half a million pounds as co-founders and directors Jerry and Shelley Lawson pointed to the "continuing friction" from Brexit holding their business back. 

Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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22 comments

Avatar
Bloke On A Bike | 1 year ago
0 likes

Brompton need to short out the longevity of certain components. On their own website they say things like the seat sleeve and hinge can need replacement every 1 to 2 years, and "components that may need replacing after 1–3-year, Frame, headset, saddle and Handlebars Wheels; Tyres, Rims, Spokes and Hubs Brake Levers, Calipers, Pads and Cables Drivetrain; Gears, Shifters, Chain, Sprockets, Bottom Bracket, Cranks and Cables"!!!!!

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Shreds | 1 year ago
0 likes

The only better small wheeled bike is the Moulton with its beautifully engineered suspension, but that bike separates rather than folds which makes it less useful around the City.

If only Alex Moulton and Andrew Richie had collaberated years ago. 

At least Brompton have now gone down the route of an all Ti frame which I have campaigned long and hard for. Sadly for them, my twelve year old, part titanium Brompton already has most of their new innovations like a CF crankset, although theirs is not a Campag Record 11 set up. 😋

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joe9090 | 1 year ago
0 likes

Other folding bike brands are available. If you don't wanna join the clique. 

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cyclisto | 1 year ago
1 like

It is great design, but it has payed off its innovation a lot of decades ago. Now it is selling mostly due to brand name and made in Europe status. I believe it would be impossible to be sold at such high prices now if in an alternate universe, nobody new Brompton.

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slappop | 1 year ago
2 likes

Brompton literally ripped-off Bickerton in the 70s.

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Rick_Rude | 1 year ago
1 like

It's a folding bike. Hardly cutting edge stuff. The biggest difference between a lot of bicycles is simply the image. I swear if you had a Giant with exactly the same running gear as a chinese framed bike that was actually ok, most people would claim the Giant was miles better. 

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Miller | 1 year ago
3 likes

Wow, you lot aren't exactly supportive of a UK manufacturer that makes a class-leading product. 

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Secret_squirrel replied to Miller | 1 year ago
3 likes

The only thing class leading about the Brompton is its fold - which is awesome.  Otherwise its been deliberately handicapped with shit equipment like the stupid 2,3&6 speed gears.   Why should I pay top money for 70's kit?

Its a design icon and probably the ultimate retro folding bike.  But calling them innovative is laughable.

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ribena replied to Secret_squirrel | 1 year ago
0 likes

What other gearing system would on a 16" wheel with the narrow width necessary to get the small folded size? A deraileur will be too close to the ground.

There are conversions to 135mm hub gears but they sacrifice the folded size.

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Sriracha replied to ribena | 1 year ago
2 likes

You've identified a legitimate problem. That won't fix itself. It's almost like they need to innovate.

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Secret_squirrel replied to ribena | 1 year ago
1 like

I would argue the folded width is sacrificable.  Many a time I've been tempted to buy an older brommy and update it with bits from Kinetic

https://www.kinetics-online.co.uk/folding-bikes/brompton/brompton-rear-t...

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Miller replied to Secret_squirrel | 1 year ago
1 like

What makes you the expert in innovation? You've got a shedful of retrobike stuff, lol.

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Secret_squirrel replied to Miller | 1 year ago
1 like

lol.  I'd point out that my remainng retrobike kit includes Hope's Mk1 disc brake conversion which was innovative at the time.  Also a former owner of a Birdy folder which kicked bromptons ass for innovation.  They had an electric folder on the market a good 5 years before brompton did.

As I say the brommy is a great and legendary bit of kit - but innovative it aint.

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ktache replied to Secret_squirrel | 1 year ago
1 like

About a week back I was passed on the morning blast to the station by a Brompton with disks, a bit of a rapid garbled communication, and I learned that it is rare but doable, someone does it.

Coming home during the heady days of last summer, needing to do the two stage train, grr, I met a very proud long time Birdy owner who had upgraded it to the max. If I ever needed to, and could afford it, I'd go the Birdy route.

But then I'm in a dilemma wether to swap out my ridiculously sluggish three inch Surly Dirt Wizards for some hopefully slightly less sluggish newly brought Schwlbe Nobbly Nics (2.8s). It's still very muddy out there, I was hoping for some dryish spring warmth, but next week is cold and wet...

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Rik Mayals unde... | 1 year ago
0 likes

He's a very unhappy chappy. Only last week he was on here complaining about Brexit. 

Oh well, I guess it's all free advertising for him.

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ChuckSneed | 1 year ago
0 likes

Welcome to the world of business.

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Sriracha | 1 year ago
3 likes

My sympathy is tinged with perplexity - what innovation? "The fold" is indeed great, but that was how long ago? So, other than the colour ways, and making it out of different metals, what else is new? They are trading on their heritage, not their innovation.

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Secret_squirrel replied to Sriracha | 1 year ago
1 like

Sriracha wrote:

My sympathy is tinged with perplexity - what innovation? "The fold" is indeed great, but that was how long ago? So, other than the colour ways, and making it out of different metals, what else is new? They are trading on their heritage, not their innovation.

I can only think of 2 recent ones. The leccy version and arguably some of the 3rd party ones are better.   Second the new derailleur, and again arguably re-inventing the wheel unnecessarily compared to existing solutions. 
So I'd question the innovation tag too.

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chrisonabike replied to Secret_squirrel | 1 year ago
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Didn't they have something on their site linked from here about some super-duper welding or aligning process? No idea myself but presumably possible to come up with a process innovation which isn't itself a "product" and you'd only know about from marketing blurb. (Sadly - from a Marston's advert the "Burton Union System" pops up in memory).

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jaymack replied to Sriracha | 1 year ago
3 likes

Patents exist for a reason but they expire after 20 years. So, if the Brompton fold was patented more than 20 years ago then presumably they don't have wheel to spin on. Although I would point out that there is a reason that I'm not a patent attorney.

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ribena replied to jaymack | 1 year ago
1 like

No. Patents are only way one of protecting IP and they are aimed at protecting technical inventions. They are other ways that can be used to protect IP such as trademarks, copyright, regstered or unregistered design rights, passing off and so on.

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ChrisB200SX replied to Sriracha | 1 year ago
1 like

I think the trademark or patent or whatever for the exclusive general fold/shape/style expired in the last few years, so they can't really complain about copies.

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