Low-price carbon frames available online may seem like tantalising bargains, but can you trust their quality, asks Marc Abbott

Most of us have at some point been drawn to eBay to trawl the listings for a frame in our size and at a price that won’t see us cast out into the doghouse for a week.

Alongside the used bikes and official bike shop listings, there are a huge number of very cheap, unbranded carbon alternatives, often from China.

For the road cyclist looking for a unique bike and who is not concerned with brand names and logos, building up one of these frames with the finishing kit and groupset of choice is a very tempting prospect.

>>> Is it the end for the 34t chainring?

But if the price seems too good to be true, can we trust these frames? Have they gone through the same stringent testing procedures as named brands? And what comeback do you have if something goes awry while you’re riding it?

Online bike business VeloBuild offers carbon frames for sale online from as little as $339 (£226).

Chris Mei, director of VeloBuild’s office in Shenzhen, China, explains how these low prices are achieved: “The frames we sell are what we call ‘open common tool’ [a generic mould that anyone can purchase and use], so the price is much cheaper.

“Bigger brands usually have their own mould and tool, so their frame is special and only for them. They can pay for the mould cost and so their retail prices are higher.”

>>> Do we need 12-speed gears?

One of the primary concerns among UK cyclists when considering buying a frame online from China is the lack of warranty offered.

While you’re unlikely to find such assurances from an eBay seller, Mei is quick to point out that his company does guarantee the quality of its frames: “Our carbon frames have a two-year warranty which covers everything except ‘human destruction’.”

One UK bike importer we spoke to, who wished to remain nameless, raised serious concerns about the number of frame failures they had witnessed in Chinese carbon products.

Mei, however, assures us that his frames — made from high-tensile Toray 700 and aerospace grade 800 and 1000 carbon-fibre — meet the relevant EN European standards for sales in the UK.

>>> Are electronic groupsets necessary?

Neil Ball of UK carbon repair specialist Carbon Bike Technics has a theory as to why reported instances of frame failures are uncommon.

“We don’t see many unbranded frames through the workshop,” he says, “but this might be because of the cost implications.

“It would cost about the same amount of money to get one of these frames repaired professionally as it would to simply buy another new frame from China on the internet.”

>>> Can you trust repaired carbon bike frames?

Maybe we’re wrong to be wary of these frames, especially as they’re often made in the same factories that manufacture brand-name bikes.

Mei confirms: “Our factory in Shenzhen also makes frames for some well-known brands. I can’t say which brands — that’s confidential.”


If you’re buying a frame, you’ll need to know which groupset to put on it


The dark side

Big-name brands are quick to challenge the reliability of cheaper Chinese imports, especially in light of a number of high-profile scares over the influx of counterfeit frames coming to Europe.

Audrey Sogny, Look Cycle’s media officer, says: “The safety of the [counterfeit] frame is clearly compromised. Imagine what would happen if you were descending and the frame broke.”

>>> The disc brakes debate: are they necessary on road bikes?

Which leads us back to the ‘too cheap to be true’ maxim. Sogny won’t be drawn on how to spot a fake, explaining: “We don’t want to tell people how to know when they have a counterfeit frame because that gives clues to the counterfeiters on how to make them.

“If a customer has any doubt about whether their frame is genuine, they should contact our aftersales service.”

>>> Winter bikes: do you really need one?

On the broader subject, Sogny continues: “A lot of big firms in the Far East, like Giant in Taiwan, for instance, have the correct quality controls. But if you buy a cheap frame — not necessarily a counterfeit — you should be aware of the possible consequences.”

Our take

It seems there might be a middle ground here: buying through a specialist firm rather than eBay.

For us, though, there’s no substitute for visiting a dealer, sitting on a bike and getting the right one for you in terms of quality and safety, not just the cheapest.

Even UK online retailers are good at dealing with issues arising from bike sales, and are also in the same time zone.

£2000 bike group test

The carbon road bike market is a busy place; but should people look to China for a cheaper alternative?

For: Chris Mei – VeloBuild

“We have customers from the UK, and all our carbon frames are made to the same procedure as well-known brand name frames, and in the same factory.

“They come with a warranty and conform to the relevant EN standard for safety. As well as testing, we build bikes for our test riders to review on our website, and customers can share experiences on our forum.”

Look Aerolight

The Look 795 Aerolight claims to be “most aerodynamic bike ever”. Either way, it’s a quality carbon road bike

Against: Audrey Sogny – Look Cycle media officer

“I think you should be aware when you buy a frame that it has traceability; this is the case for all products, not just bikes. This is the customer’s responsibility when they purchase a frame.

“The main reason you should avoid cheap carbon frames is the safety implications. If you’re riding and something goes wrong, your life could be endangered.”

The first version of this article originally appeared in the May 21, 2015 print issue of Cycling Weekly 

  • adam zhu

    hello, James, just contact me , our factory can supply many kind of carbon bike .whatsapp: + 86 13560371655

  • adam zhu

    hello, jana, just contact me , our factory can supply many kind of carbon bike .whatsapp: + 86 13560371655

  • Ryan

    It is not extreme, it is more of stiff than flex, since the frame is quite high angle on the fork and seattube. No they didn’t offer me a new seatpost since it wasn’t broken. And a new one won’t do the job either, they had to change the design on how to tighten the seatpost clamp. Yesterday I went for a speedy ride, 88km in 2 hour 20 minutes with some 5km traffic at the beginning and the very end. So yeas if you ask me too much flex or stiff I would say either, it is in general more of a stiff design than flex but not the extreme end of either.

  • sim

    Your bike looks good. I am thinking about getting the same one. How does it feel? Too much flex or too stiff? Also, did they offer you a new seatpost?

  • sim

    Your bike looks nice. I’m thinking of buying the same one. How does the bike feel? Too stiff? too much flex?

  • Ryan

    Ryan.mcqueen13@gmail.com, this should find me over facebook.

  • Ryan

    The quality of the paint is quite good, smooth overall. It is in matte though. I like simple paint so not sure if paints get complicated would that show any difference. I got the Seraph X1-TT Size L, since that is the frame in that company which can used 28C tire. I do have them indeed, over my facebook. Here it would be too large to attach.

  • sim

    Thanks for the information! What do you think about the paint quality? Also which model did you get? If you have any frame pictures handy I’d love to see.

  • Ryan

    The only actual problem I had with them is the seat post tighten process which wasn’t well designed so that I need a strip of duct tape to secure the final position, but it had since then redesigned. As for why I knew they had their own QC team, I paid a visit to their actual factory though I wasn’t able to film the process of my frame being make but I knew they passed through a building which is a QR section of the company. And yes, the non passed frame will be thrown away into a “garbage bin” for further detailing while a new frame would be produced shortly after. The amount of frame being thrown away is decreasing and the model of those frame also get detailed examination on it. In this case I choose the one had rarely failed test as my frame, it is also their own design in terms of the geometry of the frame after they had been so many years using what they called “non copyright related frame geometry base”. After all that I got my customized paint in matte. So far I crossed 2000km in about 6 weeks and feeling very strong and stiff and it is unique. Quebec, Canada roads aren’t all that good so it is a place to test them. Hope these information help.

  • sim

    what problems did you have with the frame? How do you know they have their own QC team?

  • bob

    That is correct. We are being had.

  • bob

    They are not fakes because they are not sold with the label of a top brand. They are generic frames.

  • bob

    BMC, Look, Trek, Giant, Cannondale they are ALL manufactured in factories in China or Taiwan. All of them. Dura Ace is manufactured in China too. These top brands pay just a few dollars per frame and sell them for hundreds if not thousands of dollars. It’s a total rip off and a scam. Wake up sheeple.

  • Martyn Redgate

    I bought a Chinese copy frame over two years ago. I put a genuine Campy Super Record Group Set and finishing kit. Also bought Chinese copy wheels. The frame came with a 2 year guanine. In that time I have had a couple of tumbles at events and have never had any subsequent problem with frame or the wheels. I even took the frame to be checked by a professional. While there is understandable concern in regard to safety – ‘…price too good to be true’, let’s face it, most of the scare mongering is coming from the top brand manufacturers who, when charging around 3 to £5000 UK Pounds per frame stand to lose quite a bit of profit with the Chinese as a competitor. With a longer history than any European nation or the USA in scientific and engineering advances, I think we should be giving them a little more credit in their ability to build a carbon fibre cycle frame.

  • Ryan

    One company now from China I would have trust in them is called Tantan or their brand name Seraph. They had their own company, design team, management team, marketing, even QC, etc. For counterfeiting I am sure they are exist but certainly I had a clue in my mind what type of frame require what type of invest. So I got this piece of frame for USD 800 plus a 95USD shipment cost in total and it is made is quite good quality except some area still need extra care of deatails.

  • JH

    Andrew: where did you buy the frame from if I may ask?

  • John Farrell

    My only fear is that I ride on a descent at 50-70kilometers per hour and “crack” – I break some bones/hospital/ambulance – you get what I mean.. Any thoughts? Kind Regards

  • Jana Morse

    Greetings to you, William. Do you have Cervelo P5 or P3 equivalent model frames, please. Viola001@charter.net
    Thank you for your assistance.

  • Gregory Patmore

    I’ve been riding a oem frame since March and already clocked 8,000km. You have to ask all the questions you have and shop carefully due to some dodgy sellers. Remember though even brand name frames fail

  • Brendan Asselstine

    This article lacks any conclusion. Only the commentary from each side is suggested. I like that; but I ultimately want to know the deal!

  • martybess

    I’m wanting a good cheap frame, can you recommend a good china contact??

  • Chris S

    It is still going well. Build was straight forward. Looking at Strava I have now done 8500km on it and it is fine. Rode three crits on it this year and made the podium on two of them so it didn’t let me down. It is not a mega light frame but not bad, I am not a weight weenie but it weighs in at just under 8kg as I have built it, I am sure if you went to town you could get it close to 7kg. It is a stiff frame compared to my previous carbon and the geometry is fairly aggressive, sprinting out of the saddle and cornering feels really good.
    The only changes I have made to it since I took the attached photo are I dropped the stem a little and change the compact crankset for a Sram Red standard double, although that is just personal preference rather than anything to do with the frame.
    Would I recommend it yes definitely as long as you are comfortable with the import process and the possible delays etc. if you have warranty issue.

  • Erwan

    Hi Chris, I’m considering building an FM098. How is it treating you? What’s your build (photos?)? Thanks for the feedback!

  • Tom Braun

    Don’t you mean Woe?

  • already replica ones

  • william

    dear friend, if you would like the frame from china, you can contact to me, and we are the carbon bike parts manufacturer in china, we have the bmc, pinarello dogma 65.1/f8/tt , specialized venge/SL4/SL5, cervelo s5/
    s3, scott road frame/mtb frame, wilter frame, colnago c59/c60, BH, derosa
    frame, cipillion bond frame,and look 685/795/986 frame etc.. if you are interested
    to any of them, please contact to me , carbon wheelset is ok, for example, zipp
    404 dimple wheelset,.

    my email is cycling88895@hotmail.com

    greeting
    william

  • Isaac Marquez

    Is it true tho….

  • josh

    THis is a very fair article . allowing open mold manufacturers to feedback. I like to point out that Im a happy user of velobuild carbon frames . IT’s fantastic to know that i can customize a frame and have an equally good carbon frame as the branded ones.

  • Anthony Jackson

    Yep. I dont think anyone will argue successfully that counterfeit is wrong and dishonest…. the debate was about open-mold frames/parts. For which it seems that most people on here seem aware that Western bikes companies and bike shops are a marketing machine and are worried about losing out to the East.

  • Anthony Jackson

    I road race on Chinese wheels and have done now for 2 years on them. They are great for race days when you want extra, and I wont lose alot of sleep if I crash and they get trashed…..Im a 3rd Cat racer and do a few TTs, these wheels cover both those events and are faster than aluminium training wheels.

  • Oliver Howard

    The guy you initially replied to was talking about an open mold, not a ripped off copy. So why pay over twice as much for the PX version of the same frame?

  • ian franklin

    It’s not news to me at all. The difference between PX and a ripped off copy is that you know where it comes from, it’s back by customer service and they guarantee their products. Also not morally indefensible as copies are.

  • Johnny

    Spot on

  • Johnny

    I’ve got some. They’re great!

  • Oliver Howard

    I’ve got news for you. The new Planet X RT90 is a Chinese open mold. It’s an FM066SL.

  • Nicholas Vicari

    Sorry but this article was not really about fake frames, it was really referring to open mold frames, which many Western brand manufacturers will use. At the end of the day its the quality control of these frames that really matter, not the brand.

  • jimxc

    I have a friend who’s got one from china, it’s super light, strong and he’s done 1000s of miles on it without issue. it’s matt black and looks the nuts laden with durace bits. go figure.

  • Riggah

    There is one VERY GOOD reason why iPhones are made in China!
    And you can be sure that there will attempts, successful or not, to fake them.

  • Chris S

    My latest frame is a Dengfu FM098, Vengesque without the price tag. Well made aero and pretty stiff. Dengfu have been around long enough to have built a decent rep. My first frame iirc was a generic carbonzone frame bought from ebay.

  • Peter Ryalls

    Its not that the Chinese carbon frames are cheap.Its the fact that the branded frames are an absolute rip off.

  • James B.

    Hi Kurt, what supplier did he get that frame from?

  • John Waddell

    Hi Chris, out of curiosity what frames/manufactures did you go for? Some of my friends really like my frame although they are looking for TT and something different to mine, Dengfu FM029.

  • Jack Zhang

    Well,I think you thinking too much about this.By the way,these fakes come from the same mould BUT different factory.

  • Giant Bikes Break

    It wasn’t a fake. It was just a pile of crap. Kurt’s point is that even the big name frames are made in China and more than likely no different to a ‘no label’ Chinese frame – coming from the same factory and mould. The only difference is the stickers on the frame.

  • Simonofthepiemans

    It is too.

  • Chris S

    I have two Chinese carbon frames. One has 22000 km on it the other has 4000 km on it. Both have been faultless I have raced, TT’d and hill climbed on them. Racing a crit next week on the newer of the two. Would I buy another? Definitely.

  • probably more chance of being hit by a car or bus than snapping your fake carbon frame!

  • Just as much chance of snapping a branded frame as an unbranded one – dont be fooled by flash marketing and defensive retailers protecting profit margins! They’ve been selling you all a lie for years, it’s only recently with the internet that direct trade with manufacturers oversees has been made easier that people are realising this! You complain that these frames are made in china… over half the stuff in your house was probably built in the far east yet you still use it??

  • Jack Zhang

    you guys in a Misunderstanding,The ture fakes are cheap.And these fake frame would not sell at £2000

  • Jack Zhang

    I pretty worried people who using this,their life is dangerous at anytime.

  • John Waddell

    I bought a Chinese carbon frame almost two years ago and have had no issues. The main thing is to do your homework, make sure it is compliant with all safety standards, speak to others who have bought and ideally from those that have raced on them. I now have a great bike, just over 7.1kg and a whole lot less than many friends branded bikes that weight more than 7.5kg.

  • hailpantani

    Thanks Mike – I was thinking of doing likewise. I’m going to buy some Chinese wheels now and test them out.

  • Andrew Bonnett

    I have been riding a Chinese carbon frame for 2 years now with absolutely no issues.
    My business takes me to China regularly so I took the opportunity to visit the factory before buying. The set up was impressive including quality testing facilities.
    The frame makes no claim to anything other than what it is; an LTK-036.
    Like everything I’m sure that there are good and bad Chinese frames but definitely try to avoid fakes on E-bay/Alibaba. That is most likely a Chinese manufacturer trying to make easy money.

  • Sarah

    If you found something you bought is fake, why you buy things from the far east again? what do you mean anything and everything is fake? iPhone is made in China, do you think it’s fake? Come on

  • Sarah

    that’s really a truth

  • ian franklin

    Why not buy something like a Planet X frame for 400 quid? Fakes and copies are morally and criminally wrong. People who buy fake branded Pinarellos are as bad as the people who make them. There is no excuse for joining in their criminal activity and it shows no passion for our beautiful sport. Cycling Weekly should do an in depth article on fakes.

  • reece46

    Does anyone buy a bike because of a frame warranty? It’s carries as much value when you present your broken bike as that 1st free service. There are better reasons to buy from knowledgeable local bike shop.

  • Dereck Chen

    99.99999999% of the frames you thought made in US or Euro are actually from China & Taiwan, thats the truth.

  • blemcooper

    Or it could be a handmade in Tennessee, stock frame, e.g. a Lynskey Cooper titanium frame, the namesake for my user id, that was just North of $1K rather than $10K.

  • RE

    More fool you. The few bike-related items I have had that were made in the USA were atrocious, e.g. chainsets that fell to pieces, custom shoes that were unwearable. The only thing American companies excel at is aggressive marketing. If you want quality, go for European or Asian products.

  • Kurt Bauer

    Actually, you were riding a cheap Chinese frame — you just paid extra to have “Giant” decals stuck onto it.

  • Kurt Bauer

    Unless you’re riding a top of the line TREK (and I mean TOP of the line — $10K+) or a handmade custom, it’s extremely likely that your bike was made in one of the factories mentioned. My club president bought a $500 unbranded Chinese frame and brought the finished bike to a club meeting. Several of us thought it looked familiar. Spent a few minutes on Google and identified it as a Canyon, noted “German” make and suppliers to Katyusha and Movistar in the ProTour.

  • Giant Bikes Break

    I paid £2,000 for a Giant TCR Advanced through a Giant dealer. The rear mech cable stop that’s supposed to be bonded to the chain stay broke off. Giant UK ‘repaired it’ – so well that the same thing happened again. I could have saved myself £1,800 and just tossed the frame if I’d gone with a cheap Chinese carbon frame.

  • Paul Jakma

    I bought a pair of 38mm clinchers from Farsports in China a few years ago. I’ve had 6000 kilometres of trouble free riding from them. Just broke my first spoke ever the other week.

  • MikeWeb7

    I bought some Chinese carbon rims last year on eBay and so far have found them to be of pretty good quality. I won’t say they’re comparable with +£1000 rims but I still find them extremely good value for money. They are however not 100% true but I’m still impressed by them. If I ever need a new frame I’ll give these ones some serious thought.

  • Riggah

    Exactly. The fakes tarnish the names of reputable builders. Oh for the days when you could watch your frame being built in a workshop behind your local bike shop.

  • Anthony Jackson

    arent most frames made in the far east? maybe a handful of small independents arent, but alot the big names are

  • Anthony Jackson

    Tricky article, on one hand I agree that ‘fake’ counterfeit frames are ruining a perfectly good industry. But the molds called ‘common tool’, that anyone can buy seem a fair bet and purchase. These designs and molds might not be the most ‘aero’ but the more recent non-branded ‘common tool’ frames out there are well made and post no real threat to the user, other than users getting worried about warranty.

    I’d love a new Carbon frame as my Scott is getting a bit tired, but Im either stuck at second hand level, or buying a Chinese blank frame, its completely unjustified for me to spent a few thousand on a new road bike, or a new frameset alone? Along with Road Racing I would love a cheap TT bike for those thursday night club TTs, again its ether second hand, or maybe build a nice cheap Chinese one.

    Quite alot of new framesets from well established bike companies seem wildly inexpensive.. .despite all the R&D, they still seem massively overpriced

  • Riggah

    I am very suspicious of any frames from the far east. Anything and everything is faked there these days, even cars! So I ride a frame that I KNOW was manufactured in the USA.