A little slice of nice

December 14, 2013 § 17 Comments

The whole Specialized – Cafe Roubaix brouhaha has ended. Mike Sinyard, the president of Specialized, flew up to Canada and apologized to Dan Richter, the owner of the bike shop, which is located in Cochrane, Alberta. ASI, the company that owns the worldwide “Roubaix” trademark, stepped in and told the shop owner that they would be glad to license the word to Richter for a very small fee.

Everybody shook hands and went home, except for Richter, who was presumably already home. I looked up Cochrane on Google Maps and confirmed what I’d assumed. Cochrane, on the outskirts of Calgary, is out in the middle of nowhere, about 450 miles from the huge U.S. city of … Missoula. It sure seemed like a lot of legal fees in order to crack down on Mr. Tinyshop.

In a sport that has a tough time stepping away from bad news, though, this vignette is a great example of what makes the bicycle industry less of an industry and more of a community. With annual sales in the neighborhood of $500 million in a market that in is estimated to be worth over $70 billion by 2015, Specialized, despite its relative market dominance, is a very, very small part of the community.

Specialized may represent the big corporate side of cycling, but in the global scheme of corporate entities it’s little more than a local bike shop on a very conservative steroid program.

Quick to blame, slow to thank

The rank-and-file bicycling community used Facebook and Twitter and email to send Specialized a message. The simple message was that bicycling remains a community that functions on the efforts of small shops. Sinyard got the message. The Internet, however much it may have taken a bite out of shop sales, has also contributed to more people riding more complicated machinery that requires, yes, a bike shop to repair and tune and ultimately replace what you bought online. Very few riders don’t have a bike shop to which they feel loyalty, and that loyalty is almost without exception the result of a good personal relationship they have with a real person behind the counter.

How many people can say that about their other shopping choices?

“I go to Wal-Mart because I love Fred, the greeter who’s there on Thursday mornings between six and ten.” It’s kind of hard to imagine.

Sinyard and Specialized got the message, and they acted with extraordinary swiftness. When’s the last time the CEO of IBM or Microsoft or Apple got on a plane to make a video and personally apologize for sending out a cease and desist letter?

We can criticize the steps that led to Specialized leaning hard on Cafe Roubaix, and we did. Can we also step back and thank Sinyard & Company for doing the right thing? I’m pretty sure we can.

I’ve ridden two Specialized bikes, the SL3 and the Venge. They were both extraordinarily good bikes. I bought them from PV Bikes, a Specialized store before the owner died, and the service I got at that shop was phenomenal. One of the biggest supporters of cycling and racing in Southern California is the Surf City Cyclery in Costa Mesa, run by Mike Faello. Mike and his team, with the full support of Specialized, put one of the very best faces on cycling in one of the country’s biggest markets.

Sinyard’s decision reflects well on himself, on his company, and on people like Mike who sell his Specialized bikes.

Thanks, Mr. Sinyard. Next time you’re in LA join us on the NPR and I’ll be honored to buy you a coffee, even though I plan to keep riding my Giant.

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§ 17 Responses to A little slice of nice

  • Jon Trimble says:

    Love it Seth. In the recap of the Specialized story you praise Specialized bikes, yet in the categories list on the sidebar……………

  • Jack Nosco says:

    Seth, Any chance you can promote my mountain bike charity ride I am putting on next Saturday Dec. 21st? If so, I will give you all the details in another email. Thank you, Jack

    • Winemaker says:

      WM-I disagree on this one….Sinyard did this ONLY for the PR and the public backlash he was receiving, and which would have exponentially increased had he not acted. He has screwed over so many good souls in his years, the corpses cannot be counted. I know this guy, and his ‘spots’ aren’t changing. In this case, I remain the cynic, because of what makes him tick…power and dollars.

      • Tom says:

        But Sinyard DID act, quite promptly too, and you’re complaining?

        The explanation I read, is Specialized’s law firm routinely scans for copyright & trademark infringements worldwide, and acts against perceived offenders. When this happens, it doesn’t go to CEO Sinyard to approve each alleged infringement — the cases go on “autopilot”. This is typical in larger corporations.

        Furthermore, many of the larger bike companies have their products brazenly counterfeited, and the fakes are nearly alway inferior & potentially unsafe products … think what could happen if your fork cracked during a 40 mph descent.

        You should read up on the Walt Disney company, they are among the most aggressive regarding trademarks. In one instance I read about , Disney forced a pre-school to paint-over a Micky Mouse mural.

    • fsethd says:

      Email me the details, fsethd@gmail.com.

      • Winemaker says:

        SD, Coming…..I will give you some gory details.
        But a direct reply to Tom:
        Just because Sinyard acted ‘fast”, doesn’t mean his ‘heart’ was in the right place. What it means is that his PR flacks are on high alert after the Volagi smearing he received. Remember, the $1 civil suit award?
        Also, check out this link http://www.bicycleretailer.com/retail-news/2013/12/09/social-media-explosion-over-specializeds-roubaix-lawsuit
        Sinyard is nothing if not smart and clever. However, the actions here just smack of quick acting to protect the brand….he was getting a drubbing regarding the jackboot response to this miniscule fleaspot of a LBS in the Canadian Outback,…and he wants to protect the “I.m your brother in cycling” rep he has spent so much on over the years. Spinning the blame to aggressive attorneys is just that: clever.

  • Jon says:


    I completely agree with you in that I work for a larger corporation, and the boff (EVP) would never do the likes. Good call out.

  • Dean Abt says:

    Indeed. Specialized, despite having arguably the highest-traffic global website in the business is very soft on selling online and consciously pushes business to the bike shop channel. I’ve pitched services in Morgan Hill and had Sean McLaughlin, (marketing lead, great guy), underline the importance of the shop connection – it’s central to everything they do. I’m guessing Sinyard would have taken the corporate jet to more speedily apologize, but they don’t have one, I hope. Online deals are great – we all take advantage of them, but your piece reminds us how truly critical the Cafe Roubaix’s and their people are. Chalk up one for the bike biz – they/we need it. Thanks –

    • Winemaker says:

      Dean Abt…gooood first name, but you are so wrong.
      Online is WHAT Specialized is doing: I can buy one of their bikes in less than 30 seconds, right now, online, direct from them. Sean McLaughlin gets his marching orders from Sinyard, and the orders are: protect the brand…support the annointed shops…but Specialized determines who is a Specialized dealer, and that is a protected/restricted class that has nothing to do with credit ratings, the free market, or the ability to represent their products in whatever community the dealer is in. It is all about power and control and profit and…damn the torpedos! Dog save the flea who gets in the way of this Mack truck.
      Nice comment about the corporate jet! I think Nixon called that
      ‘plausible deniability.’
      And what is “their people” about? Can you smear more widely with a broader brush? JHC, man!

  • Deb says:

    I’m pleased with the resolution because I’m quite fond of my little Amira and didn’t want to tape over her branding.

  • TJC says:

    Whatever the motive, it would appear that Mr. Sinyard did the right thing, in person. That’s enough for me.

  • John says:

    Great write up! As a trademark attorney, I understand why Specialized did what they did. However, in similar situations, I always counsel my clients to find a simple resolution that makes the most sense. Sinyard did that here, with a speed that I find amazing, given the typical corporates bullshit for a 500 million dollar company. While not a specialized guy, I will give them consideration in the future just because they stepped up and did the right thing.

    • fsethd says:

      Thanks. The ultimate beneficiary was Dan Richter, the archetypal little guy. Good for all concerned.

  • channel_zero says:

    #1: I don’t know that there is such thing as a “worldwide” patent. Specialized seemed to have trademarked the term in Canada, not Fuji’s parent corporation.

    #2: Missing the point. Sinyard/Specialized is still sending C&Ds and enforcing ridiculous trademarks against weak businesses.

    Sinyard is a legendary litigator and typical lying-liar-move claimed his legal reps were overzealous. Lawyers give pros/cons and then act on the client’s decision. Am I right lawyers? Maybe trademark extorsion is a boiler room job?

  • Ice says:

    AFAIK firs legal move came from Sinyard. All this “personal touch” and “apollogy” smells like damage control to me. Eff Specialized and eff Sinyard.

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