Fake Bike Helmets: Cheap But Dangerous Cheap knock-offs don't provide anywhere near the protection or durability of the products they replace. And most riders won't be able to tell the difference between real and counterfeit helmets.
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Fake Bike Helmets: Cheap But Dangerous

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Fake Bike Helmets: Cheap But Dangerous

Fake Bike Helmets: Cheap But Dangerous

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Forget the fake Rolex watches being hustled on street corners. These days, most counterfeits are sold over the Internet, right to your home. And some counterfeits could seriously hurt you. A few weeks ago, we told you about the threat of counterfeit carbon-fiber bikes. Today, we look at fake bike helmets and one effort to stop them. Reporter Jeff Tyler visited the headquarters of Specialized Bicycles in Morgan Hill, Calif.

JEFF TYLER, BYLINE: Getting the best performance out of its bikes and its helmets is a big deal for Specialized Bicycles. It even builds a wind tunnel for testing. Six giant fans generate wind speeds of up to 70 miles per hour.

CHRIS YU: It was actually harder to design this place for the speed that we're standing out right now at 15 miles an hour, rather than the high end because to keep the flow uniform in here at this slow speed is actually incredibly tricky.

TYLER: Chris Yu is head of research and development. He helped design this space.

YU: It's almost scientific-grade air.

TYLER: All that high-tech product testing can lead to better bikes and better gear. But...

YU: Every time we come out with a new, innovative piece, we see copies almost overnight.

TYLER: And those copies can be hard to spot. Clint Mattacola spends all day testing bike helmets for the company to make sure they meet federal safety standards.

CLINT MATTACOLA: There's these two black helmets here. One of them is an authentic Specialized Evade II. And the other one is a counterfeit helmet. And they look very, very similar.

TYLER: On the outside, they look the same. But inside, they are very different. That becomes obvious when he straps a helmet to a dummy's head and tests to see if it can be pulled off, if the straps stay in place, if it can protect against a crash. The authentic helmet passes all the tests.

MATTACOLA: And we'll put on the counterfeit helmet. The helmet falls off the head form. So it failed the roll-off testing. And then - so the buckle came apart. That's two tests in a row that we've induced a failure on this particular counterfeit helmet.

TYLER: The next test is crucial. It measures how well the helmet holds up if you were to take a header into the curb. The helmet is strapped onto a machine that lifts it 5 feet and then slams it against a curved anvil.


MATTACOLA: The helmet is broken in half.

TYLER: If a cyclist had fallen the same way, wearing that counterfeit helmet, Mattacola says...

MATTACOLA: Their skull would've hit the surface and most likely would've suffered from skull fracture, brain damage or death.

TYLER: And it's not just fake helmets.

WILLIAM ROSS: We're now seeing cancer medications, heart medications, true life-saving medications which are being counterfeited and sold online.

TYLER: William Ross is with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

ROSS: In today's e-commerce environment, we're seeing a lot of smaller packages come in.

TYLER: In 2017, 90 percent of the counterfeits seized came through express shipments or the international mail. The next step, going after the people selling the fakes, requires help from the companies. At Specialized, the point person is Andrew Love.

ANDREW LOVE: Right now, in the helmet category on eBay, selling directly from China in the United States, 34,582 listings.

TYLER: His team of 14 monitors 85 e-commerce sites around the globe. One way he identifies the fakes is by price. Specialized helmets cost a lot more.

LOVE: They retail for $225 to $250 each. Counterfeits - 50 bucks a piece.

TYLER: For the repeat offenders, Love goes after them in court.

LOVE: We have seized millions of dollars doing that. It's been very effective. And I got hate mail every now and then in Chinese.

TYLER: The company sometimes works with its business partners overseas. Brion Tingler, a spokesman for the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.

BRION TINGLER: With the bicycle helmet, for example, it's being created in a real factory by real people. To stop that, the best way to do that is to go after the source, which is the factory that it's being produced in.

TYLER: Last year, they went after counterfeit manufacturers in China. Specialized worked with Alibaba and Chinese police to close down four factories. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Tyler in Morgan Hill, Calif.

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