The Things I'm Thinking About

Roubaix Squabble

If you’re part of the cycling community that putters around online, you’ll likely have heard about the kerfluffle going around regarding the name “Roubaix” — to wit, Specialized, a large U.S.-based bike manufacturer, is threatening legal action against Café Roubaix, a small bike shop in Alberta, Canada, over the use of “Roubaix” in its name.

“It took years to overcome the ill-will that move generated…if ever.” You see, Specialized makes a bike called the Roubaix. And they went and took out a trademark on the name. What Specialized has overlooked in the claiming of this trademark is that there was already a bike called the Roubaix, made by Fuji, and it existed almost two decades before Specialized came upon the name. Moreover, the name has been used on countless cycling products over time to indicate a degree of toughness unavailable in other products. (Nevermind that it’s also the name of a town in northern France that’s been around for centuries, and hosts the conclusion of Paris-Roubaix, a race that’s been going on annually since 1896.)

What I want to say on the matter has already been well-stated by the guys at Riding Against the Grain in their “An Open Letter to Mike Sinyard” and by Charles Pelkey over at Red Kite Prayer (“The Explainer: Because I @#$%ing Hate Bullies“)

Personal View

I find Pelkey’s article about the Roubaix situation particularly compelling as I, too, fucking hate bullies. (Never mind the moral repugnance of the behavior — I was bullied pretty severely as a child.) But what really strikes home for me is that he worked for VeloNews back during their lawsuit with online cycling news provider VeloNet. Pelkey mentions the excessive fallout from that lawsuit and says, “It took years to overcome the ill-will that move generated…if ever.”

And he’s got a fairly good read on it. That lawsuit went down in the mid-1990’s and I have absolutely refused to touch an issue of VeloNews since. Won’t read it, won’t go to the website. Nothing.

VeloNet became CyclingNews and ate VeloNews’ lunch, which is great. But I still avoid VeloNews because I fucking hate bullies.

And now I’m done with Specialized, too. Honestly, nothing about their bikes is particularly revolutionary. You can get the same level of “innovation” and performance from hundreds of other manufacturers, who aren’t out there acting like gigantic douchebags.

Should Specialized apologies and make amends to the owner of Café Roubaix? Yes. Will it sway some of the people who are pissed off? Yes. Will it sway me? Not fucking likely.

There are 2 comments .

Charles Pelkey

Thank you for your kind words regarding my column. I do want to make one very minor clarification regarding the VeloNews/VeloNet kerfuffle. As is the case with the current Specialized/Cafe Roubaix situation, there was no lawsuit ever filed. In both cases, the mere threat of a suit – in the form of a cease-and-desist letter – was supposed to cause the smaller company to fold out of fear. But in this modern environment, what I like to call “the asshole letter” doesn’t do what the big guys intended. In the case of VeloNet, they just published the letter in its entirety and we all know what the fallout was from that. Similarly, Cafe Roubaix has already scored a huge victory in the court of public opinion and my guess is someone at Specialized is beginning to realize what a disaster an actual lawsuit would be for them.

With warm regards,
Charles Pelkey

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