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How To Catch a Counterfeit Cervelo RCA

Counterfeit bikes are an occasional problem in the used bike business. This bike was trying to pass itself off as a Cervelo RCA superbike. But there were some clear red flags that made our team suspicious.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Inside

This "Cervelo RCA" isn't what it says it is.

Have you ever seen a counterfeit bike? They’re actually not that common here in the States, but since we’re the world's biggest buyer and seller of used bikes, we do come across them from time to time. 

Recently, we got a bike submission from someone trying to sell a “2014 Cervelo RCA." When the bike arrived at TPC headquarters, our techs found a few red flags that tipped us off that this RCA wasn’t what it claimed to be. 

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Why Is the Cervelo RCA a Target?

Cervelo RCAThe Cervelo RCA was actually my dream bike back in grad school. Many roadies who were riding back in 2013-2014 might say the same. 

The Cervelo RCA wasn’t just any regular old Cervelo. It was a superbike designed to push the limits of road bike design. The frame was one of the lightest ever made, weighing only 667g. It was also one of the most expensive, retailing for a wallet-melting $10,000. Despite the absurd price, Cervelo actually lost money on every frame because of how expensive the RCA was to engineer and produce. Cervelo didn’t intend to sell that many anyway though, because it was a limited edition frame, and only 325 were built.

Because the RCA is such an advanced, rare, and expensive bike, it makes sense that it's a target for counterfeiters. This is actually the first fake RCA we’ve seen at TPC. If you’re curious, two of the more common counterfeit bikes we've seen are fake Specialized S-Works Tarmacs and fake Pinarello Dogmas. So what tipped us off that this RCA wasn’t legitimate?

What Gave Away the Counterfeit RCA

Fake Cervelo RCAThe biggest tell was the rear brake mount. On the real RCA there is a gap and a brake bridge for the mount. 

Every used bike that comes through TPC gets a full multi-point inspection to ensure it meets our Certified Pre-Owned standards. One of the first steps is verifying that the serial number of the bike matches the serial number provided by the seller. This also allows us to check for recalls and ensure the bike hasn’t been reported stolen. 

Our Intake Supervisor, Alan, was unable to find any serial number on the frame (this is generally a bad sign). So the bike went to our External Compliance Specialist, Nick. Nick first contacted the seller to see if he had any proof of purchase. Then, when inspecting the bike, he also noticed that the downtube logo was a sticker rather than inlaid into the frame. This isn't a serious issue since the RCA never came with downtube logos (but why put cheap stickers on a frame like this!?). He also noted that the plastic cable stops in the frame seemed different than the rubber "universal" cable stops the RCA originally came with. This bike clearly needed to be investigated further. 

He worked with our Catalog Supervisor, Johann, and myself to confirm whether this bike was actually what the seller claimed it to be. We compared the RCA frame we had with photos of the RCA available online. Johann also passed along the serial number originally provided by the seller in our submission form and some photos of the bike to our contacts at Cervelo to see if they could provide any insights. 

When comparing the frame to photos of a real RCA, we immediately notice several obvious issues:

  • The inlaid “Cervelo” logos were the wrong color - white instead of silver
  • The “Cervelo” logos on the fork legs appear too large
  • The fork is missing the nickel plating used to reinforce the carbon steerer tube
  • The rear dropouts look slightly different from the hollow carbon dropouts used on the RCA
  • The rear brake mount is completely different from the brake bridge used on the RCA

Fake Cervelo RCAIt might be hard to see, but the logos are white when they should be silver.

This evidence is already damning enough for us to pass on the bike, but the final nail in the coffin came when we received a reply from Cervelo. They noted the same issues as us, but added that the serial number we had didn’t match any of the RCAs that Cervelo produced. The formatting didn’t adhere to the UCI code, and it mirrored the serial numbers used on the RCA’s predecessor, the R5-CA (this is likely completely meaningless since the seller could have provided a false serial number). 

Fake Cervelo RCA forkThe fork steerer was missing the RCA's nickel coating and the logos were the wrong color, size, and in the wrong position.

A designer also noted that the paint also didn’t look like the exact paint color used on the RCA. He hypothesized that the bike we had in our possession was an R5, R3, or R2 of the same generation that had been repainted to look like an RCA. This seemed likely since there was some visible paint blending on the top tube, indicating that the frame had been repainted at some point, potentially to add the inlaid RCA logo on the seattube. (This is an issue on its own since we generally reject repainted frames because paint can be used to hide structural damage.) 

With all this evidence, it was easy to be 100% certain that this RCA was NOT an RCA.

TPC’s team of professional bike technicians and industry experts inspect and service hundreds of used bikes every week. Ultimately, less than .01% of the over 25,000 bikes we see each year are counterfeit so this is not something your average bike buyer will need to worry about. But it's always interesting when we catch them!

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