For a potential buyer the risks involved with buying a no-name bicycle frame are generally related to physical harm and/or financial loss. Nobody wants to hit their face on the ground riding 80kph down a mountain if the bike fails. Willingness to accept the financial risk on the other hand is really down to the of the individual’s relative wealth. To reduce the perception of risk manufacturers have quality control and warranty measures.
These are also the two things that brand-name manufacturers always state as their advantage. To some degree they are right. The big companies generally have facilities and resources dedicated purely for testing and quality assurance purposes. On the other hand so do the chinese players in the market. The key is what is the difference and how meaningful is it to your average buyer. To form an educated opinion on the subject let’s delve into the differences little bit deeper.
First how do the chinese frame manufacturers test their products and handle problems that arise in use? There are several videos published that show charbon frames undergoing strenuous testing. Basically frames are rigged to a pedestal and tested for impact with different forces applied by free moving weights. So you could expect that at least the frame designs are tested, if not each individual frame. Generally returns are possible, but often the reseller wants you to send the frame back on your own cost (~90€). You take on the risk that the manufacturer decides there is nothing wrong with the frame or the issue was caused by an accident.
Secondly how does this experience compare with a brand name manufacturers? Generally the vendors make you believe there are hundreds of engineers running fluid simulations for new models all the time and if something brakes a team investigates how could the problem be fixed for the next model. Warranty department is supposed to send out replacements no questions asked. In practice the harsh financial realities don’t allow for such folly. Sure there is R&D and people responsible for QA, but it is all much more down to earth that you are led to believe. One thing is clear – from the customer point the beginning of the process is supposed to be much more convenient.
Essentially when you buy a bike from your local bike shop (LBS) warranty process is as simple as popping by the store and the local dealer is supposed to handle the matter with the importer. In practice you may not have your favorite brand’s dealership in the same town or they may have gone belly up/ended selling the brand. The Internet is full of stories of people waiting for a reply for months from the importer and ending up buying another bike or receiving some lame response referring to “not intended use”. Of course that may not be the norm, but it still happens.
In the catastrophic event that the frame spectacularly fails and the disintegrating bike sends you flying to the ditch no amount of warranty or insurance is going to help. Essentially you need to look at it from the probability point of view. This far there have been very few reports of such incidents. There are no statistics, but based on information on the Internet it would be safe to argue that in most cases the fault has been caused by poor maintenance or user error. In the buyer is responsible for making the choices.
Safe buying and riding!