Knock Offs

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“Made in the USA” was a catch phrase when I purchased my first adventure motorcycle. I was not a flag waver, but had been told by respected motorcyclists at the time: “The British stuff is junk and the Japanese bikes are made out of beer cans.”

While my learning curves were nearly vertical for maintenance and driving skills, my adventure seeking curve found me on a Honda 305 Super Hawk. I had ignored the flag wavers, realizing I could explore further and easier off pavement, without repairs or maintenance, on the beer can model than I could on an American made-of-iron 1945 Indian Chief.

My loyalty to geographically manufactured motorcycles moved to Germany with a new BMW 1969 R69US after some experiments with a couple of Harley-Davidsons, which greatly assisted my motorcycle maintenance learning vector. Eventually, I became a multi-geo-political owner of numerous motorcycles, sometimes using a half dozen different makes and models in an average year of 50,000-60,000 miles. While I was morphing my equipment requirements, I was also testing addon accessories like saddlebags, boxes, panniers and other luggage carrying systems. I bought junk that cracked, leaked and fell off.

At the other end of the spectrum, some expensive accessories that a German tank could run over and leave unbent. Eventually, I found products that worked for me, but I’ve always kept an eye out for updated solutions that were an improvement over what I was using. TIPS AND TRICKS “Caveat emptor” warning lights go on when I see any knock-off motorcycle products. In many cases, the product has been purchased in the USA, sent to the Pacific Rim, copied, then sold back in the USA, at a lesser price.

A set of American-made aluminum panniers I bought had been knocked off in Taiwan, then sold stateside under a different name. They looked the same and cost a third less, but after some use, they leaked. The U.S. set did not. Closer inspection found the Taiwanese manufacturer had skipped a step (or two) and not welded the inside bends and corners, which eventually caused cracking in the outer welds, allowing water to enter. The additional cost to have the insides welded correctly made the product just as expensive as buying American. A street vendor in Thailand was selling a Chinese-manufactured bag for $30, I rolled my dice and bought it. The bag was a pretty close copy of an American-made dry duffel bag selling for $175. To see if it was waterproof like the U.S. bag, I filled it with water and there were no drips. While tying it to the rear of a motorcycle, I found no clips cracking or connections breaking or snapping. I considered swapping it with my American bag, while continuing my trip around the world, to see how it would hold up.

Instead, I recalled the maxim, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” At the end of my world tour, my American bag was still keeping things dry and none of the straps needed repairs, however, the question lingered, “Would the 80-percent less expensive copy have held up?” While passing through Southeast Asia, I saw a copy of a Honda Cub motorcycle being sold under a different name. When I asked the salesman about the copy and how good it was, he was quite clear, “It is not a copy, it is a replica.” I passed on purchase, “buyer beware” ringing in my ears.

I have since learned the company making the replica eventually folded due to quality control and performance issues. The knock off was not built to the standards of the original. I describe myself as being a frugal versus cheap adventurist. Purchasing and using a knock-off can be an adventure in itself. I appreciate when things work, but prefer being able to call a U.S. manufacturer and tell them how well their product has performed over trying to figure out where any random knock-off actually came from. Dr. Gregory Frazier has authored four global motorcycle adventure books, logging six circumnavigations and over a million miles.