As cyclist the word “Roubaix” conjures up something very special.
Roubaix means toughness. Roubaix means the cold crosswinds of Northern France in April. Roubaix means cobbles, suffering and greatness.
When Cochrane, Alberta resident Dan Richter named is tiny bike shop above an ice cream parlour one would assume that he had the imagery of the hard men of the peloton doing battle across the cobbles of Northern France in mind when he named his shop Café Roubaix Bicycle Studio.
Coffee and cobbles, what cyclist doesn’t like those wonderful things?
Local Bike Shop owners are a special breed. They sponsor events, offer wisdom and their shops serve as the hubs for any local cycling scene. An Afghanistan war veteran, Dan Richter poured everything he had into Café Roubaix. He left the service after suffering PTSD and put his life savings and his settlement from the military into his shop to get it off the ground.
Now it seems that after fighting in Afghanistan Dan Richter has another battle on his hands, this time with a corporate giant of the cycling world.
As cyclists we know that Roubaix is the finish town for the greatest one-day bike race in the world, Paris-Roubaix. Year after year we have watched cyclists enter the Roubaix Velodrome to finish their epic battles through l’enfer du nord. Roubaix holds a special place in a cyclist’s heart.
But apparently, we can’t claim ownership to that.
No, that honour goes to Specialized Bicycle Corporation who trademarked the word Roubaix for the Specialized Roubaix road bike.
Apparently you can trademark a towns’ name. Who knew?
It would be rare that anyone would want to name their business after an existing brand. In this case, Dan Richter named his shop because of the romance cyclists have with that region of France.
The name Roubaix also exists on other bike related products and nonetheless, Richter has been receiving threats of legal action from Specialized. According to legal analysts, this is a battle Richter can easily win but unlike Specialized, he does not have the estimated $150,000 to take this to court and Richter may be in the position where he must change the name of his business. This by the way will cost him far more than simply putting a new sign in the window.
Yesterday something pretty incredible happened. The Calgary Herald reported Richter’s’ plight and it spread across social media like wildfire.
I tweeted the Calgary Herald article and then watched it go viral across my social networks. People were seeing this as corporate bullying at its’ worst. We all understand that companies trademark their product to protect their brand as they have the right to. But I don’t think anybody who walks into Café Roubaix Bicycle Studio would do so thinking of the Specialized Roubaix.
A trip to Café Roubaix would be where we would meet people with the same fascination for this beautiful, unique event that we all wait for each spring. It would be where we could talk about bikes and bike racing and spend money on the stuff we love.
On Twitter and Facebook and Instagram others with a love of Roubaix weighed in on the situation and sentiment was unanimous. This was a big corporation bullying the little guy and that was simply not acceptable. And in the process of these thousands and thousands of posts something amazing started to happen: people started taking Roubaix back.
The Specialized Roubaix is a bicycle. Roubaix, however is something much larger and the cycling community is taking Roubaix back.
Roubaix belongs to everyone who’s ever dreamed of riding across the cobbles of the North. Roubaix belongs to those of us who go to work on a Monday morning in April still filled with the excitement of yesterdays’ race but unable to share it with coworkers because they simply wouldn’t “get it”.
Since yesterday there has been no response from Specialized. Perhaps they are a company that sees social media engagement as a Monday to Friday option. If so, this weekend they will have learned that this is not the case. The Specialized social media team is going to have quite a Monday morning on their hands.
A tactic meant to protect the Specialized brand has failed miserably. But Specialized aren’t the only losers in this mess.
There’s Dan Richter who is in the position of changing his shops’ name if Specialized hold their line. There are also the thousands of local bike shop owners who carry the Specialized brand who are in the position of having their livelihood depend on a brand that is now perceived as a bully.
It will be interesting to see what Mike Sinyard and his team at Specialized do on Monday morning. There are a lot of variables in play right now but one thing is for certain.
Roubaix belongs to all of us.
See the original Calgary Herald article here: