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Our favorite bike ever, and the tangled web we fell into.

Our favorite bike of all time? Sounds like a fun drinking game or great way to kill time on a roadtrip to a bike race. Offhand our vote would have to the long-bygone Eddy Merckx Team SC. Made from Easton SC7000 aluminum, it titillates most for its palmares and for the era when those palmares were earned. Let’s see: A 1-2-3 finish for Team Domo on the Team SC in the 2001 Paris-Roubaix. A breathtaking 243km breakaway for Team Domo’s Richard Virenque in the ’01 Paris-Tours. Followed by a crushing solo breakaway win in the ’02 Paris-Roubaix by Team Domo-Farm Frites’ John Musseuw, again on a Team SC. The Team SC then showed its versatility by Virenque’s solo stage win up Mont Ventoux in the 2002 Tour de France. And in 2003 we saw more glory for the Team SC with the Tour of Flanders/Paris-Roubaix double by Team Domo-Lotto’s Peter van Petegem.

It was a glorious time: Teams were sponsored by Belgian french fry companies. Aluminum bikes were still widespread in the peloton, so absurd analogies between bikes and Formula 1 weren’t made because bikes were considered tools and/or weapons, not status-setting luxury goods. Doping in the pros was a small nuisance, but blogging didn’t yet exist so we weren’t subject to hourly carpet bombing from obsessive haters that Our Sport Will Be Impure until every pro inserts a microchip in their wrist and submits to thrice-daily blood profiling.

The Team SC? We’ll be the first to tell you that it had its drawbacks. The fork sucked: The steerer tube walls were thinner than most, so even if your life depended on it, you couldn’t snug up the headset using the Merckx-issued expansion plug. (If you’re lucky enough to run across a Team SC, bounce the front wheel on the ground and see if it has a loose headset. I bet it does.) Furthermore, the later generation Team SC came with carbon-wrapped chainstays -- a useless, confusion-inducing distraction if there ever was one. And the frame was 3x the cost and a 1/2lb heavier than the state-of-the-art alu frame back then, the Cannondale CAAD7 But it was a glorious time, and along with its palmares that’s why I treasure the thought of the Team SC. Seeing the Domo-Lotto version brings a tear to my eye; seeing the original Domo-Farm Frites version triggers a flat-out boohoo-fest like I’m watching Notting Hill; and remembering one-off editions like the Freddie Rodriguez US Pro Champion edition reminds me of how long some of these guys have been pro.

It’s for the fact that I delight in the Eddy Merckx Team SC so, not to mention that I only came to understand the word ‘worship’ after watching the film La Course en Tete for the 300th time a few years back (en route to my 1,512th viewing which occurred this morning) and compounded by my memory of being like a giddy schoolboy at meeting the man himself at Interbike like 7 years ago -- it’s for these reasons that part of me is a little bummed for an exchange that unfolded over the last few months. First, let me provide a timeline:

  • Fall 2001: Competitive Cyclist begins selling Eddy Merckx bicycles.
  • December 2004: Competitive Cyclist purchases the never-before-bought domain name merckx.com, (a) because it’s there, (b) because (not unlike Google Adwords expense) our goal was to drive potential Merckx bike sales to our site.
  • Fall 2006: For the 2nd straight year Competitive Cyclist sales of Merckx bikes fall significantly short of expectations. Delivery delays on their first-generation carbon bikes were an outrage, and their prices relative to their 2006 competition were massive. The Team SC was gone, replaced by the distinction-without-a-difference Premium alu model at a much higher cost. Our Merckx sales were in their ‘sentimentalist’ bikes only, such as the Team Motorola MX Leader steel re-issue. For these factors, we decide to drop the Eddy Merckx bike line.
  • Fall 2008: Eddy Merckx sells his company to Sobradis, a Belgian shoe distributor. Merckx announces his retirement from the bike business.

As of this writing, we haven’t sold Merckx bikes in like 3 years, but that fact does little to diminish my awe of the man or my respect for his company, especially the part it plays in current Belgian bicycle culture. With that understood, perhaps you understand my surprise when I got the following email on January 22, 2009:

From: Domain.Disputes [Domain.Disputes@wipo.int]
To: fpetillion@crowell.com; jjanssen@crowell.com; mnelissen@crowell.com; p.vansynghel@eddymerckx.be
Cc: Brendan Quirk; Competitive Cyclist; re74y3tn39c@networksolutionsprivateregistration.com
Subject: (AD) D2009-0075 Registrant Information

Dear Sirs,

Further to our Acknowledgment of Receipt of Complaint, please be advised of the following:

You are invited to file an amendment to the Complaint. With a view to notification of the Complaint and implementation of any Decision under the Policy and Rules, we suggest that any such amendment should at the minimum contain the additional information which has been provided by the Registrar.

We note also that any such amendment may have consequences for mutual jurisdiction, and that the corresponding mutual jurisdiction paragraph of the Complaint may need to be amended accordingly. You may also wish to consider amending the facts and arguments in the Complaint in light of the above.

Any submission by you to the Center as a result of this notice should be copied to the Respondent as named therein, and the concerned Registrar. Any such submission should be made to the Center in hard copy and (to the extent not available for annexes) in electronic form using the following email address: domain.disputes@wipo.int.

The submission should be made to the Center by January 27, 2009. If you have any questions and wouldl ike to discuss any of the above, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Sincerely,

Anudari Duujii
Case Manager
WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center

When I got this email, it’d been probably 3 years since the last time I remembered that we owned ‘merckx.com.’ Given that we were long out of the Merckx business the URL had literally no value to us. I was sympathetic to the plight of the new owners of Eddy Merckx Bicycles: They want ownership of the URL’s that are most logically theirs. Should Eddy Merckx Bicycles own ‘merckx.com’? Of course they should.

Given that we’ve spent over a decade trying to establish Competitive Cyclist as one of the good guys of bike retail (both to our customers and to our vendors), the issue of ‘merckx.com’ is something we could’ve resolved easily and amicably if they’d just picked up the phone. Guaranteed. A quick ‘WHO IS’ search of merckx.com would’ve produced the general Competitive Cyclist email box address, my email address, plus our phone number. In addition, with the tiniest bit of detective work the new owners of Eddy Merckx bicycles would’ve recognized that their US distributor, Gita Sporting Goods, is a company that does a massive amount of business with us in non-Merckx goods (e.g. Pinarello and Giordana.) But due to ignorance, laziness, or bad legal advice, they instead chose a thoroughly depersonalized and confrontational approach: Arbitration and a trio of lawyers at Crowell & Moring whose ‘knowledge of the law spans continents and cultures.’

‘Bad legal advice’ -- why would I make such a contention? Two reasons come to mind: (1) Money. See ‘Section XI. Payment’ of the document below. The simple act of filing for this arbitration costs US $1,500. And the lawyer bills? What is the cost of an 18 page complaint plus appendices plus the research time? Looking at the ‘Success Stories’ section of the Crowell & Moring website -- my guess is that these guys don’t work cheap. Thankfully our involvement with lawyers has been few and far between here at Competitive Cyclist, but on the few occasions when it’s happened the first piece of advice they give is along the lines of ‘Is there a way to work this out without lawyers?’ My experience is that good lawyers accumulate billable hours out of client need, not simply because they’re able to accumulate them. What good lawyer wouldn’t start things off in this instance with a letter or a phone call?

(2) I think I can safely speak for those of us who don’t regularly traffic in Big Money Lawyers that communication with one naturally triggers the primal fight-or-flight instinct, no? Once a lawyer is involved, and especially once they evince a disinclination an amicable resolution -- it’s fight time for sure. Let me be clear that the idea of a fight with anything associated with the almighty Merckx name made me ill. But, ironically, the Merckx/Crowell approach was emblematic of the very kind of eagerness-for-litigation that makes Europeans fearful of doing business in America. Now the roles were reversed. The Belgians were the ones guilty of overuse of legal force.

Merckx Dot Com Complaint

I was sad, I was irritated, and to complicate things further I didn’t give a flying flip about the subject matter. In such circumstances it seemed like my only option was to joust for jousting’s sake. It was sure to be mildly amusing and would clock some extra billable time to punish the Merckx people for their absence of common sense.

From: Brendan Quirk
Sent: jeudi 22 janvier 2009 14:58
To: Domain.Disputes; Petillion, Flip; Janssen, Jan; Nelissen, Mariet; p.vansynghel@eddymerckx.be
Cc: Competitive Cyclist; re74y3tn39c@networksolutionsprivateregistration.com
Subject: RE: (AD) D2009-0075 Registrant Information

Greetings all. As a former high-profile Eddy Merckx bicycle dealer in the USA, and as an ongoing retailer of Eddy Merckx products (see here -- http://www.competitivecyclist.com/road-bikes/product-apparel/2006-merckx-short-sleeve-jersey-1906.155.0.html ), it’s certainly reasonable to own URL’s related to the goods we sell. This is hardly unusual, and I’m confident that an arbitrator would look at countless similar examples on the web and agree.

Rather than go down that path, I’d suggest instead for the nice folks at Eddy Merckx or their representatives give me a call to find an agreeable solution. I’d be happy to sell it for a reasonable price, or otherwise work out a solution.

I can be reached at 501-916-8502 in the US and would be happy to discuss.

Cheers, Brendan

Brendan Quirk
Competitive Cyclist

And a mere 20 minutes later came this reply, for which he billed a quarter of an hour, no doubt. --

From: Petillion, Flip
Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2009 8:11 AM
To: Brendan Quirk
Subject: RE: (AD) D2009-0075 Registrant Information

Mr Quirk,

What is the solution you propose?

Yours sincerely,
FLIP PETILLION
Partner
Crowell & Moring
rue Royale 71
1000 Brussels

If our exchange had originated in an unthreatening fashion I would’ve given up the domain for nothing. It would’ve been a simple act of good people trying to do good things for other good people. Maybe I would’ve held out for an express package containing a 4-pack of rare Trappist ale. It wouldn’t have been much more than that. Banking karma, I’m all over that. But they poisoned the well with their approach. They obliterated the concept of ‘goodness.’ In the very spirit of The Cannibal himself, I yielded nothing.

From: Brendan Quirk
Sent: jeudi 22 janvier 2009 15:23
To: Petillion, Flip
Subject: RE: (AD) D2009-0075 Registrant Information

Mr. Petillion -

My solution is to sell the domain to Eddy Merckx bicycles for a reasonable fee. I would think you client would prefer this direction over arbitration, since it would save them the cost, the annoyance, and the possible lack of a positive resolution.

I am not in the business of buying and selling domains, so I’m not sure of the value. What I do know is that if you visit the Network Solutions website and use their ‘Value Assessment Tool’, they appraise Merckx.com to be worth. $25,000 USD. Please see:

https://www.certifiedofferservice.com/CertifiedOffer/offer/makeoffer.do?dom=merckx.com

and see ‘Not sure how much to offer?’

Sincerely, Brendan

Have you ever played with Network Solution’s Value Assessment Tool? I think AIG and Lehman Brothers used similar technology from 2005-2008 to assign values to Florida swampland and Stockton, CA housing sprawl. The values it spits out are laughably huge and absurd. But throwing distraction Flip’s way was something I couldn’t resist.

From: Petillion, Flip
Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2009 8:52 AM
To: Brendan Quirk
Subject: RE: (AD) D2009-0075 Registrant Information

Mr Quirk,

Shall I inform my client that $25,000 USD is your proposal?

Yours sincerely,
FLIP PETILLION

I replied that I was open to a reasonable solution, and that he was welcome to present me with any ideas he had. And with that, he went silent. All discussion ended and after getting a handful of auto-emails I learned last week that the WIPO arbitrators judged in favor of Merckx. The domain name is theirs. No surprise there. It was the right decision -- after a needless expenditure of umpteen thousands of Merckx’s dollars and a delay of months to get the domain in their hands.

Getting adversarial with Eddy Merckx -- even if it’s not Eddy himself -- left me feeling sad. His legacy, at least as it pertains to bicycle manufacturing, has been on shaky ground ever since the demise of our beloved Team SC. The company wasn’t timely with getting the plot when the industry embraced carbon back in 2005 and it’s struggled mightily since because of it. And the new guys in charge…their very instincts as businesspeople (or is it as humans?) appear to be deeply defective. I know there are people out there who do well with Merckx bicycles. My favorite New England bike shop, International Bicycle Center in Boston, is one of them. But when I hear the phrase ‘new ownership’ I try to visualize a cool breath of air invigorating everything needing to made new. From my vantage point, limited as it may be in this instance, I don’t see it for Merckx bicycles.