TriBike Transport Fiasco

An athlete's brutal fight to return their bike

We spoke with an athlete whose bike has not returned to them amidst the TriBike Transport fiasco. We’ve kept them anonymous as there is ongoing legal wrangling.

When did you first realize that something was wrong?

In January 2023, I booked TBT service for World Tri Championship Finals in Pontevedra, Spain. I usually travel with my bike, but given the amount of connecting flights (3 flights and a bus!) to get to Pontevedra and some plans to travel by train after the event, I felt I was better off using TBT. It would get around the risk of the airlines messing up getting my bike to the race, and it would save me some heavy schlepping during my train travel after. 

Everything was smooth before, during, and immediately after the race in Pontevedra. I planned to race 70.3 Arizona (traveling with my bike) one month after Pontevedra, and I had talked to TBT a few times about the return timing. Everyone was confident that it would be back with enough time for me to pack it up and bring it to AZ, though they were careful not to promise anything. When the bike wasn’t back around the time they thought it would be, I reached out and several days later received a response via email and got through to them on the phone. They told me the bikes had been held up in customs both in the EU and the USA and that they thought the bikes would be returned within 1-2 weeks (that was Oct. 18 that they gave that estimate).

Lucky for me a friend in AZ came through letting me borrow her bike for IM 70.3 Tempe. I took TBT’s word for the return status and tried to be patient. I could see other people with bikes held up from the Pontevedra race were starting to get pretty upset on social media.  

On Oct 30, TBT sent out an email notifying Pontevedra athletes that they were “experiencing unexpected delays” with the freight forwarder and were “anticipating sometime mid-week between November 1-November 4” for return. That was when I (and others) really started to understand that something was not right. Unfortunately for TBT, they notified customers on 2 or 3 different emails with all the recipients listed on cc, so almost immediately, chaos ensued on at least 2 different email threads containing about 90 emails addressed each in a flurry of angry “reply all’s.”

On Nov 7, we got a follow-up email from TBT revealing the bikes were wound up in a custody battle in North Carolina between TBT and their freight forwarder over some unpaid invoices. The next update was on Nov 10 explaining that the bikes had been moved to Chicago in direct violation of a court-authorized Temporary Restraining Order that included a judge ruling for the bikes to be turned back over to TBT in North Carolina. The Nov 10 TBT email added that they had followed up with court filings for a preliminary injunction and criminal contempt. Obviously, by this time, athletes started poking around the internet for related legal documents which revealed that, in addition to TBT’s filings in North Carolina, the freight forwarder had filed suit in California listing TBT and all of the bike owners as co-defendants in a case of conspiracy to defraud the freight company citing over $300,000 in past due invoices. The filings confirm they are holding 180 bikes from the Pontevedra shipment as collateral. 

The CA filing also lays bare the freight company’s ability exercise lien rights against their client for the unpaid invoices by selling the assets to realize their losses if still unsecured within 30 days of the filing. Athletes with AirTags on their bikes were the ones to reveal the move from North Carolina to Chicago and still confirm their location at a warehouse near O’Hare airport. Though all court filings in NC and CA confirm the athletes have paid TBT in full and acknowledge that the bikes are not TBT’s property, there is a very real possibility that bikes could make their way to an auction house sometime after Thanksgiving as the 30-day clock will expire at that time without some kind of forcing legal intervention. 

As for the piece where we’re all listed as co-defendants: it has been confirmed by TBT’s lawyers that the bike owners are in fact the parties listed as such in the CA filing. While many of us don’t believe this will be legally enforceable when it comes down to it, it is currently on paper in CA court.

A little bit more information comes out each day, but instead of bringing clarity, it just seems to reveal more layers of complexity, plunging us further into a dark abyss of legal confusion for now. 

How important is your bike to you, and how did you feel when you realized it wasn’t coming back anytime soon?

Big sigh

I definitely don’t have the most expensive bike out there, but expense doesn’t directly equate with importance. I love my bike. I’ve had it for 3 years. I spend soooo many hours on it training, it feels like an extension of my body when I’m riding it. My fit is perfectly dialed, I have carefully chosen its modifications, and right before the race in Pontevedra, I got a really rad set of race wheels for it—my first set of race wheels that I’ve owned instead of renting or borrowing…

Obviously, when things started to take a turn, the initial feeling was like “oh, shit! This is actually really bad! We have to intervene!” and then we started to wrap our heads around what a mess things had become…

Every day I have a pit in my stomach thinking about it sequestered away in that warehouse, likely rusting from the sweat, liquid nutrition dribble, salt water from the river swim… then the possibility of it hitting an auction house. The sense of helplessness to really affect the situation right now contributes big-time. It’s not completely about the bike as an object. It’s also about the feeling of paralysis that comes with the legal complexity of the situation. It feels violating. 

It also feels important to acknowledge my position of privilege associated with this problem. Obviously, it is important to zoom out and have perspective about the scale of one’s privileged personal life problems in the greater context of the current goings-on in the world. 

I do feel weirdly grateful that I’m in this situation with 179 other people though. It feels like our sheer quantity could help to increase the likelihood of things working out in our favor…. I hope?

Is there any kind of community trying to get the bikes back? Are there any higher powers advocating for the athletes?

Yes...ish. 180 people aren’t going to easily and smoothly organize themselves, but it’s clear that we’re all interested in getting out of the situation together. There are various channels of communication happening all the time and various levels of individual investigation, expressions of urgency, panic, and frustration; people are proposing solutions, but nothing seems like it can successfully pierce the legal veil of the situation at the moment. A small group of athletes has intentionally organized to try to consolidate efforts and centralize a stream of communication. We’ve been able to at least confer with contacts in the legal profession (who corroborate the scale of the challenge we’re up against), trace the story as it unfolds through court documents, and pull on adjacent knowledge and experience to decipher those documents with the informal support of our legal contacts in an attempt to identify possible paths forward. We definitely don’t have a magic bullet or some secret sauce, but we’re hoping that we can support some calculated moves in a positive direction, or at the very least offer a centralized reference point (via a little web page and email newsletter) for athletes to get access to factual information free from speculation and rumors (of which there is more than plenty going around).

The advice our group has gotten from friends and contacts in the legal world has suggested that the cost of litigation would likely be prohibitive if we try to pursue it on our own and has largely leaned toward pushing USAT to do as much as possible to advocate for us. Understandably, USAT has had to be very calculated in their moves. They’re not a big for-profit company like Ironman. USAT stepped forward on Tuesday to tell us they couldn’t directly support us financially or legally, but that they were trying to find something to offer us. By yesterday they had ID’d a law firm willing to investigate a class action suit. Many of us are beginning conversations with the recommended investigators, but realize that it is all still totally speculative — after all, they are merely beginning an investigation. They could very well decide not to take our case. Obviously, this is all unfolding as we speak and there are things going on behind the scenes we’re not aware of, but I think many athletes expected more direct and concrete support from USAT, especially as this all relates so directly to a race in which we went to represent the federation. And TBT is an official corporate partner of USAT. But again, it is too soon to really know the extent to which their support with roll out.

As of yesterday, a hearing is on the books in North Carolina (where TBT’s counsel is trying to push the case) for January. It could take a very long time. We don’t know what’s to come of the 30-day lien threat looming in Chicago or the California filing yet.

Thanks to the internet, the majority of the affected athletes are in communication through several channels. We have learned that some folks in the Chicago area have shown up to the warehouse to demand access to our cargo (to no avail). People are trying methods like filing police reports and personal insurance claims, calling the Mecklenberg County Courthouse in North Carolina to beg for an expedient hearing… At the end of the day, I think it is good that we’re a large group, if not for the aforementioned hopeful likelihood of finding a resolution, but to be able to share expressions of frustration and disbelief with others who actually really get it because they’re in the exact same situation. 

I can confidently say this consensus among the affected athletes is clear: more than anything, we just want our bikes back. NOW

How has this experience affected you?

Oh jeez. Too soon to tell, I think. It is kind of making me crazy, but I’m trying really hard to keep a level head and be a part of some solution or progress. I’m definitely losing sleep over it, but I’m feeling grateful for the handful of intelligent, level-headed fellow triathletes I’m in close contact with on a daily basis. 

I got stuck racing my 70.3 last month on a bike that wasn’t mine because of it, but other athletes have had worse. One I spoke to did a whole Ironman on a road bike… USAT does seem to be stepping up to fill in the gear gaps for affected athletes racing in Daytona. 

And I do think it’s worth saying that I feel like the possible loss of TBT is something of a loss for the US-based AG tri community overall. 

Thankfully, I’m in the off season now. I had already decided on getting a later start to next season because 70.3 WC in Taupō will be so late in the year. I guess that gives me time to see how this all unfolds and save a little extra money in case I need to buy a new bike next season. And I’m trying to stomach the possibility that I (and all or any of us) could actually just end up with a total loss and no recuperation. In the meantime, I’ll be doing my TT-focused sessions with clip-on aero bars on my gravel bike, I guess...

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