I’ve been drifting away from GCN lately, but I think their look into “unbranded” bike parts is really interesting, and frankly something that I didn’t really expect to see them touch – even with someone else’s channel. I think there are probably a few reasons we don’t see a deeper examination of these types of products by mainline cycling media; with the major reason being that it’s really hard to advocate for massively expensive big-brand parts, when there are alternatives that are just as good. Secondarily, at least with the truly unbranded stuff, there’s significant risk involved because, as is mentioned, the main reason we brand things to provide accountability. Without some sort of brand to back a frame/wheelset/etc. there’s a huge information gap around whether the thing is mint, or rubbish.
Personally, I wouldn’t buy anything truly unbranded. Replacing teeth is expensive, and it really, really sucks to miss prime riding time due to injury. Saving a bunch of cash, just isn’t worth that risk to me. On the other hand, and this should be obvious, I have exactly zero problem buying lesser branded products with a known, and quantifiable, history of delivering quality kit. But, as these OEMs don’t really advertise, which is a big part of what you pay for from big-brands, there is a massive burden on you to do the research, find the product, verify that it won’t kill you (at least to a reasonable degree of certainty), figure out how to buy it, and wait. Often for a long time. There is no immediate, or even close to (at least in my experience), gratification when you order from one of these vendors. Where you can usually, pop down to the LBS and walk out with something drool-worthy that day; if you have the dosh.
Which brings up the last blocker; status. Maybe a bit of a controversial subject, but I think there’s definitely something to it, and I’m just as guilty as anyone. I love the looks/compliments/recognition I get when I’m on the S-Works Tarmac. It’s a great bike, but it’s not worth the premium over a HongFu, at least in any objectively measurable way. TBC, I don’t mean this in a pejorative way. Just being honest that signalling is an important part of how we make choices, and could be even more important for older (cough, MAMIL) riders than the younger set.