The Great Brain Robbery

Teatime at Offhand Manor. Photo: Carl Gooding


In 1999, Trek bike company parasitized my years of hard work, good will, and brand management to sell to women. I used to be able to produce and sell out women’s camps…now I barely exist. Women’s Mountain Bike & Tea Society™ was  fifteen years old when someone at Trek woke up and found out that half the population is not young white men.

Here’s a 1999 WOMBATS home page (above) and  Trek’s rip-off ad (below).

Our web site was designed by New York artist Hadley Taylor, who saw an opportunity to showcase her humor and talent for organizing information in an easy-to-follow. engaging way. WOMBATS website won a “25 best websites”  award from Wired Magazine that year (1997). Hadly made a Wombats Art Gallery, complete with “virtual cheese” and “virtual wine”, galleries to stroll through featuring black and white photos of women on & off bikes having fun. Judie Scalfano took most of them, but one was by professional photographer Carl Gooding.

Thanks to the Wired Magazine prize, WOMBATS was now squarely in the cross hairs of “advertising age’, who cast around for truly original stuff to “borrow” for their corporate clients.  Within a month or two, a dozen ad agency employees subscribed to our newsletter….Hal Riney, Goodby Silverstein, Saatchi & Saatchi…a long list. I know because the envelopes housing the applications had the company logo.

If it hadn’t been for the thoughtul, considered treatment I got from Fallon McElligott of Minneapolis a few months before Trek ripped me off, I never might have learned how things work in the ‘real world’ of legitimately acquired artwork.  In the REAL world,  agencies then contact the artist and secure an art acquisition license. Fallon’s people asked me if they could use the  WOMBATS and the women-on-mountain bikes with tea idea for their client, Timex.

“Send me what you have in mind” I wrote back.
“We’d like to photograph a bunch of women riding around” wrote Karla Olmeda, their liaison.

I suggested we invite them to a Wombats Camp. At the time, the New Mexico WOMBATS chapter was raging along merrily, but wasn’t able to foot the bill for me to come out and teach. I coordinated a special Photo-Ho camp, for anyone who cared to come, and be photographed to death. Anyone who’s been in a photo shoot knows that you have to do the same thing twenty times for the director of photography to be happy. Thus: if I held a free camp, no one could whine about us not getting to ride enough, and Timex would have their  clever “Oversteeped tea” campaign (below right).

Since Fallon put together two other advertising concepts as well, and Mr. Timex chose one of them, the WOMBAT camp was nixed….but Fallon McElligott was happy to pay a nine hundred dollar KILL FEE for taking up so much of my time and expertise.  I sent half to the NM chapter, and pocketed the other half, suitably reimbursed for about twenty hour’s work.TrailerPic-006

At the same time, the Trek ad agency, Hanson Dodge +Sutter, was reproducing my site’s main page:

the composition


tea table,

grouped beer bottles,

bikes laying against the door of the vintage trailer.

And most of all, the black-and-white photography itself.

I thought, well, I’ll write them a letter asking them for payment for creating their ad campaign.


Reader, I hope you’re as amused as I was by Laughlin’s comment “if there’s anything we can do for WOMBATS let us know”.

Like a molester asking for a date!

I invited Trek spokesman Gary Fisher out on an all-day ride that spring of 2000, asking for his help.

Said he:  I can’t do anything, you have to have a legal team, etc.

SO I pedaled out to Pt. Reyes where local artist Art Rogers lived.  He’d been ripped off by Jeff Koons, a millionaire who lifted Art’s photograph, had it carved into wood with extreme accuracy–without permission.  Rogers won the precedent-setting litigation. SItting in his beautiful living room, I learned  what a stressful three year slog he’d had to endure.

“I missed three years of my daughter’s life”.

He gave me the name and address of his lawyer, who worked in New York City. I happened to be going there in a few months, so I prepared a folio and shipped it off with a cover letter.

I was graciously deflected by the lawyer who advised me I’d need a rather impressive War Chest of funding–or a pro bono legal team.   And of course he was right. TrailerPic-003

Since then, I’ve considered the dutifully trademarked and copyrighted work I’ve done to encourage women an unpaid (as most women’s work is) a gift. This is Charlie’s approach: when endowed with a gift, give it away freely. There’s an endless supply.  Let it out into the world. And I do. But I am still grumpy about it when I discover I’ve been exploited. This might be a good place to add that I’ve been a rotten WOMBATS administrator, failing in most capacities after that heady period in the 1990’s…..

Should I be grateful to occasionally be permitted in the boy’s club?

At this point, if there is anything TREK would like to do to make things right for me and WOMBATS, “I’ll be happy to consider” a palliative offer. Talking to the higher ups like the Burke family  probably wouldn’t get me anywhere, though. The following image pulled from Wikipedia hints that plagiarism might be company policy–Mary Burke’s family owns Trek. mary burke

Right now, I  could use a round trip ticket to Japan for the months of  September and October and about eight thousand dollars. Not a huge amount of dough considering it’s today’s money.

Should I hire a helper to get a Kickstarter campaign for my “Big In Japan” project?

~ by jacquiephelan on April 16, 2015.

22 Responses to “The Great Brain Robbery”

  1. This is about how the world works, and bout human nature. Situational ethics are always based on people doing what serves them in the moment, and it is the rare individual whose integrity (actions support words) is consistent. Check out Greene’s 48 Laws of Power. It was written about the music industry, but all big business is similar. It’s all about money when it comes to business, they knew you could not fight them, (undeep pockets) so they burned you with impunity. Now you would probably have trademarked the Wombat logo and built into a brand name which you could then have sold, even GF went that route selling to Trek to become really big.

  2. In other words, you trusted them to do the right thing back then. Now you know better. We’ve all been there in one way or another, it’s part of the evolution of our consciousness.

  3. I’d say they done you wrong. I’m no lawyer, but it sure looks like theft of intellectual property to me. Sadly, without a legal fund or someone willing to take it on pro bono (or on contingency), you’re not likely to get much traction.

  4. Grr… Rogers vs. Koons popped to mind around paragraph 10… Deep pockets trump justice almost every time.

  5. Big Bike certainly doesn’t hesitate to assert intellectual property rights when it suits it/them. I recall around the same time as this Drek affair my then-employer Rocky Mountain Bicycles (at the time a small independent manufacturer in BC) received a cease and desist letter from a certain large manufacturer whose name sort of rhymes with “Crack-and-Fail”. The offense? Why RMB had the temerity to name a non-competitive team of semi-sponsored riders “The RMB Freeriders”. And “Freeriders” and “Freeriding” (and lord knows what else – were they going to take the DeLorean back to 1961 and sue the Freedom Riders too?) were trademarked terms, doncha know, so keep your sweaty little paws off.
    Rocky to its immense credit published spoof ads which reproduced the actual letter and mockingly introduced a team known as the “Fro Riders” replete with 70’s era wigs. It was a (relatively) low-budget PR coup which actually shamed Crack into publishing ads containing a sort-of, jokey, awkward retraction. It was instant Karma, and kind of a beautiful thing (there I said something nice about marketing people) Oh would such a Drek-shaming gain such traction, even for a little bit.

  6. That’s what corps & marketers do. Co-opt movements and culture to drain $ using their imagery/ideas and in the process drain out the culture and lifeblood from those movements as well.

    If you have a legal team that thinks there is a legit claim to pursue, let them pursue it, but if you stay engaged on that pursuit it will eat you up as well. Let the lawyers chase their legalese tails and they will take a huge part of the outcome for themselves; you get a moral victory and some small stipend in the end. I doubt it will ever sit right with you, and I can’t say you should let it go. I do think you shouldn’t let it drive you, acknowledge it and choose how much time and energy you want it to have in your life today.

    In the end – you can’t stop the thieves, in the networked economy you can only keep yourself out there, being your unique self and building your audience who want to interact with you, not with some nitwit corp that everyone knows is imitating you. Writings from Seth Godin, Kevin Kelly on long tail monetization, sites like Kickstarter and Patreon

    I’d love to buy you moi-moir and help in any way with testing or hints on a KS launch, I’ve backed over 100 projecst and seen a lot of stuff, so not an organizer, but if you want tips I think I’ve seen some trends on what is helps build success.

  7. Hey Jacquie,

    I just finished reading your post concerning Trek and WOMBAT.

    Thanks Trek, you are truly horrible people.

    Obviously they’ve been in the news again due to yet another product failure, this time it’s one of their quick releases.

    I was working in a bike shop last year and last year’s failure was a brake failure.

    Let’s just say they didn’t handle their product recall very well and I don’t see any signs of them doing any better this time around despite it now being national news.

    If Trek closed their doors tomorrow I wouldn’t cry.

  8. This is how opportunistic and greedy corporate minds comport themselves.

  9. Hi Jacquie

    It’s been a long time…

    Does Carl Gooding own the Copyright? Or did he officially transfer it to you in writing? Is the infringed image registered with the Copyright office? If so, the copyright owner can try hiring a IP att’y to write a letter to Trek and they may settle out of court, before it costs you much at all. I can provide you with a list of qualified IP att’ys in our area, recommended by pro photographers. HTH, Jeff Kausch, American Photographic Artists (APA), National Membership Representative, APA SF Chapter CEO.

    • Jeff,
      damn long time.. you never call, you never write. And mostly, you’re painfully absent from all the fol de rol around the museum. PLEASE come to the gran dopening on June 6, eh.
      As for the hiring an attorney? No way.. I made an attempt, but to do this one needs a ‘war chest’. I’m a ‘pirate’s dream’. (Sunken chest). But thanks for note. Dontbeastranger.

  10. Good luck Jacquie. You’ll need patience a FAT bank account and an army of FAT attorneys. here’s the FB re-post from CK’s page: The list of rip-offs and in-justice in the Mountain/Road Bike industry, is so long the MBHOF could dedicate a wall to it. Ritchey/Mountain Bikes v. Specialized, Missy Melissa Missy Giove v. Cannondale, Greg LeMond v. Trek James McLean named the Stumpjumper…never saw a penny. I could go on. “Fat Tire..Haa! Like the beer?” is usually the response I hear when I refer to the 4 years of Nationally Telecast TV production we did on the Fat Tire Journal. It still aggravates me, for a number of reasons. So I have learned to take a deep breath and gently set people straight about who and what came first..or I just blow it off and keep moving. In 1991 Eric Peter Abramson and I asked Charlie Kelly if he’d mind if we used Fat Tire Journal as the name of our show. ..out of respect and reverence to his Fat Tire Flyer. He graciously encouraged us to go right ahead and promote the sport he loves. We shot our 1st open and early shows at Fat Tire Bike Week in Crested named Crested Butte Bike Week …Why in God’s name, is the longest annual mtb event now named Crested Butte Bike Week? You ask? Well that’s a long sorted story that leads right back to the Beer company and their lawyers. The Flyer was 1st, the Bike race was 2nd, the Journal was 3rd and the beer never made the podium. But, the beer sure did make money and buy top representation. ” Yea, Fat Tire…just like the beer.” BTW I can’t drink that swill. Stuff makes me sick.


  12. Jacquie, you are a mtb legend to those of us that pay attention and have been around for the duration. I would love to see a massive boycott on Trek bikes in your name. I think Trek is the one bike I have and will never own. Que Le Vaya Bien.

  13. Thanks Jacquie, I hope to see you on June 6th. (I never received an invitation to any earlier events…)

    More info on Copyright is here in the free APA PDF entitled: Copyright Registration: Vital to Your Success (scroll down to the Copyright section).


  14. Reblogged this on The SQL Herald.

  15. Precedence here: Start building your case:

  16. Jacquie, I feel for you and your plight. I was recently at the Bicycle Leadership Conference and oddly enough their was a panel discussion regarding “Global Identity: Protecting Your Brand In a Global Marketplace “. On the panel was Bob Burns from Trek who relayed a story about Nike selling a product called the “Trek”. Long story short …Nike replied to a request to the Trek cease request by say “Trek is a common work in the Websters Dictionary” to which Bob Burns replied back saying the new “Nike bike will be a nice addition to their line since Nike was a common word in Websters.” Let me recap for you what the lawyers in those big companies would tell you – Don’t waste your time, money or even any emotional energy on them.
    My advice is that you take the fact that they copied your images flattery and move on to focus on how you grow your business. The fact you are having trouble filling camps and Trek copying your imagery are two entirely unrelated items. If you really think this is the case, I’m sorry to say but you don’t understand enough about YOUR BRAND. Focus on growing and building YOUR BUSINESS and YOUR BRAND. If the market has shifted to something different than what you are offering, shift.
    I can’t stand to see the small guy crushed by a big corporation but you have to know what your business is about. You are small and should be nimble and able to move quickly to adjust. I really do wish you success in moving beyond this but if you focus on this you will not get beyond it. I’d be happy to talk with you in more detail if you like.

  17. I forgot to add the link to the panel discussion.

  18. Such a shamelessly direct rip-off. I bet they didn’t have a round table handy or they would have copied that too. What’s most disgusting about it (to me) is how they stole from someone who’s been hard at work building a community that is the market for their products. A market that they and the rest of the industry didn’t give the time of day to for decades. Scummy move.

  19. I was working in a shop back in ’99 and vividly remember seeing that catalog and thinking what a great marketing image that was. Should have known that the concept did not originate within the walls of the Great Bicycle Making Citadel. If it makes you feel any better, it and their products at the time (which were pretty good) did put more women’s butts on bikes. Too bad they’re too short-sighted to reward the person who came up with the concept, which is the very embodiment of what’s wrong with corporate gargoyles.

  20. Sorry, but it happens. Even the good guys do it. For years, the Rivendell catalogs took all of their design cues from the old Great Pacific Iron works catalogs.

  21. Hi Jacquie, Haven’t seen you in years. the last time I saw you we ate fejoes in front of Tony’s in Sausalito. I just posted this blog about Trek on their Facebook site, and randomly in about a half dozen of their other posts as comments.

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