Colnago Bikes – Is Colnago’s New Crypto-Security Technology the Real Deal?


Just over a week ago, famous Italian bicycle brand Colnago announced its partnership with a digital security company called MyLime to equip its executives with encrypted security features to deter theft and counterfeiting.

This is either an idea that could revolutionize bicycle safety or the most exaggerated marketing pitch since Bontrager claimed that its WaveCel-equipped helmets were “the most important technology” in cycling for 30 years.

The idea is quite simple: from 2022, Colnago bikes will be equipped with a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip mounted on the frame. This chip – or tag, as MyLime calls it – is essentially a digital ID that, when scanned by an RFID scanner, is linked to a blockchain database that stores production and ownership information on each bike. Since blockchain transactions cannot be erased, this would theoretically discourage both theft and counterfeit production, both of which are huge problems in cycling, impact luxury brands more.

RFID is already being used in some industries, such as healthcare and pharmaceuticals, to combat these same issues, although adoption has been sporadic. Blockchain has been slower to take hold. High-end road bikes, mountain bikes and, of course, e-bikes could potentially benefit from both.

“We have looked at the security provided by blockchain technology to give our customers the confidence to know that the frame they are purchasing is genuine and to demonstrate chain of ownership forever,” said Manolo Bertocchi of Colnago. in the press release.

While a few outlets covered the Colnago-MyLime announcement, they generally repackaged the press release without scrutiny, and the news mostly vanished without comment. When Ride a bike digging deeper into the story, we found that there were more questions than answers. This partnership could be the start of an innovative approach to tackle bicycle theft and counterfeiting, but the Internet of Things, as it’s called, is not always well thought out. Colnago and MyLime have a number of challenges to overcome to avoid this spell.

Let’s start with the RFID tag, which is basically a digital serial number and purchase record in one. When you scan the tag with an RFID scanner, you can access the blockchain database to find out if it is a real Colnago and who is the rightful owner.

RFID itself is vulnerable; some tags can be hacked, overwritten, or even copied, a process called RFID cloning. This raises the possibility that a thief could digitally transfer ownership of the bike. But that’s where blockchain comes in, right? Even if the tag is compromised in some way, the authenticity and ownership of the bike is still encoded in the blockchain, where it cannot be overwritten. Kind of.

A blockchain, basically, is essentially a digital ledger, where computer code entries (blocks) are made in a linked time series (chain) to record information such as ownership of assets.

What sets the blockchain apart from other ledgers and provides its unique security case is that the technology is distributed: copies of the ledger are kept and updated simultaneously on a network of computers, called nodes. When a new transaction occurs, the nodes that process the data each independently verify the transaction by consensus. Essentially, this means that when a new transaction appears, the nodes ask, “This is the transaction I am seeing; is that what you see? ‘ Once committed, if more than half of the nodes agree, the transaction is added as a time-stamped code block on the network.

This essentially makes it impossible to go back and change or erase previous blockchain transactions; Once a code block is added, you cannot change it without changing each copy of the general ledger. As this violates network rules, nodes will refuse to commit the change.

But here’s the catch: While it’s all the rage to say “the blockchain” as if it were a single entity, it’s a misunderstanding. Blockchain is not a thing; it is a technology. There is not a blockchain; there are hundreds, maybe thousands. There are public blockchains and private blockchains, which come in several flavors. So the public blockchain platform that, say, Bitcoin operates on is not the same as that of rival cryptocurrency Ether (called Ethereum), which is again different from the (presumably private) platform that will underpin the Colnago project. And this is where things get blurry.

The MyLime press release stated that the Colnago database will be part of the Automotive Blockchain®. But as with other blockchains, there is not just one in the automotive industry (or even a dominant actor). MyLime registered a logo mark for Automotive Blockchain in the United States and Europe in 2020, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization. But this bold ambition contradicts the fact that MyLime, an Italian tech startup, has only a handful of customers, one of which appears to be its own sister company. It is not even clear that its automotive blockchain is operational.

MyLime has been in business since 2018, explains Martina Laconca, the company’s public relations representative. But that’s about the only information I have. I sent a list of questions, which Laconca said she found “interesting and insightful” but could not answer due to a nondisclosure agreement, and suggested that information may be available in the future.

Laconca declined to respond to requests for additional information on MyLime’s blockchain services, or its automotive Blockchain® in particular: what it is, who are the partners besides MyLime, and how large the network is. This matters because the blockchain, once considered impossible to hack, is not.

While you cannot erase past blockchain transactions, the technology has vulnerabilities, including private key hacking, where a thief could impersonate the owner of an asset, and something called a 51% attack: when a malicious actor takes control of more than 50% of the computing power of a blockchain, which is the threshold to validate a transaction on the network.

When this happens, a hacker can write new transactions to the blockchain: the fraudulent transaction is validated by at least 51% of the nodes in the network and accepted as legitimate. So, a 51% attack is partly a problem of scale: public blockchains with a huge network, like Bitcoin, cost too much, but a small, owner? Play.

Because MyLime didn’t answer most of my questions, it’s impossible to know the details of the blockchain technology that will underpin digital security for Colnago. If MyLime is acquired, or rotates to a different product, or ceases operations – all common outcomes for tech startups – what happens to the Colnago database?

Colnago also did not respond to two requests for comment on the details of the plan. So on topics like how owners could update the blockchain and RFID tag in case they sell their bikes; how potential buyers could access the database to verify that a bicycle is legitimately owned and genuine (eg, through a Colnago dealer); and whether law enforcement will be able to do so to verify the property – there is no firm information.

Given Colnago and MyLime’s claims about the technology’s anti-theft potential, this last question is perhaps the most difficult, as law enforcement typically treats stolen bikes as a low priority and is already somewhat contested. through technology. Dan Guido, CEO of digital security firm Trail of Bits, recently wrote a viral Twitter thread about how he recovered a stolen scooter using Apple Airtags after doing all the file work for the police, who were most suspicious of him, and physically drove them to the cutting shop that had the scooter. So it might be a bit of a stretch to expect the police to carry RFID scanners to access a proprietary blockchain with the uncertain authority that tells them who is the rightful owner of this set of 5,000 V3Rs executives. $ with Tadej Pogačar’s “Fire and Ice” paint scheme.

A separate and major problem: For some reason, Colnago placed the RFID tag on the outside of the down tube (there’s a close-up photo in the press release), where it’s easily scratched off. Is a missing tag a sign that a bike is stolen or fake? Sure. But this is a physical product, not a digital asset like an NFT; actual possession is important. People who steal and resell bikes may not be bothered by whether there is an RFID tag on it or not, or if a digital record indicates that the bike is not legally owned by them. Proof of ownership? It’s right there in their hands, right?

Likewise, counterfeiting is not easy to resolve. When I written on counterfeit bikes A few years ago, I learned from talking to sources that many buyers know what they are buying is fake, and don’t care – hence the term “Chinarello”. A false label, or no label at all, is not very dissuasive. And if the database of genuine bikes is obscure, proprietary, and difficult to access, it is even less effective.

Both RFID and blockchain have the potential to deter both theft and counterfeiting if properly executed: anything that increases the cost of illegal behavior will decrease it to a corresponding extent. But there are just too many questions right now about Colnago’s partnership to know if this is going to be a significant step in that direction, or if these Colnago 2022s only weigh a few grams more for the weight of an RFID tag. and an adhesive.

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