Athletes Fight – And Win – Over $1 Million Bicycle Dispute

By Chris Chmura, Consumer Investigator, NBC Bay Area

Mountain View triathlete Jimmy Dworkin puts himself through the paces. “I’ve been doing triathlons since 1995,” he said. But lately, he’s endured an unexpected obstacle course: a marathon battle over his custom bike. 

“I purchased it in 2019 for just over $10,000,” he said. “It took me about two years to save for the bike.” 

To compete in Spain in September, Jimmy paid a company he’d previously used, called TriBike Transport, $824 to ship his bike there. It arrived for the race. “Representing Team USA was a lot of fun,” Dworkin said. 

But by December, back at home in California, he was still riding a backup bike. He says his main bike was, essentially, held hostage on the way back from Spain. 

“It’s sitting in a cargo box somewhere in Southern California, along with 179 others,” he said of the detour. 

As it turns out, TriBike Transport sub-contracted with a southern California company called Horizon Entertainment Cargo. Horizon said TriBike didn’t pay its bills. So, Horizon held 180 bikes from the Spain competition — including Dworkin’s — as collateral.

Dworkin said the total value was “approximately $1.4 million to $1.6 million.” 

He asked the NBC Bay Area Responds team for help. “You’re able to talk to the right people,” he said. “Or speak to the right people.” 

We tried. We started a barrage of calls and emails, including immediate outreach to Horizon.

“TriBike violated its contract with the bike owners and it violated its contract with us,” said attorney Howard Zelener, who represents Horizon and its parent company ISCM. He says TriBike owed almost $320,000 plus interest for 13 unpaid shipments. Zelener said Horizon couldn’t just eat the money — because it had already paid most of it to airlines to ship the bikes.

“So, under United States shipping laws as well as our contract with TriBike, we had the right to assert a lien against any freight they shipped with us if they had any unpaid airbills,” Zelener said.

Well, if Dworkin and the other athletes paid TriBike, but Horizon says TriBike didn’t pay them, where did all the athletes’ money go? “I’d very much like to know where the money had gone,” Dworkin said.  

We repeatedly tried to contact TriBike. No one responded. 

Horizon initially said the Spain competitors could pay off all of TriBike’s debt — divide up the $320,000 equally — and basically buy their bikes back. Dworkin was close to paying almost two grand when we got word TriBike had a Travelers cargo insurance policy. 

It seemed like a longshot. An early email to the triathletes said Travelers had “to determine how or if the travelers policy will respond [to] this incident.”

We contacted Travelers. The key question was whether a financial dispute fell under the same umbrella as losses like accidents and catastrophes. After several weeks of talks, a welcome development. 

This past Saturday night, Dworkin got his bike back. “I’m ecstatic. I’m so happy,” he said. “I like how it still has my sticker from the race,” he chuckled.  

All the other athletes will get their bikes, too — without paying more out of pocket. In the end, Travelers paid this unusual claim. Travelers emailed the athletes and told them, “Travelers has gone beyond its obligations.” 

So, how did a cargo insurance policy cover a financial dispute? Zelener offered his take. “I think [Travelers] viewed it as the net result of this was sort of like a theft, because the bikes weren’t going to get back to the bike owners,” he said.  

Travelers simply told us: “We’re pleased we were able to assist in getting the bikes returned to their owners.”  In closing, Zelener said, “Travelers deserves a lot of credit for stepping up for, I think, stepping up and doing the right thing.”

We contacted TriBike again for comment. No response.

This case is not closed. Zelener says he’s pursuing a lawsuit to hold TriBike accountable for additional costs Horizon incurred during the dispute. Travelers could also sue TriBike to get its money back — which is common in insurance. 

Click on NBC Bay Area’s to view Chris Chmura’s video report.