Friday, December 12, 2008

A Petition To the Bicycle Industry On Safety Of Products

Spread the word!

Here's my petition :

While others extoll the bike industry and the good products that have come from them, I want to pitch in with my own opinions on the other half of the products. 

I have prompted myself to write this as a result of all the terrible failures on bicycles and related components I have been seeing over the past 3 years. The nasty injuries associated with them have turned my stomach upside down. Some of these failures are almost laughable, inspite of how dangerous they look; like the rim failure I mentioned just a couple of days back. I was literally laughing, and jokes were going around on the web for its new use! I don't want to be an alarmist, but I don't think I'm the first.


The general outcry nowadays is for lighter, aesthetically pleasing products in cycling. I think in the early days, this was more prominent with the racing scene but now the push for svelter, lighter products seems to have gripped everyday, mundane mainstream cycling. Lighter tubes, tires, bolts, cables, bags, saddles, shoes, jerseys, shorts, bottle cages...and the very thing that protects your head - helmets. I guess you can lose business and money by not following the trends, but you can follow trends while keeping best practices in mind too.

I feel we're losing logic and sight of reality by going to extreme lengths to lighten every single thing out there while ignoring structural stability. Machining away the last bit of material to lower the weight of the item by 10 grams? Please. That last bit of material might have been the last thing on earth that would have given the product sufficient strength to survive the everyday rigors of cycling. 


Cycling as it is, is risky activity. This is inherent in the sport. Riders are :

a) Out in the elements, largely unshielded from the forces of nature. Too much sun, wind, pollutants or rain showers can make it a bad day for anyone.

b) Riding with traffic which are largely huge pieces of machinery weighing in tons. Defensive riding simply won't cut it now, as motorists these days are handing a very cold shoulder to cyclists out on the road. Drunk driving is becoming a huge problem, and sadly cyclists have to pay the huge price in a collision.

c) And if you're talking about mountain or downhill biking, then the risks associated with riding on the offroad terrain come into consideration. Its not uncommon for these riders to bunnyhop over big/sharp obstacles and even jump their bikes several feet in the air.

Now if you're telling me that as a company, you'll go ahead and make my life more dangerous by producing faulty, flimsy products to use in the first place, I simply have to stand up and fight for my rights. I take it that others will agree with me.


It is incredible how companies will go to great lengths to market these flimsy products downstream, by brainwashing the customer using words like DURABLE, LIGHT BUT STRONG, STIFF BUT COMPLIANT and yada yada, when they really aren't. Sometimes, junk science also crawls in and takes its pitch and the end result is a fairly attractive wrapping for an ugly present.


Injuries that are associated with cycling are nothing short of troublesome. The order of the day has been broken collarbones, wrists, knees, ribs, necks, and deep and bad bruises that take days and months to heal. They also make you look like a casualty of war. I like to be healthy, but I don't want to look like a clown in the process. I'd also like to keep my life so that my family can be with me again when I return home with my bike. Damn, is asking for my life a little too much? Am I overstepping here?

An example of facial injury as a result of handlebar failure. 


Failures, and product defects aren't good for any company. You make all that investment to establish yourselves and now you blow all that away with a tiny mistake which could be a huge one, since life and money are often involved in the equation. However good your reputation will be, it takes only one bad thing ... and customers generally don't forget when shit happens. It lingers. And nowadays, with web 2.0 or 3.0 or whatever.. that shit will be pasted all over the internet. Want to know how good a product, say x is, before you purchase it? Just Google with the search term "x product sucks", and see what people are saying. 

And if you're in China or other Asian countries, it pays to look up a list of terrible products that have come out of your country including lead paint, adultrated food items etc. If I found my food messed around with, hell I'd beat the crap out of whoever was responsible.

Personally, I work in the oil and gas industry and we work with a number of clients who specifically tell us things like 'we don't want anything from China or India. Period'!! I think that this is  turning out to be the emerging trend across many industries as there is really a lot of bad press and many disappointed people in the wake.


I'm also often confused by a couple of things. One is company behavior regarding bad designs. Think of it this way. It seems like companies are deliberately putting bad products out there, wait until some dissatisfaction arises from the customer's side, and then make some more money by making the improved version of it. Why couldn't they get things right the first time? Well, if the product was good the first time, I guess they wouldn't flick money from your wallet over improvements.

The other is that in keeping with the trend to introduce new products for the next year, the onslaught of the new incoming designs kill some of the favorable and proven products in the old line. Suddenly, those disappear from the market and you have a new line of less durable and expensive products. This is happening so rapidly, that essentially next year's products are appearing in the market around August or September of the previous year. Why can't companies use some form of feedback, and keep the proven products still in their line? Do you really have to rout out everything old to make your products look new for the next year?

Another disturbing trend is the use of exotic materials when they aren't even understood properly. A lot of the failures in carbon fiber happened largely because designers and manufacturers didn't understand its properties and the way it will behave in the end product, not just by itself.

I guess my point is, just to make a few more bucks to make things marginally lighter, the entailing risks are not emphasized. Suddenly, in the end, people get hurt or injured and you get lawsuits and counterlawsuits and what not and suffice to say, the situation is a complete mess. The risk of someone not doing business with you as a result is even a bigger embarrasment.


1. GOOD DESIGN AND TESTING : I cannot emphasize this enough. Good design is at the crux of good, ethical engineering practice.  Good design comes out of good ideas, and good concepts and it adheres to engineering ethics. It doesn't come overnight. It looks good on paper, and it works in real as well. Good design establishes a clearly defined NEED, and makes products for that application. Make it known to the end user that if he or she uses this product outside its application scope, risks are present and you may or may not partake in that risk. And as for testing, if you spot something through thorough and extended testing, chances are you can attend to correcting it before its too late. Before its too late, and an 8 year old kid falls and breaks his neck. Or before a baby boomer pushing his 60's crashes and falls and finds out he can't plan to retire so soon! 

2. STANDARDS : I'm ever so confused about this one. Who're the standards authorities who govern the design of cycling products? Is there one in every country? Do you understand their standards? Do you take exceptions to their standards? And if so, how risky to an end user is your decision to take exceptions?

3. QUALITY : Get your act together on quality. See who you do business with. Who are your suppliers? Who are their suppliers? What are their business practices? Did you take a tour at their plant? Do you know how they treat their employees? Understand the cost of poor quality. They are unnecessary engineering changes, scrap and rework, extra setups, longer cycle times, warranty claims, lawsuits, lost sales, lost credibility and the list goes on. This is serious for your business.

4. PREACH WITH INTEGRITY : Get your marketing straight. Make it say whats right. Who're the guys doing this marketing stuff in the first place? Do they know the product? Do they understand its intended use? Do they know who the audience is? In other words, do they know who they're fooling? 

5. FEEDBACK : I don't know if there's enough of this element. Get people's honest opinions on a product. Make it open and transparent to others instead of twisting it to your own liking and displaying it like a false trophy on your website. Get a grip on what were the most liked products and replicate good designs or keep them in the market. 

6. APPLY NEW TECHNOLOGY WITH CAUTION : This is a tricky subject and I'm not even sure how to approach it. What I would say is that, if a new material or new design has not been understood properly, or if its still a half baked cookie in some University research laboratory or a Science Journal entry, please spare the health of the public and some of your own personal embarrasment by falling back, and doing some more extended research before licensing and releasing it to market. Unobtainium alloy X shouldn't make my life unobtainable to me if its going to crumple like a beer can the moment I try to use it.

7. RECALL FAILURES AND DEFECTS IMMEDIATELY : Inspite of all the above I have mentioned, there will be failures out on the field. I understand that. Hey, I'm not saying anything can last forever. But if someone out there is genuinely calling out a defect or a premature failure long before the lifetime limit of the product, swallow your pride and call in that particular product and all similar designs for an investigation. STOP the flow of these products to the market. The longer these dangerous products are out there, the longer the public at large is at risk. Once you get it in, do a root cause analysis (RCA) of the problem and aim to tackle it. Often, its process inefficiencies in the upstream that lead to defective products down the line.

8. A WORD TO CYCLISTS : Dear cyclists, stop abusing your equipment for something it wasn't made for. No point in sitting and crying over something thats your own fault. Be responsible users, keeping in mind your own safety and that of the people you ride or race with, since cycling is often a group activity as well. Bad things will happen to you if you use your equipment beyond its design limits.

As a conclusion to this post, allow me to reiterate. Cycling has inherent risks associated with it, as any experienced cyclist would tell you. But I think we can survive that, even fight it. All we don't want are faulty, defective products on top of all this to supplement the D in Dangerous. Thank you very much.

Moreoever, all this nonsense is not even sending the right idea to newcomers to cycling, who already may have an idea of bad things happening to cyclists. So before advocating safe cycling, check to make sure if the very products you sell are safe to use.

Its simple. Keep bad things from happening from your end or don't do business at all. 

Lets all hope that for 2009 and the years to come, we don't hear of people getting unnecessarily hurt or injured, however light it may be, from the use of defective cycling products.

UPDATE, 12/19/2008 :

I found a great intro video on Poka Yoke, a quality term used for mistake proofing in industry processes. You can read more about it here.


jamesmallon said...

I appreciate the writings on failure, as well as your other post. Failure is why I won't buy a carbon bike, and am taking the carbon fork off my steel Lemond. I am not racing, I prefer the better ride of steel, and like a stronger material which fails less dramatically! Nice it's cheaper, too.

A question, because I ride in Canadian winters: is carbon fibre resin cold-weakened? I know that plastic snaps in the winter...

Anonymous said...


You are absolutely incorrect. Cyling is not a risky activity.

It simply isn't.

People need to take responsability for their actions and their products.

That rim failed 'cause it was used for something stupid. So it broke.

Smart = Safe
Ride Smart = Ride Safe

Anonymous said...

With regards to testing.
It actually comes down to the particular country the product is shipped to, but here are just a few -


The laws are out there, and any brand with any size typically selling internationally has testing that meets of exceeds these tests.

- Ryan

thecycleguy said...

These are good viewpoints and very good questions. Thank you very much for your boldness.

Anonymous said...

I have two things to say. One is the trend I'm observing in helmets. I have been studying their behaviors in collisions and perhaps 50% cases, they didn't fail the way they were originally designed to.

Second, as you mentioned, is the general thinning of material in wheel rims, chains, transmission sprockets and chainrings. Durability and safety is a big issue the more you thin something out. These are important issues because thousands of dollars are tied in with the purchase of products such as these. Today's 4 or 5 grand will buy you a product that lasts maybe 2 years, often less on defect. It wasn't the same back in the golden days of cycling.

Phil said...

Ron , while I agree that some injuries are serious I would check my facts to see their rates of occurance.

Josh said...

Hey Ron
An excellent piece - well written.
I agree with all the points made.

My Observations from europe are: There seems to be huge demands and expectations amongst US consumers to 'get it all', top performance AND bargain prices. Whilst not universal, I am amazed that the US, with its high per capita income seems one of THE most price conscious countries. Other countries seem to accept the general rule that 'you get what you pay for'. But I am constantly amazed from cycling forums how central the 'bargain hunt' appears to be amongst american cyclists and public.

Applied to bicycles and the demands to be latest, lightest, fastest, cheapest, leads to exactly the situation you warn about - something HAS to give, and that usually means margins of safety.

So a fix is in the hands of the consumer - dont buy crap and expect to pay for quality.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Saying like it is!

Ron said...

I'm an engineer, and I love data. Sometimes though, to make a point, I dont have have to get nitbits of info from all over the place. I wish I had that kind of time.

So are you saying drunk driving aren't killing cyclists? Or drunk driving isn't a huge problem at all? You know what I feel about it? Its the bane of the motorized culture we live in. Its absolutely terrible.

I can personally attest to the increasing number of "memorial" rides because a cyclist was killed in such a collision.

Rick, Los Angeles said...

@ Colin : You're digressing and bringing on a needless discussion by connecting carbon bars with drunk driving related accidents. You should read this post again.

Anonymous said...

I have one issue to point out. In a lot of industry circles, people are use their wealth of experience and skill in designing bikes as opposed to serious engineering techniques like you would find behind a modern aircraft. Do you think a small 5 man facility would have the supercomputers, testing facilities and licenses to state of the art analysis software? Probably not! Hence you have a point in saying that companies should review their sub suppliers because the just buy parts from them and put it on their bikes. Premature failures are a cost to the buyer for basically nothing. So it can be viewed as Infinite Cost, if you will.

Anonymous said...

Carbon fiber racing bikes need to conform to FAA, if there's nothing else that's better. FAA is followed in the F1 industry.