Project Humpty Dumpty

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The Impending Industry-Wide Bike Recall

The other day, I shared some thoughts about the skewer recall that Trek has initiated.  The story continues to get press.  Outside Online has shared this story, which is also really on point on this subject.  Today, we’re talking about phase 2 of the recall.

Phase 2 of the recall is the industry-wide recall that is impending.  Why is it impending?  Why would other companies undertake a recall of a product that I spent a significant amount of time waxing eloquent about not being dangerous unless flagrantly misused?  The reason is simple: liability.

The Trek recall was initiated based upon one serious injury and an unknown number of less serious injuries.  Assume for a minute that RATG Bikes, a smaller bike manufacturer, has also released bikes some time in the past decade that included these skewers.  RATG Bikes, as a smaller manufacturer, doesn’t have their own accessories, and hence used some stock Shimano wheel kits as build options on their bikes, and those Shimano wheels used the affected skewers.

Jim Hasnoclue is a rider who purchased a RATG Bike a couple years ago, and who is riding it a year from now.  He doesn’t pay attention to how the QR works, and doesn’t tighten the skewer properly.  He’s riding along, oblivious to his impending doom, and the QR flops around and flips into the disc brake, laughing Hasnoclue into the air.  Serious injuries resulting from bike riding are not impossible.  I broke three vertebrae falling off of my bike this past winter.  Poor Mr. Hasnoclue suffers serious, life threatening injuries from his ill-timed fall.  In the aftermath, a friend visits him in the hospital and talks to him about the crash.  They realize that it was “caused” by the skewer (obviously not user error), and the friend seems to remember something about a recall of skewers that made the news a few months ago…

Fast forward a bit to this argument:

This product was so dangerous, so patently defective, that manufacturers who had sold nearly a million bikes recalled them.  Other manufacturers incurred tens of millions of dollars of expense to get this product off of the road and away from cyclists.  RATG Bikes, who could have recalled this product for a fraction of that cost, but chose not to.  They willfully and recklessly let this product persist in the marketplace, exposing poor Mr. Hasnoclue to the perils of the skewer.

Truth be told, there’s a lot more legal analysis here (and for the lawyers out there, I certainly understand the limits of introducing evidence of remedial measures).  But while you and I may acknowledge, as ‘serious cyclists,’ that this product is not truly dangerous unless you flagrantly misuse it, will cycling manufacturers be able to rely on the prospect that their juries will be filled with avid cyclists?

I suspect not.  I suspect that this recall will spread, because the potential peril of continuing to permit a now “known dangerous” (air quotes) product to remain in use are too great.  With this, the cost of this recall, in time and money, will spread…far beyond the true value of the potential harm at risk.  I return to the social utility question.  If we had tens of millions of dollars and years of free labor available to prevent harm to cyclists , would replacing these skewers be the best use of that funding?  I think not.

Disproportionate consequences breed difficult decisions.  This recall is not over.

Trek Bike Recall Updates

If you’ve been hiding under a rock lately, Trek has issued a recall for the QR skewers on certain disk-brake equipped bikes from 2005-present.  Full details are here.  There are a number of things that surprise me about this recall.

First, I’m surprised by the focus on Trek as the center of the recall.  Certainly, they’ve sold a lot of bikes with the affected skewer.  However, this is not a Trek part (not made by Trek) and is not proprietary to Trek.  Many, many bike manufacturers have sold this skewer on their bikes and wheels, including but not limited to Shimano.

Second, the only way that this product is “dangerous” (air quotes) is if you are riding the bike with the skewer loose, and with the skewer on the brake rotor side of the wheel.  Under that circumstance, the skewer can become lodged in the brake rotor, which obviously can have deleterious effects.  (Super gnarly skid if it happens in the rear, super nasty OTB if it happens in the front).

I’m an attorney by trade, and I’ve seen some products liability cases in my day.  I’m not opining on the validity of this case, but as a matter of not-legal-advice-common-sense, let me say that if you’re riding along and your skewer is loose enough to flop open, you’ve got problems.  There is no allegation that the skewers loosen while riding or are otherwise defective in some regard.  The allegation is that if the rider fails to properly install the skewer and leaves it flopping loose, it can flop into the brake rotor.  Other things that can happen from loose skewers: a) loss of a wheel; b) loss of control; c) serious bodily harm; and, d) incontinence.  (Ok, I made that last one up).

I guess it’s a good thing to recall a product that has even a potentially unsafe defect, but it seems odd to recall the product where the defect is based upon clear misuse of the product (particularly where the misuse is independently dangerous, regardless of the design of the product).  This isn’t a recall of a brake system that may fail because of its design…this is a recall because a rider who doesn’t properly install his or her wheels may crash.  Uhh yes, Mr. Obvious, party of two.  Your table is right here.

In the coming weeks, more companies will be issuing recalls of this part, and they will likely not make as widespread of news because Trek is currently the story.  I happen to have some insider information on other upcoming product recalls that will be coming from Trek first, and from other bike companies later.  Those include:

  1. All portable tire pumps sold by Trek.  If you are riding with one of these in your hand, and you shove it into the spokes of a spinning wheel, it can cause loss of control and/or crashes.
  2. All helmets ever made by Trek.  If you are wearing a helmet and do not have the chin-strap properly adjusted and tightened, the helmet can fly off during a crash, and injury may result.
  3. All seat posts made by Trek.  If you are using a Bontrager brand seatpost and do not have a saddle installed, serious injury may result when jumping your bike.
  4. All Bontrager stems.  If you are using a Bontrager stem and do not properly tighten the screws, loss of directional control may occur, potentially resulting in serious injury.
  5. All Trek bike frames.  If you ride one of these at a high rate of speed and then steer towards a fixed object, injury or even death may result.

This may be a newsflash, but if you fail to use a product properly, injury may result.  And generally speaking, if there’s a fastener on your bike, it probably should be properly tightened before you ride.

I suppose I should be clear that this post is written in sarcasm.  I appreciate that Trek is taking a step to eliminate a product that has a potential hazard, and that they’re working with governmental agencies in order to address that hazard.  I also appreciate that because Trek is a large, successful manufacturer, the scope of this recall is significant.  But at a basic, fundamental level, I have to wonder: do the resources put into this issue make sense, when the underlying “defect” is only apparent when a rider wholly misuses the product?  (This dedication of resources is not Trek’s fault–they have to comply with federal governmental agencies and also have to mitigate potential lawsuits from people who are unable to figure out that the wheels should actually be secured to the bike before riding).

This recall affects approximately one million bikes.  Trek is offering new skewers (figure an investment of $15), and a $20 gift card.  That’s an investment of $35,000,000, not counting the free labor that local bike shops will have to volunteer to implement the recall.  Conservatively, let’s say that the customer interaction on each recall takes 30 minutes (between confirming eligibility, getting the skewer, and installing replacements, and also including time spent assuring customers who are not affected that, ahem, they are not affected by the recall).  That’s 500,000 hours of labor–about 62,500 eight hour work days.  If you’re assuming 5 work days per week for 50 weeks per year, that’s 250 work-years of free labor.  If you’re assuming that a person will work 50 years in their life (ages 18-68), that’s 5 people’s entire life’s work.  Replacing.  Skewers.

If you had thirty-five million dollars and 250 work-years of free labor to invest in making cycling safer.  Would you spend those resources replacing a product that is only even potentially harmful where the user is incredibly recklessly misusing the product?  Man, I can think of some better things to do.  I just wish that Trek had the opportunity to do other things with these resources, instead of having to undertake a recall of this nature. At what point is a product “dangerous when flagrantly misused” and at what point is a user responsible for properly using a product?  Trek, as a manufacturer, is at the will of regulating agencies and juries in making that determination.  As a practical matter, it would seem as though if you cannot figure out how to tighten your skewer before riding, that perhaps the fault of resulting injuries lies with you.

At some point, decisions based upon questionable liability will either phase out of style, or will start having a detrimental impact upon bike utility.  From a manufacturer’s perspective, is there less liability involved in designing a bike whose wheels can only be removed at an authorized dealer?  Almost certainly.  Is that beneficial to the end user?  Absolutely not.  So where is the line drawn?

The product at the heart of this recall poses no safety risk if used properly.  It is only when it is flagrantly misused–installed without being tightened–that it poses any risk.  Sure–any reasonable steps that can be taken to prevent rider injuries is great…but at what point are the steps needed to protect the careless from themselves too much to bear?  How many trees do we need to install padding on to protect the mountain bikers who refuse to wear helmets?

If the threshold for product recalls is now based upon whether a product, when misused, will injure someone, then we can expect far more recalls, and an adverse impact on biking overall.

POSTSCRIPT:  I’ve had a few people email me today and ask what the point of mentioning $35,000,000 and 250 work years is.  My point is not to poke Trek, which as my friend T eloquently stated is both a victim and vanguard here.  My point is to suggest that if we had $35M and 250 work years to dedicate to a bike-advocacy cause…just think about what we could do.  Think about it.

Rapha Wind Jacket Review

I don’t know why, but when I write about Rapha, I always feel the need to have a disclaimer.  Around me, it’s only available online, which I don’t like.  I know it evokes strong feelings in people.  I know it is expensive.  I know some really don’t like it.

It’s fantastic stuff.  I have to say, I don’t have a single piece of Rapha kit that has been a bad investment.  It lasts, it fits, it is functional, it looks fantastic.

Today, we’re talking about the Rapha Wind Jacket.

It’s a lightweight, packable jacket.  According to Rapha, the fabric is a lightweight, breathable stretch fabric with a windproof coating and water repellent treatment.  I’ve found all of those descriptions to be accurate.

It is pleasingly stretchable, and even with a trim fit, the stretch adds a great deal of comfort.

It is 100% windproof–and impressively so because the fabric is incredibly thin.

I have worn it in actual rain (not downpours, but actual rain) and have found it to be far more water-resistant than I had any right to expect.  That was one of those “caught too far from home” moments.  Because the Wind jacket is so light and packable, it’s easy to throw in a jersey pocket and have it with for just such an occasion.  It has nice cuffs that keep it stable on your arms (even in high winds), or that allow you to push the sleeves up and have it stay in place without flopping down on you.

We don’t have cold descents here in Illinois…but what I’ve found this jacket to be great for is either variable weather or mild weather.

A few weeks ago, I did a GM training ride where the temps started at 25 and then warmed up to 48.  I threw this jacket in my frame bag, and when the temp warmed up, I dropped a heavy layer and put on this jacket.  It was perfect for the more temperate part of the spectrum.

Similarly, yesterday I slapped this jacket on in the morning, when the temps were around 40, and rode with it until the temps were about 58, whereupon I took it off and rode just in my jersey.  As the day progressed and warmed up, I unzipped progressively.  At the coldest part of the day, this jacket, fully zipped, was windproof and kept me warm.  As the day warmed up, the unzipping added more ventilation until it was warm enough out to drop a layer.  An added bonus is that the forecast was calling for rain yesterday, so if it rained, I would have been ready for it.

Asymmetric zipper–a nice feature as it keeps the zipper away from your neck.

You can also see the small pocket there; that is the only pocket, and is nicely sized for a cellphone or a wallet (not both).

Wrist cuffs:

Waterproof, windproof zipper:

The zipper features a nice ‘inner liner’ at the top, so it doesn’t irritate your skin when fully zipped.

You can see the lightweight, stretchable nature of the fabric here:

Awkward picture time, but this is intended to show that it has an aggressive cut; long enough to cover your butt in the rear, but short enough to not interfere with an aggressive riding picture in front.

The new colors for 2015 look pretty awesome.  I’m very happy with this jacket thus far.  It’s one of those pieces that is there when you need it–and it is there because it is so lightweight and packable that it’s easy to throw in and bring with.

If I have a criticism for Rapha, it is that their stuff is too pretty.  I wear it for road, gravel, path, etc.  I would never think of wearing it for mountain biking or fat biking (unless riding on the road).  I can’t imagine putting this through the abuse that some of my older Gore stuff sees…and I’d be pretty heartbroken if I punched a hole in one of these pieces with an errant thorn or stick.  Because it is such a premium product, I treat it with caution…and it rewards me with excellent performance.

Islabikes Beinn 20 Review

As many of you know, I have a delightful 7 year old daughter.

She started “riding bikes” a tiny bit when she was 3.  Then a bit more when she was 4.  When she was 5, she got into it even more, and we tried riding without training wheels.  That was a failed venture.  Last year, we rocked an oversized glider bike for a few months, and developed the balance necessary to ride.  By the end of last summer, she was riding confidently without training wheels.

Her riding was still brought down by a few things, however.

  1. Her bike weighed nearly 40 pounds.  That’s a basic, single speed, coaster-brake only 16″ bike.  It’s a REI/Novara hand-me-down from the family.
  2. The bike had a crappy saddle that was not comfortable for longer than 20 minutes at a time.
  3. The coaster brake meant that she could not backpedal.  For a young rider, just learning how to start out without training wheels, it is a lot easier for her to start if she can get one pedal forward and up, to a good ‘starting to pedal’ position.  Coaster brakes render that impossible.
  4. The geometry was terrible.  Seriously.  Who designs these things?
  5. Singlespeed, which meant it was always too high or too low.

I went out in search of a bike looking for the following characteristics:

  1. Decent components
  2. Lightweight
  3. Stable geometry
  4. Gears
  5. Hand-brakes
  6. Fun to ride
  7. Cute enough to interest a 7 year old girl.

I’d like to say that the world was replete with many examples, but sadly it was not.  I found naught but one bike that satisfied these criteria.  Those who regularly read here know that I’m a huge proponent of local bike shops, and generally abhor buying online.  In this instance, I couldn’t find a comparable LBS offering, and thus had to head online…to the Islabikes store.  (Google it for yourself).

In looking there, the Beinn 20 was everything that I was looking for.

SRAM X-4 1×7 gearing with grip shifters.  (Sadly, there is no Di2 option).

My Di-2 comment is mostly tongue in cheek.  My 7 year old was graced with my cyclist’s upper body strength.  Getting use to the grip shift took her a while and some serious effort.  I will say that the gearing was totally intuitive; 1 is slow and 7 is fast.

Kenda tires with a tread that is suitable for pavement and light off-road.  Kind of like a 20″ small block 8.  They are 20″ x 1.5″, which is a nice all-around width.

The whole bike.  (Spoke-y-dokes not included).

A reasonable, comfortable saddle.  It strikes a nice balance between padded and not too padded.

Relatively lightweight 20″ aluminum wheels with presta valves.

1x cranks with a nice chain guard.

Mass-produced, aluminum frame.

Non-tapered, chromoly fork.

It has fender eyelets front and rear and rack eyelets in the rear.

Total weight is right at 17 pounds.  Yes, the bike could be lighter, but it’s literally half the weight of her old bike…and she now has 7 speeds, front and rear brakes, and much nicer components overall, on a bike with 20″ wheels instead of 16″ wheels.

The difference in her riding is amazing.  Overnight, we went from a 2-3 mile ride up to a 7-8 mile ride.  Moreover, we’re riding at reasonable speeds (for a tiny nano), and we no longer have to find routes that are totally flat.  Her confidence is greatly increased, as is her resilience.  She can shift down to 1 and spin up a hill, or shift up to a higher gear and crank down a hill, knowing that she has brakes to stop at the bottom.

Because she’s so much more independent, I’ve been able to take the Trailgator off of my Vaya, and ride a little happier.  (The tailgater added a surprising amount of weight).

(Vaya shown here with Tubus Ti rack).

Here’s Lu’s impression of the bike:

Islabikes Beinn 20 Review from Lawfarm on Vimeo.

I have no complaints about the bike.  If you look at seatpost length and stem length, this bike will last her for a few years.  It’s not cheap–they retail for $439–but it has made a huge improvement in the quality of our riding together, and in her level of enthusiasm about riding.  With quality components and an aluminum frame, it will last a long time and take a lot of abuse, as well.

Lu’s comments are apt.  In low gears, there’s no resistance and she can easily pedal up steep hills that would have stopped her on her old bike.  In the high gears, she can drop the hammer.  Like a brick.  But her language is important to note–this bike gives her confidence, and makes her enjoy cycling more.  That’s worth a high price.

I’ll update as time goes on.  For now, this bike has been a great upgrade to our family bike fleet, and I look forward to many miles to come.