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.


2 thoughts on “The Impending Industry-Wide Bike Recall

  1. I didn’t think Trek themselves volunteered the recall. I thought it was court mandated? And why is the “bike” manufacturers doing a recall? Why isn’t the skewer company handling that? Better yet, where are the counter suits labeling the first suit as frivolous? It was the misuse of this item, not the item, that are fault. Ah, our lawsuit happy world!

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