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Improper Bicycle Assembly and Defective Bicycle Parts

Posted by Chris Burns in Cycling Safety Tips, on .

While we often focus of the dangers of collisions with vehicles, cyclists face other potentially grave dangers as well that are less well known. From my own experience as a lawyer, another substantial risk with bicycling is equipment failure.

There are many different ways in which a bicycle may be improperly assembled or defectively manufactured, and cause the bicycle rider to crash.. They include:

  1. Handlebars or Bike Stem - These components are installed either too loosely, or over-tightened so that they break.
  2. Seat Post which is raised too high - The seat post is installed so that there inadequate minimum depth of the post inserted into the frame.  This can cause the seat post to fall out of the bike frame.
  3. Stem which is raised too high - If there is inadequate stem quill inserted into the bike frame, the stem and handlebars can separate from the bike frame.
  4. Improperly attached pedals – If the pedal is attached without properly lining up the threads of the pedal spindle and crank arm, the pedal can suddenly detach.
  5. Improperly tightened wheel skewers – One of the most common dangers of bicycle parts arises from the quick release skewers that are supposed to hold the wheels onto the front fork or rear drop outs of the bicycle.  If the quick release skewers are too loose, the wheels of the bicycle can actually fall off the bicycle.  This can lead to tragic consequences, including the cyclist being ejected over the handlebars and suffering a serious head injury.
  6. Defective bicycle frames and forks – It is common for high-end bike frames to be constructed of carbon fiber due to their substantially lighter weight and increased stiffness.  While this is generally a strong material when utilized properly, there have been numerous instances of catastrophic carbon fiber failures to either the bike frame or fork, which has caused severe injuries to cyclists. One of the biggest problems with carbon fiber failures is their unpredictability, and frequently the lack of any tell-tale warning signs.  The cycling victim may have carefully inspected his bike frame and fork often to check for cracks or signs of damage.  But such outward signs often don’t exist.  The defective carbon fiber bicycle frame or component can only be observed once it has broken or failed.  By that time, the cyclist may have suffered a serious injury.

Here are some typical carbon fiber problems on bicycles:

A.    The carbon fiber in the bike frame or fork has “air pockets” underneath the surface of the material, and they are not seen until after the fracture of the part.

B.     The carbon fiber suffers serious internal injury after a crash, but the cyclist continues to use it because there is no obvious damage.

C.     The carbon fiber is improperly used during the bicycle frame manufacturing process (mostly in China and other parts of the Orient).  It is laid down in a substandard method.

Defective Assembly from Mass Merchants

Bicycles can fail either because the parts of the bike were improperly manufactured or because they were unsafely assembled.  In my experience as an attorney, I believe it is becoming more prevalent for bicycles to be dangerously assembled. This may likely be caused by HOW new bicycles are being sold – or WHO  is selling them.  There were about 4,100 specialty bicycle retail stores in business in 2012 in the U.S.  These stores now sell only about 15% of new bikes.  They have been replaced and overcome and squeezed out of their markets in many communities by mass merchants, including but not limited to Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, and the huge sporting good chains, which include Academy Sports, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and many, many others.  The sellers of bicycles often have virtually no employee with any real expertise in bicycles.  As an attorney, I am very concerned that as sales have become dominated by mass merchants, the quality of bicycle assembly is often compromised.  In fact, some of these “big box” stores don’t even assemble the bikes themselves.  They hire independent contractors to build their bikes.  The purchaser of such a bike will never had the opportunity to ask the person who built his/her bike about it. 

There have been several lawsuits against these mass merchants.

  • In 2011, a cyclist bought a Huffy bicycle from Target less than one week before his crash. The bicycle rider was injured when the fender on his bicycle rubbed against the front tire, in turn causing the front wheel to collapse suddenly.  The fender could have been assembled so it had more clearance from the front tire.
  • In 2007, Toys “R” Us was sued for faulty assembly of a bicycle and for breach of warranty. After the victim cyclist had ridden the bicycle he purchased from Toys “R” Us for only 20 miles, the right pedal snapped off and the cyclist crashed and was injured.  The bicycle rider’s attorneys presented evidence that the pedal had been “cross-threaded”, causing the pedal to fly off the crank arm.  The jury found for the bicycle rider. 
  • In 2006, an injured cyclist sued Sears Roebuck.  The cyclist claimed the bike’s handlebars were loose, resulting in his losing control of the bike and crashing.  In 1999, a cyclist sued Wal-Mart for another cross-threaded pedal, due to negligent assembly.
  • In 1977, a cyclist sued Sears when the rear wheel of his new bicycle suddenly began shaking and rattling back and forth and its looseness caused him to crash.
  • In 2006, an REI employee went out for a lunch time ride with some of his fellow employees on an REI Novara bicycle. The cyclist claimed the bike’s frame suddenly fractured. The top tube literally broke in half.  The cyclist was partially paralyzed in his arms and legs for a time, and must walk with a cane. The case was settled.

There have been numerous recent recalls of defective bikes by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.  Some bicycle recalls include:

  • August 2013 – recall of Giant bicycle seat posts due to breaking
  • August 2013 – recall of Cannondale bikes due to defective brake
  • May 2013 – recall of Surly Bike forks due to bending which can cause rider to lose control
  • January 2012 – recall of Specialized bicycle forks due to brake attachment failing, causing brakes to potentially fall into the spokes of the wheel, also posing a fall hazard
  • October 2011 – recall of Trek bicycles due to seat saddle clamp failure posing a fall hazard
  • June 2012 – recall of Salsa forks due to bending which can cause cyclist to lose control
  • August 2005 – recall of American Classic wheels due to hub failure on rear wheel

In addition to negligent assembly or manufacture of bicycles, the sellers of bicycles have been known to fail to provide an owner’s manual for the bike, or attach the warning stickers to the bike that were designed to be installed.

Should you have a legal question about your bicycle crash, and whether it could have been caused by negligent assembly of your bike, or a defective bike part, please give a phone call or send me an email as soon as possible.  The law can protect you. But in order to protect your rights, you must comply with certain legal time deadlines. Your call is always free of charge.