U.S. Safety Commission investigating quick release levers

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Monday, December 05, 2005
By Yokota Fritz

This article in the San Francisco Chronicle about the lawsuit against Wal-Mart and Dynacraft for selling bikes with quick-release wheels includes an interesting tidbit of news. According to U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) spokesman Scott Wolfson, the safety commission is investigating the parents' claims of defective quick-release levers.

If the CPSC is looking at it, it's from the standpoint of the design itself being defective, not improper use of the product. I dug into the CPSC website. In the CPSC 2005 Operating Plan, I found this paragraph.
CPSC has received reports of incidents of front wheels falling off bicycles leading to injuries and deaths. CPSC has reports of seven deaths associated with wheels falling off bicycles, with four of the seven occurring in 2001. Quick release mechanisms are commonly found on bicycle wheels to make the wheel easy to remove for quick tire changes and to break down the bicycle for transport. Other products, such as folding scooters, also use quick release mechanisms. Children and other users with lower strength levels may have trouble properly tightening quick release mechanisms and to assess if a mechanism is adjusted properly. For example, releases may appear to be in the locked position, although poorly adjusted.

Goal: In 2005, staff will complete technical evaluations and prepare voluntary standard recommendations, if appropriate.
Does this mean even larger lawyer lips are on the way, further lessening the utility of quick release skewers?

FSA manager Eric Hjertberg is quoted in the Chronicle article. "A quick release is a pretty sound system when it is correctly installed." Hjertberg notes, "It is extremely reliable. The fact that they are used in the Tour de France and the Olympics shows that they are built using the highest standards. But I would agree that without the instructions, there would be greater risk."

Wal-Mart no longer sells QR-equipped bikes.

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It began long before my neighbor across the street expressed "crocodilian" concerns as I was about to Dremel off those dumb-ass drop-out (DO) tabs, AKA "torte tips, lawyer lumps" from his $6000, all carbon fiber full Dura Ace Pinnarello. "I'm afraid it might void my warranty." Fret not, he can't ride his Yamaha R-1 either. But ya know, the less refined one's handling skills, the more one really does need 158 horsepower at the rear wheel. Yawn.

He didn't immediately understand why I suggested that, just to be on the safe side, we replace those dangerous hollow axles and their unsafe-at-any- speed quick release (QR) mechanisms to a tried and trued solid axle. If you have a flat out on the road, carry a wrench! Who's is that big of a hurry?!

Which further compounded the absurdity of a conversation I had today at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show in San Jose, California.

I was talking with a senior representative from Rue Sports based in Mesa, Arizona, whose small company produces a full line of very high-end carbon fiber road, time trial, track, and competition level tandems.

I noticed that they too featured these nitwit drop-out tits on their most esoteric CF fork. And in the ensuing chat about his personal expectations as to the fate of these nitwit (DO) tits--specifically whether the typical end user-

(we reasonably assume this describes a highly motivated, competitive, seasoned cyclist who by definition would seek such advanced technology and as such be indisputably facile with the mechanical properties of a quick release and thoroughly confident in its reliable, safe application)

- would remove these obstructions to permit the QR to operate as designed by Tulio Campagnolo. By the way, that Tulio fellow and the company named in his honor, Campagnolo, well, they know a little about cycling, racing, mettalurgy, and engineering.

Of course I know you know this!

Anyway, he's ruminating over my question as to what percentage of his prospective customers would leave those drop-out tabs IN position...as in, NOT grind them off. With a straight face, he finally mutters, "oh, I'd say about 80%."

For the record, I detected neither pot nor alcohol on his breath. After I gathered my vapors of disbelief, and under my own breath muttered 'you are absolutely @#$ nuts,' he went that tiny step beyond.

In that disquietly avuncular way that Deputy Barney Fife would try to assuage Sheriff Andy Taylor's anxiety about the provisional security of Mayberry's bank when Andy took Opie fishin 'cuz Barny had deputized both Earnest T. Bass and Gomer to maintaning law & order, white lab- coated uber-Rue rep sidled up to me and calmly reassured, "well, pretty soon there will be a new QR mechanism that will open wide enough, in the traditional 180 degree stroke, to clear those drop-out tabs." Lordy be, thank heavens someone's using the head??

Inside my melon: "WTF?!"

Do we need to get this on Oprah for people to see the abject stupidity at work here? I've recently begun addressing concerns from neophyte cyclists who have 'heard that those release thingies' are dangerous!

Ignorance is dangerous...very volatile stuff. And its number one home-boy always available in abundant supply...fear. What a team.

Should we hold Michelin, Vittoria, Continental, Clement, or other big rubber suppliers liable for the "sudden de-airification" of their tubes!?
"And there wasn't even one warning label that the tire could go so flat so fast, your honor!"

Final thought in which to ponder or panic: Could it be that the prosecution team in this alleged case (and I reasonably assume some edict, writ, or agreement stemmed from a QR liability case) also got wind of, "What's that sound? The sound of many breaking chains?"

Better get Shimano legal on the telly and scare the bejeezus out of them, too. Tell them that they're going to have to convince veteran mechanics that unless they use a proprietary Shimano chain-pin, that the chain could break at any time causing a major boo-boo or owwie!

Another specious claim to which I say unequivocally--bullshit. Decade after decade after decade chains used in the Giro di' Italia, le Tour du France and Spain's Vuelta, and all the Spring Classics including the infamous Paris-Roubaix, were ridden on continous link chains which professional mechanics like myself removed and replaced by driving any pin to a designated point and then driving home said pin to its native habitat with nary a break in the proverbial chain.

Personally, with 25 years of working as a master mechanic I have built a few thousand bikes including production and custom. And of those I can say with etched honesty: never a single broken chain. No fancy-pants pins and Tulio's masterpiece timesaving invention of the humble quick release never losing a single wheel making a daring bid for individual freedom.

Even though the Unicycle People were momentarily full of hope and glassy-eyed determination.

Cycling better get tough with these courtroom profiteers. How? Empirical evidence, proof of engineering integrity and an ally of prodigious hardness, durability, strength and courage--science.

Charles Maloney
Cycle Analysis
San Francisco, CA
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