US Federal rule changes for bicycle safety

Proposed rule changes affect recumbents, track bikes

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission is accepting public comment on a number of proposed changes to the Federal Government’s bicycle safety requirements.

The US CPSC establishes requirements for bikes under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (yes, you read that right). These rules are published as 16 CFR part 1512. This 20 page document defines bikes and estabishes safety and testing standards for brakes, handlebars, pedals, chains, wheels, forks and so forth.

CPSC Bicycle Diagram

When the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 established new testing and safety requirements on products regulated by the CPSC, the bike industry woke up and began lobbying the CPSC to update “Part 1512.” Since the bike regulations were first written in the late 1970s, new materials, technologies, designs, and features have been introduced. The CPSC proposes rule changes for sidewalk bicycles, track bicycles, recumbent bicycles, wheel hubs, and a couple of other minor changes.

Sidewalk Bicycles

The CPSC exempts “sidewalk bicycles” — bikes for small children intended for use as toys on the sidewalk — from certain requirements, while adding other requirements. For example, “sidewalk bicycles” are generally required to have a foot brake, and smaller dimensions and breaking forces are specified for things like handlebars and chains. Under the current law, sidewalk bicycles are defined by their seat height. This categorizes some recumbent bicycles as children’s toys!

The CPSC proposes amending this rule to specifically exempt recumbent bikes from the definition of a sidewalk bicycle.

Track Bicycles

The existing regulation, at Sec. 1512.2(d), defines a “track bicycle” as “a bicycle designed and intended for sale as a competitive machine having tubular tires, single cranktowheel ratio, and no freewheeling feature between the rear wheel and the crank.” These racing machines are exempted from all parts of Part 1512 (which is why bike shops can sell track bikes without all of the safety features usually found on other bikes, including stuff like reflectors, chainguards, etc).

The CPSC proposes removal of “tubular” for tires, since clinchers are so commonly used today even for competition. They also want to add the word “velodrome” so that definition of a track bike reads as:

A bicycle designed and intended for sale as a competitive velodrome machine having tires, single cranktowheel ratio, and no freewheeling feature between the rear wheel and the crank.

Recumbent Bicycles

The CPSC will create a new definition for recumbent bicycle. “A bicycle in which the rider sits in a reclined position with the feet extended forward to the pedals.”

Currently, handlebars can be no more than 16 inches above the seat surface. Recumbents will be exempted from this rule.

The new rule will also exempt recumbents from certain seat height requirements that currently limit how high a seat can go relative to the bike frame, because seats on recumbent bicycles tend to have substantial seat backs due to their reclined riding posture.

Mechanical Requirements

Various updates and typo fixes will be included in the next rule change. One of them is a requirement for a minimum insertion line for handlebar stems, which doesn’t apply to modern threadless stems.

Another current requirement is that quick release clamps must “emboss the frame or fork when locked.” The proposed rule creates an exception for carbon fiber. The requirement for a quick release clamp action to emboss a frame or fork when locked is appropriate when bicycle frames are made using steel or aluminum, but embossing (or indenting) a carbon fiber frame or fork can weaken the material. To avoid such an illogical result (i.e., of intentionally weakening a carbon fiber frame or fork), the proposal would, instead, create an exception for carbon fiber material.

Testing procedures

Finally, the CPSC proposes changing a couple of test processes. A fork deflection test description will be simplified; and obsolete references to an “Illuminating Engineering Society Lighting Handbook” in the section on reflector tests have been updated.

Comments on this proposed rule should be submitted by January 18, 2011. You may submit comments, identified by the agency name (US Consumer Product Safety Commission) and Docket No. CPSC-2010-0104, by any of the below methods. All submitted information — including any personal information — becomes public and may be published at government websites. Do not send confidential, private or trade secret information.

  • Electronic Submissions: Submit electronic comments through the Federal eRulemaking Portal:
  • Written Submissions: Send five copies to
    Office of the Secretary, U.S. CPSC
    Room 820, 4330 East West Highway
    Bethesda, MD 20814
    Telephone (301) 504-7923.

Read the full notice: Text or PDF.

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