The Return of the Son of the Mother of All Recalls

The Return of the Son of the Mother of All Recalls

Last May Trek worked with the Consumer Product Safety Commission on a recall of nearly a million quick release skewers. At the time, I and a great many other people wondered how the recall only affected Trek. Well, as I guessed at the time, that was simply the first shoe dropping. Footwear is now falling from the sky. Thirteen companies are now working with the CPSC on a similar recall.

That’s right, a whopping 13. The list comprises Accell North America (Raleigh, Diamondback), Advanced Sports International (Breezer, Fuji, SE), Cycling Sports Group (Cannondale, GT), Felt, G.Joanou Cycle Co. (Jamis), Giant Bicycle, Haro, LTP Sports Group (Norco), Performance Bicycle (Access), Quality Bicycle Products (Civia Cycles), Recreational Equipment Inc. (Novara), Ridley Bikes and Specialized Bicycle Components.

The CPSC has calculated that the recall covers roughly 1.5 million bikes, which is substantially more than the 900,000 Trek recalled, but a much smaller number than one might expect, given Trek’s market share. I’d have thought that together Giant and Specialized could account for 1.5 million of these quick releases. Alas, the actual numbers of the quick releases recalled isn’t our purpose.

As I mentioned in my previous post, which I now admit was rather erroneously titled, “The Mother of All Recalls,” the bike industry has brought this problem on itself.

Let me be ultra-clear. I don’t see these quick releases as defective. The quick release, as most cycling fans know, has been in use for the better part of a century. Kids can be trained to properly adjust and tighten a quick release; this isn’t frame building. They can be operated correctly.

It’s important to note that little auxiliary verb, can. All it denotes is possibility. I can jump from the roof. I can run for president. One is a bad idea, while the other is bound to end in disappointment. I’ll leave you to decide which is which. The point is, possibility leaves room for bad outcomes.

Let’s try this a different way. What if music stores sold $200 violins the way bike shops sell $200 bikes? In other words, “Got $200? Thanks. Here’s your violin.”

Who would send a novice home without at least pointing them to lessons?

Given the thinking that has led us to conclude that the quick release lever is “defective,” the average consumer would similarly conclude that the violin was defective because any attempt by the untrained to play it results in a sound worse than hungry babies make. It’s worth observing that while violins are sold by music shops that often have resident instrument teachers, selling said violins isn’t a lucrative biz which is why music stores are far less common than bike shops. While we can argue about the relative merits of capitalism as applied to Wall Street, on Main Street the laws of supply and demand are surprisingly effective. To wit: Not many people want to buy violins, presumably because they are damned hard to play.

The bike industry effectively sells violins to people after Itzhak Perlman plays them a C major scale on his violin.

Your results may vary.

My point here is once again that if we aren’t going to put the time in to train people how to properly use a quick release skewer, then the bike industry needs to invent a fool-proof skewer, a device that the likes of Miley Cyrus can use without face-planting into oblivion. Otherwise, sooner or later there won’t be a recall, but a lawsuit involving a beloved Hollywood star.

Consider the lawsuit that Paul Walker’s daughter has filed against Porsche. The Los Angeles Times‘ former car reviewer, Dan Neil, was unsparing in his appraisal of the Carrera GT. It might as well have been called the Caveat Emptor. That’s not such a worrisome fact when you consider that was a car driveable by few who could afford it. Should that suit succeed, we can expect to see similar suits for injuries attributed to specialized gear.

The quick release is as ubiquitous as peanut butter, and some think as lethal arsenic. That’s a problem. Until the industry fixes that perception by inventing a new quick release skewer, one that is adopted across the industry, cycling is going to continue to struggle to grow.

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  1. Rich

    The Skewer may be dangerous or not. But as long a cycling on the roads is perceived as deadly cycling will struggle. Thats what really needs fixing.

  2. Champs

    The industry should just stop selling an error prone product. Almost none of its customers benefit from the several seconds of savings they’ll get from the minutes they’ll spend installing a fresh tube or even throwing their bike on the roof.

    Even those who do enjoy the benefits of a follow car or pit with rapid wheel changes might need it only one day out of the week. Does it make sense to put QR on anything but race day wheels, i.e. tubulars?

  3. Dave King

    Hit the reply too soon. In college I worked in bike shops and it was surprising and defeating to encounter the creative ways in which people operated the QR. Or didn’t operate it, as the case may be. I would spend time with customer at the time of sale explaining carefully for a good 5 minutes how the QR opens and closes properly, have them successfully demonstrate it for me, etc. A week or a month later I would see the bike return with (usually) the front QR either loose or the lever rotated snugly in the open position. And honestly, lawyer lips on fork dropouts only seemed to worsen the problem.

    While I do agree that the QR could do with a renovation, I fear the overly complicated evolution that will arise (see lawyer tabs above). I believe people need to take some time to understand the equipment/object/activity that they are using/doing – bicycles, saws, drills, knives, guns, medications, cars, swimming in a river etc – and how it can be done safely. Unfortunately, there seems to be a growing expectation that one should be able to safely operate both the simple and complex objects in our lives without any training or real understanding of how to do so and that injury that results from operator error is actually the fault of the manufacturer/designer. It’s understandable (and sometimes tragic) when children makes these assumptions. It can be stupefying and alarming when adults do.

  4. Aar

    IMHO, the fix is the DT Swiss RWS skewer. I find them to be faster than QRs on lawyer tabs. Since there’s no flippy lever, there’s no risk of an RWS entering the spokes of a brake rotor. On the other hand, one of the guys I ride with tried to open his like a QR and it bent outward at an odd angle.

  5. Pat O'Brien

    Padraig, do not jump off the roof. But, please, run for President.

    I have never had a quick release skewer release accidentally. The LBS where I bought my first bike equipped with them showed me how to use them. I guess everything now will be equipped with through axles once the lawyers get involved. Sorry Charles, no offense meant.

  6. spokejunky

    MTBers have been reversing the skewer since the advent of disc brakes. ie – drive side flip cam for front fork. I’m at a complete loss as to why this couldn’t be explained to the general public. Obviously that would mean still using a ‘defective’ product in which the lawyers would have a field day; however, I’m still naive enough to have faith in humanity to rise above and realize the stupidity.

  7. Gerb61

    The real problem, as Dave mentioned, is not the product. Whether the product is a bike, power tool, violin, hot coffee, whatever. Too many people are too lazy to learn the proper use. Nobody wants to invest some time, do a little research, read an owners manual, ask some questions, or simply apply a little common sense. When disaster strikes, though, it is always someone else’s fault. Easier to hire a lawyer and point fingers, I guess, than accept personal responsibility. Sometimes a product is truly defective but I’m not buying that in this case. I’ve been riding Q/R skewers for 30 years, never had a problem. No I don’t need to make 6 second wheel changes, I like the fact that I don’t need to carry a 15mm wrench along on the ride when I go out.

  8. John Kopp

    I understand the problem is the QR skewers on bikes with disk brakes. I checked the skewers on my QR’s and all five sets were fine, would work well with the new disk brakes. They came as original equipment with the hubs, and all are over 30 years old. It takes some real effort to screw up a perfectly good design several decades old! I have Avocet, Campy, Shimano, and a couple others. Did some young yahoo think he could come up with a better design?

    1. Craig P

      The HED QR’s that came with my Ardennes + disc wheels are fine too. They can’t open far enough to cause a problem. Not that I’ve ever had a QR come loose on its own to begin with.

  9. Robert

    America ! The only country in the world where quick release skewers are considered more dangerous than guns….. well, at least by some people, so it seems.

  10. MattC

    Just when you thought you’ve seen everything….using a QR isn’t rocket science for crying out loud. Wow…just wow. That people have a hard time with them blows my mind…obviously our society is circling the drain if THAT is a big problem. Won’t be very much longer before people won’t know how to fasten their seat-belts, or even open and close a car door and sue over that. But by that time they will have lost the ability to read and write. And I’d guess that if QR’s are a problem, then zippers and shoe-laces are next on the “too hard to use” curve….maybe…just MAYBE….this QR thing is Darwins law at work? Just a thought.

  11. Product Liability Lawyer

    The topic of design defects, foreseeable misuse, negligence, and strict products liability is much more dynamic than how this article purports it to be. Not a single sentence of it is legal analysis or trained thought. It is an emotional response made by a blogger with lay opinion to products liability, which unfortunately, misinforms readers about legal protections granted to the consumer to prevent injury caused by defects.

    First, the analogy of a violin and bicycle is completely misleading because it doesn’t even address the right issue. It is even hard to challenge it because it makes so little sense. One is about preventing injury, the other is about someone just not knowing how to play music. If a violin doesn’t work, it just sounds bad. Even if a violin was defective, it can’t cause injury like a bicycle. If a quick release isn’t attached properly, it can cause incredible injury as it already has. A more appropriate analogy would be someone picking up a violin and over tightening the strings, so that one snaps and takes out an eye. Yes, to the trained violinist that is foreseeable, but a lay used shouldn’t granted any less protection than a trained one. Same for a bicycle. It is very foreseeable that a non-cyclist riding a bike may overlook this and injure themselves by not tightening the quick release.

    Second, design defects are considered defects regardless. The bicycle industry, more often than not, confuses warranty, design defects, manufacturing defects, strict products liability, negligence, warning, and misuse, etc. They are all similar, but different legal theories. This article makes no attempt at differentiating them. It takes many years of training to understand it.

    The Porsche case is not synonyms with bicycles. The only similarities between the cases are some parts of the law, which is developed and dynamic and applies across the board to all products. Any case in bicycles and cars are so dissimilar in fact, that they are unrelated except for the legal standards. “Caveat Emptor” is also inapplicable in this case because a super sports car is not used by the average consumer, and many other warnings and waivers are involved with a car of that caliber. The Paul Walker case is very different in that a trained professional driver was operating the car. With a bicycle, the average person can jump on and be injured, trained or not. A simple slip of the mind can cause a paralyzing injury with a quick release, as it already has with Trek.

    The remedy here is not to create some fool proof skewer, or to say that a tutorial is needed for bicycle riders that use quick releases. The solution is to make a quick release with a lever that doesn’t get stuck in the rotor. That is it. They screwed up and allowed it to achieve an angle that was beyond considered safe for use or foreseeable misuse.

    The solution isn’t rocket science, but it does require a legal education and analysis to make an analogy or explain what a design defect is.

    1. nobodylikesshocktop

      “Not a single sentence of it is … trained thought.”
      “It takes many years of training to understand it.”
      “… it does require a legal education and analysis to make an analogy … ”

      I bet you’re fun at parties.

      [I acknowledge that my post does not contribute positively to the forum. However, I contend that product liability lawyers making posts that imply I am unable to Google design defect or strict liability and understand what I read are obnoxious. Also, I have legally and scientifically unsupportable anecdotal evidence that the only people benefiting from this type of recall are the product liability lawyers. ]

    2. Mike Jacoubowsky

      Your own proposed solution has holes in it that you, exercising your own livelihood, would love to shoots holes in. Specifically the fact, not theory, that people will use non-stock wheels in said fork, perhaps an aftermarket wheel with the same bad quick release design as that which was recalled. There is no way to prevent doing so, and the era of the “Frankenbike” is among us so strongly that on any given day probably 1/3rd of the bikes that come in my front door will have non-original components on them.

      So I’m suggesting the only solution that would fit your own treatise would be a bike whose fork would not accept anything but a “safe” Quick Release. Anything short of that ensures you of a future revenue stream, right? So we’re looking at one stopgap measure after another, all because we refuse to accept the idea that the end-user has some responsibility to learn proper operation of his or her equipment AS WELL AS a responsibility on the part of the seller to demonstrate how things work on the bike, not just quick releases on the wheels but also how to disable and re-enable the brakes when the wheel needs to be removed.

      Manufacturers need to do a better job, local bike shops need to provide a service that only someone “local” can do (first-hand product demonstration) and gives then a competitive edge, and lawyers? The jury’s out on that one.

  12. Author

    Nobodylikesshocktop: I’m going to not just let this one go, but I’m actually going to endorse your response. It helps point out the trouble with the lawyer’s response.

    Product Liability Lawyer: Your various arguments notwithstanding, you’ve missed the much larger point. Quick release skewers have been a problem for the bike industry here in the U.S. for a very long time. Maybe the education that’s needed here is for you to do some research on just how many lawsuits there have been about quick releases over the last 25 years. If you were truly concerned about the welfare of people riding bikes and not just criticizing my lack of knowledge of the law, then you’d be quicker to agree that the quick release as we know it has been the source of too many injuries. Your inability to see the bigger picture is what leads some people to think that lawyers like you aren’t interested in a solution, but instead just want more cases to file.

  13. Author

    Everyone: Thanks for your comments. Keep ’em coming.

    One point I want to make in defense of John Q. Public is to cut him/her/it some slack. One of the sadder statistics of bicycle use here in the U.S. is that the average mileage a bicycle receives is roughly 100. That’s not much riding. And yes, it’s really sad. I mention this because I can see how someone could quite easily forget to use a quick release if they were instructed on how to use one only once and the instruction was last year, and on top of that they haven’t operated the quick release since last year. I can forget stuff after only a month, let alone a New England winter. An important piece of the problem we face is that we have to accept that the average person just doesn’t use a QR much and is prone to forget just what to do. Lawyer lips just make it that much harder.

  14. Pat O'Brien

    Perhaps the violin analogy wasn’t the best example. But, it takes skill and a little learning to operate either, with a lot of skill to operate both at a professional level. So, in that way the analogy works. It’s true that operating a violin improperly won’t result in an injury. But, if I buy a violin, along with a basic instruction book, I can quickly learn to tune it and play “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.” If I buy a bike, and the owner’s manual is always provided for free, I can quickly learn to operate it at the basic level, including making sure the wheels are attached properly. The “warnings page” of the manual stresses the things to check before riding that would compromise safety, including the quick releases. If I have reasonable intelligence, I realize that if I am not careful, riding a bicycle down the road or trail at 15 MPH might result in an injury. I submit that most people are smart enough to realize that.
    When I read about the quick release and disc brake issue, and read the recall notice at the Trek and CPSC web sites, I went and checked the two bikes I own that might be affected. One has Shimano quick release, the other has Bontrager releases. Neither one would go into the disc rotor if they became loose during a ride. I would like to think I am smarter than the average person, but I doubt if that is true.
    Now to the meat of this issue. This involves bicycles with quick release skewers AND disc brakes, but not all of them. Disc brakes are relatively new to the bicycle industry, and their have been many articles in the press and on “blogs” that have investigated problems that quick release have with the braking stresses that disc brakes put on skewers that were not designed to handle these stresses. Specifically, the torque forces applied the wheel by a disc brake can tend to looses the skewer and force the wheel away from the drop outs. I check my skewers on my disc brake equipped bikes move often that those with rim brakes. So, if I was a good product liability lawyer (I am not) I could make a case that ALL bicycles equipped with disc brakes and quick release skewers are defective products. I could probably make that case without being a lawyer. Like you say, it’s not rocket science. Guess what though, the EVIDENCE that this is true doesn’t exist. The number of crashes caused by the current Trek recall is not available; at least, I could not find it. What is it? One percent, or perhaps, and more likely, much less?

    So, is the recall necessary? Yes. Was it driven by corporate lawyers dealing with other lawyers looking for some deep pockets and a possibly defective product on behalf of a injured client. Probably. Add in multinational bicycle companies that outsource component manufacture to the lowest bidder with inadequate on site quality control to increase quarterly profits, and now you have an problem.

    To imply that Padraig or other experienced cyclist that frequent this blog don’t know what they are talking about is, as we would say here in Arizona, bovine scatology. In legal terms, that means bullshit. And, please don’t forget that real journalism happens on blogs. Every day.

  15. Gerb61

    Product Liability Lawyer: Can you answer a question? Since when does failure of an owner/operator of any piece of equipment to understand correct and proper usage, particularly equipment that could do bodily harm if used incorrectly, constitute a product defect? I’ve spent 34 years in the commercial printing industry so I know a little bit about dangerous machinery. Even with all of the built in safety features on these presses , there were still plenty of ways to get hurt. Ultimately I was the one responsible for my own safety. Bicycles like printing presses come with an operator’s manual that must be read and understood by the end user. There are ways to get clarification on proper procedures if an individual is unsure of something. Doesn’t personal responsibility come into play anymore?
    I’ve heard it said that in the future every household will need a live-in lawyer to protect the inhabitants of said household from all of the other lawyers. That future, sadly, may not be that far away.

  16. Carlos

    With all due respect to Padraig and his post rules, the lawyer convinced me that the true problem is lawyers like him. I can imagine him on top of his soap box, believing his farts don’t smell, pompously condescending to the rest of the universe that doesn’t have his (hers?) legal skills and are thereby unable to survive with the rest of humanity.

    Please, spare us from your immodest sense of superiority.

    I once had a lawyer tell me that she was surprised I didn’t become a lawyer because she thought I was smart. True story.

  17. Dan Murphy

    Man, the QR discussion just never ends.

    Somehow, after using QR’s for ~45 years, I’ve never messed one up. Honestly, I have no idea how an idiot like me has survived using such a complex mechanism. Surely, I’m a freak of nature.

    I agree with Dave King in that lawyer tabs have caused more problems then they’ve solved. Any fork I’ve had with lawyer tabs has immediately gotten the Dremel treatment.

    Product Liability Lawyer is certainly living up to his name. No, the solution is not a better QR, the solution is learning how to use it. Simple is good.

  18. Scott G.

    Best solution, bolt on wheels without drop outs.
    You spread the fork to pop the wheels in, so limited to steel bikes,
    but to soldier proof a bike, so be it. Just like 1920s roadster bikes,
    solid fork ends. Great for the LBS too, lots of flat fixing.
    Note to readers, it was common to patch flats without removing
    the wheel back in the day, full oil bath chain cases and solid fork
    ends make pulling a wheel a major production. Pop the tire off
    the rim, pull the tube out to patch.

    Lefty style roadsters?, Cannondales next great Idea ?

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