Despite protests from trailer companies such as Burley from America, Chariot from Canada, Bruggli (Leggero) from Switzerland, and Ritchie Weber of Germany, the German ministry of transport advisory committee recommended at the end of February that the trailer brake proposal should become law.
The proposal's main supporter - who is highly-placed and politically well connected - is Dr. Wobbin from German safety organisation TÜV-Essen, a member of the Ministry of Transport advisory committee. He just so happens to have a trailer brake patent that is the only one the transport committee has approved to comply with the law. This is despite the existence of other braking systems.
Trailer manufacturers and distributors have been denied access to Dr. Wobbin's brake for testing purposes, yet should the law be passed this summer all German child trailers would be required to fit the brake. This law would also require trailer owners to fit brakes retroactively. There are tests that show that bikes pulling fully loaded trailers are
able to stop within the ISO braking standard distance making a trailer brake unnecessary. Patrick Logan, Burley Design testing engineer, said: "We have been making trailers for 20 years and have hundreds of thousands of trailers in use and we have never had a braking problem reported."
Germany is the biggest market for child trailers in Europe but trailer makers such as Burley of Oregon, USA, fear that the law could be imposed throughout the EU and would make the category prohibitively expensive.
"This will certainly impact our business but more importantly it will make it difficult for families to cycle together and will put a serious hurt on the independant bicycle dealers that carry our products. For many of our dealers, selling family cycling is the mainstay of their business and trailers are their most profitable aftermarket catagory. It's pretty obscene. This braking system will add about $150.00 to the price of a
trailer and will make it cost prohibitive for the average family to purchase. They will turn away from cycling and spend their money on some other less expensive recreational activity and means of transport," said Val Hoyle, Burley's international sales manager.
Hoyle said the US government has promised to fight the proposal should it
become law. The Trade Compliance Center at the US Department of Commerce will launch a demarche action next week, a preliminary step to a trade infringement lawsuit against the German government.
German trailer distributor Zwei plus Zwei (Two Plus Two), which is a member of
ZVI, the German trade organisation, is also opposed to the proposed law and has
worked hard to stop it from moving forward. Andreas Gehlen, president of Zwei plus Zwei, expressed surprise that the transport committee - advised by TÜV-Essen - recommended the proposal should be voted upon by parliament.
Trailer manufacturers are keeping in touch with developments in the Dr Wobben affair. "We're all competitors but we're working together on this one," said Hoyle. "It would be devastating for the trailer industry and for family cycling."
"We question the the reason that this brake law was proposed. We want to know whether this was really in the interest of safety or rather to sell a brake patent that Dr. Wobbin has a patent on."