The Kryptonite booth at Interbike was busy from the moment the doors opened at the start of Interbike earlier today.
Charlie McCormick, owner of City Bikes, in Washington DC, made a beeline for the booth. He wanted to express his anger at the Bic opening method not being fixed earlier by Kryptonite – the method has been known about by bike thieves since the early 1990s – but he was happy at the speed of the company’s recall plan.
McCormick was one of the earliest contributors to the Bikeforums.net topic that, on September 12th, started the whole Kryptonite/Bic episode.
At the time, he said: "At first I didn’t believe it. Then I tried it – wow – there it is – easier than a lock pick. The Bic thing has shaken my faith in any of the tubular cylinder locks, and we are pulling all of them from the shelves until we can figure out which tubular cylinder u-locks can’t be defeated with a pen, if any."
The Bic method for popping tubular cylinder was first described in 1992 in British consumer magazines New Cyclist and Cycle Touring. However, despite exposure on BBC Radio 4 and TV consumer rights programmes, lock manufacturers weathered the storm and continued to manufacture tubular cylinder locks.
The 1992 publicity was soon forgotten and tubular cylinder ACE mechanisms can be found on all sorts of products, not just u-locks. Gun cabinets and the ignitions on Harley Davidson motorcycles use tubular cylinder locks. There have also been reports of Bic pens opening the locks in the security panels of elevators.
But it’s bicycle u-locks that have taken the brunt of the consumer backlash, leading Kryptonite to issue a major recall-and-replace programme and, much later, forcing MasterLock of the US to offer an upgrade programme of its own, albeit more restrictive.
At Interbike, Kryptonite placed an open letter to bike shops as an advert in the show’s daily newspaper and this letter was also made into a large graphic for the company’s booth. Headlined ‘With Leadership comes responsibility’, the letter is signed by every Kryptonite employee, all 22 of them.
"When we became aware just less than three weeks ago of the possibility of compromising some tubular cylinder locks with the casing of a pen, we moved swiftly to devise the best and most responsible solution to meet the needs of our distributors and retailers, and to address the concerns of consumers," said the letter.
"Working around the clock, we instituted an unprecedented offer of free product exchanges for all consumers…At every turn of that journey, we reminded ourselves of our responsibility to lead and offer solutions – not excuses – that strengthen our relationships with channel partners and consumers."
Before the Bic problem blew up, Kryptonite was planning to introduce non-ACE, flat key mechanisms across its 2005 line. These should have shipped in January but Kryptonite asked its vendors in the Far East to accelerate manufacture.
The first shipment will land at the end of this week, with UPS starting to deliver locks to consumers on Kryptonite’s replacement programme by the beginning of next week.
Kryptonite is flying in the locks, an extremely expensive way of getting the locks to the US.
Kryptonite’s PR manager Donna Tocci said the air freighting would continue for some time and that the lock replacements would be going out in waves rather than in one fell swoop.
Consumers have had to sign up for the free replacement programme and were sent postage paid packages to return their existing locks to Kryptonite. What will the company do with the tonnes of returned locks?
Steve Down, Kryptonite’s director of business development, joked "it could solve the steel shortage problem," a reference to the global shortage of steel thanks to the overheating Chinese economy. He has also toyed with the idea of commissioning an art student to produce a sculpture for the company’s HQ.
Down said the Kryptonite/Bic episode had been "tense" but that the decision to issue a free recall notice was not hard to reach:
"It was an easy decision to make, we needed to do the right thing."
On the company’s booth at Interbike, much is made of the Bic episode. The booth panels are covered in quotes from bike shops and cycle messengers.
Jameson McGuine, of Varsity Bike Shop, said:
"It’s all about the tubular key. A lot of lock companies use the same system, and it took 20 years to figure out how to beat it."
John Kenda, past president of the Cycle Messenger World Championships, said:
"In the many years that Kryptonite has been a partner of the cycle messenger community, we have field tested their locks and sworn by the security that Kryptonite provides. I have no doubt that this same ethos will guide them through their recent troubles and Kryptonite will continue to spell trouble for bike thieves."
And, Philip Koopman, co-owner of City Bikes of Washington DC, told BikeBiz.com that he believed Kryptonite’s recall would see the company become "stronger than ever, it will bounce back from this."
BIKEBIZ.COM BIC/LOCK ARTICLE INDEX
Saturday 2nd October: MasterLock stung into recall action
When Kryptonite’s Bic problems surfaced, Master Lock of the US issued a statement saying its top-end locks were immune to pen-attack. The fact the company also produced u-locks with cylinder tubular mechanisms was not majored on. Master Lock did not follow Kryptonite and launch a recall programme: until now, that is. News of this went on masterlock.com on Friday
Wednesday 29th September: Brand attack: how many ways can consumers tell you they’re unhappy?
At first, disbelief. Anger follows. Tort lawyers then smell blood and launch putative class actions. Is sarcasm the last stage or merely another point along the road? A US consumer has placed Kryptonite replacement keys on Ebay. They’re felt tip pens. "If you really bid on this, you missed the point of the auction, but I will still gladly take your money anyways," said russw19.
Friday 24th Sept: Bike bosses round on round-key lock makers
Gordon Fisher, MD of Fisher Outdoor Leisure, has told BikeBiz.com he and other bicycle trade execs were interviewed by newsreader John Humphries on BBC Radio 4 on 3rd December 1992. The subject matter? Bike locks which could be opened with Bic pen barrels. Prices for locks secured with ACE mechanisms dropped overnight, indicating the Bic method was well known at the time. Nigel Moore, MD of Moore Large, said: "It does our industry no good if the public are ripped off."
Monday 20th Sept: Bikeforums.net hit by upsurge in Bic-fondling visitors
As of late Sunday night, the Kryptonite vs Bic posting on Bikeforums.net had been read 340 000 times, and the movies, hosted elsewhere, downloaded by half a million unique users. Forum owner Joe Gardner, who holds down a full-time job and runs the site in his spare time, is now out of pocket because he had to lease extra gigabytes of server space to cope with the rush on his site following reports on CNN.com, Wired.com, 370+ news-sites, and a front page splash in the New York Times.
Wednesday 22nd Sept: Cycling attorney files class action against Kryptonite
The class action has been filed at the San Diego Superior Court Case, California. Despite the fact many lock manufacturers supply security products which can be opened with deformable plastic tubes – such as Bic pen barrels – it’s only Kryptonite mentioned in the class action. Attorney firm Estey-Bomberger bases its action on Kryptonite’s failure to change from tubular cylinder mechanisms after the Bic-opening method was first publicised in a British bicycle magazine in 1992. BikeBiz.com is cited as a source of evidence in the class action.
Wednesday 22nd September: Kryptonite does not win ‘dilution’ case against DC Comics, owner of Superman brand
Ingersoll-Rand’s Kryptonite execs are probably seeing more lawyers than they like right now. On top of the Bic wrangle, DC Comics has come out best in the first stage of a long-running dispute over the use of the name usually associated with Superman.
Thursday 23rd September: Kryptonite changes tack; offers free product exchanges
Last week, Kryptonite came out with a caveat-heavy crossbar upgrade programme. This has now been scrapped. Now, owners of Kryptonite tubular cylinder locks – the ones that can be opened with Bic pens – can hand in their locks in an amnesty programme that will see them walk away with free locks. No other supplier of locks using ACE cylinders have announced any sort of exhange programme.
Friday 24th September: $200m locks lawsuit launched against Kryptonite and others
A class action against Kryptonite was filed in California earlier this week. Now, a Canadian lawyer has launched a lawsuit to help gain compensation for "hundreds of thousands" of bicycle lock owners. Significantly, Sack Goldblatt Mitchell of Toronto names not just Kryptonite in the suit but Norco and Bike Guard, too. The company says it will also add "bicycle retailers" to the list.
Saturday 18th September: Kryptonite was not too slow to respond to consumer attacks, says Tocci
Donna Tocci is getting lots of media name-checks at the moment. She’s the Kryptonite spokeswoman quoted in hundreds of news-site articles syndicated across the US and beyond. She believes Kryptonite has acted as swiftly as it could, given the circumstances.
Thursday 16th September: Write it down to experience, Kryptonite to offer lock upgrades
Sheath those Bics, Kryptonite is to offer owners of Evolution and KryptoLok locks the ability to upgrade their crossbars to the new disc-style cylinder. The mechanism for this has yet to be worked out, says the company.
Thursday 16th September: The pen is mightier than the….u-lock
In a bizarre case of coincidental product syncronicity, the plastic barrel of a certain type of biro can easily open a certain type of tubular cylinder locking mechanism, popular on u-locks. This was first described in a British bicycle magazine in 1992 but the issue then disappeared from public view. But, in a powerful demonstration of how quick and cruel the internet can be, an American cyclist has rediscovered the Bic-pick and posted a Quicktime movie to a bike bulletin board, showing a Kryptonite lock being popped open in seconds. Kryptonite has responded, but slowly…