Up till now bicycle safety standards have always been seen as a bit of a joke by the European bike industry. This lack of respect stems from the low minimum requirements established in those standards, a quality bicycle can and clearly should perform better. Moreover bicycles intended for sports use were not even included.
All this will change with the introduction of the CEN standards; the answer to the myriad of national laws hindering free trade to and within Europe, and finally lifting consumer protection to a higher level. This new and strong wind of free trade and consumer protection will change the landscape of the bicycle industry significantly.
Colibi and Coliped, umbrella organizations of the European Bicycle and Parts manufacturers, recently sent out an invitation to the European bicycle industry to attend a jointly held Congress in Brussels. The focus of the congress was on the introduction of the new CEN standards stipulating technical safety standards for bicycles and the resulting effects on the bicycle industry. A number of highly esteemed speakers took to the stage to discuss the many aspects and effects of CEN standards for the bicycle industry.
Approximately 90 participants from over 50 bicycle and bicycle component manufacturers were riveted to their seats as they took in over three hours of highly informative speeches, followed by interactive and lively debates, including some very interesting Q & A sessions.
Even though, concluded Rene Takens, chairman and patron of the Colibi Congress, quite a bit of confusion regarding the expansive and interesting subject matter remains, the Congress has definitely succeeded in giving the debate and the many questions facing the bicycle industry a push in the right direction.
The CEN standards in more detail
In 1998, CE Technical Committee TC333 made up of six working groups started work on a European Directive regarding safety requirements and testing methods for bicycles. Early 2006 the many years of hard work and many compromises finally resulted in the publication of four new European standards by the National Standard Organizations. Further standards are currently in the making states Siegfried Neuberger, technical director ZIV (Bicycle Industry Association, Germany) and member of the CEN Technical Committee. Prior to official publication in all member countries (and languages) the four standards covering the four categories of bicycles below were published in English and German.
EN 14764 City- and Trekking Bicycles
EN 14765 Children bicycles
EN 14766 Mountain Bikes
EN 14781 Road Racing Bicycles
According to Neuberger the 'safety requirements and testing methods' concern the most important bicycle components, brake and transmission systems, handlebar, handlebar stem, saddle, frame and fork. Basically this includes all load-bearing parts.
The issues of sharp edges on for example mudguardss or carriers and road safety lighting requirements have been excluded for now, as the current regulations in the member countries are so diverse that reaching a compromise on these issues has proven difficult.
During the many years it took to work on these standards (TC 333 already started in 1998) a few compromises had to be made. The example of brake performance testing makes this very clear.
In Southern Europe measuring/testing takes place on the road, and in Germany machine aided testing is dominant, both testing methods were adopted into the CEN standard with approximately the same requirements. The tests include not only the maximum braking performance in dry, but also in wet circumstances. Special testing should clearly indicate any deterioration in braking performance, so-called fading, especially in the drum and disk brakes which are susceptible to this phenomena.
At present, the new standards are being translated into the various member countries' languages, and they must be implemented in the national standards by the individual countries no later than June 2006t.
The same requirements in 29 countries clearing trade barriers
The CEN standards will apply to all EU member states, the three EFTA countries, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, and Rumania. The conformity of products with CEN standards could easily clear many a trade barrier. No longer will a container with bicycles be barred from unloading at a dock because the mandatory safety testing has not been done in an accredited testing environment as stipulated by national law.
"It's a true live saver for the industry," said Italian lawyer Massimo Cassini, member of the Italian Manufacturers organization ANCMA (Associazione Nazionale Ciclo Motociclo Accessori) in his speech discussing the new standards. Up till now a seal of approval according to one countries' standards could very possibly be of little value in a directly neighboring country. This is finally a thing of the past; the CEN standards will offer protection to bicycle and bicycle component manufacturers as well as suppliers and importers from the often seemingly arbitrary rulings by judges in the EU and EFTA countries.
Cassini also welcomed the fact that the CEN standards contain a set of requirements for Technical and User Manuals. It is of the utmost importance, he states, that a manufacturer clearly explains and documents the exact use of his product in a User and/or Technical Manual. The CEN standards have now made it mandatory to clearly and understandably describe proper use, maintenance and safety precautions of the product in the national language of the consumer.
Liability and Insurance
The third speech of the day by Kristel de Jonghe, Product Manager for Van Breda Risk & Benefits centered on Product Liability. Protection from liability claims is not only based upon a good insurance policy. When a consumer has suffered an accident it is compulsory to first examine the possible connection between the cause of the accident and a possibly failing/ defective part. Defects can be based in the construction, the manufacturing, but also in the product information (catalog, technical data, users manual).
When dealers are confronted with a defective product they can only avoid a liability claim by proving that they clearly did not cause the defect, e.g. through inadequate or faulty mounting of the part, AND they have to be able to name the manufacturer or supplier of the part. Liability agreements can and should regulate the liability risks in the supply chain all the way up to the supplier of raw materials.
It is of importance that each participant in the supply chain carefully documents the production flow and the flow of goods. Each party must also be able to name the manufacturer or supplier, and if needed be able to calculate eventual further risks to those products that are still in use in traffic.
A manufacturer or a dealer importing goods into the EU does not only need product liability insurance offering sufficient coverage; the risk of a possible recall must also be insured. The liability insurance must cover any physical damages, material damages and eventual resulting financial losses to the damaged party. Own damages are herein not covered.
A recall insurance does not only cover the direct cost for examination, transport, communication, storage and destruction of the recalled products, it also covers loss of profit, cost for legal advice and finances measures necessary for brand image repair. The height of premiums is individually calculated taking into account factors such as position in the liability chain, quality assurance, quality management, risk category of the products, and the countries to which the products are exported (extra premiums for USA and Canada due to severe liability lawsuit riscs and costs)
CEN effective as of when?
In spite of Cassini's statement it appears that not all is as simple and straightforward; during the discussion rounds a lively debate centering upon the possible controversy of the judicial relevance of the standards took place.
It seems that only in a few countries the law actually refers to the CEN standard and thus CEN inevitably becomes part of the dispensation of justice. In other countries the CEN standards run parallel to national laws and normative regulation and are therefore not binding.
The proposed timeline for implementation and the becoming operative of the CEN standards, or rather the withdrawing of the individual countries' standards on the one hand, and the judicially relevant validity in time are yet another gray area. The implementation by June 2006 is actually followed by a 6-month transition period.
Taking the complex intertwinement of European and national law into account it has so far been impossible to resolve this point with any finality. This does not mean however that one should just lean back and wait for the various national laws to be withdrawn, that would certainly not be in the best interest of manufacturers or suppliers.
Panel member Eddie Ecclestone, European representative of de PCM Group/ BABG explained with great plausibility that a discussion about the exact timing is pointless. From the moment the CEN standards are published they will be seen and adhered to as the current state of knowledge in Science and Technology', as stipulated by the product liability laws - and therefore be effective immediately. From then on the courts will refer to the CEN standards when ruling in liability cases.
More light will be shed on this complex issue over the next few months.