"Allen Abplanalp was 7 years old when he got a new bike for Christmas. Six weeks later, the front tire on Allen’s bike came off while he was riding it. He hit the pavement, face-first, causing the equivalent of third-degree burns."
So said Good Morning America. The front tyre? In fact, it was the front wheel.
"Allen’s bike was one of almost 500,000 bikes made in China by the Dynacraft Co. that featured a quick-release lever for the front wheel," reported Brian Ross, the ABC News chief investigative correspondent.
"That’s what caused his accident," Abplanalp told Ross. "The front tire literally dropped off the bike."
Wal-Mart’s lawyers will no doubt have fun poking holes in that kind of statement.
Wal-Mart and Dynacraft both claim that all the injuries were caused by user error. Quite why cheap and nasty Chinese bikes should be fitted with wheel retention devices that are known to cause confusion among non-enthusiasts is not clear but QRs are not inherently unsafe, and nor is cycling, but the ABC News coverage will have done the US bike trade no favours.
Ross reports that, in trial testimony, a Wal-Mart claims adjuster said she saw a pattern of QR ‘accidents’, blaming them on small children who "pulled the quick-release lever."
Lisa Thomasson-Jameson said: "The quick-release lever on some of the bikes would trigger and the front wheel would come off."
The Abplanalps’ attorney, Mark Webb, said:
"It ends up being, according to my metallurgist expert, a ticking time bomb, where in a matter of just days, weeks, months or years, that wheel has a very strong likelihood of coming loose."
Er, so do it up!
The parents say they were never advised at the point of sale on how to do up these QR levers. If Wal-Mart can provide proof that all their boxed bikes ship with reference manuals that explain how to correctly tighten the levers, the retailer will likely win the case.
"Consumers in America deserve to be able to rely on the safety of products they buy for their children," said Webb.
All of this is eerily similar to the ‘QR not done up properly’ issue which impacted on the specialist bicycle trade in the 1990s with some high-profile compensation payouts. Owner manuals were improved, bike stickers created and ‘lawyer’s lips’ retention bumps added to front forks.
In 2003, Bob Burns, Trek’s US-based General Counsel, told BikeBiz.com:
"Virtually all ‘defective quick release’ claims that I have seen relate to an improperly used quick release. Either the consumer has ridden with the QR open; ridden with the QR closed like a wing nut (rather than closing it over the cam); or ridden with insufficient tightness to the adjusting nut to engage the cam. You can generally determine this by examining the dropout surfaces, which will show the marks left behind as a consequence of the loose clamp force.
"We take great pains in our owner’s manual to explain how to use a QR, as do most good cycling books."