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Bicycle Component Failures: What You Need to Know

Failures of bicycle component parts and frames are not uncommon. Over time, components of a bicycle, such as wheels, brakes, handlebars, forks and frames may fail for a number of reasons. Like any piece of equipment, components have a useful service life. Not only do parts wear out over time, but they may fail due to overloading or a design or manufacturing defect. Design factors that make a component functional or lightweight could also affect the likelihood of eventual failure with normal or extended use. Even at low speeds, the fracture of a frame or surface component can lead to a serious injury.

Failures in the Frame or Fork Components

Following a crash, it often is a challenge for an untrained observer to determine whether the frame or fork was damaged during a crash, or if a fork or frame failure caused the crash.

Bike frames are made of either metal or carbon fiber composites. Metal bike frames usually give a visible, noticeable warning before a failure, and riders will notice a bend, bulge or crack in the metal. With a carbon fiber composite frame, failures are much harder for the average rider to spot. Cracks can sometimes form in hidden areas behind other components.

Bicycle forks have two important roles: (1) they hold up the front of the bicycle, and (2) they are necessary for steering. Like frames, bicycle forks are either metal or carbon fiber. One of the more common failures with carbon fiber composite happens when the lower legs separate from the steer tube, which is the part of the fork that is clamped by the handlebar stem and passes through the bicycle’s frame.

Control Surface Component Failures

Control surface components make up what a rider’s body touches while riding. These components include the handlebars, brake levers, bicycle seat and pedals.

Pedals & Crank Arm Failures: The pedals support a portion of the rider’s weight, especially when the rider is standing during climb or acceleration. If the pedal or its attached crank arm fails, the rider can quickly lose control of the bike and fall over the handlebars or onto the top tube of the frame. Like the fork and frame, carbon fiber composite crank arms can fail without visible indications or warnings. A few crank arm failures have been attributed to inexperienced bicycle mechanics not realizing the left pedal is reverse threaded, resulting in improper assembly and failure.

Seat and Seatpost Failures: The seat supports the rider’s weight, but also is a pivot point while pedaling and steering. Seat and seatpost failures can occur when fasteners are improperly tightened. Carbon composite components should be inspected regularly and assembled with torque wrenches.

Handlebar and Stem Failures: The handlebars support some of the rider’s weight and also are important for steering. They are connected to the bicycle fork by the stem. If the handlebars or stem fail, the rider may quickly lose control of the bike and also the ability to stay upright. Like the seatpost, carbon composite components must be assembled to proper torque values, as improper fastening can cause cracks and failure.

Brake Failures: Just like a vehicle, brake pads wear out over time. Control cables are also subject to wear. Both pads and control cables should be inspected and replaced regularly.

Design and manufacturing defect cases are complex, and it is important for accident victims to work with an attorney experienced in cycling litigation and familiar with the best expert engineering analysts. For more information, contact Estey Bomberger as soon as possible following your accident.

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