BY MATT WIEBE
ORLANDO, FL (BRAIN)—A spate of high-profile lawsuits over quick releases, along with a New Jersey legislator who wants to ban them, is forcing the industry to reexamine its traditional quick-release designs.
Fueling that review is a Web site, www.shokmoms.org, warning parents about their dangers. But for the first time in years suppliers have options.
Cannondale, Kona and Trek retailers are getting the first production bikes with Montague’s Clix quick-release (QR) system. Clix is one of the alternative systems. So far the Clix bikes target entry-level riders.
“People who have been using QRs for 30 years may find Clix a bit awkward, but for the new user who never has used a QR, it adds a level of safety, and that’s always a good thing,” said John Salmons, manager of Orange Cycle in Orlando, Florida.
Orange Cycle received a few Asian-made Cannondale F7 mountain bikes, selling in the mid-$400 range, equipped with the new front-wheel Clix system and Clix-specific RST Gila forks. Clix requires proprietary dropouts to implement its safety features.
However, kinks may still need to be worked out of the Clix system. Before the Clix bikes were floored, Orange Cycle needed to replace the skewers that shipped with the bikes with updated Clix skewers from Cannondale.
In addition to Clix, Neuvation Cycling has a wide-opening and locking system and DT Swiss has a ratcheting quick release. Both are compatible with current dropouts and are being evaluated by manufacturers.
So far the impact of alternative quick-release systems on high-end bikes appears limited. Product managers spec’ing high-end road bikes are reluctant to spec any system that adds weight. And high-end mountain bikes are rapidly moving to through-axle forks, which are another solution to quick release safety issues.
“We believe a traditional QR with tab tips, correctly used, is perfectly safe,” said Bob Burns, Trek’s legal counsel. “The Clix system, once set, does not have to be readjusted each time the wheel is removed. This adds convenience. Coupled with ramps on the dropouts, the convenience is enhanced.”
Tom Franges, who writes the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association’s Generic Owner’s Manual, is considering adding a section on Clix since it works differently from traditional quick releases.
Pacific Cycle, the nation’s largest bicycle company, announced ambitious plans to switch many of its 2007 bikes to the Clix system, but the company has since retreated. It has not brought any Clix-equipped bikes to market and has no intention to do so before the system passes its internal testing.
Many familiar with an ASTM quick-release standard in development say traditional quick releases in dropouts with retention lips can pass the preliminary standard.
But with two or more quick-release systems in the market, is the industry creating new liability issues?
Steven W. Hansen, an attorney that specializes in defending bicycle liability cases, noted that product liability law is determined on a state-by-state basis.
He cited a California case, Ault vs. International Harvester, which provides precedence that if a manufacturer has made improvements or design changes to a later product model, it is admissible in a product liability action to prove the product was “defective” prior to the change.
The case is a minority position among states. But he also noted that juries have a perception, oftentimes incorrect, that if new technology is applied, the old way was faulty.
“The law is stacked against manufacturers, so is having different QR systems in their lines going to present a challenge?” Hansen asked.
Trek’s Bob Burns said the industry has changed quick-release systems before, adopting the Brilando clip at one point and then dropping it in favor of other systems. And current bike models use bolt-on hubs as well as quick-release hubs.
“Manufacturers are having to decide whether to say the device we have been using for the past 75 years is dangerous or proven technology,” said Franges, who was vice president of Suntour in the ’80s when they developed dropout-retaining lips or tabs.