BY NICOLE FORMOSA
APPLE VALLEY, CA—Much of the character of BMX comes from boutique brands laboring out of love. They may not make a lot of money, but the owners are motivated by a true passion for the niche sport, often cultivated from their early days spent racing at the local BMX track.
But some in the BMX industry are concerned that the sport may lose that lifeblood as the smaller brands are squeezed out of the market due to expensive testing required by the new consumer product safety law.
“We may have to close our doors,” said Bill Ryan, who’s owned Supercross BMX in Apple Valley, California, for two decades.
The Consumer Product Safety Information Act mandates that children’s products manufactured after Dec. 22, 2008 be tested by a third-party facility for the presence of certain levels of lead and phthalates. The Bicycle Product Suppliers Association has suggested to the Consumer Product Safety Commission that any bicycle with a wheel size smaller than 24 inches, which would include BMX, be considered primarily made for children. As of press time, the Commission hadn’t provided any clear guidance on what constitutes a children’s bike.
That has caused confusion among BMX companies that aren’t sure what level of testing is necessary to be in compliance with the law.
Regardless, all bicycles—for adults and kids—must now be shipped with a certificate of compliance verifying testing, and as of Feb. 10, product that exceeds the lead limit of 600 parts per million must be taken off retail shelves. Also, the Commission can prohibit goods that haven’t been tested to be imported into or exported out of the country.
Ryan is trying to keep up with the law’s requirements, but the estimate he’s been given to test his product—$153,000—exceeds the worth of his existing stock.
“I’m going to be upside down on my test costs just to certify the current inventory that I have,” said Ryan, who does about $1 million in sales annually.
He realizes he could risk it—forego the testing and cross his fingers that the CPSC is lax on enforcement—but that too would likely put him out of business because his distributors require certification of testing before they’ll stock his product.
Supercross’ four distributors account for 35 percent of his orders, and international sales make up another 40 percent—business he would also lose if he can’t export his bikes.
For now, Ryan is trying to sell as much inventory as possible before the Feb. 10 deadline, and hoping the CPSC grants some leniency to the BMX industry.
Jay Fraga, owner of Aggro Bikes, a mail-order and online BMX retailer located in Belchertown, Massachusetts, took matters into his own hands out of concern about the law’s potentially devastating impact on the sport. In January, he began circulating an online petition asking the CPSC to consider an amendment to exclude BMX racing bikes and components from the CPSIA. In 48 hours, he’d collected more than 1,400 signatures from the industry.
“There’s no doubt if we cannot get a competition waiver not only am I concerned about the sport in general, we’re going to have to close. There’s no doubt about it. Fewer choices for the BMX community is bad. I can’t survive by keeping one frame on the wall that’s been tested,” Fraga said.
Fraga worries that the boutique brands will disappear, leaving consumers to choose from a few brands that have the financial backing to pay for testing.
Indeed, brands like Mirraco, which is backed by Trek, and SE Bikes, a division of Advanced Sports, Inc., can rely on their parent companies to pick up the tab for testing.
Barrett James, who oversees CPSIA compliance for Advanced Sports, Inc., said it’s improbable that the CPSC would consider excluding BMX bikes from testing as they can be used by a wide age of riders, including kids under 12.
“ASI supports the CPSC in a common sense approach to removing lead and other hazardous materials from products designed for younger riders. It is clearly the right thing to do. The best action for a manufacturer to take is to stay educated about the coming regulatory changes, comply with the testing requirements and be familiar with the regulations and how they relate to your products,” James said.
But, so far, many small BMX companies are opting to fly under the radar instead, said one BMX distributor who didn’t want to be named for fear that his business would be targeted for enforcement by the CPSC.
Of the 50 or so bike and component brands he works with, only five or six have started providing certificates of compliance, he said.