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Test Labs Navigate Uncertain Waters

Published June 1, 2010


John Bogler was on vacation with his family in New York headed to a musical when he got the call in August 2008. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act had passed, requiring all children’s bikes be tested for compliance with the federal bicycle regulations by an independent laboratory.

He had been following the act closely as he planned his new bicycle testing facility, but thought he had at least 18 months before the pending legislation would become law.

“We were gradually moving into it and were building the business at the pace that I wanted to build it, and the U.S. government told me I was too slow. I needed to speed things up,” said Bogler, a mechanical engineer who headed up legal, quality control, customer service, product development and race support for Shimano during the 1990s.

He rushed home to California to finalize ACT Lab, a spin-off of sorts to Collision and Injury Dynamics, an accident reconstruction firm Bogler and his partners started in 2000. Through this business, Bogler had already been testing bicycle helmets, as well as some limited bicycle testing for core clients like Specialized, Trek and Huffy.

He envisioned ACT would run as a separate business to provide testing services specifically for the industry including helmet impact testing, product development tests for prototypes, EN tests for European standards, and required testing for bicycle regulations, known as 16 CFR 1512, under the CPSIA.

Bogler and his investors committed $2 million to get labs in Southern California and Taicang, China running. That included buying two chemistry machines at $185,000 a pop to test for lead in paint and substrates, bicycle fatigue equipment, hiring engineers and forming a sales, marketing and management team to run the labs.

He began taking new clients as the initial February 2009 deadline approached, but the Consumer Product Safety Commission has repeatedly pushed back that date, delaying response from industry manufacturers and hampering initial projected growth for ACT.

As of press time, the third-party bicycle testing requirement was set to go into effect May 17, but a petition by the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association to delay the deadline a year was pending.

The deadline for third-party children’s helmet testing went into effect Feb. 10, after a one-year delay. The Commission has also delayed testing for lead content in children’s products, although testing for lead in paint went into effect last year.

Further, Congressman Henry Waxman has authored a new bill that could potentially exempt bicycles or components from the lead content requirments of the CPSIA.

Bogler recently completed the CPSC process to be listed as an accredited third-party lab for bicycle testing, but in light of the uncertainty surrounding the CPSIA he has focused more on EN testing and some testing outside the industry like children’s garments manufacturers.

“It’s scary every day. There are a lot more little gray hairs. It’s just us doing this. We’re not backed by anybody to help push through these months of waiting,” Bogler said.

Two other labs accredited through the CPSC for bicycle testing—SGS and Intertek—are multi billion dollar global companies of which bicycle testing makes up a small slice of business.

Many of their clients come from the mass-market side of the business, and retailers such as Wal-Mart, Toys R Us and K-Mart have required third-party testing from children’s bike manufacturers for many years.

For SGS, which runs tests for 90 industry clients at its Taiwan lab and 120 clients in China, the CPSIA has had little impact on demand, said Fred Mills-Winkler, technical director at SGS’ testing lab in Fairfield, New Jersey.

“SGS might see a little increase, but not much. In China, there’s a possibility we may see more business because more manufacturers are making more models of bicycles,” Mills-Winkler said.

Mills-Winkler pointed out that bicycles have always been required to meet the federal regulations; only now manufacturers must provide test results to prove their products are in compliance.

Complete testing for bike regulations and lead content can run anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 per model. Considering about 4,000 bike models sell through the mass market each year, all of which have to be tested, and about 2,500 models through IBDs—Bogler estimates 10 to 15 percent of those will require independent testing—the potential for business to boom exists if the CPSC follows through on third-party testing.

That potential draw hasn’t been enough to convince Steve Ferry, director of Boulder-based Microbac Laboratories, Inc., to pursue CPSIA accreditation.

Over the years, Microbac has dabbled in component and parts testing for Boulder-area bike companies, and stepped up its commitment to the industry about a year ago. Ferry targeted clients who required testing for stricter European standards that went into effect two years ago, but shied away from CPSIA testing given competition from larger labs.

With the industry in a downturn, the CPSIA up in the air, and without an offshore lab to test bikes out of Asia, Ferry is in no rush to go after that business.

For Bogler, despite the challenges of the past year, business has ticked along. Since forming ACT, he’s picked up about 50 new customers in addition to the 55 or so he had, and counts major companies like Cervélo, Trek, REI, Giant USA, Felt and Fuji among his clients. Last month, he moved ACT and its employees into a new, 4,000-square-foot building.

But at the moment he expects revenue from CPSIA-required testing to contribute very little to his bottom line.

“I believe in the company and in helping this industry. I’ve had a business for 10 years, I know what it takes to run it. Most importantly it’s income. Without income you’re not going to have a business very long,” he said.

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