A few metres before the final sprint of the Le Samyn road race in March 2021, the Dutch professional cyclist Mathieu van der Poel has to let go in disappointment. On the TV pictures you can see the broken handlebar of his Canyon Aeroad road racing bike. This incident at the beginning of the year consequently led to the recall of the Aeroad models with this handlebar unit.
Other renowned bicycle manufacturers have also drawn attention to themselves in recent months with recalls, which leads us to ask whether there is a quality problem in the bicycle industry.
On their website the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) publishes official recalls for bicycles in Germany that pose a risk to the safety and health of users. From the beginning of 2020 until today (editorial deadline: 2022/02/10), there have been 18 recalls. For comparison: In 2018 and 2019, the BAuA recorded a total of 14 bicycle recalls.
Tougher loads from riders
In October 2021, bicycle manufacturers Stevens, Specialized und Riese & Müller have all issued a bicycle recall within one week. “All of them are renowned manufacturers with good development departments and also a high proportion of testing, who have been operating on the market for a long time and have decades of experience,” says Volker Dohrmann, Head of Strategy, Product and Marketing at Stevens. In the case of Stevens' E-Inception series, the faulty interaction of two third-party components was the cause of the recall. “Stevens has tested and uncovered the weak points which, of course, in a specialized industry, would also be the responsibility of the suppliers. But we assume too short development times and too few or too weak real product tests,” admits Volker Dohrmann. The recall of the Specialized Tarmac SL7 road bike also pointed out the high demands on the material. “In this case, we have found minor signs of use on the head tube of some bikes, caused by strong vibrations, for example increased riding through potholes,” says Christian Koehr, Category Lead Road & Gravel at Specialized. The heavier loads from the users could therefore also be a cause of the material failure.
In addition to the Stevens and Specialized recalls, Riese & Müller had to recall their Packster 70 cargo bike. As e-bikes are used by many people as a car replacement and means of transport for shopping items and children, they have gained relevance as everyday help. Riese & Müller is well aware of this use. “Especially when loaded with children, we have to work more carefully as regards recalls,” says Joerg Matheis, Head of Communication at Riese & Müller. According to Matheis, the manufacturer of electric cargo bikes likes to play it safe. And the increased demand also made recalls much more visible compared to earlier times. At that time, says Matheis, there were far fewer buyers that could be called directly. That means that recalls were thus communicated to the public under the radar.
Test procedure is adapted
In the case of Canyon's Aeroad road racing bike, the recall was proactively initiated after Mathieu Van der Poel broke his handlebars, an extreme situation for the bike, according to marketing manager Julian Öncü. “The test procedure was then adapted to the heavy load from the powerful cyclist and the rough cobblestones.” Canyon sees the tests as an ongoing process, as some requirements cannot yet be reproduced mechanically.
Stevens has also expanded the test procedure in accordance with the changed user behaviour and the higher loads on the bikes. “Both brand manufacturers and independent laboratories test more, more practice-oriented and also more demanding,” says Volker Dohrmann. “This increasing meticulousness is causing more deficiencies to be noticed on the bikes.”
Experts see several causes
Independent test laboratories, for example Dekra and Velotech.de, also test bicycles to additionally minimise safety risks. Product expert Ralf Blum from Dekra also sees deficiencies with regard to test procedures in production as a cause for recalls. “For some brands, additionally bought parts lead to problems because manufacturers do not test beforehand due to development pressure and rely on other producers and also presuppliers.”
Ernst Brust of the test lab Velotech.de considers especially the motors supplied with e-bikes as a risk. “The defect is detected at a later moment only. This can be incredibly dangerous in the event of a software error, as in the case of the folding bike of Brompton Electric.” The Velotech.de founder also addresses innovation cycles that are too short. “For some models, the colour is changed, but the components are not tested again.” The manufacturers are responsible for incomplete testing like this; in addition, the test procedures lack progressiveness. Even under simulated conditions with a realistic salt content in the air, many test procedures reach their limits, Ernst Brust stated. What was described as an ongoing process at Canyon is also seen as such by the expert.
Another major aspect for Ralf Blum are changed expectations of the cyclists. At Dekra, we now have more disputes with buyers about the performance of the bicycle. Expectations are rising.” The expectations of buyers today make some manufacturers act with regard to the past in view of protecting their reputation, according to Blum. In 2020, E-bike manufacturer Sparta has, for example, recalled their Sparta RX and Sparta RXS models with manufacturing dates between November 2012 and June 2014. Based on the motto: Better to recall something old today than to be punished for old carelessness.
Meanwhile, the expert makes it clear that the number of recalls is inferior compared to the current number of cyclists. And Blum states that the number of bicycles involved in accidents due to defects has not increased. He had noticed that the technical complexity of the road racing bike models in particular was constantly increasing, but he could rule out a resulting quality problem.
In this point, expert and founder of the Zedler-Group, Dirk Zedler agrees with Ralf Blum. “More and more manufacturers are facing up to their responsibility comprehensively and still taking care of the products after the sale.” The recalls of the Canyon Aeroad and the Stevens E-Inception models were voluntary and can therefore be regarded as a service procedure.
In fact, the quality standards of the manufacturers are constantly growing. “Permissible total weights are mentioned, categories for the intended use defined, and the developers are increasingly thinking about trailers, for example for children", says Zedler. In addition, the user behaviour of e-bikers in particular has changed significantly in recent years. For about ten years, the bicycle industry has been in a state of transition from hobby and sports to everyday mobility. Moreover, new user groups have been discovering the bicycle for years, says Zedler, people were cycling more, environmental influences play a greater role, and mountains are no longer an obstacle. “And as hard as the truth is, cyclists are getting heavier and taking more luggage with them, the motor makes it possible.” Technology has to be adapted first to the higher loads in combination with cyclists who are less skilled in terms of technology and riding skills, says Zedler.
No reason to worry
Considering the increasing sales volume of bicycles, the number of recalls remains manageable. Manufacturers admit faulty test procedures, also due to changes in user behaviour, and try to adapt the procedures at short term. Therefore, this development should not be a reason to worry for bicycle buyers and riders, on the contrary: The recalls indicate that the industry continues to professionalise and raise its quality standards.
Author: Franziska Schwenk