During 2013 there have been numerous recalls issued by numerous bicycle makers as well as components makers. Is this merely a coincidence that there has been so many last year?
Dirk Zedler, Institute for bicycle technology and security:
Recalls in the bicycle industry are something I expressly welcome. They show that the sector has become more professional and that potentially defective products as soon as detected are eliminated more consequently. Every recall is a service to customer safety.
To what extend are these recalls, in your view, caused by market and competitive pressure?
The price situation in the bicycle industry is certainly responsible for the fact that not all manufacturers are in a position to sufficiently test their products. In many cases, they only conduct the type examination and refrain from testing the series. In other cases the model life cycles are so fast that it is for many products developments impossible to conduct sufficient field tests.
What about cost pressure? Could the ongoing search for cheaper production methods and cheaper production locations/countries trigger more recalls?
The price is certainly not the only reason for products that are placed on the market without offering the necessary safety. Producing cheaper and cheaper may result in quality problems. On the other hand every manufacturer produces more and more models. Often the problem lies in the assembly of the components and not in the individual component itself.
When comparing the bicycle industry with other industries dealing with the same kind of time, new product and innovation pressure: Is there a difference in the number of recalls?
In the bicycle industry there is no such thing as a recall culture, as is the case for example in the automotive industry. One would think that Mercedes, Audi, Toyota and all the other major car brands of the planet produce cars at a very high level. And yet it was only recently published that the number of vehicles recalled by the automotive industry was larger than the number of new vehicles actually sold, i.e. in the automotive industry these actions are treated like normal quality assurance measures. For them a recall is no reason to point a finger at others, as is the case in the bicycle industry, but an everyday action to bring the customers again and again back into the workshops. A recall is not a declaration of bankruptcy, but as a matter of fact a signal that one has found a defect and that one reacts accordingly. What is important is to react quickly and not to wait for the tenth or twentieth case.
What would be in your view the best solution for bringing the number of recall cases down?
To reduce the number of recalls two measures have to be taken. On the one hand, the used components must undergo serious tests, i.e. beyond the standard, not only in the prototype phase, but also in series. On the other hand, the manufacturers have to reduce the number of their models. With more than 200 models of a single bicycle manufacturer, the number of the components used is nearly uncountable. A new way of component thinking is needed to keep the number of components based on frame platforms manageable. This is the only way to ensure the testing of the components in the necessary frame. Furthermore, it would be recommendable to lengthen the model life cycles. It is not a good idea for product safety and quality to throw away everything and start from the very beginning every year.
What would the ideal test procedure look like for a product before market entry?
A product test must always stand on more than one leg. There are on the one hand the tests conducted on the test stands which are mainly sophisticated and established in the bicycle industry. Manufacturers are well advised to test beyond the standard with regard to the test scope as well as test loads. Field tests on the other hand should be part of the test procedure. Often enough bicycle manufacturers assemble models the components of which are not compatible. These are shortcomings you get to know when the products are placed on the market and in use. And finally, the environmental influences are also neglected in the bicycle industry. Aging through UV-radiation and the effects of moisture or corrosion behaviour as well as stress corrosion cracking are often not tested.
Who’s Who Dirk Zedler?
Dirk Zedler is a mechanical engineer and GM of an independent bicycle testing company called Zedler – Institut für Fahrradtechnik und -Sicherheit GmbH for more than twenty years now. After managing a bike shop for some years he founded his company in 1993 and soon became one of the first officially appointed bicycle experts. Today the Zedler institute counts 15 staff members and is based on pillars: testing, user manuals and development of new and optimised test facilities - necessary in the booming e-bike sector. Independent product testers always test the Institute’s user manuals for bicycles or bicycle components that come in more than 30 languages. As a specialist for every issue dealing with bicycle safety, Dirk Zedler is today a known expert whose knowledge is in demand at conferences and in courts.
Author: Jo Beckendorf