Higher prices, more complex technology: increase in court cases and insurance cases where bikes are involved. That's why more bicycle experts are needed.
On the face of it, there can be little doubt that the cycling industry has done some stellar work over the last few years. Intricate drive systems with powerful batteries are boosting sales of higher-priced e-bikes. Lots of progress has also been made in ergonomic design, safer braking, brighter lights and the transport of children and cargo.
In a related and welcome development, a new and well-heeled type of clientele is streaming into bike shops, meaning
read more >>
all the pricey bicycles and e-bikes actually get ridden. On the flip side, all these factors also lead to higher caseloads for insurance companies and courts.
More expensive bicycles – increased volume of claims to settle
In Germany alone, there were around 84,000 incidents involving cyclists and cars in the year 2021, according to the Federal Statistical Office. The vast majority of these crashes had car drivers as the responsible party, which means the driver’s insurance has to pay for the damage. But how exactly is the insurer supposed to settle the claim? Can the bicycle or e-bike be expected to be repaired, or should it be filed as a total loss?
While bike dealers often issue quotes for repair jobs in such cases, there are many reasons why they cannot (and should not) provide expert opinions on the questions raised. Sometimes the insurance company cannot bring itself to trust the quote provided by the bike dealer. Thus begins, more often than not, a veritable odyssey for cyclists looking to have their damage compensated.
Some insurers try to solve this by partnering with fast-turnaround appraisers, but in our experience these often quote figures that are far too low to truly compensate for the damage incurred.
If no agreement with the insurance company is reached, going to court is the only avenue left for the claimant. Reaching a final verdict and finally settling the claim can easily take one or two years.
Accidents due to material failure? – A chicken-or-egg dilemma
While it is rare, some cases involve the cyclist are involved in serious crashes without influence from any other road user. Bike dealers and the police taking down the accident usually explain the cause as rider error, and broken handlebars are simply seen as a consequence of the crash itself.
But is this really what happened? Did the component have the strength required for its proper use? Were the components used on the bike actually compatible with each other? Were they installed correctly? Did they allow for sufficiently stable riding? Not only do the competent parties frequently fail to examine these important questions with the required know-how, they often do not ask them in the first place.
Defects on the bike, repair bottlenecks or buyer’s remorse?
Much more often than material failures leading to accidents, buyers lodge complaints about defects on their bikes. Some of the most frequent reasons for such complaints are noise coming from the bike or e-bike, inadequate battery range, disappointing torque delivered by the motor, insufficient gear shifting performance, accelerated wear, unsuitable frame sizes, and so on.
Many bike dealers are familiar with such complaints; it is all in a day’s work to them. But that does not mean that the problems can always be solved finally and to the satisfaction of dealer/manufacturer and customer. A low point during my work as an expert for the courts was complaints about noises coming from the drivetrain. An examination quickly revealed that the chain was simply not sufficiently lubricated. I came across this in not one but two separate court trials.
A few drops of oil could have prevented two months-long lawsuits and costs of several thousands of euros per case.
Well-founded investigation – genuine bicycle and e-bike experts needed
Germany alone has several hundred publicly appointed and sworn-in experts for motor vehicles. Their network covers the whole country so that the courts, attorneys and insurers can fall back on enough expertise to professionally clarify any questions arising around cars in any region of the country. This is the reason why judges have been able to decide many issues, with the outcomes having virtually binding effect for the industry as a whole. This is extremely helpful for trade and industry.
But how many certified bicycle experts are there in Germany? The answer is… ten.
That number is unacceptable and fails to reflect the importance of the bicycle with regard to its technology and its significance as a mode of transport and sport device.
As a result insurers and courts are too often forced to use experts with no relevant experience, who often end up causing more damage than good. Once an unqualified or incompetent “expert” opinion is out there, removing it can be a long and arduous, sometimes even futile, quest.
Opportunities and the way forward
All this means that we as an industry should not just focus on selling great products but also make sure our aftersales service game is on point. Which includes dealing with the dark side of our success. The technical know-how required to assess damages and faults exists in many places. The task now consists in training bicycle specialists and turning them into true experts.
The prerequisite for such training is a qualification as a master bicycle mechanic, technician, or a university degree in the field, as well as several years’ experience in the cycling industry.
Further education courses to become a recognised expert are offered, for instance by the Gesellschaft der Fahrrad-Sachverständigen (www.gdfs.bike).
Membership in an association such as the Bundesverband der Fahrrad-Sachverständigen e.V. in Germany (www.bdfs.de) where bicycle experts come together to exchange ideas, is also recommended.
Good bicycle experts are a cornerstone of a more professional cycling industry as a whole and help to turn the bicycle into a true and serious alternative for mobility over short and medium distances.