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Bicycle Safety and Bicycle Standards
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 March 2006 Feature
David A. Mitchell, P.E., is president of MET Ltd., an engineering consulting firm established in 1995 to provide technical consulting to individuals, industry, government and organizations in areas related to bicycles and bicycling. He is chair of ASTM Subcommittee F08.10 on Bicycles and works industry-wide for the improvement of bicycles and their components.

Bicycle Safety and Bicycle Standards

A combination of U.S. federal regulations and international participation on ASTM Subcommittee F08.10 on Bicycles helps ensure safe bicycle trips for you and your family.

Imagine if you had no choice but to take your automobile back to the dealer to replace your tires or battery or get an oil change. To some extent, that was the situation in the bicycle industry decades ago. If your bicycle was Italian or French or British, it would accept only components intended for use on those countries’ bicycles. Even screw threads wouldn’t match. In answer to this problem, early standards in the bicycle industry were production standards that fostered interchangeable parts.

Today, bicycles consist of components manufactured by a comparatively large number of manufacturers incorporated into a single unit. Manufacturing standards to assure the fit and functionality of a bike’s many components have been developed and, as a result, bicyclists enjoy a high level of component compatibility, akin to the myriad accessories available for personal computers.

Safety Standards
Bicycle safety standards developed over time in a comparatively nonstandard manner. In the 1970s, in an attempt at self-regulation, the bicycle industry developed a series of performance standards intended to enhance the safety of bicycles sold in America. The last of those voluntary safety standards was BMA-6, written by the Bicycle Manufacturers Association. The era of voluntary bicycle safety standards ended with regulations promulgated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission under authority of the Hazardous Substances Act. In 1978, the “Requirements for Bicycles”1 became law and bicycles became a regulated commodity.

The CPSC regulations, binding on all bicycles sold in the United States, set forth the performance required of many bicycle components and systems, including the frame, fork, wheels, pedals, brakes, reflectors, etc. The regulation test methods detailed the performance expected of each bicycle design, including the bicycle as a whole, once assembled according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The regulations also called for the bicycle to be provided with an owner’s manual and delineated the minimum content of that manual.

Regulations and Standards
The difference between a regulation and a standard should be understood. CPSC regulations have the force of law and bicycles cannot be sold in America unless those regulations are met. Built into the regulatory procedures of the Consumer Product Safety Commission is the ability of that governmental body to impose the recall of products deemed unsafe. Indeed, products (not necessarily bicycles), are recalled on virtually a daily basis. Fines may also be imposed upon manufacturers for violations identified by the CPSC.

Voluntary standards serve as guidelines for the manufacture and performance of bicycles and components. While it might be desirable for a manufacturer to conform to industry standards, it is not required. Naturally, it could be advantageous in the marketplace for a manufacturer to adopt and apply those standards that enhance the safety of its product. Further, the CPSC is aware of and participates in ASTM Subcommittee F08.10 on Bicycles and could choose to make all or some of the voluntary standards mandatory in the future by including them in the regulation.

The backing of the federal government to raise the bar and set a level playing field for all bicycles sold in America was a help, but bicycles continued to evolve with time whereas the CPSC regulations remained relatively static. Indeed, the regulations were developed before the advent of mountain bikes, with their new set of operating conditions and new component designs.

In order to evaluate the applicability of the regulations to more modern bicycles, the CPSC undertook a study of bicycle accidents and injuries to determine if the American bicycling public was being adequately protected. That comprehensive study culminated in a report that reaffirmed the adequacy of the regulations.2 It also reaffirmed the importance of wearing helmets, among other technical conclusions. No particular mechanical aspect of bicycles was deemed a significant cause of injury to the American cycling public. As such, the CPSC undertook no new regulatory effort to revise the regulations.

ASTM F08.10 Activities
However, bicycle components are known to fracture (see photo below). In an effort to reduce bicycle and component failures and to standardize bicycle manufacturers’ testing procedures, a new standards development activity was undertaken by ASTM Committee F08 on Sports Equipment and Facilities when it formed Subcommittee F08.10 on Bicycles in the mid-1990s. The subcommittee began to set minimum mechanical requirements for bicycles that would incorporate the more aggressive mechanical loading imparted by mountain biking and other activities. The concepts of fatigue and impact properties were applied to modern bicycles.

Broken Mountain Bike Fork
The bicycle subcommittee has shepherded a number of standards through the balloting and revision process. And more are on the way. The following list is a summary of the group’s accomplishments and current activities.

F 2043, Classification for Bicycle Usage
This standard was developed to form the design basis for other strength and durability test standards. For example, a Condition 3 level of bicycle use would be considered nonaggressive, off-road riding. Because of these categories, task groups creating standards for frames, forks, etc., are working with the same level of stresses, impact, fatigue, etc.

F 2273, Test Methods for Bicycle Forks
This standard provides the various mechanical tests that may be applied to bicycle forks in general. It defines the methods, with the performance levels left to other standard specifications for a given use classification.

F 2274, Specification for Condition 3 Bicycle Forks
This standard provides the criteria for acceptance of a bicycle fork intended for use classification 3, described above.

F 2268, Specification for Bicycle Serial Numbers
In response to requests from various police departments to aid in their work related to lost and stolen bicycles, F08.10 created a standard that would unify the location of bicycle serial numbers and the information coded into them. It is much like the vehicle identification number found on automobiles.

F 1975, Specification for Nonpowered Bicycle Trailers Designed for Human Passengers
The Task Group on Bicycle Accessories has created and continued to evolve this standard to promote the safety of passengers (usually small children) pulled in specialized trailers behind individual and tandem bicycles.

WK468, Terminology for Bicycles and Bicycle Components
This activity is a work in progress to clarify the many names that are utilized to identify the many components of a bicycle. For example, the “gooseneck” is properly called the handlebar stem.

WK464, Test Methods for Bicycle Frames
Similar to F 2273, this draft method will test bicycle frames.

WK6819, Specification for Condition 3 Bicycle Frames
This draft standard will set the criteria for mountain bike frame strength and durability.

Other areas of technical interest, such as bicycle wheels, wait for additional interested members to undertake that important work.

While Subcommittee F08.10 is the predominant bicycle standards activity in the United States, it also has international input from Canadian and European representatives. In addition, Subcommittee F08.96 is the U.S. technical advisory group to International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee 149, Subcommitteee on Cycles.

The development of standards within the world bicycle community has many benefits, both to bicycle manufacturers and to the safety of cyclists themselves. The standardization of parts contributes to a diversity of bicycle components available to cyclists both as original equipment items and in the bicycle component aftermarket. The establishment of minimum performance criteria enhances the safety of those components. Worldwide cooperation in the development of consistent standards provides for enhanced safety and lower cost to manufacturers and consumers alike. //

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