About a month ago, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced that bicycle manufacturer Trek was recalling about a million bikes due to defective quick release levers, or “skewers,” as they’re sometimes called. When not properly adjusted, these levers can become lodged in the disc brake assembly, suddenly stopping the motion of the front wheel and potentially ejecting the rider over the handlebars.
The company is aware of three serious accidents related to these levers so far. One of the riders became a quadriplegic as a result of his injuries. Another fractured his wrist, and a third suffered facial injuries.
What went wrong with these levers, and why did Trek wait until now to replace them with those that won’t cause this problem?
Maladjusted Quick Release a Common Problem
Many of the “higher end” bicycles come with a quick release on the wheels so that riders can take them on and off easily. This helps make transporting and maintaining the bike more efficient and flexible. With a quick release lever, for example, riders can remove a wheel to put the bike in the trunk of a car, or more easily fix a flat tire.
Novice riders may not know exactly how to operate these releases, however. According to an article in Bicycling Life, bike shop owners say that the quick release is “one of the most commonly miss-adjusted part on bicycles owned by people new to cycling.”
If bicycle owners know this, than surely a large manufacturer like Trek should have known it, too. Should they have provided more visible instructions on how to properly adjust the lever? Added warnings where new users couldn’t miss them to reduce the risk of accidents? Those who end up in the hospital because of an improperly adjusted release would probably think so.
Problems with a Maladjusted Lever
The problem is that adjusting this part incorrectly can have serious consequences. On the Trek bikes, as the person rides around, the release can gradually open up farther and farther until it collides with the disc brake. The result is sudden and dangerous. The wheel stops rotating, and the rider usually crashes, hard, typically head first.
The bottom line is that the release must be properly adjusted and then properly closed. The rider tightens or loosens the lever to achieve the desired tightness, and then must swing the lever from the open position to the closed position to lock it down.
What seems to have happened in the accidents reported to Trek was that the riders left the lever open somehow, though it could be that the lever was too loose, as well. Either way, since the lever can open to about 180 degrees, it eventually got in the way of the brake.
Experienced bikers also caution that positioning the lever rearward or forward can make the difference between a safe and unsafe ride when trail riding, as a stray branch or mound of dirt could potentially flip a lever pointing forward, maneuvering it into an open position without the rider being aware of it.
Why Not Design the Right One the First Time?
The quick release that Trek is recalling is unlike older models, in that it opens up much farther, increasing the risk of collision with the brake assembly. Though Trek has resisted calling the design defective, it’s clear that if it can cause this type of disastrous consequences that it is. Trek seems to underscore that point by having a differently designed replacement.
Exclusively focused on representing plaintiffs—especially in mass tort litigation—Roopal Luhana prides herself on providing unsurpassed professional legal services in pursuit of the specific goals of her clients and their families. While she handles complex cases nationwide on behalf of consumers, Ms. Luhana resides with her family in Brooklyn, New York.