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The retail industry's evolving duty of care to cyclists

21 February 2023

Regardless of the industry, defects to carbon fibre structures during manufacturing and damage during use (or ‘in-service damage’) can occur - reducing strength and stiffness and increasing risk in a variety of ways. To ensure the integrity of the composite structure, such issues (whether originating from manufacturing, design, accidental damage, in-service use) need to be found and accurately evaluated.

Globally, the carbon fibre market continues to grow. 59m new carbon fibre bikes are set to hit roads between 2021-25, with demand surging among the pre-owned bicycle industry also. Global production is pegged to hit 135,000 tons and, as a result of continued growth across a range of industries, the global carbon fibre production market is projected to increase from USD 3.7 billion (2020) to USD 8.9 billion by 2031 (Source: www.marketsandmarkets.com).

So, with carbon frame and component demand driving increased ownership and usage, surely those with the skills, knowledge, and technology to conduct structural safety inspections to ensure their safety have increased also, right? Wrong.

Simply put, the need for accurate, consistent, and cost-effective solutions for reputable bike businesses to identify and assess damage, whilst determining ‘repair-ability’, has never been more important.

Cyclists place an enormous amount of trust in their bike mechanic and/or bike fitters to ensure both road-worthiness and performance, however the definition of what is considered ‘roadworthy’ is starting to shift. No longer is a mechanical service, visual inspection or even the infamous ‘tap test’ considered enough, with more objective and data-driven methods of assessment needed. As cyclist’s awareness of the risks in riding or buying damaged or defective carbon bikes increases, so too will their expectations of mechanics, bike-fitters, pre-owned bicycle re-sellers and manufacturers to proactively ensure safety and equipment longevity. 

To address this properly, no solution should be considered complete without a holistic approach to training, practical experience, standardised processes, and appropriate technology. Australian start up Cycle Inspect deliver on this, with the addition of the industry’s first accreditation, and a patent-protected web-based assessment tool that guides technicians and reduces the ‘guess-work’.

As trusted professionals, every engagement with cyclists (regardless of whether a bike is considered ‘brand new’ or not) should be considered an opportunity to ‘look under the hood’. Damage can of course be identified and repaired, but issues can and should also be logged and monitored to prevent issues down the road. If the #RightToRepair movement has taught us anything, it is that the emphasis needs to be on ensuring equipment longevity and avoiding premature obsolescence through repair.

So, in what ways can in-house inspection services benefit customers whilst contributing to workshop revenue? 

Encourage customers to be proactive (regular inspections to monitor previously identified damage/flaw)

There is almost no limit to the ways in which damage can be sustained to a carbon frame or component, from minor or major crashes through to drops, bumping sharp items, or even objects such as rocks being flicked by other cyclists’ wheels or passing vehicles. Some bicycles may even contain manufacturing anomalies that could ‘propagate’ (travel through the material) over time.

When this results in significant surface damage that is noticed by a cyclist, it is an obvious and urgent signal to have an inspection performed. However, the problem with carbon fibre parts is that the damage may propagate internally, leaving the surface seemingly intact and giving the cyclist (and even untrained mechanics) a false sense of security.

The lesson for cyclists? Incorporate structural safety inspections by accredited technicians into your existing bicycle maintenance routine.

For mechanics/business owners, developing an 'inspection routine' guarantees revenue whilst de-risking your business by ensuring intervention (repair or retire) when necessary.

Pre-purchase and pre-sale inspections (structural safety verification to ensure safety of buyer or subsequent owners)

It is no secret that buying pre-owned carbon frames and components comes with risks of hidden damage. In many cases, such damage was not even known to the seller, because they and their local mechanics lacked the skills, knowledge, and technology to provide this certainty.

Ideally, every carbon bicycle should be inspected prior to sale by an accredited technician, using evidence-based and standardised procedures and technologies such as those provided by Cycle Inspect.

Most buyers will become sellers at some stage, so protecting ensuring safety and protecting your investment are two sides of the same coin. Buying ‘pre-owned’ doesn’t need to involve unnecessary risk but until structural safety inspections become widespread, there is no ‘road-worthiness certification’ that cyclists could or should trust.

Post-impact inspection (identify and assess the severity of visible impact damage, and next steps)

The most common and obvious justification for structural safety inspections is when visible signs of impact damage (resulting from crash, drop, bump) can be seen. Worryingly, due to a lack in accredited technicians, many cyclists (almost 1 in 2 according to Cycle Inspect) do not have their bicycle inspected properly - even after an incident - due to the anticipated costs and effort in having their bicycle 'stripped and shipped'.

Unfortunately, it seems that inspections are only pursued if the incident has resulted in significant and obvious damage. What is deemed ‘significant’ is clearly subjective, which highlights two important points:

  • Industry professionals such as mechanics and bike-fitters, as the ‘trusted ally’ of every bike owner, serve a critical function to call out issues when they see them. The duty of care is clear, but currently cannot be responsibly enforced without the proper training and technology
  • Standardised training and procedures ensure every technician is operating from the same rule book, ensuring consistency in inspection methods and outcomes – thereby reducing subjectivity.

Inspection for warranty and insurance

What happens, then, when new bikes don’t meet expectations?

In most cases, manufacturers offer limited warranties that extend to the first (original) owner only. Whilst the terminology differs from manufacturer to manufacturer, these warranties typically cover processing or material faults and manufacturing defects in materials or workmanship. In other words, a fault which was already present at the time of purchase (also referred to as, worryingly, a ‘risk transfer’). The length of the warranties varies and, in some cases, does so by component and typically need to be returned to an authorised dealer in a suitable condition to be considered for a replacement or repair. If a frame or fork has undergone a repair the warranty is void.

Often, we hear bike shops prefer to remain “neutral” in this regard by avoiding any efforts to classify anything as a potential manufacturing flaw. The solution here is to simply “strip and ship” and hope the customers receives a good outcome. Not only does this negatively impact the customer experience, but it does adequately address an evolving customer need and expectation. Structural safety inspections using Ultrasound NDT that are powered by standardised processes and data-driven assessment algorithms provide a sense of certainty for both customer and business owner; whilst providing instant access to objective inspection data for the benefit of manufacturers and insurers.  



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