Light enough to kill you
November 30, 2014 § 37 Comments
I’ve always been a late adopter when it comes to trick bike stuff. Part of that, say, 99%, is out of sheer cheapness. Nothing makes me sadder than spending money on a bicycle part. Except one thing, which is the other 1% that explains my resistance to change — the only thing I hate worse than spending money on bicycle things is having a bicycle thing break while I’m using it.
The importance of things not breaking on a bicycle is generally important, but with some components it is very, very important. Bikes have multiple back-up safety systems. When one wheel goes, you generally still have another. If the right brake fails, the left one is usually still working. There are multiple bolts to keep your handlebars in place. Two derailleurs. Thirty-two spokes per wheel. Etc.
But there are a couple of components whose failure can be catastrophic. One is the chain, and the other is the pedal. When your chain snaps, better hope you’re not out of the saddle. Same for your pedal. If it decides to go, and you’re sprinting or climbing out of the saddle, something bad is going to happen.
One of my current cases involves a pedal failure. The rider was out of the saddle and the spindle sheared off. It was a new pedal, and he suffered pretty severe injuries. We’re still waiting for the metallurgist’s report, but I will be very surprised if the pedal wasn’t defective. New, high-end racing pedals aren’t supposed to snap off when you press down hard them. The more I’ve looked at this pedal and its design, the more impressed I’ve been with what a flimsy piece of equipment it is. There truly is no “there” there.
Ever since the second generation of Look clipless pedals came out, I’ve exclusively used their pedals. Look isn’t the pedal company referred to above, by the way. Their pedals have traditionally been, well, bullet-proof. I used one pedal set for more than ten years. The pedals were fairly heavy and had a lot of metal in them.
Two or three years ago I upgraded to the top-of-the-line Look racing pedal, which had just come out. This was a major violation of my “don’t buy trick” rule. The pedals were super light and had a broad platform. I loved them.
Then one day about six months ago I was coming up to a stop light. I twisted my foot and the entire pedal body came off the spindle. Thinking the pedal had broken, I got off and examined it. It wasn’t broken. The pedal body screws onto the spindle by virtue of tiny, shallow, plastic threads in the end of the body. It is flimsy beyond any description.
I mentioned it to a friend, who said that in the heat of battle during the BWR, she’d tried to dismount going up a dirt wall and her Look pedal had gone flying off into a field. It too had simply come unscrewed.
I’d not thought much about the problem with my Looks until contemplating the design of the pedal that had sheared off at the spindle that’s probably going to result in litigation. What kind of design is it that would put such a crucial component subject to so much stress at the mercy of a few thin plastic threads? Were the extra couple of ounces worth it? What if the plastic screw-on edge had cracked, and the pedal body shattered when you got out of the saddle? Did anyone at Look know? Or care? How many people with Look pedals examine the pedal body assembly for cracks every time they ride? Or ever?
Then I thought about all the other trick bike items that magically appear on shelves every year, components tested in the field on pro teams where the “big” guys weigh 170, the “average” guys weigh 150, and the “small” guys weigh 130 — about the size of a rather large dog. And the “testing” of these products may only involve one season, where the component is maintained by a Pro Tour bike mechanic.
Shattered handlebars, carbon wheelsets that melt when real world big people descend on them, chains that are too weak, crankarms that bust off, and seatposts that break under the rider’s weight or the shocks of the road are only a few of the under-designed trick bike parts that I’ve seen break, and sometimes the consequences have been catastrophic. As the UCI prepares to further loosen weight requirements, look for new designs that are truly disposable, frames and components made — if you’re lucky — to survive a single race season, or maybe even just a single race.
Throw into the mix the thousands of idiots who’ve recently entered the sport and who have no idea what they’re buying, no experience with component failure, and no one to tap them on the shoulder and say, “Hey, pal, until you get the late night tubs of ice cream under control, better steer clear of the 12-pound full carbon rig.” They think they’re buying something snazzy that will help them get fit; I think they’re buying something that’s not designed with them in mind.
After almost 30 years as a devoted Look customer I did some research and bought a heavier pedal, one with more metal in it, and one made by a company that seemed willing to compromise a little bit of weight for a lot more durability in a component where failure shouldn’t be an option. Because in the end, no amount of money from a lawsuit is going to compensate you for a catastrophic injury from which you never fully recover.
And if you save a few bucks in the process, which I did, well, winning.
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog, which will really make me train harder so that I can keep up with guys with helmet visors and triple chainrings. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!