From a legal standpoint, product liability claims are generally hard cases to pursue and will almost always require forensic/metallurgic testing and expert opinions. The manufacturer will almost always argue improper product maintenance.
If you suspect that a component is defective, immediately stop riding your bike and consult with your local shop. If a component fails while riding, you should locate, preserve and photograph all component pieces immediately. In a recent case, my metallurgist used a stereo microscope capable of 160x magnification and a scanning electron microscope capable of 200,000x magnification to identify and confirm that the pedal axle failed due to fatigue fractures caused by a design deficiency.
What You Can Do
- Regularly clean and inspect your bike. Use a flashlight to visually inspect the frame, forks, cranks, hubs, rims, etc. In addition to using your eyes, use your fingers to feel for surface defects that may not be visually apparent.
- Have your bicycle regularly serviced by a reputable shop. Shops generally receive recall notices from manufacturers and the CPSC. In addition, good mechanics know what to look for. While installing a new cable on my mountain bike, my mechanic took out his flashlight and visually inspected my rear triangle. He knew where the stress points were and he identified several cracks before it failed.
- Periodically check the CPSC website to see if there are any recalls involving your bicycle or components.
- Replace worn and overused parts before they fail.
Remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care!
John Duggan is an avid cyclist and Seattle attorney who represents injured cyclists. He can be reached at 206-343-1888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.