Bicycle safety 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.
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.