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As another boom wraps, CPSC proposes rules update

Published July 24, 2023
Deadline was Monday to submit public comments online.

A version of this article ran in the July 2023 issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.

WASHINGTON — The last time the Consumer Product Safety Commission took an in-depth look at its bicycle safety regulations, it was the mid-1970s and the industry was just emerging from that decade's bike boom. The agency had only been launched in 1972.

Mike Fritz remembers it well. At the time, Fritz served as Schwinn's product safety coordinator, with Jay Townley heading the brand's brand new Product Safety and Governmental Affairs Division. Townley and Fritz are now principals in an industry consulting group.

"I joined Schwinn on June 1, 1973," Fritz said a day before he marked that 50-year anniversary. "Jay and I are definitely the only two still active professionals and probably the only two professionals still alive that actually worked in the 1970s on that CPSC standard. We spent a lot of time trying to hammer that into a workable standard for the industry."

In the late '60s, American bike manufacturers were struggling to meet demand, with Fritz noting that even Schwinn contracted with "quality" Asian manufacturers to keep up.

"But there were a lot of unscrupulous importers who were bringing in a lot of cheap crap, bicycles not properly designed, engineered, or manufactured that were failing and causing a lot of the injuries," he said.

The CPSC announced in May this year that it would seek public input on whether its bike regs are outdated — and if they adequately address e-bikes. The deadline to submit comments is today. The decision to re-evaluate all regs came after woom petitioned the CPSC to eliminate the coaster brake requirement on certain kids’ bikes.

As of Monday afternoon, 232 comments had been posted.

Commissioner Mary T. Boyle noted that Congress had authorized the agency to develop e-bike regulations more than 20 years ago. "The agency has not done so," she said in the announcement. "It is past time that we take a hard look at whether we should do so now. ..."

Coming out of the pandemic buying frenzy, the industry faces a greater challenge than in the 1970s. Inexpensive imported e-bikes and lithium-ion batteries are blamed for scores of fires and deaths, especially in New York City.

The parallel is unmistakable

"The last time the CPSC got involved was partially in reaction to the fact that there was a lot of bad stuff coming into the country and hurting people," Fritz said. "We're in very much the same situation now with this lithium-ion battery crisis in New York. There are a lot of bad batteries coming in on cheap e-bikes that are coming in under the de minimis rule. History is repeating itself. It's just a different aspect of the technology."

PeopleForBikes said it will provide the CPSC with a comment on behalf of the industry. "We are in the process of gathering member input and determining our course of action," said Matt Moore, the organization's policy counsel.

The past is prologue

The CPSC's 16 CFR Section 1512 came into effect on May 11, 1975, to address braking performance, structural integrity — frame and fork energy absorption characteristics — and seatpost and handlebar retention.

Interestingly, bicycles were the first product the CPSC regulated after it became an actively funded federal agency. ISO 4210 — a standard created by the International Organization for Standardization — was created after the CPSC rules. (ISO 4210-10 is a technical specification, not a standard, that covers e-bikes.)

"So the international standard that's been talked about and amended through the years was very much a product of the CPSC reg 48 years ago," Townley said. "Same people, same approach. They would meet in a different way in ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) meetings and then delegations going over to the ISO meetings every six months."

The CPSC's funding is generally tied to the party holding the White House. Republicans tend to allocate less, Democrats more. The CPSC shared with BRAIN the past five fiscal years of approved CPSC budgets:

  • 2019: $127 million.
  • 2020: $132.5 million.
  • 2021: $135 million.
  • 2022: $139 million.
  • 2023: $152.5 million.

"CPSC was gutted, wasn't given the budget, not allowed to update," Townley said. "It isn't just a case of 47 years ago they developed a standard and then ignored it. It was 47 years ago the Congress and the administration moved forward to protect the American consumer, and subsequent administrations with the change in politics chose not to protect the American consumer in the same way."

CPSC has had some "narrow" updates, and in the mid-'90s and early 2000s, there was an effort made to get a complete rewrite of the regulations, said John Bogler, president of ACT Lab. "But because of budgetary reasons and other priorities, (updates) always got put aside," Bogler said.

ACT Lab tests to CPSC and ISO standards for about 250-300 bike and e-bike brands globally.

A difficult process

Vince Amodeo was the point man in that last effort to update the regs. Amodeo worked 17 years for the CPSC before retiring in 2019. He was the main agency representative for bike regulations and worked with ASTM and ISO groups to develop their standards.

"I can attest that it is extremely difficult to change federal regulations, even if they are outdated," he said. "I am also a bicycle rider for over 55 years. The entire bicycle regulation needs a thorough review and update. Most of the test requirements were originally written to apply to steel bicycles built for children and adults in the early '70s. These bikes did not use advanced materials such as aluminum and carbon fiber. They did not have disc brakes. There were no electric bicycles. The bikes of that era were primarily used on pavement."

Is an ISO, UL combination the answer?

While structural integrity and bike performance was the primary consideration in the 1970s, e-bikes and their complex electrical systems are the new challenge. "The fire situation is begging for adoption of the UL standard," Fritz said.

Adopting ISO 4210 and melding the UL standards into it might prove to be the quickest and easiest path the CPSC can take to bring its regulations up to date, Townley said. "They could have this done by next year."

Whatever the CPSC decides, expect added costs. "The ISO 4210 is probably eight to 10 times more expensive than a 1512 test," Bogler said. "And that really drives a lot of the decision making. Some brands could say it will minimize the number of models they can do. For example, assume you could test eight models if you're testing to 1512 vs. the cost of doing one ISO test."

Assuming the public comment period leads to a regulation revision, Arnold Kamler, CEO of Kent International wants to see higher standards for suspension forks and frames and more federal oversight. Kent manufactures bikes at its Manning, South Carolina, facility.

"During the past few years, it seems the CPSC has stopped random inspections, and this is bad," Kamler said. "The CPSC needs to be noisy on the subject of de minimis and to insist that even if de minimis is allowed to continue, then the seller needs to show the CPSC test report."

Rad Power Bikes CEO Phil Molyneux said he supports tougher regulations.

"With the increase in ridership and growing market in general, we fully support greater safety regulations across the entire industry," Molyneux said. "Updating safety requirements will ensure compliance across all brands, pushing the industry toward greater standards that keep all riders as safe as possible and catalyzing further adoption. Safety has and always will be Rad's top priority, whether consumers choose to ride our bikes or a competitor's."

Bogler, who said he has worked closely with the CPSC for more than 30 years, is cautiously optimistic the agency will address not only e-bike technology but also basic bike technology that wasn't around in the '70s, everything from suspension frames, to disc brakes, to electronic shifting.

"I hope they are serious about it this time and can come to something that truly addresses where the market is and where the true safety lies," Bogler said.

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Topics associated with this article: Electric bike, From the Magazine

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