Trail to Trial

Personal Injuries and Cycling

TASA ID: 1199

CNN Money[1] recently announced, "For entrepreneurs, cycling is the new golf." In fact, Google that thought and you will see quite a few references. The popularity of bicycles has expanded faster than any other participant sport in America.  Recent sales figures indicate a 33.2% increase in volume from only a few years ago. To put that in perspective, there are far more cyclists in America than golfers, tennis players and skiers combined.  The participation profile indicates many more adults, from their mid-20s through their mid-60s are now riding and even racing bikes.  While a lot of us are enjoying our bicycles, we cannot forget the ever present risks.  Many of the new crop of mature freedom-loving riders are more secure financially, so those risks are worth calculating. 

Part of the popularity of cycling comes from the vast array of new equipment offered.  Serious riders frequently choose carbon fiber frames with multi-speed indexed or electric shifting, with monitored data driven computerization. Many upper end consumers also have their bikes custom fitted by experts to accommodate varying body types and a host of personal idiosyncrasies.  These new machines carry hefty price tags easily ranging on the high side of $5-8 K, depending on equipment. 

Yet, there are dangers lurking for many cyclists who have no formal skills training.  From our experience in working with trained and untrained cyclists, we think the majority of untrained riders riding on city streets in traffic with motor vehicles in close proximity and are at risk.  Many of the accident cases I have worked involve serious injuries or even death to riders with low or no skills-based training who willingly brave real world conditions.  In spite of the Consumer Product Safety Commission's caveat about the statistics citing cycling at the top of its injury accident classification, few people consider this before clipping in and rolling onto the streets.          

For street challenged riders desiring to go nowhere fast, there are thousands of fitness studios and gyms featuring group sessions using stationary bikes.  Yet few of these clubs give any thought to the actual mechanical/biomechanical set-up of the rider, and when these sessions become competitive, it is possible to injure a rider’s knees and back if the set-up is incorrect.  Racing, mountain bikes, recreational touring bikes, beach cruisers, and hybrids, the latest E-bikes and rentals are quite often ridden without much thought to saddle or stem adjustment which can overtax lightly used body parts.  This is especially troubling for older riders whose muscle range of motion and joint stability is often an afterthought.  When an older rider’s knees are compromised, often they are unable to continue biking which in some cases means surgery or giving up their favorite ticket to good health. 

For the younger, less affluent, low or middle market consumer, choices between a broad selection of multi-dimensional cycling equipment often becomes the priority. The neighborhood bike shop, or the many online web store fronts, promote the mechanical needs above the body-bike interface which generally assumes a secondary priority to product sales.      

At the higher levels of the participation scale, racing and touring activity has experienced a rapid rise in participation with a vast number of popular charitable cycling events being staged each week across the US.  Unlike motor racing[2], where drivers are expected to demonstrate and practice their skill at a formal racing school, the powers that govern cycling, plus the many independent promoters who offer mass-participation events, require no such training of riders, often with disastrous results ranging from skinned knees and elbows, broken bones and worse.  The problem becomes clear when thousands of lightly-skilled weekend riders end up on the road or trail together. 

While the majority do indeed enjoy a healthy and fun experience, it can be likened to filling a blender and forgetting the top.  With the blend of new, young and older recreational and competitive riders, and would-be racers training and racing on public roads, it would seem likely that some formal instruction should follow.  Yet consumers are hard pressed to find much hands-on instruction and most still don't understand the need for basic skills training and proper fitting.  When asked about this, they will proudly tell you, "been riding since I was a kid." Some of these same kids at heart will inevitably end up in the ER.        

On the industry front, touring and commuting sales volumes have increased for retail outlets and, out of necessity new hires, especially in the larger chain stores are often less experienced with assembling and repairing bicycles.  The same mechanic who assembles yard furniture is also entrusted with the responsibility of a complex system assemble, demonstration, and sale of a full range of bikes and accessories.  The actual physical set up based on the rider's body and/or physical limitations is usually not even a consideration.

In the manufacturing sector, I'm glad to report, safety and quality control of bikes and equipment has improved considerably from a decade ago; however, occasional product flaws and failures, just like the auto industry, do occur.   

As for municipalities, with many cities facing budget cuts for road surfacing, frequently more public roads are poorly surfaced.  A minor pot hole that is not likely to effect a motor vehicle can be a death trap for an unsuspended racing bike with a tire patch of less than ¾ of an inch of rubber on the ground.  When you consider the facts, modern bikes are lighter and faster, and riders lack basic skills training; you end up with inevitable compromises in safety, a strong contributing factor in bicycle accidents. 

Local state governments still have few questions on driver's tests referring to bicycles, and many drivers are oblivious to the rights and presence of cyclists on the roads.  In the absence of rider error, we who ride daily, see far too many drivers still using cell phones and texting while driving, so the danger element for all cyclists is ever present.          

As cycling advocates, my staff and I are concerned with ensuring rider safety.  We believe it is important for cyclists to gravitate toward bike lanes and wider roads that offer greater protection and visibility for motorists who identify routes frequented by cyclists.  We see the vast number of riders today lacking essential skills training. We believe learning these skills is just as important as learning to ride in the first place.  Our Street Survival Training course offers riders an opportunity to quickly gather experience in such critical functions as cornering, climbing, emergency braking, group skills, and riding in traffic. We also explain the entry/exit strategy for high tension release pedal systems as part of our curriculum[3].  Any rider who has ever found him/herself in heavy traffic and felt intimidated can appreciate the need for experience and training. Even experienced riders need to brush up on their technical riding to enhance their envelope of safety. 

As a trial qualified bicycle expert, USA Cycling and Triathlon Hall of Famer, national and world champion racer, world record holder, Olympian, coach, and anatomical bike-fitting specialist with more than 35 years of experience, I personally have worked cases involving road conditions, alleged rider and driver error, inattention issues, doors opened into the path of passing cyclists, road rage, spontaneous front wheel release, unsafe roadways, improper turns and unsafe passing.  Standard of care and due care are considered in each case.  Design criteria, and engineering experience in a variety of exotic materials are all part of being a good expert.  Further experience in virtually every known bicycle component failure or alleged failure under a variety of road and off-road conditions are also qualities of an effective bicycle expert. Consultation and test experience with bicycle manufacturers and other experts is an imperative quality of a competent and effective expert[4]

Bicycles and personal injury litigation representing both the defense and plaintiff perspective is a rapidly expanding field and there is no substitute for multi-faceted experience and a skillfully applied declaration of facts.  Numerous regional cycling and triathlon newsletters, both direct mail and online, as well as national and international publications now feature regular columns on bike litigation.  A scan of advertisers will yield many law firms offering tips on what to do in the event of an accident.  The connection with cycling is a natural one for many PI attorneys.  Hopefully this will serve as both a source of preventive care for those who ride, and provide some provocative information for attorneys looking to connect with the various cycling related entities.    

This article discusses issues of general interest and does not give any specific legal or business advice pertaining to any specific circumstances.  Before acting upon any of its information, you should obtain appropriate advice from a lawyer or other qualified professional.

This article may not be duplicated, altered, distributed, saved, incorporated into another document or website, or otherwise modified without the permission of TASA.

[1] CNN Money April 29, 2014 

[2] www.theprojectspeed.com

[3] John Howard's Mastering Cycling, Human Kinetics 2013

[4] www.johnhowardsports.com Legal Consulting      


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