Cyclists falling victim to an undetected danger with their bikes
The West Australian, 7 January 2017
It was a clear October morning when Greg Prosser joined his weekly group ride, with a strong easterly blowing and a cloudless sky. The Friday ride had almost become a ritual for the Perth schoolteacher — a keen cyclist for the past 25 years. About 45 minutes in, the riders stopped at traffic lights on Nicholson Road in Ferndale. Mr Prosser, 47, had just put in a hard effort and was relieved at the chance to catch his breath. He recalls very little beyond this point because as he took off from the lights, his bicycle crumbled underneath him sending him nose-diving into the kerb.
“I blacked out. I remember pulling up at the lights and the next minute I was on the kerb with blood coming out my nose,” he said.
“If that had happened at speed, I would have been dead.
“It was pretty scary.”
Mr Prosser’s road bicycle, a Trek 5000 he had owned for eight years, unexpectedly snapped at the top of the fork.
He was concussed and spent a night in hospital but escaped with only cuts and bruises, shaken up but cleared to ride again within a fortnight.
Canberra father Richard Stanton was killed in January last year after the same thing happened to his bike.
A recent coronial inquest into Mr Stanton’s death found a catastrophic failure in Mr Stanton’s steering tube was what killed him.
Mr Stanton had been travelling at 35km/h, compared with Mr Prosser’s estimated 5km/h.
Frame fatigue or corrosion in the steering tube were thought to be the cause of both accidents.
Mr Prosser’s terrifying ordeal and Mr Stanton’s death raised some serious questions about bike safety.
Was there anything the riders could have done to prevent their falls and how do consumers know they are buying a safe bicycle?
With the abundance of second-hand bikes on the market around Christmas time, experts are warning people to get their bikes checked.
Perth’s “carbon fibre guru” bicycle frame builder Aldo Contarino, of Quantum Bicycles, said frame failures were usually preventable.
“People think their bikes will last forever and unfortunately that’s not the case,” he said.
“It’s really important to check everything — I’ve had plenty of people say they’ve had an accident and then discovered cracks in the frame.”
Mr Contarino said there were some things people could not pick up unless they were looking for them. He said a comprehensive internal scan was the only way to pick up all the cracks in a bike frame.
“We use a penetrating dye that is UV fluorescent— with carbon fibre you don’t see all the cracks without fluorescers,” he said.
He advised people buying second-hand carbon fibre bikes that getting an expert to check it was worthwhile and said the process was far simpler for aluminium bikes.
“If it’s aluminium you need to look for dents and bends. If it has got dents underneath the top tube don’t buy it,” he said.
“If it’s carbon don’t buy it straight away, get it checked. My advice is to test the frame.”
He said it was particularly important after you have had a crash to get your bike tested for structural integrity.
Both Mr Prosser and Mr Stanton’s bikes were more than seven years old, but they maintained them meticulously.
Incidents such as these add fuel to the debate about whether bicycles should have a shelf life. Mr Contarino said a shelf life was not the answer because there were too many variables involved, including kilometres ridden and forces applied to a frame.
Standards Australia said it was reviewing its bicycle standards in light of Mr Stanton’s death.
Coroner Lisbeth Campbell recommended the industry safety group look into a mandatory safe life for bike parts.
Ms Campbell determined the crack in Mr Stanton’s bike could not have been detected and was an “inclusion flaw” from the manufacturing process. Mr Prosser was advised his crash happened because of corrosion in the bicycle frame and Trek was looking into the cause.
The father of two said he looked after his bike the best he could.
“As far as I knew, I was doing all the right things — I cleaned my bike regularly and I was careful when I rode it,” he said. “I had a crash in February and got it checked out. The bike shop said they couldn’t see anything wrong with the frame.”
In the light of his crash, Mr Prosser said he would spend extra money on a comprehensive bike service and upgrade his bikes more often.
“I’ll get a full service where they strip it all down,” he said.
“It costs more but it’s better than spending a night in hospital.”