Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Re-inventing the wheel

Cyclists are a misunderstood group. We are on the periphery of sports until someone uses an illegal substance or crashes and dies, then we are front-page news. Motorists dislike us because we take up valuable shoulder space that they could be using to weave into while talking on their cell phone. Occasionally, they hurl objects out of their car windows or shout obscenities at us, which, owing to the Doppler Effect, we cannot fully understand. What we do understand is that we are best left alone, but as we know, a lack of understanding never gets in the way of government, especially in New Jersey.

When it comes to rules and laws, we (the people) are reactionary. When you combine reactionary policy with ignorance, a perfect storm of nonsense breaches the shore. That storm has run aground in New Jersey, where a pack of nitwits temporarily impersonating state assemblymen have sponsored legislation designed to make life difficult for cyclists and impossible for the people who sell bicycles.

The issue is the Quick Release skewer that almost all modern bicycles use to attach the front wheel to the fork and the rear wheel to the … umm … rear. Flip the lever; spin it a few times and the wheel will come off. It’s so simple, an Assemblyman can use it.

The mechanism was invented in 1927 by Tullio Campagnolo, an Italian bicycle racer. He was frustrated when he needed to repair a flat tire during a race. The weather had turned cold, and his hands were numb, so he could not operate the wing nuts which retained the wheel. He had been well-placed prior to the puncture, but lost valuable time.

Now that the wing nuts have been removed from the wheels and placed in Trenton, they have determined that a device that has been used for 50 years is suddenly and dramatically flawed, claiming that it is responsible for inadvertent injury to children.

Introduced in February 2006, New Jersey Assembly Bill A2686, sponsored by Assemblyman PAUL D. MORIARTY, Assemblyman DAVID R. MAYER, Assemblywoman JOAN M. VOSS and Co-Sponsored by Assemblymen Gusciora, Bramnick and Conners, passed by a 77-3 vote. It is now headed to the New Jersey Senate Commerce Committee.
Originally drafted to bar the sale of quick release wheels on children's bikes due to the risk posed by the failure of the mechanism, the bill was recently amended to include bikes with 20-inch or larger wheels, affecting the sale of adult bikes. The bill also states that, in addition to a primary retention device, bikes must also have an automatic secondary wheel retention device - a new technology not currently available that would render current bike models un-sellable.

"It's being promoted as a bill intended to protect children," said Bob Burns, Trek's legal counsel and spokesman for the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association. "But the language would make every bicycle with quick release currently for sale in New Jersey illegal. This bill is not intended just for children's bikes."

For those of you from out of town, co-sponsor Paul Moriarty is a former consumer affairs reporter with a local TV station, who parlayed consumer protectionism into a (temporary) career in politics. This bill strikes me as yet another shallow attempt to cry out to his constituents, “I’m looking out for your kids!” when; in reality he is piling another layer of meddling bureaucracy under the guise of protecting your children while inconveniencing their parents. If there is a safety problem (and I have my doubts about that), then the issue is not the mechanism, the issue is ignorance. As usual, the gang in Trenton feels that the best way to address ignorance is to make another law. That’s the easy way, and we’ve got ‘easy’ covered. Why bother instructing people when you can hassle them with legislation? Hell, it’s easier than spinning a skewer and it gets your name in the paper. Concerned parents proclaim, “He’s looking after my kids,” but he’s not really. What he is doing is making it easier for you to ignore your kids because you think the law will protect them.

The problem here is that ignorant people are the ones making the rules, and they scream loudest about the things they know little about, like bicycles and common sense. I’m surprised that the law doesn’t include some sort of Skewer Tax or a state inspection fee. Hey, there’s an idea, 'eh Paul?

All you need to know about their level of ignorance is that the bill requires the use of technology that does not exist, and probably will not be available until Moriarty is back to work at the TV station. How can he know whether this “belt and suspenders” fastener will work if it doesn’t exist? Did I mention how a lack of understanding never gets in the way of government? I did.

The bill states: Children riding bicycles with quick release wheels have been involved in over 100 accidents. Many of the children involved in these accidents have suffered injuries, including permanent scarring, disfigurement, major bone and dental trauma, severe scraping and bruising, brain injury and ruptured internal organs.
Hey, that sounds serious, but there are a lot of vague terms in there, like severe, major and trauma. And, what does many mean? Is it more than 10 or less than a hundred? If you know it’s “over 100,” then you must know the exact number of serious injuries. Second, how many kids are injured playing soccer? Many, I’d bet. Let’s pass a bill for safer air in those soccer balls and padded fields.

It continues: It is, therefore, altogether fitting and proper that the State regulate the sale of bicycles with quick release wheels to stem the rash of senseless injuries to children resulting from their use.
No, it isn’t fitting and proper. What would be fitting and proper would be fewer senseless laws and senseless lawmakers who only make life in New Jersey more complicated. This is the first I've heard about a rash (another vague term) of accidents involving bicycle wheels. You wouldn't be making it up, would you?

Nonsense like this does nothing to make children safe. Safety comes from knowledge of the circumstances and understanding the equipment being used. Safety does not come from a bolt or a fastener.
Here’s an idea: School. Children go to school, right? Children ride bikes. Can we get someone – like a bike shop owner or a bike mechanic or God forbid a teacher or a parent – to take an hour at school to teach children how to properly use the equipment? Spare us another law, and try making us smarter. All I hear is how the educational system is failing in this country. Maybe it's because we aren't teaching anything that helps people in their daily lives. Instruction makes more sense to me than another law.
This equipment has been working for 50 years and will work for another 50 if we can get meddlesome politicians to stop goofing with it.


Firestarter5 said...

I have that on my front tire and I fail to see how it could just suddenly release. Unless you are driving through dense brush which might have a minute chance of catching the lever and releasing it, there is no way that thing will release by itself. You'd actually have to release the thing by hand while leaning over the front of your handlebars.

rattln along said...

When I was a kid, many years ago, I had a Huffy bike with a banana seat and raised handle bars...perfect for popping wheelies. My mother told me not to be popping wheelies because of the possibility of going too high and landing on my back. Did I listen? No, of course not.

One day I was up at the street corner with some friends and we were goofing around popping wheelies. Just as I started to rise up on my back wheel my mother turned the corner.

I caught her eye just as the front wheel comes off the ground and decides to disengage from the forks of the bike. I come back down to the ground on the forks of the bike as the front tire bounces to the curb. My mother cracked up laughing. AND my bike had the old nut and bolt connectors.

Guess what I learned that day? To check the tightness of all connectors on the bike.

Guess what I tell my son to do. I don't tell him to not pop wheelies but that he needs to be sure his equipment is in working order before riding.

Oh and I was not wearing a helmet (didn't have them then) but he does. Funny...I did not need a law to use common sense.

Anthony said...

FS5: even if the brush does flip up the lever, there is still the downforce of the front fork holding the wheel on until you can stop to fix it, so, yes the mechanism is fool proof - but not politics proof.

rattlin: We never wore helmets when we were kids. Now, I won't ride to the sandwich shop without one.

lavardera said...

If these bozos really wanted to help they would legislate for padded sidewalks all over the state. As it stands this legislation does nothing for all the senseless slipping on banana peels that goes on every day. Oh we could require bolts on our banana peels but we could never get those central americans to comply. This ought to hold us over while we work on solving the real problem here, and that will be a new law restricting the use of gravity for good only, and keep it out of the hands of those evil doers, or fallers, or whoever it is this is supposed to help...

Susan said...

This kills me. Another case of govt thinking they know better for us. I'm with you guys on helmets, but there's a difference between needing laws to counteract stupidity and needing laws to protect one's noggin from asphalt. Sigh. Big mystery that people are getting more and more stupid in this country. (Not that I have statistics for that, it's just a hunch :) -- tks for commenting on my blog Anthony - my pannier rocks!