Time is not friendly to any of us, living or inanimate. Given enough time, wind, cycles, wear, exposure, stress, eventually a change takes place. I mean, that's how we have the Grand Canyon, survival evolution, and broken bicycle parts.
Wait, what? Bike parts don't last forever?
That's right, I know it's hard to accept, but any material, when placed in a stressful environment, with repeated impact cycles, will eventually fail.
Yes, I agree, that sucks.
You see, the hurdle with designing bicycle parts is cutting that delicate balance point between performance, light weight, and durability for a wide range of physical users parameters. Often, the same part that is used by a buck twenty female on a full suspension rig, cruising a flow trail, is also under a 220# guy riding fully rigid on rocky/rooty single track. Where is the line drawn that divides durability with performance expectations, and takes into account your business needs for streamlining inventory and production? It's hard to pin down, but we can come close. Products are tested using FEA models, destructive testing of sample products takes place, and fabrication sequences are formulated to optimize and perfect the process. All in an effort to stack the deck in our favor. In the end, all this data is evaluated, but for each builder, the unique end point is different.
This is prominent in my attention span today because I've just had my fifth handlebar failure in 12 years (3 titanium, 2 steel). Bar failures are the worst. Just like a chair, if you remove one of the four points of contact without notice, you'll be tumbling over quickly. Now imagine cruising down a rooty single track hill when suddenly one of your hands is now floating free. Not good. Not good at all.
One of my greatest fears when opening my email each day is to find a communication from a customer who has suffered a failure with a resultant injury. To think that a product I produced, intended to enrich the lives of the customer, one day results in a physical injury, truly unsettles me. There's a level of trust that is unspoken; that I will make my best effort to provide a product that delivers fun and enjoyment, doing so in a safe, predictable manner.
The problem, though, is in that last line. In the niche of mountain biking, there is nothing that is sure fire predictable. The variables are broad. The risk is real. Try as I may, I cannot control all the variables that my products are exposed to.
The customer bears a burden of responsibility as well. Proper installation, maintenance, inspection during cleaning...all of these are part of the due diligence the customer accepts as an end user. In a Utopian world, one hopes that product deficiencies are recognized early and the part taken out of service. That is, unfortunately, rarely the case. Even in Utopia, however, the tough fact to accept, is that despite both of our efforts, every part has a fatigue life and will eventually fail. Period. The End.
From a builders standpoint, this is why you MUST HAVE INSURANCE. It is not for protecting you from potential liability, you've already shouldered that burden when you chose to hang out your shingle and accept money for your work. It is for the protection of your customer when things do not go as intended.
Each time I am made aware of a failure, I second guess my desire to continue in this field. Though the percentage of failures to living product is minuscule, the shear burden of potential is a heavy load to carry moving forward. Despite how diligent I am in design and execution, how attentive the customer is to maintenance and inspection, the product will eventually reach an end of life point. When that happens, I pray no one is injured severely.
The final decision, for builder and customer alike is this; what level of risk is acceptable to you?
Life is fragile and horrible accidents take place around us each day. I guess, for me, I am driven to create and share because of the positive impact it has on others. As a rider, I would not want to envision a life where cycling was not an integral part. So, is the risk worth it? I'm choosing to soldier on, with vigor, because these aspects define much of who I am.
What is your decision?