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The Costly Lunacy of Burdensome Regulations; Cycling Edition

There are several models of Giant bicycles under recall in Australia, for the sole mistake of not conforming to an utterly ridiculous set of regulations that cover bicycles.  Interestingly – no, this one’s funny, humorously, one of those limits is a pet peeve of mine.

I hate wide handlebars on mountain bikes.  I had 1-1/2″ hacked off each end of my 3700 handlebar and I hacked 2″ off each end of the Rockhopper’s myself.  

Manufacturers went to wider mountain bike handlebars several years ago for balance and handling.  Let me phrase that another way.  Several years ago, manufacturers went to handlebars wider than 27″ because they’re safer and better for handling than narrower bars.  Just fine with me, you can take length off easy enough but it’s awful tough to put it on.

Now let me connect a few dots.  First, I am an exceptional cyclist, well advanced of your average cyclist, so what I find safe and comfortable will differ from that of an average bike rider.  Second, the regulation began in 20… just kidding, 1978.  Folks, bikes were steel back then.  With the advent of aluminum and carbon fiber, technology has made that part of the regulation obsolete.  Steel bars may lose integrity when they’re wider than 27″ but aluminum and carbon fiber don’t, so why not change the regulation to reflect this?

The second reason for the recall is, get this, certain Giant models don’t come with a chain guard.  A chain guard!

Now, if you thought to yourself, “Self, only those beach combers have chain guards anymore!”  Well, self would be right…  Except the powers that be in Australia count a front derailleur as a chain guard.  I kid you not.

Stupid.  Maybe silly would be a better word, but that leaves a little out…

It would be amazing to me if the Australian people didn’t view the bureaucrats as contemptible, pampas ignoramuses for having, let alone enforcing, that regulation.  The fact that one would count a front derailleur as a chain guard shows that bureaucrats don’t take that regulation seriously in the first place – and if it’s known to be a silly regulation by regulators, why keep it?

Perhaps I just got ahead of myself… This, from Peter Bourke, the General Manager of Bicycle Industries Australia:

“The other aspect of the recall relates [to the] proliferation of 1x drivetrains,” he continued. “Previously the front derailleur was technically considered ‘chain protection’ and with 1x it’s no longer there.”

Now, forgive me for knowing a little something about bicycles, but a saying a front derailleur offers protection to the chain, in any way, shape, or form is plain silly.  The little pin they use on the right crank arm that keeps the chain from wedging between the crank arm and chain ring does more to protect the chain than a front derailleur does.  [For those not in the know, the pin doesn’t protect the chain.  It protects the chain ring and crank arm, but I digress]

Now, without dragging this out too far, it’s laziness.  This regulation is a perfect example of the greater problem with a regulatory bureaucracy.  The fact that a chain guard is still required on a bike in Australia is absolutely laughable.  The fact they can’t simply cross that part of the regulation out, concerning a chain guard, is telling.

The handlebar width is a little more interesting.  It’s a regulation that you can’t just scrap it because for steel bars it still might make a little bit of sense (I’m assuming, of course – I don’t know the engineering).  It doesn’t make sense for carbon fiber and aluminum though – both materials, in handlebars, exploit the material’s strengths.  In this case, why can’t they amend the regulation?  

Steel bars 27″, aluminum bars ××”, carbon fiber bars ××”.  

Unfortunately, that would take some real work.  How thick do you require the aluminum tube to be?  How about the diameter of the tubing and the taper?  How many layers of carbon fiber?

The funny thing is, as technology changes, those requirements would change over time too!

In the end what happens is everyone throws their hands in the air and says, Meh, we can just keep the 27″ rule.

Of course, I’ll simply ignore the fact that there’s a job open at Giant Bikes of Australia – because whoever is in charge of making sure Giant bicycles sold in Australia meet regulations seriously screwed the pooch.  You make a simple, clamp-on, cheap steel part that looks like a front derailleur for 1x bikes to meet the regulation but that is easily removable by the owner of the bike.  The handlebar problem is even easier.

Americans aren’t immune, of course… we require reflectors come on the pedals, on each wheel, seat post and handlebar of every bike sold.  I removed mine before my first ride.  Same with the stupid rear wheel plastic spoke protector.  Each bike sold in America must have one but I wouldn’t be caught dead leaving one on my bike because my bikes are properly cared for which negates the need entirely.

My main point is, it’s unnerving that people are actually paid to run regulatory bodies but don’t actually do the work of making sure those regulations change with technology.  In the case of the Australian handlebars, they’re wider than 27″ to make the bike safer but they have to be cut down… in the name of safety.  It harkens back to the UCI and bike weight, where they insist a 14.9 pound (6.8 kg) carbon fiber bike with some lead shot in the frame is safer than a 13.5 pound bike without the lead shot.  At least the UCI is “thinking” about relaxing that.  

Don’t think too hard, boys and girls.  We wouldn’t want you to strain something.

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