54 years ago, the American bicycle industry faced the specter of the federal government regulating bicycles as products sold to consumers. The reaction of the industry, through its trade association the Bicycle Manufacturers Association (BMA), was to resist and fight the government by advancing the manufacturing standard it had developed in the face of growing imports.

Schwinn, the company I worked for, had left the BMA in the late 1960s in a dispute over promoting chain store bikes. Sears was the largest retailer of bicycles at the time, and held sway over Murray-Ohio and Huffy, the domestic sources of its bicycles, making it the largest financial contributor to the industry association.

Our marketing department continued to cooperate with the industry association, and coordinated our full-time bicycling advocate activities and financial support for the League of American Wheelmen and Bicycle Institute of America (BIA), the umbrella bicycle industry association under which the BMA operated.

When it became obvious that Congress was going to pass, and the President was going to sign, the Consumer Product Safety Act creating the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and that the CPSC was going to develop a mandatory bicycle safety regulation as its very first standard-setting activity, the BMA collected funding to work in opposition, and to lobby both the Congress and the new federal agency.  

The BMA approached Schwinn for its help. Frank V. Schwinn, the third generation president of the company, discussed the request with his management team. He made the decision that his company was going to cooperate with CPSC and BMA to craft the best possible bicycle safety regulation for the whole of the American industry, including domestic producers and importers, and for the consumers who purchased bicycle products for themselves and their children.

Some of Mr. Schwinn’s management team felt the accident cases documented by CPSC and its predecessor agency, the Bureau of Product Safety, “wasn’t our problem” because Schwinn’s manufacturing and quality standards were far better than those of the rest of the bicycle manufacturers and brands.

Mr. Schwinn responded that it was indeed our problem, because the public judged all of us, all of the bicycle manufactures and brands, as the same when it comes to their safety, and the safety of their children.

I was one of the young managers who had been working with the Bureau of Product Safety, and was engaged on behalf of Schwinn with the newly formed CPSC. I reported to Ray Burch, vice president of marketing. He made sure I understood Mr. Schwinn’s meaning and intent. I acted accordingly, including cooperating with BMA when our aims and objectives were mutually compatible, and to opposing BMA when they were not. When in doubt, Ray advised, “do the right thing, and Mr. Schwinn will understand.”

As representatives of the Schwinn Bicycle Company and the Schwinn family, we didn’t impose or recommend Schwinn standards. We used those standards as examples of what could be done, how to do it, and how to measure it. In some cases, we learned from what CPSC developed, and from what BMA members and importers were doing.

The point is that we worked for at least half a decade on achieving the best possible federal mandatory bicycle safety standard that in turn provided safe bicycles to American consumers.

When the mandatory bicycle safety regulations became effective January 1, 1975, there was a two-year requirement for a label stating: “Meets U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Safety Regulations for Bicycles.” In Schwinn’s case, this was a yellow hang-tag that went on the handlebar with the owner’s manual. It served to inform and educate American consumers.

I realize this is history, and that many in today’s bicycle business are not interested in the history of either the business, or what is now an old and tired CPSC bicycle safety standard. I still feel there is a lesson to be learned about not denying responsibility by saying “it’s not our problem,” just as Frank V. Schwinn said 53 years ago.

There are those among the multi-national bicycle brands with headquarters in the U.S. that advocate for making international bicycle safety standards, and specifically ISO4210-10, the U.S. mandatory standard replacing the CPSC standard.

I for one think this is an excellent idea! ISO4210 was developed as the CPSC was developing the first mandatory bicycle safety standard, with the same participation through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), CPSC, BMA and Schwinn.

Don McKay, an engineer who was with the Bureau of Product Safety and transferred to CPSC, was contacted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and ANSI about the formation of a standards committee under ISO to create an international bicycle safety standard that would be as compatible as possible with the mandatory U.S. standard being developed by CPSC. The purpose was to ensure foreign-manufactured bicycles would be able to enter the U.S. market by meeting the mandatory federal standard.

When Don McKay asked Schwinn to participate, Frank V. Schwinn approved because he saw it as part of “our problem.” His company had been importing components from Europe and Asia since the end of World War II, and became a significant importer of complete bicycles during the 1971-1974 “bicycle boom.”

ISO4210 has its origin in the original CPSC bicycle safety standard. The significant difference now is that the CPSC standard has aged, basically frozen in time, while the ISO4210 international standard has been updated frequently as the products have evolved over the years.

Again, this is history that many in the industry today have no interest in. However, there should be an immediate interest in the public perception of an industry that is concerned about the safety of the consumers that purchase and use their products.

The consumer doesn’t know, or care, if the lithium-ion battery that powers the e-bike they own is from a “member” of a trade association or not. What they care about and expect is that the product they purchased, whether from an online seller or a bike shop, is safe to own and use.

They are also naïve, demanding and wanting both the lowest price and safe products. It is our problem, as an industry, to provide this in the best way possible for them. It is also an opportunity just waiting to be discovered.

As many of you already know, Human Powered Solutions (HPS) supports the National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA) in advocating for UL2849, a voluntary third-party testing and certification e-bike electrical power systems standard.

UL 2849 was developed under the auspices of Underwriters Laboratory (UL) pre-COVID, with the active participation of three members of the bicycle industry: Trek, Bosch and SRAM. The committee that developed UL2849 is still active, and has already amended this voluntary standard once since it was promulgated January, 2020. I can let you know who sits on the UL2849 development committee on request.

Brands can have their e-bike electrical propulsion systems third-party tested, certified, and listed with UL, which gives them the right to use the UL sticker on their products.

HPS has reviewed the cost associated with testing, compliance and listing to UL2849, and shared our findings with Bicycle Retailer and Industry News. The costs of compliance and listing, like insurance and shipping, are amortized over the cost of each complete product, or stock-keeping-unit, utilizing that complete electric drive system.

For some brands this will spread the cost over an appreciable quantity of units. Depending on annual unit volume, the compliance cost can have a wide range that with most brands will not have an appreciable effect on retail pricing.

With this said, HPS feels this is the time for an e-bike brand to promote its products’ compliance and listing to UL2849 with retailers and consumers, and is an opportunity to enhance and build brand integrity and share of mind with all.

Contact Jay Townley: jay@humanpoweredsolutions.com