Carbon fiber forks on bicycles can hold an insidious danger

April 22, 2010

Carbon fiber forks on bicycles can hold an insidious danger

Broken carbon fiber forkAs the weather is warming up and summer is moving in quickly many people are getting back on their bikes after winter. Biking is good exercise, green transportation and also a safety issue. Besides the basic rules of the road and bike safety now riders are forced to look at the construction of their bicycles as well.

Many bicyclists choose “light bikes” made out of composite fiber materials. While light and efficient there are many reasons why riders should both examine and replace their composite fiber forks.

A bicycle fork holds the front wheel and allows a rider to steer and balance the bike.  It absorbs most of the weight of the rider and force of pressure from the road.  If it fails, regardless of speed, the rider faces a serious risk of injury, or even death.

One such injury has resulted in a judgment against BiTech Inc. in September of 2009. A 58 year old retired man suffered fractures to his cervical and thoracic spine die to the carbon fiber forks on his bike breaking while riding with nearly 100 other riders in Simi Valley.

The bike company used a stick in the spokes theory to say it was actually a foreign object that got stuck in the riders forks which caused the sudden break and fall. After a lengthy search by the other riders, no such object was found within a 100 yards that could cause the accident. At the trial expert witness and PHD in material sciences, Dr. Scott Beckwith, took the stands and explained in detail how poor manufacturing could create dangerous and hidden defects in carbon fiber forks. The jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff and he was awarded compensation in the amount of $722,800.00

According to the plaintiff’s attorney, Charles M. Finkel,
“Despite the fact that the Chinese fork manufacturer had the ability to produce quality control records, specifications, and proof that its fork was well made, it provided none because there were none.  Rather than show up at trial with a multitude of forks, which would have been at its disposal, or some form of demonstrative evidence to prove the fork was not defective, the best it had was a series of photos attempting to recreate the ‘stick in the spokes’ theory.  The presentation was akin to the 1950s SciFi classic, “Earth vs. The Flying Saucers,” where it was obvious to all viewers that the saucers over Washington, DC were suspended by wire.  Rather than fess up to its shoddy workmanship which almost killed my client, the fork manufacturer feablily attempted to deflect fault onto some phantom foreign object.  What we see in many of these product failure cases is an attempt at placing blame on anyone other than the manufacturers themselves.  But misdirection is best practiced by side show magicians or pickpockets, not manufacturers of products which, if faulty, cause serious injury.”

Carbon fiber forks tend to be made in China or Taiwan where the manufacturing standards often fall below U.S. National safety standards. On old steel and aluminum bicycles if the fork began to fail the metal was strong enough to hold the rider and show the stress of a failure. This meant that a bicyclist who checks his equipment would have some warning and be able to replace the fork. Carbon Fiber forks are light and when they fail they can’t hold a rider. No matter how meticulously a rider checks his equipment, there really is no way for him to know if a carbon fiber fork is failing because the material won’t show external damage. Another reason it is so hard to detect a failing carbon fiber fork is because if the fork was made sub-standard there are air pockets or other “voids” in the fork that aren’t visible until breakage occurs.

Picture by Doctor Scott Beckwith; PHD in material sciences

In response to the many accidents and injuries caused by carbon fiber forks, there are recalls in place for several carbon fiber forks.

If you are a bike rider it is important to maintain your light bike by performing a fork replacement every 4000-5000 miles, and always after any serious impact just as you would your helmet. Always follow safety rules and guidelines and keep your bike in good repair to prevent accidents and injury.

Publisher: Salient News

5 comments on “Carbon fiber forks on bicycles can hold an insidious danger”

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Considering a person cannot always see defects on the external part of carbon forks, what is to say one buys new forks, and there might be some internal defect we cannot see, until a devastating accident occurs? As I have a bike with carbon forks,and close to 5000 miles on the bike, maybe it would just be best to replace the forks with aluminum ones. There are website where I have actually read comments by some cyclist who tout carbon fork bikes as being very durable and lasting for years! I now know this is a grave misconception.


Unfortunately, it is incorrect to say that aluminum forks or parts will show signs of stress or fatigue prior to failure. Aluminum often shows no signs but will suddenly and catastrophically fail.

A fork replacement every 4-5000 miles may be nice, but also very expensive. I have not seen any data, any recommendation from engineers, manufacturers (to whose benefit it would be to make such a recommendation) or any others based on evidence. Do you now the source of the recommendation, or is it just a rule pulled out of thin air? If so, why 4-5000 and not 3,000?

And, yes, if at all possible avoid the made in China carbon—meaning carbon itself made in China and not imported and assembled there. If you can even find that information.

Joe g.

I’ve been riding my carbon fiber framed and forked Trek Madone for six years and well over 20,000 miles with no issues. The wheels wore out before the fork and Trek makes no recommendation as to replacing the fork, regardless of milage. You get what you pay for, so stay away from Chinese made junk. Just bite the bullet and buy the good stuff!

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