Fork fail leads to death

The sudden and catastrophic failure of 20-year-old front forks led to the death of an Ocean Grove rider, the Victorian Coroner has found.

The forks collapsed when David Keith Malloy, 64, was riding with a group in good riding conditions on 13th Beach Road at Barwon Heads, a popular route for riders in the Geelong region.

The incident has raised serious concerns over the service life of bicycle frames and components of prolonged age, and the continued use of frames and components following significant impacts that did not result in failure initially.

Mr Malloy, an active and experienced rider, was riding a 1995 Klein Quantum that had been fitted with carbon fibre forks from a Kestrel EMS bicycle of about the same age. He had purchased the bike second hand about ten years previously.

About 12 months before Mr Malloy’s death he had sustained damage to the front wheel of the bike when riding over a large pothole, and replaced both wheels.

On the day of the incident Mr Malloy was riding with 12-14 riders, members of his regular bi-weekly riding group. He was leading the group, travelling at 26-28 kmh when the forks snapped and Mr Molloy fell over the handlebars and the front of his face struck the road.

He received immediate help from a nurse who was riding with the group. Emergency services soon arrived, and then a MICA team, however Mr Molloy died at the scene of the crash from head and neck injuries.

Coroner Audrey Jamieson has asked Bicycle Network to help prevent like deaths, by promoting “awareness among cyclists about the limited life spans of bicycles and bicycle components and the need to conduct regular inspection of safety critical parts (including frame and fork) to discover any signs of fatigue.”

A similar recommendation was made to Bike Industries Australia, the body representing the cycling business sector.

The investigation commissioned carbon fibre expert Raoul Leuscher to inspect the bicycle. He found the fork to be of high quality and that the fork and bike should have had a service life of more than 20 years, depending on use.

An Ultrasonic A scan of the fork did not find any significant manufacturing flaws. He told the investigation that riders should consider the service life of older bicycles and undertake regular inspection of critical areas to reduce likelihood of failure.

The Coroner also made reference to a death in the ACT in 2015 where a rider died after a carbon fork with alloy steerer failed on an older bicycle.

As a result of that crash Trek Bicycles re-worded its owners manual and information materials to highlight the role of fatigue and the need for inspection. However the company's proposals for changes to international bicycle standards was not adopted.

Bicycle Network has been following the issue fatigued and damaged frames and components for at least a decade. We periodically receive reports from riders regarding sudden failures.

In many cases it was discovered that there had been a previous impact or collision that had likely resulted in a partial, but not obvious, failure of a component.

Bicycle Network emphasises that it is especially critical to closely inspect bicycles and components after any incident that might cause impact or stress on a part.

It is timely that a new study into bike crashes in Australia, reported here, found that ten percent of injuries from crashes that just involved a single rider resulted from mechanical failure.

Bicycle Network sees many lovely old bikes in use everyday on the streets around Australia, but the questions has to be asked, are they putting lives at risk?

And riders often report a collision or fall of some kind where the bike looks fine. But is it?

We intend to keep raising this issue and do our best to ensure the Coroner does not have to revisit this issue.

Please give us your feedback. What have been your experiences? How best do we prevent a re-occurrence of Mr Molloy's untimely death?

Image: Jessica Woolley