Thursday, June 24, 2010

30 Defective SRAM Brakes Not Recalled

This story is an interesting one and if true, shows how certain bicycle companies, as I have always believed, are negligent about customer safety or educating people about the same. I already proved a few months back how Shimano displayed this attitude with their Ultegra chain issue, which snapped and caused a serious safety concern for many riders yet they did not issue a recall. Its not just me who holds this belief. Notable personalities like Jobst Brandt and Professor David Wilson believed it. Its not going to erode away easily.

Last week, a reader of my blog, ordered a pair of new SRAM Force caliper brakes for his road bike. As you may know, SRAM revised the design of these brakes recently as the 2010 version has a gunmetal finish to it.

When his local bike shops’ mechanic went to install the first brake calliper, the quick release lever housing broke in half. Surprised, the mechanic then proceeded to install the other very carefully - you know - being cautious not to twist the housing when he attached the cable and careful about torque and all that.

Nevertheless the other one broke in the exact same way. About a third of the lever and the housing around the lever snapped off in both brakes, leaving a weakened part behind. This plastic housing is directly connected to the brake cable attachment point, something that could be a serious safety hazard. No brakes, no safety.

The mechanic told the reader that he had called SRAM and asked about this problem. To his utter surprise, the person answering the phone actually said :

"Yup we’ve had a whole batch of bad ones. They injected too much air when they molded the part.” 

It is a bit strange that SRAM, having complete knowledge about the defect, chose to still ship the parts to their various distributors and haven’t uttered a word on the issue or recalled the product. This is inexcusable and unethical!

I'll leverage the power of my blog to get responses from you readers. Please be aware of this problem and take action but while we're at it, have you experienced any similar issues? Please report it here and please feel free to be honest about your thoughts.


A Petition To Bicycle Companies On Safety Of Products


  1. What? No photos of the break? Have you seen it? Are we sure it is a real danger? I would hope they have some better retention system than just a plastic cover. The reason I like your blog so much is because you usually dig into things pretty well. For now, I only see "he said" type anecdotes.

    Keep up the good work :)

  2. Ron,

    You probably had a similar example in a design course at some point. It was a chart estimating cost to a car company for design/manufacturing errors at various stages of product development.

    A problem found post distribution is orders of magnitude more expensive and brutal compared to the value of the product to the company.

    It's not really right, but it makes tons of sense from the selfish perspective of the company to delay or avoid recalling if possible, especially if the failure rate is well less than 100% and the risk of customer litigation is low. I think the plastic part of the release bushing falls under that type of problem.

    As for plastic, I hate plastic. It is probably the most un-reliable material you could use. I understand the rational for it in the small parts bushings, lever bodies, etc.

    That little plastic lever just toggles the cam of thefreely rotating alloy bushing + cap screw + double plates so it's not going to slip the cable.

    That speedplay story is dramatically worse than this!

  3. Gentlemen,

    As and when I get pictures, I'll post 'em here. Yes we all know we like pictures. I will inquire.

  4. Anonymous3:46 PM

    Interestingly, the CPSC has announced a voluntary recall of about 5,400 SRAM Force road brake caliper sets in '07. The bike brake caliper sets could break and detach from the bicycle’s fork or frame. This could cause the rider to lose control and crash.

  5. A month ago I started to inquire for gruppo prices at a local bike store. I asked about SRAM and what the mechanic told me shocked me. He told me about his bad experiences with the brakes and the store no longer carries them. He never said which of the three SRAM's. They only deal with Campy & Shimano. Thanks for the post!

  6. Sram has/had an issue with their Elixir CR brakes gong dead. I have a pair and they lost pressure on me 5 times in a year. I took them to the local shop each time for a bleeding and that did not correct the problem. After being on the market for a year or so, Sram finally released an Elixir Brake Service Update.

  7. Anonymous9:07 PM

    I thought the problem with the Ultegra chains was that they eroded all too easily.

  8. It was not about eroding easily. It was developing pre-mature surface cracks that eventually led to the failure of the chain during use, some in as little as 200 kms.

  9. MarvinK12:30 AM

    I've got SRAM on 2 road bikes and a cross bike--very happy with all of them. My local shop doesn't like the SRAM road stuff--but not due to any safety issues. They think it's finicky to adjust.

  10. Milessio8:22 AM

    Voids can exist when injection mo(u)lding plastics due to mo(u)lding conditions/material varying from when set-up, but regular QA checks should be in place to prevent faulty components from leaving the factory. That the factory assembling the brakes also didn't pick up the problem is 'interesting' too.

    If it is indeed a QA problem rather than just poor design of the part, what else do the factories produce?

  11. Please don't be so quick to jump to conclusions and assume the worst... (or is that the whole point of your site?) Just because they are now aware of "a bunch of bad ones" does not mean they shipped them off to distributors after they knew it as you conclude. And if they really break off that easily, it's obvious which ones are bad, so the bad ones will not be a hazard, just an inconvenience. Sram, or maybe even I, could just as easily call your lack of logic and discernment, printing inflammatory statements "inexcusable and unethical". Take a deep breath, and consider that you might not know enough to judge. Thanks for making us aware of the problem!

  12. So I worked at Ciamillo in GA building the Gravitas from beginning to end. Ted knows nothing about carbon fiber but was semi getting there. I did carbon fiber and fiber glass molding and repairs in the aircraft industry for some years and tried to lend my experience. He was getting close to perfecting the process but there are some issues that worried me. Like the cure times. Heating and cooling. He had no ramp times. Fiber contents or layup was not considered. No UV protection what so ever. I left to pursue more of my cycling career, and for other reasons, but found out that he is using inexperienced workers to do the molds and he cut the already low heat times to even lower. Just to produce more Gravitas. With out a care in the world of peoples safety.

  13. Jameson,

    If what you're saying is true, that is incredible. How long did you work for him? As many people I have talked to have maintained, most cycling companies don't have the funds nor willingness to hire good workers and especially good engineers.

  14. Anonymous1:23 PM

    Isn't this the company LA has investments in? Not buying from them anymore. Have been a campy user and will always be.

  15. Nobody owns Ciamillo except Ted. Cane Creek almost bought it but didn't offer enough. The 6 months I was with him I put my heart into trying to get it right. He never did test the Gravitas out. I was also stuck with the job of Tech support which was a disaster. All the complaints were mainly the same. The design of the cam and cable clamp. I told him and even pointed out ways to improve, He would not have it though. And He doesn't really have the funds. In good nature and for the love of cycling and designing I offered to work extra days at no cost to him to work on things. He only made me work overtime cleaning and building his man fin. you know what I'm talking about Ron.

  16. Jameson,

    Let's hold that thought for a moment. Since you have worked for a brake manufacturer, for readers could you briefly explain what SRAM might be referring to - the bit about air getting trapped in the mold. In your experience, how does it lead to a detrimental product and why would it not have been caught through quality control?

  17. Did you try to contact SRAM to get their spin on the story? Right now the story just sounds like something out of a Ferris Bueller roll call.... you heard from this friend, that went to this shop, that had this mechanic, that called this other guy in tech support who said...

    I agree with several of the other commenters.. it seems like statements like "inexcusable and unethical" are strong language without more details or examples.

  18. Let's not try to get SRAM to spin this story further. It is aerodynamically stable right now.

  19. They are probably referring to when they pour the plastic into the mold. If they don't use a vacuum system like they do in composites then air can get trapped as they pour it. Or when they are mixing if they don't mix it long enough the tiny air bubbles won't escape. That's my take on it.

    As for composites we use continues vacuum on the product. Ted didn't use any vacuum in the process of building the Gravitas and if you cut one open with a saw you can see many air bubbles in each of the arms. Even though Ted used 3,000 psi in a press, he still couldn't get the air out. He needed less pressure and more vacuum. I tried to explain this but he liked his idea better.

    I was also helping him work the building of the submarine and last I heard was that Nat Geo was coming out to document the whole shpiel.

  20. Oh and there is no one single strand of carbon fiber that runs the entire length of either arm. Just a bunch of chopped up strands. It's stiff but only cause of the resin. There are two cosmetic layers but those ussually get sanded out smooth cause of the flashing.

  21. @Jameson

    Are you quite sure the part failure here has anything to do with vacuum forming? Erm, now I'm no plastics expert by any stretch but you don't need vacuum for plastic injection moulding - which is more likely of a process here.

    Voids in injection moulding can be anything from bad mould lineup, insufficient pressure during cooling or trying to move the process too fast - but have nothing to do with vacuum.

    I'm even less sure what ranting about gravitas (a company with no relevance to SRAM) has do with with a non-structural failure of an SRAM product.

    You've obviously got a chip on your shoulder.

  22. I do a bit. I'm sorry. But the company has no care for peoples safety. What so ever. It does erk me a bit. And you are probably right about injection molding. I have not done that before. So that was just my take on it. Hence the "Thats my take on it" at the end of that paragraph.

  23. @Jameson

    I quite simply don't think weight weiniedom is compatible with personal safety period.

    Basically every single big bike outfit has had carbon steer tube related failures (Cervelo, Spec, Trek, Scott,etc), and the response/fix has always been the same - we needed to put more material. So it's not just Gravitas, and all of those big outfits are supposed to have a stable of top composites engineers who understand about clamping forces and bending forces on composite tubing. Not some small little company!

    What galls me about the gravitas stuff is the absolute price gouging. The GSL stuff is straight up CNC machined in a way that would take little time to program as its mostly straight milled (half those holes are straight plunged via end mill) with very simple pockets and they just HAVE to be less aero than many other offerings (campy skeleton brakes for one). You can get a decent bike for the price of those things.

    So it begs the question, why don't you start up your own outfit? Lots of Chinese shops absolutely dying for business right now. I know I've been thinking about it and it's about as far from my engineering speciality as you can get.

  24. Actually I thought about it. I was also in the process of buying the Bicycle side of Ciamillo. But I am a bicycle mechanic. I love it. So that is where I will stay.

  25. A simple internet search will clearly show that Composite Lay-up is vastly different then Plastic Injection.

    Ron - I am still pretty unclear as to the actual issue and how installing the brake cable would break the plastic release lever and then exactly how this affects the safety of the design.

    The Force Brakes on my bike have a cable clamp/pivot cam of metal.
    They were the first generation.
    Has that changed?

  26. I should start by saying I am mostly not a fan of sram products.

    I have known sram tech guys to be very hesitant of "speaking of known issues", they, or other company tech guys won't readily flap about what they have or have not seen or heard, maybe this is a strange case, but this seems very suspect and out of character. Posting this as fact is inflammatory and hearsay.

  27. Mine did the same thing, should I contact SRAM?

  28. Anonymous3:46 PM

    Why is there any surprise that this Chinese crap's no good? What I don't understand is how fools pay as much for this stuff as Campagnolo or Shimano which is usually made in much higher-labor-cost and better quality control regions.

  29. Pretty sure I just experienced the exact same fault on the brake quick release. Been a hell of week sram faults for me.
    Direct link to the image for the brake is

  30. Anonymous5:26 PM

    I too have had a ultegra 3 month old chain crack in 15+ places, no surprise that shimano replaced thro my LBS bery quickly but they did have the comment "how had were you on it" I replied I'm a professional triathlete who has worked on his own bikes for 25 years. Anyway it was replaced and I was very lucky to have not crashed as I had done a hilly TT that morning where I had pushed 600+ watts up some of the hills. The chain did fail through half thus why I changed it. I came online to look for the force caliper corrosion problem, and I have found that my calipers which have been replaced once already have done exactly the same thing less than a year later...corroded again! I will not get sram again!


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