Why is Trek putting an Anti-Flats sticker on their mountain bikes?

So what would you say if I told you that a major bike manufacturer was shipping all of their mountain bikes with a sticker that told riders not to use flat pedals? What if the sticker literally said that their bikes are supposed to be equipped only with toe-clips or clipless pedals?

I don’t want to be a silent participant in a fraud that is bad for our sport so I’m calling it out.

And what if I told you that no one at that company can seem to explain why it is there? What if the company had been caught in several lies and that they were actually misquoting and misrepresenting laws in defense of the sticker?

And what if all of this was taking place while a lot of people in the mountain bike industry stood by and said nothing, deciding instead that a pro-clipless/ anti-flats sticker with no factual reason to be there wasn’t really a big deal?

Well, you’d probably call me paranoid and crazy. And, up until a few months ago, I would have agreed with you.

But then someone posted a picture on Facebook and I got sucked into a story that I still find hard to believe. Unfortunately, though, it did happen and the easiest way to start this off is to outline the events in the order they took place…

– A picture of a sticker was attached to one of my Facebook posts. The person who posted it said that it was off of a Trek mountain bike and that all of their mountain bikes – including their DH bike – were being shipped with them on the cranks. The sticker read:

“This bicycle is to be equipped with pedals that have a positive foot-retaining device such as toe-clips or clipless type pedals.”

Trek Cranks Sticker cropped

– I went to my local Trek dealer to see if  this sticker was actually on their mountain bikes. I saw the sticker on every new Trek mountain bike on their showroom, confirming that it did exist.

Shimano Crank Sticker 1

Shimano Cranks

SRAM Crank Sticker 1

SRAM Cranks

FSA Crank Sticker 1

FSA Cranks

– I spent a few days asking other bike shops and people I knew in the bike industry (including a Trek sponsored rider) if they had heard of the sticker or why it was there. No one had heard of the sticker or could think of any reason it was there outside of the “it must be some legal thing” explanation.

– I contacted Trek via their media email on their website to inquire about the sticker and to explain why I thought it was bad for our sport and shouldn’t be there. You can read the email I sent them by clicking here.

– I heard back from Chris at Trek telling me that Trek was not the source of the sticker. He claimed it was coming from the crank arm manufacturers. Here is the quote from his email:

“Thanks for writing in! The sticker is actually not something we – as Trek – are doing but something each crank manufacture puts on. Naturally we are legally obligated to leave those warnings in place. If you’d like a more thorough response, I’d reach out to the crank manufactures in question.”

– I followed up with both SRAM and Shimano to find out if they were the source of the sticker. Neither SRAM nor Shimano even knew the sticker existed. I obtained pictures of the sticker on their cranks and sent it to them.

Both of companies confirmed that they were not the source of the sticker. Shimano told me that Trek had confirmed that they (Trek) were actually the source of the sticker. Here are the final emails from them:

Michael Zellmann with SRAM – “I have involved no less than 20 people in this discussion, including legal, product, marketing, and several other groups. They are saying that the stickers are not of our doing.

They look like something placed at the bike assembly factory.”

Joe Lawwill with Shimano – “Ok I can confirm that Shimano is not supplying the stickers. We have nothing to do with it and we got acknowledgement from Trek that they are in fact doing the stickers themselves.”

– I tried to follow up with Trek after learning the truth but they would not respond to my emails.

– I approached Pinkbike about the situation and asked if they would be interested in looking at an article on what I knew so far. After confirming that they would be interested in possibly running the story I went back to Trek asking them one more time to give me their side of the story. After learning that the story might run on Pinkbike I finally got a response from them saying that they would look into it and let me know why the sticker was there.

– I got an email from Richard Cunningham, the Technical Editor for Pinkbike. He had used a personal contact in Trek to look into the sticker for himself. The Brand Manager for Trek, Travis Ott, initially said that also he knew nothing about the sticker and would have to look into it. He finally provided this explanation:

“I have an answer to the crank arm sticker question.

The crank arm stickers are there to comply with a CPSC and CEN toe-overlap/positive foot retention minimum requirement. Trek has that placed there since our high end bikes ship without pedals. For those bikes without pedals, to maintain that minimum space between foot and wheel, we comply through the sticker warning. That crank arm sticker is there so Trek can be in clear adherence to global bike regulations. There is no value judgment placed on flat pedals vs clipless pedals. We’re just doing our best to clearly stay on the right side of the law.”

His email was forwarded to me as an explanation for why the sticker was there. I was also told that this meant Pinkbike didn’t feel like there was a story here since the sticker was an attempt to comply with the law.

– After doing some fact checking I found out that the “Positive Foot Retention Law” referred to doesn’t even exist. I also found out that the Toe Overlap Law was not being covered at all by the wording of the sticker. Here is the CPSC law that covers the Toe Overlap minimum requirements:

“Bicycles without toe clips must have pedals that are at least 3 ½ inches from the front tire or fender when the front tire is turned in any direction.”

A sticker stating that the bicycle must be equipped with pedals that allow at least 3 ½ inches clearance between them and the front wheel or fender would do a much better job of putting them in adherence with the law. Since the current sticker makes no reference to a minimum clearance then it isn’t actually putting them in compliance with that law.

The explanation given didn’t make any sense based on the laws referenced and I responded to Richard explaining this.

– I finally received an email from Trek’s media manager Eric Bjorne. He first explained that he also knew nothing about the sticker and had to research it. He then provided me with a quote for the law that Trek claimed was the legal reason for the sticker. Here is his quote:

“CEN: To meet CEN requirements for mountain bicycles.

Combined front gear change guide (i.e. front derailleur) this option must be accompanied by positive foot retention devices on the pedals.”

After a little more fact checking I discovered that he had misquoted the law and that there was no law on the books that matched his quote. Here is the quote from the actual CEN law documents:

CEN Law 4.16.1 Chain-Guard Requirement

A bicycle shall be equipped with one of the following:

a) a chain-wheel disc which conforms to 4.16.2, or

b) a protective device which conforms to 4.16.3, or

c) where fitted with positive foot-retention devices on the pedals, a combined front gear-change guide and a protective device which conforms to 4.16.4

4.16.1c seems to be the closest match but it is obviously not the same as his quote. In fact, the meaning of his quote and the actual law are opposite – he claimed the law says if a bike has a front derailleur it must have clipless pedals. But the law say that if a bike is equipped with clipless pedals then it must have a front derailleur.

– After pointing this discrepancy out and asking Eric if he could provide the specific law he was referring to he responded and said he would get the exact law from legal. Despite sending several follow up emails I have never heard anything back from him.

– I was informed that Pinkbike, who initially showed some interest in the story, was no longer interested in running my article despite the fact that I had found out Trek was misquoting laws and there was no legal reason for the sticker to be there. To be fair, this response was fairly typical from people in the mountain bike industry I brought this issue up with. When asked, neither Shimano or SRAM seemed to concerned about having this anti-flats sticker placed on their cranks. I tried contacting 5.10 and Deity, two brands I use that are directly threatened by this anti-flats message, and neither of them got back to me with any opinion or support. Very few people I spoke with in the industry seemed to think that this sticker or Trek’s failure to provide a factual reason for it to be there was a big deal.

So that brings us to today. And after all of this I still don’t know why the sticker is there or what Trek’s plans are for them.

My questions to them are simple…

If they made a mistake and misread the law then why not own up to it, have the stickers removed immediately and say that they won’t be used anymore?

But if I’ve caught them in some sort of lie and there is another reason for the stickers to be there, then what is that reason?

Now, just for the record, I don’t think that the sticker is some overt attempt to get riders to buy more clipless pedals. What I do think happened is that someone in legal at Trek misread the law in question and interpreted it to mean that they needed the sticker for legal reasons.

There were no checks-and-balances for this sticker being placed on their mountain bikes and there was no inter-department communication. Neither the media department not nor the brand manager had any clue what was going on or why the sticker was there.

Whether intentional or not, they have yet to tell the truth once in explaining why the sticker is there. And once these mistakes were pointed out to them they didn’t focus on doing the right thing and fixing the problem but instead have ignored the issue.

The result of all of this is a sticker that tells riders that you shouldn’t use flat pedals on Trek mountain bikes…and it exists for no reason at all. There is no legal reason for it to be there and there is nothing positive to be gained from the anti-flats message it sends.

And this is why I feel this issue is important to deal with – this sticker is part of a bigger problem that pervades our sport, which are the lies that are told to sell riders on the need for clipless pedals. This is not about which pedal system is “better”, it is about understanding the real value and application of both systems specifically for mountain bikers and then letting riders choose for themselves.

But you can’t let riders freely choose for themselves when there are lies being used to influence their decision. And since there is no legal or other reason for the sticker to be on Trek’s mountain bike then that makes it a lie, and one that clearly influences riders towards using clipless pedals.

Even if you think that clipless pedals are “better” you still have to admit that flats have an important place in mountain biking, especially for beginners. But beginners are also those most likely to be influenced by a sticker like this, which makes it bad for our sport.

If a single bike shop guy uses that sticker to help convince new riders that they need clipless pedals – “Why would Trek recommend it for their bikes if it wasn’t important?” – then that is using a lie to push people towards clipless pedals. And if one of those riders ends up quitting because they got onto clipless pedals too early and had a bad experience then that is one rider too many, especially when the sticker doesn’t need to be there and serves no purpose in the first place.

I’d also like to point out that saying this sticker isn’t a statement on the value of flats vs. clipless pedals is a bunch of BS as well. To claim that there isn’t an obvious bias towards the clipless pedal agenda is pretty hard to do when few people in the mountain bike industry seem to care that there is a pro-clipless/ anti-flats sticker that does nothing positive for our sport being shipped out on every Trek mountain bike.

I’m pretty sure that if it was an anti-clipless/ pro-flats sticker that was being put on all of their mountain bikes that Trek and a lot of other people in the industry wouldn’t take it so lightly. But because it is only flat pedals that are getting the short end of the stick it isn’t seen as a big deal by any of the companies I’ve tried to get an opinion on about it.

So what do we do now? To be honest with you I’m not sure. I don’t think that Trek will do the right thing and remove the sticker. They seem to think they are above needing to tell the truth or own up to the real reason the sticker is there.

The only recourse I can think of is to contact Trek yourself and ask why the sticker is there. You can reach them through their Facebook page or through their media manager Eric Bjourling at Eric_Bjorling@trekbikes.com. I’m sure they’d love to hear from you, just don’t expect any sort of response.

I’d also really appreciate your help in spreading the word about this issue. So please re-post this article on your blog, share it in a forum, email it or share it in any way you can with the mountain bike community.

Trek is thinking (hoping) that you don’t think it is a big deal. And maybe they’re right – maybe there aren’t enough of us to get Trek to remove the sticker or at least give us a factual reason for why it is there in the first place.

But, like I tell my daughter – you don’t do the right thing because you expect a certain result, you do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.

I’m doing this because I know that if you see a fraud and you don’t take action against that fraud then you have become a part of that fraud. And I don’t want to be a silent participant in a fraud that is bad for our sport so I’m calling it out.

If it gets changed then great but if not then that is fine as well. At least I’ve been able to do my part in exposing the truth and I’ll let each of you decide what to do with it from here.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

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WordPress Comments:

  1. Michael says:

    pretty bizarre sticker considering they don’t include clipless pedals or toe-clips with any of the bikes they sell that do come with pedals.

    Reply • October 13 at 6:05 am
  2. Griff Wigley says:

    Glad to see you taking on this issue, James. I own and love my 2011 Trek/Gary Fisher hardtail 29’er, equipped with flat pedals that I put on a month after I bought the bike. And I’m still using the Five Ten shoes that I bought to go with them. I’m always preaching the benefits of flats to newer mountain bikers and anyone else who’s interested in improving their skills.

    I’ll do what I can to spread the word.

    Reply • October 13 at 6:25 am
  3. Stuart says:

    Hey James, you sure it’s not a huge hoax to wind you up? I’ve seen stickers on the cheaper supermarket type mtn bikes here that say something like “not to be used off road” in case one snaps & someone gets hurt. Along those lines if Trek allows an inexperienced rider to purchase a high end bike & clipless pedals does that open Trek up to legal action if that person stacks badly trying to unclip? Really, this has to be a joke – 2 of the pics show flat pedals attached. If Trek were serious about a law or trying to push clipless, why put flats on the bike in-store? To follow their own law they wouldn’t be allowed to let anyone test ride the bike on flats around the showroom or carpark out back. It isn’t convenient but I am tempted to check the nearest trek shop over here. Serious or not, that was a good read.

    Reply • October 13 at 6:38 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      If it is a joke then Trek needs to deliver the punch line soon because I haven’t found much of it funny. It is mind bending the way they have handled this and if it didn’t happen to me I would have said you were joking as well. And just for the record, the flat pedals you saw in the pictures are there for parking lot ride demos, not what they were selling with the bike. They rarely sell higher end bikes with pedals and usually sell you those after you buy the bike, which is why the sticker can unfairly influence riders.

      And Trek can do whatever they want – if they want to put that sticker on there that is their right but they should be able to provide a factual reason for the sticker to be there.

      Reply • October 13 at 9:15 am
  4. Wow, that’s insane. I ride trek and trek has been my bike of choice for years. I guess I can no longer ride Trek if they won’t let me put on flats. I’m 50, female and love the trails, everyday for 10 miles or so. I’ve no interest in racing and I’m not going to suddenly switch to clips or toes which I currently have in my bed side table from when I removed them from my Trek liquid 65. I can hear the argument now. You have flats on that bike? We can’t warranty that front fork…..didn’t you read the sticker..(Since I know they out right lie also and in my opinion that is their biggest mistake here. I can’t trust a company that lied in it’s emails to a customer. Also I free lance for a publication so I’ll be out to get some photos, and put an article out.

    Reply • October 13 at 6:58 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Just to be fair I was told the sticker didn’t affect your warranty, which I found strange because then there truly is no point to the sticker – it literally means nothing and has no reason to be there. Again, Trek can do whatever they want but they should be able to tell the truth and provide a factual reason for the sticker to be there.

      Reply • October 13 at 9:11 am
  5. J WILLI says:

    Good on you James! Sad thing is all the attorney expense that was spent in getting this invoked in the first place. No wonder wonder we can’t close the borders…

    Reply • October 13 at 7:25 am
  6. Mike says:

    Perhaps Trek should put a sticker on their bikes that says, “Only to be sold to those who pass strict physical and athletic requirements.”

    Reply • October 13 at 8:07 am
  7. Luis says:

    I know it might be unrelated, but dig a little into how helmets are tested to comply with CPSC standards. It pushes manufacturers to make products that pass a stupid test, not to make the best product they can to protect cyclists against injury. The test was probably written by a lawyer or bureaucrat that doesn’t even ride bikes, just like the idiot that came up with that crank arm sticker.

    Reply • October 13 at 8:34 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      The rules and regulations we already have to follow are insane enough without having more made up. Plus, no one is misleading you or misquoting laws to in defense of those helmets – as misguided as they may be they are still regulations that exist. Trek can do whatever they want but they should be able to provide a factual reason for why they are doing it.

      Reply • October 13 at 9:09 am
  8. hank says:

    If there really is a Toe-Lap issue, then the sticker should read: you cannot ride this Trek bike unless you have a size 7 shoe or smaller.

    Reply • October 13 at 9:35 am
  9. Nick says:

    After a very little bit of research on United States Law, I found the regulations which the CPSC promulgates regarding bicycle manufacturing:
    16 CFR 1512.7 Requirements for Pedals.
    (a) Construction. Pedals shall have right-hand/left-hand symmetry. The tread surface shall be present on both top and bottom surfaces of the pedal except that if the pedal has a definite preferred position, the tread surface need only be on the surface presented to the rider’s foot.
    (b) Toe clips. Pedals intended to be used only with toe clips shall have toe clips securely attached to them and need not have tread surfaces. Pedals designed for optional use of toe clips shall have tread surfaces.
    (c) Pedal reflectors. Pedals for bicycles other than sidewalk bicycles shall have reflectors in accordance with § 1512.16(e). Pedals for sidewalk bicycles are not required to have reflectors.

    -From this bit of research, there is no need for the sticker in the US. Flat pedals with treads are expressly included by the tread surface language. The presence of the Trek sticker may actually function to have an adverse legal effect upon Trek should the company be sued in a product liability action. The argument would be that there was an inadequate warning on Trek bikes. IE A rider follows the warning label on Trek bikes and the rider gets severely injured because he or she was too inexperienced to ride with clipless pedals which Trek said must be used with their product.

    Trek- feel free to contact me if you have in house attorney positions available.

    Reply • October 13 at 11:26 am
  10. Johan says:

    Good on you James. Unfortunately we seem to live in a world where nobody has the guts to take any responsibility for there actions. Since I read your article 2 years ago on pedal stroke I bought a set of 5/10 shoes and Shimano Saint flats and haven’t look back. I have a ball on my bike and much more confidence and can easily “spin” at 90 to 100 rpm if need to without clipless pedals and my feet has never slipped off the pedals not even when wet or muddy. Thanks and keep it up.

    Reply • October 13 at 3:52 pm
  11. Scott Ford says:

    Interesting. Dishonesty is a big negative from a bike brand sold in LBS’s. Makes me glad I started buying Giant last year. I love my Trance, and it has no stupid sticker on the crank where my flats are attached. Since i ride all flats offroad, I’d be unlikely to buy a bike with that sticker on it.

    Reply • October 13 at 4:41 pm
  12. Rafael says:

    This is really strange and interesting. As Nick wrote I think Trek can get in to some legal problems with that sticker.
    Great that you have been looking into it James!


    Reply • October 14 at 4:34 am
  13. Ryan says:

    I am almost positive that those stickers have been there for at about 3 years… I got a Trek/Gary Fisher RIG that had one on it. At that time I was still using clipless but it was shortly after that I made the switch to 100% flats. When I made the switch the sticker had mostly worn off but I remembered what it said and talked to the LBS about it. They shook their head and said that the cranks can handle it but that I would be crazy to use flats on a SS… You have to love making people shake their heads when you buck the trend!

    Reply • October 16 at 5:30 am
  14. Patrick says:

    It probably doesn’t help that Pinkbike (and other media outlets) cannot rock the boat with major manufactures. That way they can run articles like today’s Trek HQ visit. It’s in PB’s best interest to make sure they can still get invited to test next year’s bikes too. Mtn biking media is ultimately flawed in this sense since no review they provide can truly be unbiased.

    Trek will never admit a mistake because as soon as any corporation does someone out there will try to figure out a lawsuit angle to make some money in this litigious country we live in.

    Link: http://www.pinkbike.com/news/doing-it-our-way-trek-factory-visit.html

    Reply • October 16 at 11:18 am
  15. Philip Madeley says:

    Love your passion James. Keep up the great work!

    It is great to see more and more great quality flat pedals coming to the market. Specialized just launched flat pedals and shoes that look pretty good. Maybe soon we will have good quality flat pedal shoes and pedals in the actual LBS’s as much as the number of clipless pedals and shoes.

    Reply • October 16 at 9:35 pm
  16. Chris Everson says:

    I ride flat pedals, and I’m not a Trek person. The sticker issue is not about pedal type. It is instead about a legal requirement to protect a foot from being caught between the chain and the ring. By using the sticker, Trek fulfills the requirement which Nate Hawkins plainly pointed out. The language in CEN 4.16 is a little bit confusing so it takes an extra second or two to see the point. On Trek’s website, you can see that the low end bikes which come with flat pedals have an outer protective ring to comply. If they didn’t use the sticker, they would have to add a silly protective ring to the high end bikes or they would have to ship the bike with clipless pedals, and since for a lot of users those items are immediately discarded, both would drive unnecessary costs to the mountain biking community which are already too high.

    Reply • October 22 at 1:21 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Sorry but I don’t agree with that assessment of the situation. First, Trek should be able to provide the actual law thy are referencing, or at least be able to quote it properly. You can see that their quote and the law don’t match. Second, the law on the books isn’t confusing at all – it clearly says that if you are going to have clipless pedals you must have a chain-guard device. Nate was pointing out that I didn’t include the drawings referenced in the law, not that I was misinterpreting the law. You’ll see that he even agreed that the law does not support their view.

      Also, if it was legally necessary then every bike manufacturer would do it and they wouldn’t tell you outright that it doesn’t affect your warranty. I’ve shown this to several people with legal experience and they agree with my interpretation of the law so given that and the lack of stickers on other manufacturers bikes I think I’m right in this assessment of the situation.

      Reply • October 23 at 7:19 am
  17. A Ficachi says:

    Thanks for the research and for sharing your findings. This past weekend I bought a new Trek Mountain Bike which came without pedals and noticed the sticker on the crank arm. Since I was not thinking about clipless pedals I asked the Trek dealer if I wouldn’t be able to use flat pedals and he said that I could. When I asked why then, was the sticker saying otherwise he said he had no idea why the sticker was there in the first place and then proceeded to install my new flat pedals. It’s quite confusing the contradiction between the manufacturer and the dealer and that’s why I appreciate the article, which confirms there is no reason whatsoever to not use flat pedals.

    Reply • July 23 at 7:09 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      It is very frustrating that the sticker is still there and that it is still causing confusion. I wish that Trek cared more about the impact it has…

      Reply • July 25 at 4:35 pm

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