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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