Thursday, April 15, 2010

Schwinn Joyrider

I recently purchased a Schwinn Joyrider bike trailer. I did this after a long and extensive search for just the right product. Trailers vary greatly in size, price and design, so it wasn't easy trying to organize all the information. After all, you can buy one at Target for $89 or turn around and spend close to $1000 at a bike store. That leaves a lot of wiggle room in between.

After reviewing and researching online and speaking with the owner of a nearby bike shop (who by the way, swore up and down that Burley was the ONLY way to go), I settled on the Schwinn and eagerly awaited a visit from my UPS guy. The suggested retail sticker on this product is $399, but I caught a good deal on Amazon and paid a bit less than that. For some reason I felt that the amount was just high enough to ensure a bit of extra confidence, and just low enough to not start any great debates between me and my loving husband.

Price aside, I felt that the Schwinn had a great design and really practical features that a lot of the other choices were lacking. The biggest of which was the seat. Most trailers offer a "sling seat" which isn't very practical for larger passengers, as they will wind up leaning into the center, into each other. The Joyrider comes furnished with a nice sturdy bench that keeps each rider comfortably positioned on their own side of the seat. I also liked the fact that it was designed to allow you to stow the tow bar underneath when not in use. These are the main two reasons I purchased the Joyrider, it of course has many other positive features all of which you can research and review for yourself. Here's a great video review that points out all the bells and whistles.

We have had the trailer since the end of March, and have used it nearly every day for 2 solid weeks.
Here's a picture from our first ride (I always put the top down before we leave).
Looks great, right?

Well it was, up until this past Sunday when the tow bar came off of the trailer.
I mean, just think about that.
The tow bar, the piece that connects the trailer to the bicycle came off, came COMPLETELY off of the trailer. Ok, I know that I am relatively new to this whole thing, but I'm pretty sure THAT is not supposed to happen, like probably ever.

The tow bar is designed to connect and disconnect from your BIKE when it's not in use, for instance when you are using the trailer as a stroller, the tow bar can be swiveled and stored underneath the trailer, but is never under any circumstances supposed to just fall off of the trailer, the reasons for this should be fairly obvious.

However, this is exactly what happened to me in my driveway while I was converting my trailer into a stroller. At the time it really didn't sink in right away just how big of a deal this was. I thought, "hmmm, that's weird, better fix that later" and I went about my business. It wasn't until much later that evening that I began to realize just how serious this was and began to investigate what happened.

The tow bar is connected to the trailer with a nut and a bolt. Neither piece is visible or even readily accessible when assembled. In fact before it broke, I had no idea how it was connected or where. The Bolt (see the large red dot?) goes down through the frame and through the top of a plastic cap enclosure (I've pointed to this with a blue arrow). The nut (see the little red dot?) is actually inside the plastic cap and then the plastic cap itself is held shut with hardware of it's own. There is also a secondary connection between the trailer and the tow bar, which I've circled in green. This connection is superficial at best as it uses a flimsy push pin.

As you can see, neither the nut or the bolt are even visible, the top of the bolt is covered by thick black canvas. The canvas is held securely in place by screws along the rim, I used blue dots to show you where a couple of them are, and if you look closely you can see one near the bolt as well. In order to reach the head of the bolt you have to unscrew 5 of these little guys so that you can pull the fabric back and expose the head.

My first guess as to how and why my tow bar came off was that the nut and bolt were not properly secured on the assembly line, which of course is not something I would have ever noticed since you can't see them at all.

But it was my best guess since clearly nothing was "broken". Here is a picture of the plastic enclosure after the tow bar fell off. The plastic didn't break, the bar didn't break, and you can clearly see the nut floating around inside....

Here's a view of the trailer, again nothing is "broken", but you can see the bolt sticking out of the bottom of the frame (which is turned sideways in this shot).

Well I'm pretty resourceful and so I first attempted to just screw the whole thing back on. I actually just put the bolt through the hole on the plastic head and turned. Of course I was turning it for a while and not really getting anywhere since the bolt doesn't screw into the plastic and as you saw, the nut was simply jingling around inside the enclosure, since once 'bolt-less' it had nothing holding it in place. And in hindsight you probably don't want a trailer that's been assembled or tightened by hand anyways. So after turning it for a bit I formed a new plan. I am after all a go getter!

It dawned on me that I would need to open up the enclosure to retrieve the loose nut. The enclosure is held together with a screw and nut, so I grabbed a Philips and a wrench and had a go. I didn't get a great shot of this, but here you can see the end of the screw sticking out of it's nut. See how far it reaches THROUGH the nut? This is important to note for later.

Can you also see how at this point I had already been having "a go" at it for a while? The black finish on the nut is already stripped considerably. This is because that screw was on there so tight is was practically impossible to get loose. I only wish that the BOLT and the NUT had been so well connected!

My father in law had to come over to help me and we ended up drilling the screw right out of there, which chewed up the plastic a bit, but I didn't even mind since it meant that we had finally accessed the nut and could begin reassembly. It's important to let you know that my father in law is an incredibly skilled mechanic, tradesman, tool smith, I don't know exactly what title is appropriate, and it doesn't really matter, I just want you to know that this was not the job for an amateur and if I didn't have him to call I'm fairly certain that the elusive nut would still be trapped inside the plastic enclosure!

I'm getting to the point, I promise!
So we began reassembly and I felt confidant that we would get the nut and bolt securely fastened and be on a bike ride in no time. Like I already said, I was certain that there was simply an oversight during assembly in the factory, which truthfully would have been bad enough.

Unfortunately, we discovered something even worse.

When put back together, completely assembled and fully tightened, the bolt barely even manages to come all the way through the nut! What's more, did you know that bolts are TAPERED on the end? Did you know that?!? (I didn't until my father in law told me and then showed me). Tapered as in gets NARROWER near the end! Tapered, as in the end of the bolt that is barely through the nut, barely flush with the nut, is THINNER than the rest of the bolt!

How could the narrowest part of the bolt be expected to HOLD ON TO THE NUT? How? After ride after ride after ride of pavement and vibration and pressure could this ridiculously short bolt be expected to hold everything together? It only took 2 weeks for ours to call it quits!

Please take a good look, because this could very well be the exact same nut and bolt that are holding YOUR Joyrider together. The same nut and bolt that are attaching YOUR trailer to your bike. The same nut and bolt that are supposedly keeping YOUR children safe during each and every ride you take together.

Do you remember the screw from a few photos back? Scroll up and take another look at how much allowance was given for the end of that screw to go ALL the way through its nut. Why was absolutely NO allowance made for the bolt? We scratched our heads on this for a while. I mean, why take such a huge risk with a dinky little bolt when a longer one would clearly work? A quick trip to the hardware store gave us an answer.

One of the features of this product is that the tow bar can be stored underneath the trailer when you convert it into a stroller. You don't remove the tow bar (I think by now it should be clear that tow bars should be permanently attached to trailers). The Joyrider has a very neat design that allows you to swivel your tow bar in order to stow it away. In fact the plastic enclosure that held my loose nut prisoner for 3 days is the exact part of the tow bar where this magic swivel action takes place. Unfortunately the nut and bolt are involved since they meet inside the plastic and if your bolt is too long the tow bar will not swivel a full 360 degrees.

So there you have it, one of the neat design tricks that drew me to this product in the first place also wound up being a real source of DANGER to my family.

I called Pacific Cycle 4 times through all of this and was given the option of either returning my trailer, or trading it for a Mark III, which by the way retails for nearly $100 LESS. They also offered to send me a new Joyrider, which seemed silly since I would have to take it apart to see the bolt for myself. No one was even remotely interested in the faulty hardware I had discovered on my model.

This has been bothering me for days now. What began as a casual, "oh, I'll fix that later" quickly turned into a "what if?" cycle of different scenarios in my imaginative mind. What if the break had occurred in traffic? Going down a hill? Going up a hill? In the middle of an intersection? 10 miles from home? What if?

Luckily for us this happened in the safety of our driveway, but what if the next user is not as lucky? I wish that I would have come across this review when I was making my decision about which trailer to buy. I have to be honest, the majority of reviews out there speak only to minor issues, like height and weight limits, sun shade functions, rain guard durablity, storage space, etc.

This review speaks directly to the actual SAFETY of this product and I sincerely hope that it will help someone.

My Schwinn Joyrider had a MAJOR DEFECT that could have easily jeapordized the safety of my children. I truly hope that not all the models were constructed with such flimsy hardware, but honestly how would any consumer be able to tell until it's too late?

1 comment:

Terri Johnson, Ph.D. said...

That's terrible! And the treatment from the company is horrible, too. I'm glad you are all safe.