In January 2021, after a sleepover with her best friend, 12-year-old Molly Steinsapir got onto an e-bike in her Los Angeles neighborhood, crashed, and died. Who was responsible for the tragedy? Molly’s parents have sued Rad Power Bikes, a popular e-bike manufacturer. Author Peter Flax examines the thorny legal questions at the heart of the lawsuit and illuminates the potential pitfalls of the e-bike industry’s explosive, largely unregulated growth, in part by speaking with other Rad Power Bike users who, like Flax, have experienced worrying equipment problems:

I started talking to my neighbors. During the pandemic, hundreds of teenagers in my community took to the streets on RadRunners and other inexpensive DTC e-bikes with mechanical disc brakes, and I discovered that many of them were having similar issues. Some parents were clued into the problem and were either scheduling regular maintenance with local shops or learning how to make the fixes at home, while others had no idea that their kids were riding heavy electric bikes that couldn’t stop properly without frequent maintenance. I started a thread on Nextdoor with a summary of the problem and how to address it, and soon I was DMing with parents who wanted tips on barrel and caliper adjustments.

One of my neighbors — his name is Ezra Holland and he lives about five blocks from me — says that almost immediately he started noticing disturbing braking issues with the RadRunner he purchased early in 2022. Two or three weeks after he got it, Holland, an experienced road cyclist, noticed that the responsiveness of the brakes was poor, and he decided to remedy the problem by tightening the cables that run from the levers to the calipers. But he learned that this only bought him a few weeks, and that after tightening those cables a few times, one of the calipers clicked into a different position where there was zero braking action. “That is pretty scary,” he says.

Thus began a year of education, vigilance, maintenance, and communication with Rad. Holland now buys pads in bulk on Amazon; he checks and adjusts both calipers every two weeks, always on alert for a failure. He’s experienced the rear brake fail going downhill and is especially concerned about that happening while his 17-year-old is using the bike. Rad has sent him new brakes and new pads, but Holland says that in his ongoing phone calls with the brand, customer service reps and supervisors have told him that other customers aren’t experiencing braking issues like he has. But he alone knows a half dozen friends and neighbors struggling with the same problems. “I just got to a point where I started questioning my own thinking, because they keep saying I’m wrong,” he says. “I start thinking that maybe I’m just making a fuss here for no reason. Which I think is not fair, because I think it’s not true.”