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The question may need to be reworded to be more concise, relevant, or appropriate. Edit as you wish.

I recently saw an article about a man who wanted to purchase a bicycle, but he weighed more than its maximum safe weight rating. The shop originally refused to sell it to him until he signed a waiver declaring that he wouldn't ride the bike until he lost enough weight to be under the limit, but this decision was soon reversed after internal policy changes, media attention, and widespread public outcry.

Was the store in the right here to try to refuse the sale? This could be extended towards other scenarios, such as:

  • a customer who wants to buy a lightweight, fragile hardtail bike but has expressed interest in riding massive jumps and drops, risking frame breakage, or
  • someone wanting to buy uber-lightweight but relatively weak cross-country handlebars for similar aggressive usage that those bars aren't designed for.

If the customer refuses to acknowledge the risk of the bike or components thereof failing, should the store still sell it to them? These risks could carry into the greater public too, so it's not just a question of personal choice. For example, if he hits a moderately sized pothole but his wheel fails due to the excessive weight, he could strike and injure a bystander during the crash.


Link to relevant article: https://globalnews.ca/news/7692614/giant-bicycles-canada-apologizes-to-halifax-man-who-was-refused-bike-because-of-his-weight/

Key text in case of link rot:

When Global News published a story March 10 detailing the roadblock Sebastien Barsetti encountered when picking up a Giant bicycle he ordered online, Devantier [marketing surpervisor] said he sought the advice of the company’s lawyer. “His advice was definitely that human rights kind of trump consumer safety,” Devantier said.

Misener [owner of store] also spoke with Global News on March 10 and said his main concern was for Barsetti’s safety. He also wanted to ensure that he wouldn’t be liable for any bicycle malfunctions, or injuries that Barsetti may encounter as a result of currently weighing more than the design limit.

On March 11, that position changed. Giant Group Canada publicly apologized to Barsetti after having discussions with him throughout the day and are now compensating him with a bicycle and extra gear, including a helmet.

Devantier said there are about 200 Giant Bicycle distributors across Canada and they are being told that if situations like this occur again, they just need to make a note on the purchase order that safety discussions were had but sale refusal unless a waiver is signed won’t be necessary.

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  • Was the store in the right here to try to refuse the sale?, that might very well depend on the location. What is allowed in Tanzania might not be allowed in the Republic of Ireland, and what's illegal in Chile might be common in Japan or vice versa. Your second quote refers to Canada. Are you specifically referring to Canada? – gerrit Mar 26 at 13:50
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    Part of the issue may be that a rider that's too heavy for the bike is at more risk of damaging the bike than themself, which makes it look more like a financial/warranty issue than a safety/liability one, though safety may be used (as is often the case) as an excuse. I get to this by noting that the causes of most bike crashes are unlikely to be made noticeably more likely by a heavy rider. Any that are the fault of a driver are unaffected - unless the rider is do big as to be more obvious, and thus easier to spot. Loss of grip due to wet or loose surfaces doesn't scale with weight. – Chris H Mar 26 at 15:04
  • ... Collapsing wheels/forks/frames are very rare, and the extra load from a heavier rider smaller than the difference between a within-spec rider hitting bashing through stuff or avoiding potholes/unweighting the saddle. The biggest risks are probably from hitting potholes at speed (more likely to collapse the front end and/or go OTB) and anything related to the need for maximum braking. While my own worst crash by far involved brake failure, these are very rare. – Chris H Mar 26 at 15:08
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    @gerrit If your answer is specific to a certain jurisdiction, you’d probably want to include that detail. – MaplePanda Mar 26 at 16:20
  • "Are bicycle companies obligated" by whom? – David D Mar 26 at 19:26
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Was the store in the right here to try to refuse the sale?

The refusal to sell the bicycle is within the store's freedom of contract.

Despite the supervisor's/lawyer's reference to human rights, being overweight is not among the protected classes listed in Canadian [anti-discrimination] Human Rights Act. Some jurisdictions in Canada consider obesity as a disability (and hence trigger anti-discrimination protections), a matter which is fact-specific. Furthermore, the Law Commission of Ontario points out that "caselaw around obesity as a disability has been markedly inconsistent", and requires an assessment of the context ("[because] no disability exists in the abstract", brackets added). Alleging disability in this case seems quite a stretch because of the context and because the customer is not the one who brought at issue his overweight for the sake of accommodations (cf. McKay-Panos case cited in the Commission's publication).

The store's decision does not run afoul of the Consumer Product Safety Act either. Quite the contrary. The store tried not to [readily] sell a product it considered unfit under the specific circumstances.

In this case the store sought from the customer a waiver which would obviate product liability litigation. The store should have used more tact as well as been more pragmatic by focusing on the waiver aspect and not on the customer's physical characteristics. However, the store's flawed or mistaken approach does not strike the lawfulness of its former refusal to sell the bicycle.

This could be extended towards other scenarios

That is not straightforward. Legislation and public policy establish constraints on the commerce, distribution, possession, and use of various products (aka goods). The most common examples are weapons and drugs. By contrast, the ramifications of selling a bicycle to overweight customers are unlikelier to involve issues of public policy.

Even if the overweight person caused damage to others for knowingly exceeding the capacity of the bicycle, the liability would be his and not the store's. The condition of "knowingly" can be inferred from the store's notification to the customer.

Bad or controversial publicity aside, the store incurred losses (namely, the bicycle, a helmet, and extra gear) as a result of a seemingly poor legal advice.

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This is a legal question, a business question, and an ethical question more than it is a bike question.

Obviously there are risks when anyone rides a bike. And some people might have invisible conditions that would place them at special risk when riding a bike. But, as a shop owner, if a special risk is immediately visible, you open yourself up to a charge of negligence if you fail to take that risk into account.

This happened in Canada, and I'm not knowledgeable about Canadian law. It's also interesting that this happened at a Giant company store, not a mom-and-pop bike shop. The fact that the store is operated by Giant may have made the operator more liability-conscious, but it also means they were better prepared to deal with liability than a mom-and-pop store.

If I were in the position of selling a bike to someone who exceeds its load rating, I might want them to sign a document acknowledging that fact, and indemnifying me for any damage or injury sustained as a result, but I wouldn't make them promise to lose weight. But I'm in the USA, not Canada, and jurisdiction matters.

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  • Re "This happened in Canada", In Canada, I bought a car with summer (not all-season) tires from a dealership in the middle of winter. I already had a set of winters at home, so I didn't want to buy another set from the dealer. They just had me sign a simple waiver. This store could have done the same. I'm sure this is not the first time a large company like Giant has had to deal with the issue. – ikegami Mar 27 at 4:59
  • @ikegami The store did indeed ask the man to sign a waiver, but he refused. – MaplePanda Mar 27 at 20:08
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    No, the contract would have had him declare that he wouldn't ride the bike until he lost enough weight to be under the limit. It wasn't a waiver of liability. – ikegami Mar 27 at 21:12
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I'll offer a take that is slightly more sympathetic to the bike store, but I still think that this was handled badly.

A bicycle is not an indivisible component. Moreover, we don't know the origins of the 300 lb weight limit. I suspect Giant did not empirically test all its bike models and issue independent weight limits, and they probably just set a blanket limit. If they had individually assessed the potential failure modes by rider weight, they would also have had the data to say what specific components failed. Thus, the store could have improved the outcome by, in addition to not fat shaming the buyer (that is unlikely to have been their intent, but here, the buyer's experience matters more), trying to assess what components could have been substituted to improve the rider's experience. For example, I strongly suspect the rider in question would need stronger wheels, e.g. heavier rims and 36 spokes, maybe increase the tire size. That might suffice.

And as already mentioned in the article, the weight limit isn't a binary thing, e.g. the bike will be fine under a 299lb rider but the wheels will fold (or the entire bike will crumble into dust) with a 301lb rider. The degree to which one exceeds the weight limit does matter, as does the use case - this bike would probably not hold up well if a 290lb rider took it gravel racing, especially if the terrain were rougher.

Bike stores operate on thin profit margins, however. Component substitutions would mean the buyer has to pay up, or the store or Giant Canada would have to take a hit to their margins. Also, figuring all that stuff out takes time, and time is also money. I don't know what Giant's margins are, but I don't imagine there's a lot of margin on bikes like this. Nevertheless, I like to think that if I were working the shop floor, I'd have talked to Giant about what could be substituted given the buyer's weight. I'd like to think that I'd try to sweet talk Giant into, say, working with us to either build up a stronger pair of wheels and substitute that at no cost to the customer, or to offer a discount on the wheels to the customer. Considering that Giant wound up giving the bike to the customer for free to counteract the negative publicity, this could have been a cheaper option - and I don't mean to pick on the wheels, but I think that it's likely that they'll be the first point of failure, and the customer is still on the stock wheelset.

One thing the shop might have been considering is that if the buyer did break something, he would likely approach them for repair or warranty service. Repairing or replacing wheels is expensive, especially relative to a lower-end bike's cost. They would have been in the position of saying no to the customer or giving the customer sticker shock.

As a caveat, I have no experience working in any part of the bike industry.

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This is not a pinpoint answer, and I came from the bicycle stack exchange, but I would look at bike-selling in the same aspect as tool-selling.

If a product has caused injury upon being misused (e.g. being ridden by someone over the weight limit), then the company/manufacturer is not liable for it. If a customer has been informed of crucial information like weight limits, and proceeds into purchasing the product (even when advised against it), then the customer is accountable.

That said, if a customer proceeds to purchase a product despite advise against misuse and there is no manual or similar document supplied with the product, then a signed waiver/disclosure would be necessary to attest that the company/reseller has actually advised the customer beforehand.

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