Filing Fork Tips

In the morning, I woke up and decided I wanted to ride my cyclocross bike on the rollers. So I swapped out the knobby sew-ups that dressed the frame for the slick clinchers of my road bike. As I was loosening and then tightening the front quick-release skewer to get going, I resolved I wanted to file the fork tips, as I’ve done on all my other bikes, to make wheel changes faster and easier.

Considering the night before I had just heard a story about the perils of a front wheel falling out of a bike while someone was riding, I guess the tale didn’t resonate. The unnamed friend of a friend had this happen and resulted in a jaw broken in multiple places and the rider saved his own life by dislodging his tongue from his throat.

Gross. Awful. Something I don’t want to experience. But after what is probably several hundred thousand miles on bikes equipped with forks not bearing safety tips, aka “lawyers tabs,” I didn’t even categorize the story as relevant.

I understand why they’re molded into fork tips. It’s not mandated by the Consumer Products Safety Commission, though other standards organizations demand that the wheel somehow stay in the fork, even when the qr is open.  The CPSC just requires that a wheel stay in a fork when up to 17nM of force is applied in the direction of the opening. The tabs are an innovation that companies have deployed to protect riders or limit lawsuits, depending on your point of view. There have been secondary retention mechanisms built into forks and front wheels since at least the 1970s. Schwinn had a design, as did Ross, and there were some others as well.

I see countless bikes where it’s clear the rider has no clue how a quick-release skewer is designed to work. It’s not a screw. It should never be set up with the lever pointing forward where it can be opened by an errant branch or rear wheel. But in at least the first case, the extra bumps on the tips won’t make a difference in terms of safety.  I’m not these people.  And I often make the effort, particularly with kids, to educate people on proper quick release use.

I happen to dislike the inconvenience the lawyers’ lips create and feel the safety benefit to me is overrated (this is assuming we’re discussing rim-brake forks; rotor disc forks are another story). I might have once started a bike ride with the qr not completely secured, but that was a long, long, long time ago. And it seems that the problem exists even with the tabs; you could forget to screw in the quick release—the lever, according to the CPSC, has to be shaped in such a way that people can easily discern when it is open. And the tabs are such that the wheel could be, if the skewer isn’t properly tightened, forced out of the fork under heavy braking.

So, I file them. I think I’ve done this to every fork I’ve owned since they started appearing. At first, I was worried about filing down the carbon-fiber, but after a few inquiries, it didn’t seem like I should worry. It does void the warranty for at least some of the fork manufacturers, probably all. But I’ve never heard nor seen a rim-brake fork fail at the bottom edge of the tip.

The convenience filed tips afford is small, but adds up. Front wheel changes are much, much faster, and much easier. I don’t have to think about re-setting the tension on the skewer each time I install a wheel. I can quickly take off the front wheel and get my bike inside a car, almost any car. And I can quickly get the wheel back in and go.

I can also swap front wheels much faster, great for home maintenance, an essential thing in road racing and could really help in cyclocross, though the UCI made the filing thereof against the rules in 2012. Frames aren’t supposed to be modified from stock in any way; it’s a ‘level playing field’ kind of regulation. It is still in effect. From the WorldTour mechanics I consulted, the teams are not filing fork tips in accordance with UCI rules, though no one ever recalls seeing a fork checked. However, they are, possibly accidentally-on-purpose, sometimes wrecking the tabs by roughly removing front wheels when skewers aren’t properly tensioned. The tabs haven’t been filed or modified, just damaged, thus the rule is satisfied, and the several seconds saved, a few each for removing and installing, can be the difference between getting back in the race or not.

While I’m reluctant to recommend filing to others, the safety tabs are a kludgy, possibly failing solution to a problem that is exceedingly rare. They make more sense when the fork has a rotor disc brake just above the left fork tip. But for rotor disc brakes, a thru-axle makes even more sense than the tiny tabs.

All the same, I’m not filing the tips on any kids bike any time soon.


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