08 February 2013

Going Bananas

If you are around my age, you may have ridden a bike with a banana seat.  If you didn't, then a friend, neighbor, sibling or classmate did. 

From Nice To Draw

They were popular with pre-teens during the 1960's and 1970's.  The bikes that were equipped with banana seats seemed to be designed for one of two purposes:  doing "wheelies", or emulating motorcycles or race cars.

During the banana seat's heyday, every American bicycle manufacturer offered at least one model equipped with it. Some, like the ones found on Schwinn's Sting Ray series, sported racing stripes, while other bikes--particularly those made for girls--were adorned with colorful, and even wild, flower prints.  And, of course the Raleigh Chopper was a "banana" bike.

More than one reason has been given for their disappearance during the 1980's.  Some attribute their decline to the rise in BMX bikes.    Doing wheelies had become "old hat", so kids wanted to do more original, sophisticated and riskier maneuvers.  They found that the tighter geometry and lighter weight--along with the smaller seats--of BMX bikes made their stunts easier, or even possible.  

What a lot of people forget, though, is that the Consumer Products Safety Commission set its inspectors loose on various products (and lawyers on the companies that made those products).  They took the accidents and product failures that resulted from the most unlikely or egregious examples of misuse to rationalize removing those products from the market, or forcing redesigns of them.  In one of the silliest examples of mandated change, the CPSC said that Campagnolo "umbrella" pump clamps could no longer be sold in the US unless the "umbrella" cutout was closed or narrowed.  Apparently, someone got his finger caught in one.  I never heard about how he managed to do that.  So, the importer began to retrofit the clips with a ring inside the "rose window".

And so it was with banana seats.  As I understand, the CPSC forced them off the market because the rear braces failed on some of them.   The CPSC claimed that the design was inherently unsafe.  I'm no engineer, but I would expect the braces to be structurally sound, as long they aren't made of substandard materials and the attaching hardware is properly attached.  The real problem, I think, is two or more kids often rode on one seat. Even if the braces are strong enough to carry their weight, I would think they would still incur extra stress as a result of the extra twisting and swaying that would result from having two kids on the seat.

Some kids may have wrecked their banana seats due to carelessness or from doing one too many wheelies or other stunts on their bikes.  However, I don't think very many of them could have done so.  Plus, kids on BMX bikes are performing even more stressful (to their bikes) stunts than we did back in the day on seats that make most track saddles seem plush,  perched atop skinny seat posts.

Lately I've seen a fair number of banana seats for sale. Some are vintage; others seem to be reproductions.  I imagine that the latter are made in China or some other foreign country.  But I wonder how retailers are able to sell them in the US. The CPSC still exists; I wonder whether it has relaxed or otherwise changed its policies on bicycle parts.


  1. I can't think of a single instance where the CPSC has ever relaxed any bicycle requirement after implementation and manufacturer acceptance, no matter how useless the rule was. Even CPSC testing showed wheel reflectors to be useless in the real world, yet the rule remains.

  2. Schwinn seems to have made reproductions of the "Krate" bicycles from the late '90s until around 2006. Could the seat have been redesigned to satisfy the CPSC?


  3. Steve--Thank you. I'm not an expert on CPSC regulations. But what you say about the CPSC seems consistent with government bureaucracy in general, so I'm not surprised.

    Unknown--I know about the repros, and I have the same question. Or did the manufacturer find some way to circumvent CPSC regulations?