by Mike Tanner, USTA Executive Vice President and CEO
Spyder 3D bike under scrutiny after recent failure
When driver Kayne Kauffman’s sulky experienced a catastrophic failure shortly after the start of the third race at Eldorado Scioto Downs on May 27, it started a chain reaction of events that continued into the month of June and is still ongoing.
The arch of Kauffman’s bike, a Spyder 3D model, collapsed beneath him as he and his mount, 7-year-old gelding Rose Run Ulysses, led the field into the first turn of the five-eighths-mile oval, dumping Kauffman onto the track. Rose Run Ulysses, dragging misshapen metal and twisted wheels behind him, broke into a gallop, veered sharply to his right and ran into Tabooma, dislodging that one’s driver, Tony Hall, who was thrown hard onto the track. The field spread wide across the track to avoid further chaos.
The judges declared the race to be no contest, and all wagers on the race were refunded to bettors. Neither horse fell nor appeared to be seriously injured. Kauffman drove in the next race, and Hall returned to action two days later at Oak Grove.
But that was just the beginning of the story.
Within hours of the incident, reports were made to the USTA about other performance issues connected to the Spyder 3D sulky, none as dramatic as the Kauffman accident, but concerning, nonetheless. Several drivers on the East Coast reported cracks on the arches of their Spyder 3Ds. Since the model had only been introduced in late February 2022, this was especially concerning. These were relatively new bikes, not ones that showed the wear and tear from many years of competition.
Acting quickly, the association on May 30 issued the following statement:
The United States Trotting Association has withdrawn the sulky model “3D”, which is manufactured by Spyder, from the USTA Approved Sulky list, effective immediately.
A detailed investigation, in cooperation with the sulky manufacturer, is being conducted currently to ensure absolute safety for all participants, both human and equine. At the conclusion of the investigation, an announcement will be forthcoming to the industry stakeholders.
For 30 years, the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) has served as the national site for the testing of new sulky designs. The examinations and analyses are rigorous, and when they were introduced in 1993, more than 25 percent of the submitted bikes failed the laboratory fatigue test.
Results have improved greatly since then, but the testing remains demanding. Bikes are placed on a testing rig with an aluminum plate affixed to the sulky’s arch (seat bracket). A hydraulic cylinder is then connected to the arch by a chain drive, which pulls down on the cable once every second for 10,000 repetitions. Each replication introduces a force of 675 pounds, which simulates a 225-pound driver at a gravitational force of 3.
If the bike passes the test, it undergoes another, this one with a load of 1,125 pounds. The goal of this second assessment is to find any internal fractures that might not have been apparent following the initial check. Sulkies that pass muster—assuming they meet the other requirements of USTA Rule 18.21 – Sulky Performance Standards—are approved for sale and use in USTA-recognized races.
The Spyder 3D prototype was delivered to the University of Dayton for structural testing near the beginning of last year. On Feb. 24, 2022, the UDRI relayed confirmation that the sulky had satisfactorily completed the static and dynamic load testing, and the 3D was declared a “USTA Approved Sulky.” All state racing commissions and horsemen’s organizations were alerted of the addition.
Since then, approximately 175 bikes under this design have been produced. Until recently, about 100 were in circulation within the U.S. harness racing industry.
So how did the model perform so well at Dayton—and, apparently, initially in competition—but then experience repeated issues in the field? Spyder 3D manufacturer Chad Foulk, though unable to determine the exact reason for the sulky’s issues to this point, has willingly pledged to cooperate fully with the USTA to find the cause.
On May 31, the USTA Sulky Committee, led by Chairman Joe Faraldo, met virtually with Foulk to delve deeper into the issues surrounding the bike. Several targets for exploration were quickly developed. Does the problem lie within the design itself? Is the issue with the material used to construct the bikes, and does it differ from that which was tested? Is the manufacturing process flawed? Are additional testing criteria needed for all bikes, and, if so, what should those measures be?
Foulk, a respected Ohio horseman whose company, SpyderBike Inc., also makes the Ghost and Tornado models, has voluntarily pulled the 3D from the market and will no longer sell that model.
As compared to Thoroughbred racing, our sport is exponentially safer for both horses and horsepeople. The health and welfare of both is, and always will be, the USTA’s first priority, and it demands constant vigilance. Here’s to finding answers and reaffirming that commitment.
The views contained in this column are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association. To comment on this column, email us at email@example.com.