EDIT: A copy of the suit (which is public record) can be found here: https://rappstarcom.files.wordpress.com/...04/ruster_v_rapp.pdf END EDIT
Iâ€™d hoped that I might have the sort of race at Ironman Texas that would have alleviated the need to ask for help like this. But it turns out getting served with notice of a lawsuit 10 days out from one of the biggest races in your season is not an ideal way to taper.
I have been sued by TJ Tollakson and Dimond Bicycles because I refused to continue putting my safety at risk by riding Dimond bicycles. My contract with Dimond required that Dimond provide me with bicycles that were suitable for racing and training, something that Dimond was never able to do. So eventually I was forced to make a choice: find a safe bike, or continue to risk my safety by riding defective Dimond bicycles. I chose safety. Dimond chose to sue me in Iowa. Iâ€™m not the only one that they have sued: TJ seems to think that he can silence the truth through lawsuits. Iâ€™m hoping heâ€™s wrong, but lawsuits are expensive. So, humbly Iâ€™m asking for help.
I have started a GoFundMe to support my effort to fight this. The money I raise will solely go to this effort. Should there be any additional funds leftover after I win, I will donate that money to World Bicycle Relief.
The career path of a professional triathlete is rarely smooth. But thanks to the support of the triathlon community and slowtwitchers in particular, I've somehow over the past fifteen years been able to turn myself from a rower/engineer into a world champion. I thought my dream was done in 2010, but the sport rallied behind me and helped me get back on the race course. Since then, I've faced more challenges, from the mental struggle that still accompanies every bike ride I do (except for the increasing number on Zwift) to the more expected challenges of tougher fields of faster and younger athletes, as well as a contracting industry.
In 2014, I found out Specialized was ending, after six years, what I had hoped would be a lifetime relationship. With two less than impressive years of racing in 2013 and 2014 and facing an industry with contracting budgets, I knew I had few options for the future. I didn't expect to make the same sort of money I had with Specialized, but I thought if I could work with a good, emerging company that made a great bike, I could make a difference and that I still had some race wins left in me.
I had known TJ Tollakson, who founded Dimond, for a long time. We were both part of the same 20-24 age-group crew that decided to turn pro around 2005. As a fellow engineer, I was intrigued by his fledging bike company, Dimond, especially because of knowing some of the engineers he worked with on the bike's design. I considered TJ a friend, and I thought this was a real opportunity to help grow a brand that, I thought, believed in the same things I did - engineering excellence, domestic manufacturing, and a commitment to quality.
Unfortunately, it turned out that I was very mistaken. The first frame I received from Dimond, in early 2015, had some issues. The seat-post binder wouldn't hold, though by sanding the interior faces of the clamp to allow it to squeeze tighter and tightening the bolts to 6Nm (150% of the maximum recommended specification), I was able to make it work. The saddle rail clamp also never held, but having ridden roughly the same position for almost a decade, I simply set my saddle up and epoxied the clamp in place. The paint was extremely brittle and I had to travel with a bottle of clear coat to touch of the inevitable chips that happened no matter how well I packed it. Was this what I expected from a $6000MSRP frame set? No. But I was assured that the clamp design was being fixed, that the rail clamping issue was something nobody else was seeing, and that they had already terminated their relationship with this painter.
Believing in the engineers working for and also advising Dimond and, especially, not wanting to believe that I'd entered into a long term agreement with a company that didn't actually make a very good bike, I accepted these answers and the workarounds that were required. Every small manufacturer has some hiccups, and the answers I received seemed like the right ones. Unfortunately, in spite of these problems, this was far and away the best frame that Dimond ever gave me.
The frame I received for Kona 2015 was demonstrably worse. Unfortunately, due to the compressed timeline that results from the far too common "we want you on a new frame for Kona!" attitude - something that I have agreed to more times than I should have, the true depth of these defects did not become apparent for quite some time. As an engineer, I'm sad to say that it took me until July of 2016 to realize just how damaged this frame was. It had the same issues with the saddle rail clamp, which should have been a red flag. And the new seat-post binder wasn't any better - and was in fact worse - than the old one. But the primary issue was that the tolerances between the beam and the lower frame were way off. The Dimond design is extremely sensitive to the precision of the interface between the two frame members. Any imperfections cause significant instability, something that becomes progressively worse over time as the beam fixing axle grinds away at the support holes. At the time, I believed my broken saddle in Kona was a fluke, but having continued to ride Cobb saddles with solid titanium rails - in spite of Cobb's decision to switch to hollow steel rails - without issue on other bikes, I now believe that the defects in this particular frame were a likely cause of this failure. The beam simply was never stable.
In July of 2016, I sent a detailed explanation of the problem - as well as a simple and effective proposal about how to alter the frame design (use a simple steel shear plate as opposed to having the aluminum axle rely loading the carbon directly) - to Dimond. They rushed me a new frame for Mt. Tremblant. As with the frame it was replacing, this frame seemed - initially - to be okay. But over time - and given my increased awareness of the issue, it became clear between Ironman Mont-Tremblant and Kona that this frame also had the same tolerance issues between the frame members.
I also sent the following videos (they are almost identical) to Dimond in July of 2016 demonstrating the issue:
I am not sure how I thought that I was going to win Kona on a frame I was doing major composite repairs to in the month before the race, but I guess I would just say that it's important as an athlete to believe you can overcome any obstacle. Beyond that, I struggle enough as it is, having nearly died once on a bicycle, to get out on the roads. If I acknowledged that I was riding a structurally unsound - and therefore potentially dangerous - frame, I don't think I could have gotten out the door. And certainly, at that point, what could I do? Why would I expect any other Dimond to be any different than these past two? The design and execution were and are flawed. And yet I couldn't ride something else. So I raced to my worst ever Ironman finish, not surprising given that I had no confidence in my equipment at that point.
After Kona, I took my longest break ever. I didn't want to race. And I especially didn't want to ride a Dimond anymore. That race in Kona was the last time I've ever thrown my leg over a Dimond, and I knew it would be the last time I ever would. I didn't trust the bike anymore. And for me, with my history, trust and confidence is paramount. I think that's really true for any athlete, but for me, it literally feels like a matter of life and death. I remember speaking at Specialized after my accident, and talking about how grateful I was for the engineering excellence they pursued. I was wearing a Specialized helmet, Specialized eyewear, and was on, of course, a Specialized bike. At 30mph, my helmet and glasses saved my head and eyes as I crashed through the window of car, and the only damage to the frame was a fractured steerer tube. I had no faith that a Dimond would serve me so well in such a case. And with three young kids and one on the way, that terrified me.
I waited until after TJ raced in Ironman Arizona to contact him. As someone who I considered a friend, I did not want to disturb his race. This kindness was not to be repaid. Our initial conversation was tough. I never mentioned - perhaps foolishly - my concern with the frames. TJ also has young kids, and I believed - or wanted to believe - that the Dimond design could be saved. I thought TJ understood. I offered to refund my last quarterly salary payment from Dimond. A modest amount of just under $1,700, but it was still enough - I thought - to help sign a young pro who'd welcome any money at all. My sense of that first conversation was that he'd release me from my contract. It was then that I also proposed to give away my old Dimonds as a way to leave a positive impression of the brand.
How did I mentally justify giving away frames that I believed were unsound? Denial. I had forced myself to believe that the frames were sound and that I had been able to "fix" the defects. How else could I have ridden them? After subsequent discussions, it became obvious I could not give these away, which broke my heart, because I love what I have been able to do with my giveaway.
Based on our conversation, I expected a contractual release to be forthcoming, but it never arrived for me to sign. Eventually I just indicated via email that I was not going to ride for Dimond anymore and that I couldn't imagine that he'd want someone who didn't want to ride his bikes as an ambassador anymore. I never received a reply to that email, but a few weeks later, near the end of December, Brad Bach, the business manager, emailed me asking for an "exit interview." I was relieved. Clearly, I thought, we've got closure.
It was in this interview with Brad, who I felt could be more objective as Dimond was not his company, that I first mentioned the consistent defects in the frames I'd received and emphasized that Dimond needed to focus on quality control rather than new features until these issues were resolved. Brad was extremely receptive to this feedback - and never challenged my assertions about the quality of the frames - and I thought that was the end.
Then, in early January, I received a letter from a lawyer in Iowa demanding that I make a payment of $150,000 - roughly 17 times the total amount Dimond had paid me over two years - or that Dimond would pursue legal action against me from breach of contract. At roughly the same time, Diamondback received a similar letter, only demanding $350,000, for signing me. Diamondback's lawyers fired off a stern reply and there has been no further action taken against them.
My only lawyer responded with a statement that the contract was null and void since Dimond had repeatedly failed to live up to the explicit promise made in the contract to provide "bicycles suitable for racing" given the numerous defects I experienced. We offered to send back all the frames and, again, to refund my fourth quarter payment, though I have stood by my initial promise there and the check remains un-cashed on my desk. We received no response of any kind from Dimond's counsel.
At this point, I began speaking with friends of mine in the industry. My issues with quality were not unique. In some cases, Dimond had replaced a given customer's frame as many as four times. And in many cases, the defects were even worse than what I had experienced. I didn't know what to do. I still - foolishly, perhaps - did not want to damage a company that I thought was trying to do the "right thing." It was during this time that it finally became absolutely clear that I could not complete my Dimond frame giveaway. Diamondback has since agreed to give me an additional frame to giveaway, as has another company, and the details of the final recipients will be made public shortly. I am glad that, in spite of all of this, I will be able to fulfill my promise to put deserving triathletes on a new bike.
While my agreement with Diamondback gave me renewed confidence and some slight financial security, I still have four young children and I don't want to be forced to drain the savings that my wife and I have worked hard to put away for their future. And yet I also believe I can no longer keep quiet about the defects in Dimond's frames.
So I plan to fight this aggressively. Settling would simply enable someone who has been enabled through the silence of others for too long already. But civil cases have no clear end in sight. And Iowa law, unlike California law, has no anti-slapp statute designed to easily and quickly throw out lawsuits that are designed simply to keep information that should be public - like a bike maker selling defective frames - out of the public eye.
Furthermore, if you are a Dimond owner who has had issues with your frames that Dimond has attempted to gloss over or who has been threatened with legal action by Dimond, I want to hear from you. I know that I am not the only one to have been sued or otherwise threatened with legal action over the repeated defects in these frames.
If you are a lawyer who is registered with the Iowa bar and would be willing to lend your time and expertise in support, we'd also welcome that as well.
Edit made on Apr 26, 10:26PM to remove references to persons no longer affiliated with Dimond.
Edit made on Apr 27, 7:40AM to remove a missed reference to persons no longer affiliated with Dimond.
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