JRA is an often unhelpful story every mechanic has heard as they try to figure out what caused the broken bike in front of them.
“I was just riding along…”
Bikes just don’t spontaneously destruct without warning. Mechanical failures either start small and are detectable before they become a threat to the rider, or are precipitated by some sort of impact. Keeping this in mind, here’s my story:
Yesterday, I was just riding along when, I guess the most accurate way to describe it would be, my bike crashed me. I was riding on the sidewalk (which I rarely do) at a decent pace, and somehow my front wheel came off. I crashed into the pavement with my right arm and shoulder taking the brunt of the fall, but also landing on my face & snapping back my neck.
Talk about taking it with a stiff upper lip. How I lost all the skin here, but only had minor road rash elsewhere is a mystery.
As I sat, dazed, on the sidewalk, a guy with thick framed glasses and skinny jeans who happened to be driving by when I crashed, jumped out of his car to assist me. He asked if I was OK and if I needed help, and was genuinely concerned that I’d broken my neck. I started going through a mental checklist of body parts, making sure each one was working properly. “I think I’m OK,” I said as he retrieved my shoes, which had flown off my feet in the crash. I didn’t even realize I was in stocking feet until he handed them to me.
He asked me if he should call for help, and I said I’d better call a friend for a ride instead, at which point he left and I fished my phone out of my pannier and began making desperate calls.
After arranging for a co-worker to pick up me and my bike, and with the help of a random homeless-seeming guy, I started to assess the damage as I waited. Poor Marjory. My new helper was trying to put her back together, but I could see that the front fork was now splayed out twice as wide as usual and significantly bent backwards, so I told him not to bother.
This picture does no justice to how fucked the fork is. Marjory, you were a damn good bike.
Best case scenario: I’ll have to replace the fork. Hopefully, there wasn’t any other damage to the frame and this will be the case. Worst case scenario: frame also bent beyond repair, in which case I’ll salvage the new alloy wheels, sweet tires, shifters, drive train, and salmon brake pads for the next bike. I still need to carefully examine the bike to determine what is salvageable, but it’s safe to say it’s done for the season. The basket and water bottle (which had been sitting in the basket) were also broken.
And me? I’m thankful this didn’t happen in traffic. Twenty-four hours later I’m quite sore, have bruises on both my legs and arms, and have no skin on my lip in what looks like the world’s nastiest cold sore. My neck is sore, but I’ve done worse at Megadeth concerts. My upper arm and shoulder are the worst, and while I have full strength and motion in them, it feels like they’ll be hurting for a while. Hopefully there aren’t any other insidious injuries that show up later. I used to practice martial arts, and I’m pretty confident that I would have been much worse off in this crash if I hadn’t trained breakfalls into my muscle memory. And, because I know some of y’all are thinking it, I was not wearing a helmet and it wouldn’t have helped a lick if I had been wearing one in this crash. I was back on a bicycle (albeit trepidly) within a few hours of getting home.
Getting back to what I was saying earlier, about just riding along, the mechanic in me HAS to figure out why my bike failed. I think the most likely scenario is that the axle nuts were loose, causing the wheel to fall off, which is a very humiliating thing for me to admit. Every time someone else’s bike is presented to me, I check that the axle nuts or quick releases are properly tightened. Every bike library bike I work on gets the same check every month when it’s returned. I put every nut, bolt, and ball bearing in Marjory with my own two hands, but the truth is that I don’t know whether her axle nuts were loosening, because I haven’t checked them since I put new tires on her last spring. And considering that I knew that she had wheels that didn’t match the dropout widths and that it could result in exactly this sort of accident, I should have known better and been regularly pulling out the wrenches.