Cyclist Down

8 10 2011

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.

“What happened?’

“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.



15 responses

8 10 2011

Your story reminds me to check everything out on my bike – thank you. I’m sorry a you had such a sad tale to tell – and I hope Marjory is able to get repaired and be OK.

11 10 2011

Thanks! I don’t mean this to be a scare story. Nuts just don’t loosen by themselves, but sometimes they can have help ;-( and it’s important to check them every once in a while.

9 10 2011

Sorry to hear about this, so glad you weren’t in traffic. i hope you can still enjoy the book fair this weekend.

11 10 2011

Thanks Ashley! I didn’t step foot in the kitchen this year, and because of the accident, didn’t feel the slightest but bad about it.

10 10 2011

I’m glad it wasn’t worse. This sort of thing is always in the back of my mind on quick descents into the valley. An acquaintance of mine once lost his front wheel while riding in traffic and was lucky to not be seriously injured.

11 10 2011

Me too. Honestly, I can’t believe how lucky I am that I’m not seriously hurt. Losing a front wheel, especially in traffic, is one of my worst nightmares.

11 10 2011

There has to be a bump on the road for the axle to jump out of the grooves on the fork. Potholes or curb stones? Or did the nuts come off?

Once when I was a kid I rode my bike around the yard (part gravel, part grass) and stopped in front of the porch of our home. I lifted the front of the bike for some reason and the front wheel came off. Think how a young boy rides his bike. How was it possible it stayed on until I stopped?

11 10 2011

There wasn’t anything worse than a sidewalk crack that I could see. I think what caused the wheel to come out was something getting jammed between the fender and the tire, causing the fender attachment at the brakes to break as the fender rotated forward before the wheel came off. I’ve had several mechanic friends also remind me that nuts just don’t loosen up by themselves, they need help.

13 10 2011

I just realized what the JRA at the beginning of the article means: “just riding along”. It wasn’t english slang as I had thought. 🙂

11 10 2011
Deborah Merriam (@ecoDomestica)

Oh wow. The randomness of this must be particularly frustrating. Glad you’re relatively okay – this could have been so much worse.

Nuts loosening… “they need help” as in someone was interrupted trying to steal your wheels? Or do you suspect something more innocuous?

26 10 2011
Last Dance With Marjory « Breaking Chains and Taking Lanes

[…] the week before I had the accident on Marjory, I had been riding her quite a bit, her fenders protecting me from the autumn rains and […]

27 02 2012

Ouch you may be able to straighten the for. I have straightened me Raleigh forks before. Check my for out.

28 02 2012

Whoah – that’s crazy damage.
I’ve reset forks as well, but I didn’t want to do that in this case because the forks were radically bent in two different planes. It’s a really common bike, though, and I’ve already got a (nearly) perfectly matched replacement.

28 02 2012

Well that is good that you have a replacement.

10 04 2012
My Pants Are Falling Down and Other Spring Stories. « Breaking Chains and Taking Lanes

[…] those of you that don’t know, I crashed my 1982 Canadian-made Raleigh Lenton, dubbed Marjory Stewart Baxter, last fall, and I was very sad. […]

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