Crashes

My blogging buddy Brittany asked me a question about crashing on a recumbent versus a standard bike. It got me to thinking.

When I crashed on Big Nellie, my recumbent, I was rolling and turning toward a slight downhill to my left. I hit a root heave, a bump perpendicular to my line of travel. The impact of wheel on root caused my fork to break. The handlebars just sort of disengaged and the wheel turned all the way around to the left. The bike and me crashed to the right side.

Crashing on a recumbent is usually much less painful than on a standard bike, primarily because you have a much shorter distance to fall. When people crash on a standard bike, their instinct is to stick their arm out to brace themselves. This often results in a broken collarbone.

On a recumbent you’re usually on the ground before you can react. Sometimes recumbent riders react by putting their foot down. This is a bad idea. The downside to such recumbent crashes is something called leg suck. If one of your feet comes off the pedal, and you’re moving fast, your foot will be drawn (or sucked) under the bike. This can result in a rather abrupt broken leg. I’ve had my foot slip of the pedal at speed. It hit the ground with such force that it was very hard to avoid leg suck. I had to lift my foot straight up until the bike slowed. It was scary.

Sometimes you can tell you’re about to crash. On a standard bike you want to take the impact on the outside of your upper arm and roll when you hit the ground. Bicycle racers practice this. Me, not so much.

On a recumbent, you want to ride the crash out. Just keep your feet on the pedals and your hands on the handlebars and, Just before contact with the ground, stick your butt cheek out to absorb the force of the crash. I’ve done this a few times and it works amazingly well. When the fork broke this summer, however, I was on the ground so fast I couldn’t react.

I have had a fork break once before. I had taken my trusty old 1978 Raleigh Grand Prix out for a ride in Arlington VA. This bike had survived innumerable crashes and road salt from six New England winters. I rode it down a hill to the Potomac River, then, a while later, rode back up the hill. At the top, something felt odd about the steering so I stopped. Then I heard a CLANG! My right fork blade just fell off onto the pavement! I am very fortunate this didn’t happen going down that hill.

An odd feeling is typical of steel tubing. It gets squishy before it fails. A friend was riding a tour on the Natchez Trace when his bike felt funny. He stopped and noticed that his top tube had broken, metal fatigue caused by a crash. Eek. Unlike steel, aluminum tubing just snaps without warning. It can ruin your whole day.

Frame and fork breaks are pretty rare, thankfully. A more common cause of a crash is low tire pressure. I was riding home from work one day and started to turn onto a bike trail. In an instant, I found myself on the ground and in a world of hurt. My front tire had gone flat and, as I turned, my rim made contact with the pavement and I went down. Hard. Flat back tires are not so traumatic. Usually your back wheel starts to fishtail. This happened to me on the Mount Vernon Trail while riding Big Nellie. The back end started to wobble so I just started to glide and went straight off the trail onto a grassy area. I didn’t even tip over. Just a nice controlled stop. We all should be so lucky when we crash.

Check your tires before you ride. Every time.

Strange Digression: Long ago I interned at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regional office in San Francisco. I took an articulated bus home to my place in Berkeley one night. I sat in the rear of the bus, beyond the center hinge. We were on the old Oakland-Bay Bridge when the back end of the bus started to swing violently from side to side. My mind flashed to Def Con One: EARTHQUAKE!

Seeing as how the bay was waaaay dooown theeere, the other passengers, who, unlike me, almost certainly knew what an earthquake felt like, freaked out and yelled at the driver to slow down. The next day at the office I mentioned this episode to the staff, one of whom was an expert on tires. He said that the cause of the swaying was probably underinflated rear tires.

Hockey Tape, Duct Tape, Carbon Fiber and Beth

About a month ago, Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, broke. Literally. The front fork broke off. While I was riding.

This was not fun.

Easy Racers, the manufacturer, has apparently gone out of business. Long before that happened, they put out a recall on the fork on my bike. My fork had something like 30,000 miles on it. What me worry? Doh.

With little hope of success, I conducted a nationwide search for a replacement fork. After a few recumbent bike shops sent me regrets, I had just about given up hope when Peter Stull from Bicycle Man shop in Alfred NY told me he had just what I needed. To be sure that it would work, I had Peter talk directly to Tim Fricker, owner of my somewhat (23-miles away) local recumbent shop, Bikes at Vienna. They determined that the fork would work on my bike but I’d have to replace the headset and the stem. I took Big Nellie out to Vienna and dropped it off.

After the usual delays due to summer backlogs, pandemic supply chain problems, and such, repairs began. Beth, who like Tim and me owns an Easy Racers recumbent, worked on my bike. In addition to replacing the fork, I asked her to replace my chains (it’s a long bike) and the cassette. I also figured I might as well replace the grip shifters that were in very rough shape. For the last year or so, the rubber grippy part was worn off. I’d “fixed” them with hockey tape.

During her work, Beth discovered that my bike needed a whole bunch of other repairs. (Deferred maintenance is my middle name.) The middle chainring was bent. (How I could do this without bending the other two chainrings is a wonder.) One of the crank arms was also bent. My plastic rear fender mount was cracked. (How they could have an obscure part like this lying around is beyond me.) She replaced all three.

Beth also noticed that the brakes worked very poorly (don’t need them if you crash, is my motto) and that all the cables and housings needed to be replaced. I think they were all over 10 years old. Maintenance? Moi? Mais non!

Lastly, Beth could not get my 20-year-old bike computer to work. Considering the fact that it was literally held together with duct tape, I wasn’t surprised. I’ve been searching for a replacement for ages. Sure enough, the store had one in stock.

Before I went out to Vienna to pick up the bike, Beth advised me that it would take an hour to dial in the set up on the bike. The set up on Tour Easys is complicated. As it turned out, she needed to cut the grips on the shifters, replace my bar end mirror, adjust a limit screw on the front derailler, and tweak the handlebar position.

The handlebars need to be a bit higher to allow the bar ends to clear my knees and for my hands to be a bit closer to my body. Beth put in an order for a stem riser that will solve the problem.

I think we could have done what we needed to get done in 20 minutes but as the 43 emails suggest, Beth is rather loquacious. (In this regard and in physical appearance, she very much reminds me of my friend Klarence.) We talked up a storm about our bikes and bike touring. She wants to ride to Key West. I said, “No Way So Hey!” I also told her about my Erie Canal tour which I did on Big Nellie.

With bike repaired and new friend of the wheel acquired, I headed home.

Today, I took Big Nellie out for a test ride.

Sweet!

It needs a few more tweaks. There is an odd intermittent noise from the drivetrain that may have something to do with the cassette. When you replace a worn chain, you should also replace the cassette but, thanks to pandemic supply chain delays, a new cassette was not available. The noise may just be an issue of links and cog teeth meshing improperly. No worries.

The last time I rode this bike I crashed so my steering was a bit tentative. The new handlebar position isn’t terrible but I am looking forward to a more compact steering posture.

The quality of bike computers is generally lousy these days, but the replacement computer seems to be working fine. I’ll keep an eye on this one. (Beth, mindful of my ego, keyed in the mileage – over 45,000 – from my old computer.) I am pretty sure the wheel size is on the generous side but that’s something I can deal with.

Big Nellie back home. Note craptastic duct tape fender extension.

My plastic fenders, with duct tape extensions, are all about keeping my bike and me dry. They are ugly. Beth wanted to replace them.

I declined but in the course of the email conversation she learned that I had stashed in my shed an Easy Racers carbon fiber front fender. Beth owns a Ti Rush, the titanium version of my bike, that retailed for 2 and a half times the price of my bike. It is a thing of beauty and weighs nothing. It also has a stiffer seat back and can go faster miles and hour.

One of these days I’m going to steal it.

In the meantime, it needs fancy fenders. I gave her mine.

50 States – A New Plan

As most readers of this blog know, my favorite bicycling event is the Washington Area Bicyclists Association’s 50 States Ride. It involves riding 60 miles through the streets of DC on a route that includes the avenues named after the 50 States. I have done this ride a dozen times (2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020). This year’s ride is scheduled for Saturday September 11. Barring an onset of sanity, I intend to ride it.

T-shirts are awarded to finishers. I have worn mine all over the country and am often asked, “Wow. did you really ride in all 50 states?” Which begs the question “How many states have you ridden in?”

Emilia (R) and I posing with the 2017 t-shirt

Through no planning, between 1960 and 2019, I have ridden in 34 states: New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Virginia, Maryland, Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Montana, Colorado, Kansas, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Delaware, New Jersey, Vermont, and Pennsylvania.

I have had in the back of my mind the notion to ride the remaining 16 in five tours: New Hampshire and Maine; Alaska; South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska; Arizona, New Mexico, Texas. Oklahoma, and Arkansas; and Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Since they are not bunched together, this endeavor would take me several years.

I started my 2019 tour from Indiana to California with an ache in my left hip and left knee. The mountainous terrain and long days (made necessary by a lack of support services on the route) in Colorado, Utah, and Nevada beat my body up something fierce. The pandemic was a blessing in disguise, allowing me to get medical treatment (physical therapy, cortisone shots, and other therapies). Even now, however, I feel worn out. Perhaps this is father time’s way of telling me to change my approach.

The pandemic and scores of rides in mid-Atlantic weather these past 24 months, have conspired to make me proficient at another activity: napping. Today I rode 46 miles in suffocating heat and humidity to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in DC. At the garden I spent about an hour walking around in the hot sun. When I got home, I had some lunch, took a shower, and laid down on the couch to meditate. I woke up two hours later.

It occurred to me that maybe riding in all 50 States is a younger man’s game. Maybe napping in all 50 States is more my speed these days.

So how many states have I napped in already? It’s a difficult question to answer because, well, I was asleep at the time. I am pretty sure I have napped in these states: New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Hawaii. Texas, California, Oregon, Wisconsin, Michigan (on the ferry on the lake), West Virginia, Indiana, Colorado, Florida, and Arizona. I have 36 states to go!

Maybe I could establish the Washington Area Nappers Association.

I could have a t-shirt made: I Snored the 50 States.