Tip: Keep your bike parts attached!

It was a normal commute home. I’d gotten off the train, was making my way home, warm night, light traffic. There were an unusually large number of folks riding their bikes too. It was sometime around 9:00 or so.

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That’s when I found myself at the intersection of W and 11th, heading towards Riverside Blvd.  I go through this intersection a lot, so I know the timing of the lights on this particular stretch of road.  If I hit the pedal really hard and sprint all the way to Broadway, I can just make it through the light at Broadway and Riverside Blvd.  I’m feeling kinda spry tonight – so I’m gonna shoot for it.  I’ve got a perfect track stand going – no need to be delayed by clipping into the pedals.  I’m totally gonna make this light.

As soon as the light turns green, I’m hard on the pedals.  One revolution – I’m in a fairly high gear, so sorta slow launch.  Push harder.  Two revolutions…  Three revolutions…  Bike is leaning hard to the left.  Wait… What?  I’m on the ground! I’m on the ground!  How the hell did that happen?

I’m in the middle of the intersection, laying on my elbow. A car slowly moves around me through the intersection, so my immediate thought is to get out of the road. I start to stand up and realize that I’ve still got the “sprint grip” (not to be confused with the “death grip”) on my bars. And that is when it hits me. I’m standing up with the bars in my hands, but the bike is still laying on the ground. The freaking bars are no longer attached to the stem.

At intersection, immediately after incident

Apparently I apply a fair amount of force to the bars when I attempt to sprint. I’d snapped the quill stem completely apart right at the weld point. Seriously something of a predicament. I had about 5 miles or so to go to get home. Walkable maybe, but not an easy walk. Especially difficult with a broken bike. Clearly I’ve got to call the SAG wagon for help. Or, as the rest of you may know her, my wife. Only problem is – no answer. Ummm… what do I do now?

D’uh! You take pictures and post them to twitter!

Well crap. Now how do I get home??? http://twitpic.com/2bpr49

Ok – then I try and call SAG… er, I mean my wife… again.

I get an answer this time, and she is already getting ready to come and get me when she asks, almost as an afterthought, “What happened?  Are you OK?”

“I kinda ripped my handle bars right off my bike.”  I reply, trying to make the situation sound all the more dramatic.

“Oh.”  That’s pretty much the full response.

Well, a few minutes later the car, complete with all three kids, arrives at the gas station just past the intersection where “the incident” took place.  The kids seem pretty excited about the fact that my handlebars are all the way down by the hub of the front wheel – hanging by the cables and swinging around aimlessly like a broken limb.  I manage to get the bike on the roof of the car and, after making a couple of half-hearted attempts to somehow contain the swinging handlebars, decide that we’re not going that far or fast so it’ll be just fine.

It's just a scratch...

We get home and Melissa helps dress my elbow.  There was a small patch of abraded skin that was bleeding all over the place but not especially painful.  The fact that the whole thing happened after just a couple of pedal strokes was nothing short of amazing luck.  Things could have been a whole lot uglier if I’d crashed after I’d gotten up to speed. Road rash is not something to look forward to.  However, the bar had been set pretty high in the “crashes won’t stop me” category, so I scrubbed out my elbow abrasion extra hard – just because.

On the ride home in the SAG wagon the Prius, I actually realized that just a couple of days earlier I’d heard a creak coming from the bars when I took off from a light.  At the time I didn’t give it much thought as it is not entirely uncommon for the bars or stem to creak as bolts slowly loosen up over time.  In retrospect, though, it was likely a harbinger of the eventual failure.  If only I’d recognized it as such.

One somewhat coincidental part of the whole thing is that I’d already been planning to get rid of that stem for different reasons.  Might have to expedite that project now.