Vive memor quam sis aevi brevis.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

A Tale of Three Cranks

One fine spring evening several years ago, i was riding home from work. My morning commute had been ridden rather vigourously and aggressively -i'd been running late for work as usual- and i was dodging buses and taxis along the busy main street as if i were sprinting for time bonuses.

   The evening turn was a bit more sedate. The rush-hour traffic wasn't that much lighter, but i didn't feel the need to ride particularly hard or fast.  As i pedaled away from a stoplight, my right foot was suddenly dangling and i felt and heard the crankarm ping along the pavement...

I'm nowhere near being a strong rider, even 20 years ago, so i couldn't begin to guess why a relatively new Campag crankarm had disintegrated thus. I doubt it even had 1500km on it- probably much less. It'd never been raced nor crashed. When i looked into whether it was a warranty issue, the dealer i showed it to pointed out the rash on the end of the arm and told me it was clearly abuse -it wasn't. The rash came from the drop onto the pavement. I now owned a genuine Campagnolo paperweight.

Even today i shudder to think about what may have happened if it had let go when i was storming through the morning rush hour traffic.

It was years later that i learnt that Campagnolo Record cranks suffered from a basic engineering design flaw. The crank arm met the spider with a sharp angle that hadn't been properly radiused, leaving a stress riser that would often cause a fracture. Here are some pictures by way of example:

Dark arc of oxidised metal showing extent of crack before fracture.
If like me you have spent time and some little bit of cash searching for and collecting vintage parts, i will advise caveat emptor , especially when looking on that Really Big Auction Site. Here are two examples i encountered:

Side view:
The other side:
The one above was returned to the seller for refund. He didn't argue the point. Here's the second example:

This one got by me. If i recall correctly it came with a bike.

I'm given to understand that this problem can be corrected by the judicious use of a rifler file to round out the sharp edges of the joint. I also understand that Campagnolo knew about this flaw for about the whole production run of these cranks but kept mum and never corrected the problem. i don't know and cannot say for certain that this was the case. i'll also add that i've had and used several of these cranks with no sign of fracturing  and the two in current use here get a good inspection every time i ride them. The crank that broke under me gave no sign by way of creaks or pops before falling away, but any unusual sounds from that region of a bike should not be ignored. Also, i have heard- but not seen- of similar failures among older Shimano Dura Ace cranks and other Campag-inspired cranksets.

Just a cautionary tale. YMMV.

Monday, 14 March 2016


Just pictures today... Mainly old stuff from around the web:

....and some Public Service Announcements meant to scare you off your bike:

(Where's his left leg?)

(Pssst, your participle is dangling...)

Und so weiter...

Yehuda Moon is the work of Rick Smith, and i hope he doesn't mind me appropriating his art.

Many thanks also to the late great Frog Blog whence i copied the scary safety messages. i sincerely miss that blog, but its author continues to publish the comic (?) Frog Applause... Look it up!

Also, if you haven't already done so, look up Rick Smith's Kickstand Comics!

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Riding The Bus

The weather around here this past week has been pretty mild for March, so i was able to get out for a few hours' worth of riding.
   The "Bus" in question is an old Univerga "Specialissima" touring bike. i like to name my bikes, and  although that may seem odd, i've been doing that for as long as i've had bikes. The Univega, though, has yet to have a name that sticks. She just may continue to be "The Bus." It's a title that reflects her character. Not a particularly fast or agile machine, but a comfortable ride that doesn't beat me up over a long day.
   So off we went, keeping the gears low and the expectations modest, in no great hurry with no particular destination in mind. It was a week for noodling around, a chance to shake off winter's cobwebs and get the feeling of the road again.

  i sometimes refer to the suburban area wherein i live as a "cycling desert." Just a few minutes' ride in any direction one is confronted with high-speed, high volume 6-lane main roads, cul-du-sacs and dead-end side streets, interstates, and not to mention the natural barriers, rivers. Finding safe ridable routes out of town is challenging, but over the years i've discovered a few, and i'm gradually finding more ways to get further out. A lot of this week's rides were for re-familiarising myself with some of them.

  About 25km out is a land of horse pastures and large estates,

and rolling roads.

    Today, i decided that i needed a humbling experience, so i set out to find out how weak i'd gotten over the winter... the rollers out here did the trick. Although the landscape here can hardly be called hilly, one can find enough "sprinters' hills" to hone one's skills. i am not a climber by any stretch of the imagination, so i know i need to get out here a lot more often if i have half a hope in the upcoming season's brevets.

     When i'd had enough, i rolled homeward, stopping to salve my bruised ego with some ice cream.

i've ridden past this shop too many times, and today it was time to make up for that.

Next stop, the local Civil War Memorial,

About half an hour later, i was back home just as the first few drops of the day's promised rain began to fall. Today's was not an epic ride, not much of a workout- i could hardly call it a training ride. It'd been a good rollout though, plus i got to hear deafening choruses of spring peepers and birds tuning up for spring, got barked at by farm dogs (always at the bottom of the hill, of course,) and saw the first snowdrops and crocuses popping out.

And right about now i'm ready for another ice cream cone...


Wednesday, 2 March 2016

A story

An early season club race was scheduled that Sunday. It was March or April. 1974, if i recall. The course was a three mile or so loop along frontage roads along the interstate that was a popular route for the local cycling association's training races and occasionally state championships. Our club would put on our own unofficial meets there as well. At that time urban sprawl hadn't yet taken over the soybean fields, and we were a good four or five miles from any businesses or houses.

Four of us arrived about an hour before the appointed hour only to learn that the event had been cancelled, but since we'd driven that far out of town, it was decided we'd just hold our own ride anyway.

While my then-girlfriend was setting up her bike, the rest of us set out to do a lap. It was a very windy day- the usual early spring conditions out there. 

We set out with the howling tailwind, pushed over the overpass and into a wall of wind along the backstretch. As we rounded over the next bridge into the homestretch, we picked up a great deal of speed.  As we rolled out into a paceline, it was A in the lead, myself on his wheel, and C on mine. We were probably going about 28 or 30 mph. Suddenly, A began to coast, but did not pull off, causing me to touch a brake and move to avoid hitting his wheel. C never saw it coming and ran up my wheel. i barely felt anything, but i'll never forget the sound of him hitting the tarmac and the strangled beep of the small air horn he kept on his bars.

As A and i turned around, we saw C tangled up with his bike, legs flailing wildly, his head thrashing from side to side, and bleeding heavily. i remember asking A if he knew first aid, and when he answered in the negative, i sent him off to call for help. 

What followed was the longest hour of my young life thus far. S, upon hearing the news from A, jumped in her car and zoomed off to us, leaving her bike in the ditch, after telling A to drive, NOT ride to the gas station down the road. We managed to get C untangled, and did our best to calm him-he was convulsing. There was no way to get the attention of the drivers passing not 40 feet away on the interstate, and we could only hope an ambulance was coming soon.

The EMTs asked us where the car was that hit C, or where was his motorcycle. 

In hospital, it was learnt that C had a fractured skull, broken nose, and blood in the spinal tap. He was comatose for ten days, and passed his 50th birthday in his coma. In the ICU was another patient with nearly identical injuries from a motorcycle crash. That young man died. He was 18.

Two days after C regained consciousness, he was sent home. A couple of hours after that, his wife heard him tinkering in the basement, reassembling his bike.

i never saw A or C again. Later i'd heard that C had some cognitive losses, but he went on riding and designing HPVs.

The week following that crash, i got thrown over the bars. This time i had a helmet on. The week before, all three of us had left ours in our cars.


For years since, i have been a firm believer in use of helmets, and especially after the birth of my daughter, never put leg over bike without putting on my brainbucket.

It used to alarm me to hear various people complain about and mock helmets. i couldn't see their problem with them. i felt that anyone who rode without one was a fool.

Now, i'm not so doctrinaire. Would i prefer that folks wear helmets? Yes, but nowadays i won't argue anywhere near as vehemently as i used to.

Last year, i was riding in a large "family friendly" event. Helmets were "mandatory." At one point, a bareheaded rider rolled past. A woman next to me shouted, "Hey, get your helmet!" Then she told me to ride up to him and tell him that. i refused, saying, "He's an adult, it's his head, and i'm not the helmet police."

While i'm a believer in using what some call the "Magic Plastic Hat,". i recognise that not all people need a helmet for all rides. It's an argument i had with my younger daughter recently. She believes that it should be the law to wear one, and at one time i might have thought so, too, but i have read about places that have passed such laws. The results have pretty consistently been a big reduction in bicycle use. i'm not going to go into the facts and figures here- others have done so much better than i ever could, but search around and look up New South Wales, Australia and read up on their ideas concerning helmets, and hope that those ideas don't catch on here.

More another time...

Tuesday, 1 March 2016


A quick scan of YouTube will bring up a plethora of videos of bike crashes: Tours de France, local road races, car vs bike, track stackups, simple "fails," et cetera, ad nauseam.

Call it the Pornography of Pain.

The internet is full of all kinds of pornography, from mundane skin shows to snuff films. Gruesome viewing at best.

Watching a bike crash video can be oddly fascinating in a gothic sort of way- i will admit to having looked. The slow-mo replays reveal that crap happens and crap happens fast. Sometimes it can be instructive, but i fear that many a viewer  may just be a voyeur. i'm sure that there are bike-haters finding a great deal of entertainment in the pain of the riders: just read the comments, but keep an emesis  basin nearby.

"Everything is funny as long as it is happening to someone else."
-Will Rogers.

Over the years, i've been in my share of crashes. A couple in races, and many solo efforts. Sometimes it was slick pavement, sometimes inattention, sometimes through the actions of others. My worst injuries were from largely solo falls- broken teeth, acres of skin, a shoulder separation, stitches, and technicolour bruises.

One day in my youth, i went arse-over-teacups when a borrowed fixed wheel decided to strip out when i was stomping into a sprint. When i got home, thanks to a Good Samaritan, i had to ask my poor mother to help me out of my jersey. She nearly fainted when she saw the abrasions on my shoulders (i don't know how i didn't land on my face!) that had been hidden under the fabric.

"Are you going to give this up now?"
"No. Why?"
(She hated that i rode...)

(Full disclosure: i do sometimes wish there was footage of that crash. i still don't know how i landed.)

We fall, we get back up, we keep riding.

"I would invite anyone who thinks that crashing... is risible, that they try it  themselves sometime..."

What disturbs me are the people who really enjoy the crash films, watching them again and again... i suspect that there are even those who stage them at the expense of the riders for their entertainment. i would invite anyone who thinks that crashing full bore into barriers, or going off the road into ravines, or getting tangled in a 30-rider stackup is risible, that they try it themselves sometime... then we'll see if they still think it's  funny.