Bicycle Travel > General Discussion

Tales of Calamity and Woe

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On one trip my frame snapped where the chain stay is brazed to the dropout. It was late in the day when I was riding sweep with one other rider on a group Trans Am tour. We were climbing the hills from Buckhorn Dam to Booneville, KY when the bike started swaying wildly in the rear. I first thought the rack had lost a bolt until I stopped and discovered the damage. We hitched a ride into Booneville where the local garage mechanic welded it back together. With a touch of spray paint it was good to go for the rest of the trip!

On another trip when I was just out of high school my left crank broke on a trip from VA to Wisconsin. My buddy and I were in Saginaw, MI at the time and I had to hitch hike to Detroit to find a replacement Campagnolo crank. It was 1968 and the experience gave new meaning to the Simon and Garfunkle lyrics about taking "four days to hitch hike from Saginaw"!

I once had the cogs in my rear wheel go out just after leaving Reed City, Michigan on a Sunday. Suddenly I was pedalling and going nowhere. Fortunately I had met a retired couple in town. I called them up and wound up staying with them for a couple of days. He took me into Big Rapids on Monday for new innards for my wheel. I still correspond with them.

On the second day of TOSRV South (Tallahassee to Albany GA and back) my Modolo stem broke right off. I came down hard on the post and fortunately didn't crack my sternum. I have heard that it can be right painful. Support provided me with a bike for the rest of the ride.

In Lancaster CA an incompetent bike mechanic didn't pin a new chain correctly and got the chain length wrong. It came apart as I was leaving the KOA the next day. Fortunately the buses there have bike racks so I was able to return to the shop and get a new one from the guy who owned the shop.

Peugeot once made a frame of aluminum with the joints pressed together - no welding or gluing. It was an interesting idea - get the tolerances tight enough and the aluminum will weld itself - but didn't work out. Mine failed at the front of one chainstay. I took a couple of spills before I figured out what was going on. I gingery pedaled back to my van and discarded the frame when I got home.

After 40 years of cycling:
1) all the ball bearings leaked out of one freewheel, fortunately some kind soul gave me a ride.
2) countless broken spokes, but none after I started riding hand build wheels from Bruce Gordon in Petaluma or Vecchio's Bicicletteria in Boulder.
3) a couple of broke chains.  no big deal if you have a chain tool.
4) lost rear rack bolt, best to carry spares and use loctite.  Weld failure on a blackburn rear rack, a u clamp from a hardware store got me going.
5) a broken seat in England, but they have pubs to help with the discomfort.
6) a broken rear axle in Crested Butte.  Don't loosen that quick release until you are at the shop and you probably will be able to ride there.
7) total failure of a Maillard Helicomatic hub in France, fortunately within hitchhiking distance of what was probably the only bike shop that still had a dusty replacement in back.
8) a broken toe clip back in the day, not a common failure mode in these times.
9) lost a screw on a cleat, lost a screw in a clipless pedal.  In Switzerland they broke apart a cleat set and sold me one cleat screw, in Lander Gannett Peak Sports donated a screw from a retired pedal.  Thanks.
10) total failure of a front brake cable stop descending Col de la Bonette on our day off, i.e. we left the panniers at camp.  Miraculously I was going slowly or else the list could have ended here.  TEST YOUR BRAKES, pull on then occasionally very hard while stopped to make sure nothing slips or vaporizes like that cable stop.  Look for frayed cables, including inside the brake lever.
11) a occasionally slipping, but not totally clutchless, Shimano LX freehub, it took from Colorado until nearly Nevada to find a replacement.  Kudos to Cedar Cycle in Cedar City UT who replaced it after hours, it was a relief to get that fixed before heading across Nevada.
12) a cracked frame racing a thunderstorm and some dirt bikes down Pearl pass.  I won, but it was the last trip for the Bridgestone MB1.
13) a broken seat rail leaving Vancouver, Canada.  This hurt, but eventually I got to a bike store in Bellingham WA.  Thanks to some Sunday truck stop mechanics at the border who donated a hose clamp the last half of that was ridden with a sort of level seat.
14) a couple of wheels trashed by the airlines, in one case the boxed bike was thrown on top of a luggage cart and slid off somewhere on the runway in Denver.  The exploded box was described by an airline employee as "opened for inspection by TSA"  HAH!

None of these was a calamity, but that cable stop failure could have been the end.

My worst mechanical failure was in 1992.  In Czechslovakia.  Rolled my front wheel into a sewer grate and fell over before I could get my foot unclipped.  Tacoed the front rim.  I walked to a store close by.  Somehow I met a man in the store.  He hauled me to a local bike shop where I purchased a front wheel off a hybrid bike.  I then spent 3-4 days living with his family and another family they were vacationing with.  Small cabins near town.  Both families had two kids each.  Between 10 and 16 years I think.  I was about 22 at the time so I could play with the kids and talk with the parents comfortably.  Very enjoyable days.   The Olympics were going on and the USA pro team was winning.  Looking back I really don't see the wheel being ruined as a bad thing.

One of the pins on my rear derailleur broke in the middle of England, causing the whole assembly to crumple towards the wheel. Luckily no spokes were broken and I was able to get a ride into Sheffield to get  a new derailleur.

The brackets that connected my rear rack to the seat stays completely sheared off while riding down a big hill towards Prague. The rack with all my bags pivoted down to the ground and got dragged before I could stop. It wore a hole through the dry seal bag and the tent inside. I managed to secure the rack back with bungie cords and proceeded slowly to the city where I got a new rack.


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