Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sound Decisions


That morning we woke to a most unnatural circumstance. So strange and utterly different it was to the state of affairs we had known previously, that at first our senses could not work out what exactly was happening. As we walked through the house, every room was filled with the same eerie sensation. And when we stepped outdoors it persisted.

Not one to give into panic before breakfast, I gathered my powers of concentration and tried to determine, first and foremost, which of the five senses this thing which was happening around us fell under the auspices of. Was it a new quality to the light that disturbed me? Or perhaps a strange smell in the air? I decided at length it was most similar to a sound. It was then the situation revealed itself finally: It wasn't so much sound we were perceiving, as the lack of it.

Absent was the low, loud hum of wind against windowpanes and its high-pitched whistle through wire fencing. Lacking was the knock and crackle of tree branches against the roof. Utterly gone was the rattling of metal drums dragged and flung against the concrete surface of the farmyard, the hysterical mooing of cows, the hissing of grass in the fields as its blades collectively swelled and fell like sea waves. At the start, these sounds - mixed and mashed into a mad howling song - had alarmed us. But over the week of continuous storm weather they had become a normal soundtrack to our lives, morphing into a familiar and not unpleasant background noise - so much so that the sudden and total removal of it now came as a shock to the system. Our environment was completely, disconcertingly empty of auditory input. And that emptiness, in its novelty, was itself a sort of heavy presence.

Mesmerised by its spell, it took us a good hour to grasp the practical implications of this situation. We could go out on our bicycles without fear of being lifted from the ground and deposited into a field in a neighbouring county!

No further encouragement was needed. Down went the coffee. On went the jackets, the gloves and hats. We grabbed a pair of flat-pedaled bikes and set off.

The trip down the lane was idyllic. In comparison to the previous days' weather, the 20mph headwind felt downright mild and playful, slapping our faces in jest and pushing the bikes about half-heartedly, while still allowing us to make forward progress. And the sun - while not, in the strictest sense of the word, out - was making its presence known by illuminating the gray thicket of cloud from within in irregular, flickering bursts. The puddles beneath our wheels reflected the swaying trees, the dilapidated homesteads, and the changes of light with remarkable clarity, and in it all there was a cheerful, fresh morning energy of the sort you can only get after a bad storm.

Turning onto the main road we continued to pedal, observing fields strewn with wind-blown debris, snapped tree trunks and crumbled stone walls. Grateful for the chance to finally get out and cycle in each other's company, we were full of positive feeling and hardiness. When the sky began to spit moisture, we ignored it entirely. When the spitting turned into weeping and the wind picked up, we pulled up the hoods of our jackets and kept going, rejoicing at our resilience against the elements. Only when the waterworks were such that our view of the road ahead grew obscured, did we finally relent and give each other a look acknowledging it. "Shall we keep going or turn?"

Some quarter of a mile ahead was a forest entrance. We decided to pull into it and ponder this question under the shelter of evergreen canopies. Leading the way, I cycled across the empty lot toward the nearest cluster of trees. And just as I came to a stop, the ground jolted beneath me and my ears rang with the sound of a terrific explosion.

It was a bang so deafening and powerful, that for a moment I froze in place as if the pause button had been pressed in a film. I then dropped my bike and ran back toward my companion, while recalling, with a sick feeling, the stories of WWII-era mines still buried in fields and forests exactly like this one.

Of course the sound was not that of an exploding mine, but of a burst bicycle tyre. And my companion was fine. But the devastation to his machine was remarkable. The rear tyre was in shreds. The wheel rim was bent. The mudguard had blown clean off its bracket and stays, and buckled in half, at an almost perfect 90° angle, from the force of the blow-back. Wiping the streaming rainwater from my face, I could discern that bits of mudguard were missing - jagged holes in the alloy where it was once connected to the installation hardware. A good thing I was not cycling behind him, I thought. And made a mental note to always wear eye protection.

As the wind began to howl and the rain to pour in one continuous frigid stream, we leaned against the pleasantly spongy pine trunks and contemplated our predicament. This contemplation did not prove time consuming, as there was really only one solution. I would cycle home, then return in the car to scoop up the mangled velo-victim and its shivering rider.

Excited by the prospect of my first rescue mission, I rode in the lashing rain and gusting wind with surprising deftness, using the cuff of my left sleeve as a perpetual windscreen wiper for my glasses, and pushing the pedals with all my might whilst counter-steering jauntily to achieve an overall forward direction in spite of erratic wind patterns. I arrived breaking no speed records, but also, thankfully, no parts of bicycle or body. And then, with surprising calmness, I got into the enclosed motorised contraption whose manual transmission I had only recently been deemed as competent enough to handle unsupervised, and propelled it, successfully, toward the woodsy spot of the explosive incident.

Much of the rest of that day was spent by the fire, the sky outside black and the whine of the wind competing with the volume of our voices, as we revived the morning's events with colourful retellings and speculated on the cause of the treacherous tyre failure.

The following day I awoke again to an eerie calm with hints of jagged sunlight. But I remained suspicious and kept my travel radius small, braving only a trip to the shop and back. And so this time, when once again the storm returned to sweep away both bike and human, I sheltered in an abandoned cottage and listened to the sounds of hailstones pelting its roof. When the storm took a breather, I high-tailed it the rest of the way home, the thunder roaring rabidly behind me all the way.


41 comments:

  1. Any idea about what caused the blowout? I've had two and they are very scary because I lost control of the bike both times. The more interesting one was during a very long descent on a Mountain Bike on a 100 degree day. The rim of blown wheel was so hot from my rim brakes it would sizzle spit! I was lucky because when the tube blew I was going moderately fast and there was a cliff a few feet to my right and I did not go over it. My theory was I overheated the tube and it split in two, but other bikers say no way could heat cause the blowout. I have disc brakes now.

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    1. It can be a number of factors, the main culprits probably being:
      1. overinflation
      2. split tube
      3. old tyres

      In this case, I would say it was either 2 or 3, or a combination thereof, as this was an old bike and I watched him inflate the tyres to a reasonable pressure.

      For what it's worth, I have never (knock on wood) myself had a tyre blowout, but nearly every male I've ridden with on repeated occasions has fallen victim to them in my presence. This makes me suspect that the combination of weight and putting-the-power-downness may be a contributing factor as well.

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    2. It's overinflation. Guys overinflate. A few blowouts are inevitable but please if any rider has more than one or two a decade they're doing something wrong. Something dangerously wrong. Section drop on your mates tire is clearly visible, or that is it is visible if it is present. Look around and try to find someone riding with 15% section drop. Amongst enthusiasts it is very rare to see someone at that pressure. That odd person out will be told their tires are going flat. Even if there were not pictures demonstrating it, overinflation is the automatic primary suspect.

      Then there are just a bunch of reasons why that old steel rim would not hold much pressure. For starters it's more likely to be a straight side rather than a hooked bead. That would limit you to about 75psi. Then there's just no way the rim is straight. They weren't much straight when new and that ductile metal has seen some insults in its time. For that matter the whole rim is flexing like mad, again because of the mild steel and even more because those old wheels had such low spoke tension, and probably lower now. That vintage plush ride. Another one would be tire/rim incompatibility, on old wheels you have to be sure, first presumption would be the fit is grade B until tested otherwise.

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    3. I agree that most of the time it's overinflation. I have a habit of underinflating, but many people I ride with think going to max PSI stated on the sidewall will make the bike faster.

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    4. I have seen a tyre explode from being left in the hot sun (40ºC+ day), presumably because it was overinflated to start with, so I don't find it surprising that a tyre might blow on a descent, it is after all a perennial fear of touring cyclists.

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    5. If you are in the habit of underinflating you will have pinch flats. That type of flat is unmistakeable, you will know it's happening. If you are below the 15% baseline and still keeping air in your tires there is no issue.

      "...people I ride with think max psi will make them faster.." Are you riding with a bunch of ten and twelve year old boys?

      "nearly every male I've ridden with has them (blowouts) in my presence." If tires were that unreliable bicycles would be far too dangerous to ride, they would be a forgotten novelty. Time to reconsider those riding companions. Be safe.

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    6. I don't mean drastically under-inflating. Just erring on the side of under as opposed to over. I have never had a pinch flat, knock on wood.

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  2. What an adventure. I really was hoping for photos of the tire blowout aftermath, though. Wow.

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    1. Because of the weather, the last thing we felt like doing at the time or in the immediate aftermath was take photos. By the time I even thought of it, he'd already unbent the fender, so the effect won't be as dramatic - but I'll go find the bike and take some now.

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    2. ...Okay, this is the best I can do in current weather and light conditions

      https://www.instagram.com/p/BBSpRVID7rh/
      https://www.instagram.com/p/BBSpXDJj7rq/

      But alas it's been tampered with and the full glory of the original post-explosive state has been lost.

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    3. I had cartoon images in my head of that scene.
      My first thought was, "what did they fill that tube with- liquid nitrogen?"

      And yeah, it is cool when stillness becomes so conspicuous.

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    4. I thought you were melodramatically exaggerating. I wouldn't have believed it tore a hole in the mudguard without a photo.

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    5. To be honest I didn't think it was that uncommon.

      I sure wish I were exaggerating about the weather though.

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  3. Wow, I've had blow-outs, but thankfully nothing as dramatic as this. Good thing he didn't get hurt.


    Good reminder here for everybody to check their tires regularly for cracks and so forth.




    Wolf.

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  4. Most commonly a blow out of this type is caused by the tube getting pinched in-between the rim and the tire, typically it is the result of the tube going "pancake flat" then if you roll the bike while it's in this condition the tire shifts and the tube gets stuck. I learned this lesson the hard way when I was a youngster. Second option could be a worn rim strip, when they get old the edges of the nipples can wear a hole in the tube over a number of miles. Both are common with bikes that have been sitting a while. Still, that's pretty impressive I would guess that the tire was also in bad shape and lent itself to coming apart, because although I've had a number of blow outs I've never experienced anything even remotely similar to what you've just described!!
    I am waiting curiously to see what the problem was once you've sussed it out! - masmojo

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    1. From what I can see there is a part of tube missing and several (!?) frayed tears in the tyre. But I'm going to let him investigate for himself. Still I don't think it was a pinch of the sort you describe. This bike was ridden fairly frequently prior to the incident (our definition of "haven't been cycling for a while" is really more like not cycling longer distances for a while); in fact he rode it briefly to a friend's house just the night before and only topped up the tyres a tad in the morning.

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    2. The only other explanation that makes sense is those rare instances where the tube slowly works it's way thru and opening or Split in the tire, gradually a large Bubble develops and most likely hit the fender causing the explosion and bending the fender. Normally though this would be preceded by a pronounced unbalancing of the wheel and audible rubbing sound; although in the conditions you've described it may have been hard to recognize &/or isolate before hand. - mas

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    3. Interesting; I think that could be it.

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  5. Stunning image at the top of the story, it says it all (except the blow out part).

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    1. Image is from the morning after.
      I do love the quality of the light we get between bad doses of storm.

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  6. A wonderful, atmospheric retelling. But shame on you! As gliding folk you should have better weather sense.

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    1. Ha, touche.

      We knew the weather did not look good. But what are you going to do when that's the case for weeks on end, stay in the house the entire time? Any little window of "not THAT bad" weather you tty to take advantage of. We just miscalculated a tad how long that window would remain open!

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    2. Yep-- any time the icky weather breaks at all, it's on with the helmet and jacket and gloves, just as you say. There's another factor for me in recent years, and that is that I'm getting older and slower (and with less-than-perfect reflexes) --and it seems to be happening faster as I age!--and I want to pack in all the bicycle time I can possibly accomplish. So-- out in some not-so-perfect weather, any time it looks feasible at all. Yeah, you get rained on and worse. I figure as long as I can do it, I shall. until the rueful day when I shall not.

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  7. Beautiful photo and great post - I was in my local bike shop speaking with the owner when there was a sudden explosion, over in the workshop area some young men looked slightly embarrassed; I imagine that a tube had been over-inflated but could not believe the noise it made when it burst. Interestingly the owner, unlike the customers, was not at all startled by this, so I imagine it is a not uncommon occurrence. I would not like to be riding a bike when this happens, considering the damage sustained by the bike in your story, it's more than just a big bang.

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  8. Re Retail Lawyer who's "other bikers say no way could heat cause the blowout". Years ago (about 40), while loaded touring in 100+ degree heat, I had two blowouts from the heat. 100 psi in new tubes and tires. The first blowout was with the bike simply standing against a wall in the sun. The second was while riding, throwing me to the asphalt. Best I could figure was I'd inflated the tires to near failure and the sun-induced expansion took the pressure over the limit. Tires (and maybe tubes) much better now, and I'm following Berto's guidelines on inflation with much wider tires.

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  9. In all my years of cycling, I can recall just one blowout of a similar nature. I had mounted a 26 by 1.5-inch tube in the 2.2-inch-wide tire of a mountain bike because that's the only tube I had. Blowing the tube up that big undoubtedly stretched it beyond its capacity. It blew about four blocks from my house, so not a huge loss. But it served as a reminder that it's good practice to match the size of tires and tubes. Loved your descriptions of this adventure.

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    1. On first reading I thought you meant the pieces from your blowout landed 4 blocks from the house!

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    2. Uh, yeah. That sentence could have been worded better. Must remember to write first, drink later.

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  10. "Not one to give into panic before breakfast"

    I love your attitude towards life

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  11. "And made a mental note to always wear eye protection"

    Yes, too often overlooked!

    I spent a very uncomfortable couple of weeks recovering from getting a small shard of metal embedded in my cornea not all that long ago, flicked up from a wheel in front while I was commuting home.

    A+E was the worst bit, having the nurse say "now stay still and try not to move your eye" when she starts leaning towards you with a needle to, as she put it, "persuade it out", unfortunately she wasn't persuasive enough and I had to go back the following week for her to dig the last of the shard and a bit of embedded rust out with some evil whizzy little brush contraption, imagine a dentist drill type apparatus heading directly for your eyeball! Was. Not. Fun.

    I Always wear eye protection now, was pretty good at doing so before, just very annoying that one of the few times I wasn't was when it happened.

    I've also suffered a phantom blowout at home, Standing in the kitchen one morning preparing breakfast when a bike leant against the back door made a little squeak, followed by an almighty bang as they tyre burst off the rim, hadn't touch the bike in about 24hrs prior, and it definitely wasn't overinflated! I still never got to the bottom of that one, must have been ghosts...

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    1. I have had a metal shard dug out of my eye, too. It's incredibly difficult to sit still and watch somebody jam pokey things into your eyeball.


      Wolf.

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    2. No no no no no no no
      lalala

      Sorry but you have found my squeamish hot button! So I am just mentally black-magic-markering over anything that connects shards and eyes, lest I accidentally read it.

      (And yes, I wear glasses when I cycle... which, oddly, did not stop a bee from stinging me under the eye in summer 2013.)

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    3. Yes, I wear glasses when cycling but one hot summer day passing a cow pasture, I noticed a spiraling b black dot flying toward me. Next thing I knew it had landed beneath my nose and started climbing inside my nose - jagged legs and all. The shell was really hard. All I could do was stop the bike and grab the top of my nostril so the thing couldn't continue it's journey into my sinuses. Wish I had had tweezers at this point. I had to pull it out and in the process it tore the inside of my nose an inch. Lots of flushing with water from my bottle and I high-tailed it back to the car [5 miles from there]. I could feel my nose swelling inside and there was pain. Went home and called the emergency weekend clinic. It took antihistamine shots and antibiotics. Always carry tweezers.

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  12. Is that your pretty Raleigh Tourist in the picture?

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    1. Bella Ciao. My remaining DL1 is in Boston.

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  13. I just love that bike.. I have decided to not buy any more "big wheeled bikes" (bigger than 20") but it is not easy with such a beauty being out there. maybe I should sell some bikes to justify it.. But then, where can you park and leave a bike like that?

    We had a lot of blowouts in the past, most of them when not riding. Overinflating, left in the sun, wrong tube, pinched tube, bad rimtape and so one. Several of them in the house. My poor dog (RIP) got used to it and in the end was not scared since we all laughed.
    Once one bike exploded (old tyre, left in the sun) and scared my neighbour. I had to explain. I asked if he tought we were shooting at eachother and he said "eh, well..".

    Riding on a bikelane in Denmark on the coast north of Copenhagen there was an oldish man in front of us. Riding in a relaxed manner, "walking" his dog and speaking on a cellphone. Suddenly "Bang" like a gunshot. Poor dog- they both survived ;-)

    badmother

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  14. That is a scary sound. Happened to me riding my old Raleigh mixte with steel rims. I was rollin' on a level road and suddenly there was a loud explosion. I'd also had two glasses of iced tea that morning so you can imagine the effect. Fortunately I was within a mile or so of the car and did the walk of shame back to it, trying not to let the weight of the rear wheel damage the tire. The tire wasn't over-inflated but it could have been any number of reasons why it happened. Another time I must have had an old tube as it blew as I was inflating it.

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  15. The mudguard is repairable with a little TLC.

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  16. From the photograph this looks like an alloy mudguard. There is just the one stay. The hole is just aft of the bridge fitting. I wonder if the metal had crystallized from bending/vibration, and hence the jagged hole. Re the tyre pressures an earlier post referred to section drop and another to Frank Berto. Adventure Cycling published a handy explanation and guide to tyre pressures by Jan Heine in March 2009. For anyone interested the link is https://www.adventurecycling.org/default/assets/resources/200903_PSIRX_Heine.pdf
    Thank you for your thought provoking posts. Your blog is refreshingly different. Scott.

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