Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Rough Ride



I had known the remote mountain road would be battered after the winter. But I did not predict it being this stunningly bad. It was not a matter of having to watch out for potholes. The whole thing was a pothole. More of a ravine than a road. More of a riverbed. As I plummeted, bouncingly, down the mountainside, mud and water sprayed everywhere. Stones slingshot from under my tyres in all directions.

It had been some time since I'd gone on a ride like this. Alone. Far. Wandering the back roads in search of a location the way to which I could only vaguely remember. Last time I had cycled this way, I did not recall there being quite so much climbing - which could only mean I was still pretty weak. My lower back was starting to ache. The wind was picking up and the mist growing heavier. If I didn't find the place in the next half hour, I would need to turn back, unless I wanted to do the return trip in the dark and fog (I did not).

As the headwind showered my face with gravely dust from the road, there was a question I was asking myself - or rather, trying not to ask, which amounts to a more pressing, repetitive asking. Was I enjoying this? And if not, why had I not waited? Another month, even another week, until I grew stronger and the weather improved, before taking on this trip.

But I hadn't waited. And now I was tired and slow, and needed to make a decision. My decision was to descend down a road which I knew was tricky, but would get me off the mountain before dark.

A quarter of the way down, 'tricky' was no longer the fitting word for the terrain I found myself on. 'Tricky' had given way to 'no longer qualifies as a road.' Well, no sense going back now.

It had been a while since I had last done this descent. But somehow my body retained the memory of the sequence of bends coming up. Rather amazingly, I sat through the bounce and jostle calmly, more surprised at the road condition than anything, as I steered away from the more gaping openings in the rough surface, and equally away from the cliff's edge. All the while I tried to take in - and enjoy - the glorious misty views.

At some point during this, I felt my front tyre dislodge a particularly large rock. As my bike bounced sideways before regaining its composure, I saw, from the corner of my eye, the rock flying. It must then have bounced off of something violently, as I then heard a loud clanking noise. Hoping it was not my derailleur, I tested my gears. Luckily, they seemed fine. And so I continued the hideous high-speed bounce down the ravaged lane with no further incident. Two hours later, I was home. And after washing the mud off my face, I fell promptly asleep.



It was not till the following week that I felt up to trying another adventure. I'd begun to feel better by then. And I also started to tell myself, that the earlier trip was not nearly as 'epic' as I'd made it out to be. The road had probably been fine, maybe a pothole or two. I had just been tired, is all, and my mind played tricks, exaggerating every tiny thing I encountered.

After breakfast that morning, I looked over my bike - checking it, as I do before any long ride. I am especially concerned about the wheels; having built them myself I still don't entirely trust them to stay intact. And indeed, this time around I noticed a spoke on my front wheel was loose. In fairness, this has happened to almost every set of wheels I've ridden in Ireland, including factory-built ones. Not a disaster: the spoke gets tightened; the wheel re-trued it need be, loctite applied and afterward all is well.

And so I did just that. And it was not until afterward that I noticed the ...other thing. When I saw it at first I had to force myself to stand up quickly and walk away - far away - from the bike, before I did anything stupid like fling it at the wall in anger. When I finally calmed down and looked at it again, I still had to take deep breaths.

Wow.

Wowwowwow.

So that's what the rock had bounced off of.

I ran my fingers along the dented seat tube, again and again.

After a minute or two it finally sunk in that the dent was there, and would not disappear no matter how much I wanted it to. But whatever mix of emotions I felt initially, dissipated. With a clear head, I checked the frame for other signs of damage. There were none. I put on my shoes, got on the bike, and rode for a couple of hours. The weather was good. The bicycle felt wonderful as ever.

I would not be the first to use cycling as a metaphor for - you know - Life. And this one is so obvious, I almost can't help but chuckle at the sight of that dent. (Almost.)

We go through a rough time, convince ourselves all is fine, that it wasn't that bad really. But when trauma or damage occurs, it will surface afterward, sooner or later. Sooner or later we will notice and have to acknowledge it. And then?

Well, that is up to us, isn't it. Either way, I think noticing is important.



40 comments:

  1. Well, it's good to read that you are alright. We were beginning to worry! That's a shame about the dented seat tube - is that repairable? That could have been your shin-bone!

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  2. That's a pretty healthy dent! If that stone had caught you on the leg... ouch! Glad to see you got down that road (deer path?) safely.

    When i stripped my old Mercian path bike for respraying, i discovered that the previous owner had filled in some dents in the top tube with Bondo. i left them unfilled -perhaps as a reminder that battle scars tell a history of use and experience.

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  3. I got the dent in my 531c Mercian top tube by getting my ambitions mixed up with my abilities whilst descending Mont Ventoux in the rain.

    It still rides beautifully and I am reminded of a great adventure every time I squirt the Mister Sheen in it's direction. It was a bit of a blow at the time, but I've learned harder lessons before.

    Isn't this blemish what Grant Peterson calls 'Beausage' ?

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  4. and I thought the 8 inch long scratch on the top tube of my Ebisu was bad. Ouch!

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  5. Dents and scrapes are records of all our "epic" adventures! All adventures can be "epic" if the story is properly told.

    That first one hurts the worst, right?

    Wolf.

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  6. Ouch!

    On a related note (though still fairly off-topic, so ignore if inappropriate) I recently managed to bend the derailleur hanger on my ancient Trek 1200. A mechanic at my LBS helped me bend it back, but it has a crack. It rides fine, but it's cracked aluminum so who knows for how long.

    I know there are some years of experience in the readership here, so I thought I'd ask--while fully expecting the answer to be "no"--if anyone knew if I had any options that might preserve the frame, as it fits me more perfectly than any other I've ever ridden. Right now I'm thinking about trying to find another on eBay-- though I've had my eye out even before and haven't seen a 60cm--or saving up until I can maybe afford a custom frame that copies the dimensions. But that could well be years, and I also don't know how framebuilders would feel about such a project.

    Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

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    1. Years ago I had a crack in an aluminum boat welded by a shop that specialized in aluminum work, very thin metal, they did a nice job. They charged me next to nothing, what you're describing is probably not a big deal for someone who knows how. I would approach it that way.

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    2. Check around for someone who is very competent welding aluminum. Can probably get you back without worries. May require some annealing, but the welder can tell you. May need some touch-up paint.

      An aside: I once had an aluminum frame with a stripped rear derailleur hanger. Many shops said no way to repair. One shop said, Oh yeah, we'll just put in a threaded insert. THAT was the answer I was looking for. That shop has had the majority of my business since as I knew then that they were highly competent.
      Cheers!

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    3. Your bike does not ride fine. That crack is a present danger. When the. crack goes all the way through, and it will, the derailleur goes in the spokes. You do not want that accident. The mechanic who encouraged you to continue riding is also dangerous. Yes, probably repairable. A Trek 1200? Hard to see that repair is worth the trouble, but many would.

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    4. I personally wouldn't trust a cracked aluminum frame for very long, definitely not for anything requiring exertion. The tubing is very thin, and the metal is fairly soft.
      As for getting a custom frame with those dimensions, I know a couple of framebuilders that find those projects fairly straight forward. They don't have to come up with special geometry, and if it works, and you'll be happy... Find someone local who builds with aluminum (if you want stay with that material) and go from there. It might not be as much as you think.

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  7. Steve from WestchesterMarch 28, 2017 at 2:11 PM

    That's tough luck on such a pretty bike. I wonder if a really good PDR (Paintless Dent Repair) guy could take that out? You might check some local high end car dealerships to see if then can provide a referral. If it was my bike, I'd definitely give it a try, as I have seen many times the magic that my very skilled PDR guy has performed on my cars over the years. Your dent is on a spot where access for PDR tools is possible. What I would do is cut off a short length of crappy seatpost the right size and clamp the piece in with it protruding about 1 cm so that the PDR tool can use it as a fulcrum point instead of prying against the seatpost opening. I think worse case scenario would be a good PDR guy would make the dent almost disappear. Best case, it will no longer be noticeable at all. If the paint is damaged or cracked, you may need to follow up with some touch-up, wet-sanding, then polishing. My guy has resorted to that on occasions for door dings. Keep in mind that PDR is a skill that can be learned overnight, but takes MANY years to reach the peak of the profession. You want to find someone who's been doing it for years.

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    1. i don't know but i'd probably leave off trying to push or pull that dent out. It's a fairly deep and sharp ding, and it's in a place where the tubing is probably pretty thin and the stress of removing the dent could cause greater metal fatigue that may lead to fracture. It might be best to learn to live with it as the cure could be worse.

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    2. Steve from WestchesterMarch 29, 2017 at 1:11 PM

      >mike w. That's where the skill of PDR comes in; they know the 'feel" of stretching metal, and are used to working with strong thin metal in a variety of thicknesses. Keep in mind that metal tube has full strength only when in it's original shape. So, given the magnitude of this dent, it's already quite compromised. Getting it back to round is probably going to make it stronger, not weaker.

      My PDR guy would charge me about $100-$150 for a dent like this, and would probably spend 1.5-2 hours on it. Clearly, MUCH cheaper than stripping the paint, replacing the tube, then a full repaint.

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    3. Completely agree

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  8. The anger that can be unleashed by a confronted trauma. Spot on.

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  9. Glad to see you back. Sorry about the dent - particularly painful when the frame is your own offspring...

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  10. Both already covered by previous posters.

    Ouch, that's one for a dent removal professional, if you're lucky.

    And Beausage is a thing, if you're into it. I am, and my Wolverine shows it, generally scrapes from the bike rack at work.

    Finally, descend or descent in paragraph 6?

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  11. Thin walled and lightweight tubing is good north to south but vulnerable east to west.

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  12. I would second what Steve said about Paintless Dent Repair. Failing that conventional auto body repair would certainly clean that up. I have a vintage 1898 shelby ideal that has some kind of filler material (thick primer?) filling imperfections in lugless brazed joints. I'll bet for such a small area you could do a bondo fill yourself, in keeping with "I made it myself". Give it a try, you won't hurt it any. The bike is surely worth it.

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  13. With a steel bike will probably last forever, but watch. Maybe same for titanium. Aluminum bike, watch closely for cracking or further deformation. Carbon Fiber? Strip components now and send frame off to the knacker. Like NOW!
    Cheers!

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    1. Carbon fibre frames are relatively inexpensive to have repaired. If you need an "invisible" repair, the paint job can be expensive though.

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  14. Any good gunsmith who works on high quality birdguns will have a dent raiser. Normally it's used to get dingers out of the barrels of expensive shotguns. Since your dent is in the seat tube and is accessible, it might be worth a shot (no pun intended) to give it a try.

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  15. How unfortunate, I have never had a dent in all my years of riding mountain bikes along rock strewn trails; I hope you are able to have it repaired.

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  16. Shops that paint frames have the most, and most applicable experience at dent removal. Yours is not coming out completely, it would be filled before a repaint.

    It is a most impressive dent. Just wow.

    Consider a moment that all the energy in the stone was imparted by the bike. Your frame handles that much energy and more constantly. When everything is working normally your frame does that with ease. But there is always a lot going on.

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  17. Do I recall correctly that you chose very lightweight (thin walled) tubing for this bike, despite the protests of your instructor? That could make riding it off road more problematic when it comes to potential denting.

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    1. Yes. And yes.

      Although it's worth noting that practically every bike featured in Bicycle Quarterly and the like have the same tubing, and are ridden on unpaved terrain much more frequently than my bike. Often it just comes down to luck.

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    2. Over the years I've had odd things propelled at my body or bike, either by my bike itself or cars or trees or, well the list is large. Always it seemed at the time to be a freakish accident but I've got the scars and dents to suggest otherwise ;)

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  18. I'd think about brazing on a larger pipe patch. It would look like a misplaced lug, but hey, it'd keep it stable and remain a marker for your story.

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    1. That is the solution of this ever becomes a problem. The dent is in a relatively low stress location. Were it on the right side of the frame and a couple inches lower the patch you propose would be advisable now. This is also an easy to inspect location. And it is steel so there will be ample warning if the dent ever starts to change.

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  19. So, what will you do with this? Is it a concern?

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    1. As far as I can tell the dent, while unsightly, is cosmetic and poses no immediate structural danger. So I plan to ride the bike and try not to dwell on it.

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  20. Your face was showered with gravely dust and mud and yet your bike is always so remarkably clean. Did you clean it up before these photos? I'm trying to deconstruct the images, your memories, and the actual fact that something dented this frame. A few days ago I had a longish journey which took me through thirty miles of road and about twenty miles of gravel and dirt. It's spring and wet and the frame, wheels, and drive train were covered with so much grime I could not see the paint underneath. Thankfully, no rocks squeezed back up into the frame. Would you have preferred to take a tumble off the bike if it meant the frame would not have been dented?

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    1. Yes, I cleaned the bike.

      I hadn't considered the tumble vs dent question until now; had to think about that. I suppose that assuming I didn't get hurt, yes I would have preferred it.

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    2. The thing about falling is a brief adrenaline rush which helps keep the pain a bay and the fact that the body heals!

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  21. Just watched a Youtube video of a guy using frame blocks, a vise and plenty of grease to roll out dents in a frame. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTDeXG0kweA

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    1. Steve from WestchesterApril 3, 2017 at 9:52 AM

      That's a cool video. Two things about the blocks that are key for this situation; first, the paint will definitely be destroyed. Second, this may be the only good option for anything but a seat tube. There's really no way to get any sort of tool inside a top tube or down tube, not to mention a fork or rear stay.

      I'd still go with an internal repair here. Access is available and you've got a good chance of making the dent disappear without damaging the paint, using PDR, or the gunsmithing techniques described above.

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  22. What you have there is a story written on your frame, it may not be in words, and nobody else will know the details unless you translate it for them, but it is a story nonetheless.

    Every time you see it you will remember that ride, the experiences, the emotions, and the details of your experience and as time goes on it will become just another memory.

    When I pick up a dent or scrape like that I consider it another chapter in the life of the bike, and as long as doesn't present a structural threat you should let the bike wear it with pride and if anyone ever asks you about it you can take the opportunity to tell them the story.

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  23. On dents and memories:

    A hot (!) summer's day in 1988, saw my C.T.C. clubmates and I stop for refreshments in Laragh, Co. Wicklow. As we were getting ready to leave, three cyclists came steaming through town, one of them wearing a jersey with rainbow stripes. "Stephen!" one of my clubmates yelled out.

    The cyclist in the rainbow jersey was none other than Stephen Roche, the reigning world professional road race champion. He knew my clubmate, Brendan, and veered over for a quick chat. He was "enjoying" an injury plagued season, the yin to follow the yang of winning the Giro d'Italia, the Tour de France and the world championships the previous year, and thus was training in Ireland instead of racing on the continent that summer. We all frantically stashed our bikes and those with cameras - sadly, not me at that time - took photos. I carefully, or so I thought, parked my Raleigh Randonneur against a sign post and joined the mêlée.

    Rochie, wearing tights on that hot day and dripping sweat, didn't hang around for too long and we returned to our bikes. Mine had slipped, with the top tube falling against the sign post and acquiring a nice dent - and this in a stout 531 Super Tourist tube - but at least it had a story to go with it.

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  24. Aggh. Sorry to see Alice take such a hit, but am grateful that it was not your leg or something. As for the heart and mind, and body...

    It maybe possible to roll that dent out. I am not sure if there are other metallurgical considerations that might make it a bad idea. Does Mike F have any suggestions?


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