--Yesterday, while filming some video for a POC body armor review, I had a crash. It seems fitting. And while not out of the ordinary, this one left me with a few things to think about. I don’t know the reason for the introspection. It’s not that I’m having an ‘I’m getting too old for this shit’ time in my life. Sure, I don’t bounce like I used to and bruises, aches, and pains seem to stick with me a little longer. No, I think the difference is that my crash yesterday wasn’t rooted in plain stupidity, an overreaching sense of my ability, or caused by the twinkling of the video lens and the bravado it sometimes inspires. Yesterday was a technical glitch.
We’d been filming inside the building for some upcoming video reviews, and the chance to get outside on a beautiful spring day was looming. I’d brought my bike along with a couple of helmets and my hard shelled POC shin/knee pads. For the outside shoot, I thought I’d wear my old stuff and grab a pair of the new POC Joint Elbow Pads from the warehouse. They sure look cool and I thought it’d be nice to have a pair of each of their soft and hard armor while we did the shoot. I’d wear my POC Cortex Helmet and it would be a nice package.
As it turns out, I’d grabbed a pair of their soft knee pads instead of elbow pads. I cussed a bit and had a fleeting thought of backtracking to the shop to make the exchange for the elbow pads, but I was ready to ride and we had good light. Cap, our video queen, and I looked around for a couple nice lines to ride in the quarry at our terrain park nearby. I was planning to play it safe and stay away from our big dirt jumps and hucker lines. Instead, I spotted a few steep, loose lines down the edge of the quarry. Safe enough -- just ride down. Gravity will do the work, and maybe it’ll look cool. If Cap can just capture the steepness of the hill, everyone might just get the picture that POC body armor is for the days when you’re riding the steeps. We’ll sell ’em like hotcakes. Good plan? Right.
First line, easy does it. And actually it was easy. It was fun, and I was thinking that riding in front of the camera is way better than talking in front of it. After all, riding mountain bikes is what I do. The second line was one I’d never ridden before. It’s just a steep section of the quarry wall, molested years ago by city and county entities looking for good fill material. What’s left now is a broken face of sandstone and shale, sandwiched in coupled layers. The shale rots and expands, continuously breaking the whole package loose. So I figured, if nothing else I skid down the whole thing, just lean back and let it go. It should’ve been no problem. And it wasn’t. No, the mishap occurred on the runout below the steep face of the hill.
My line took me down onto a black shale bench. It’s lumpy in places and as I let the brakes go as the pitch lessened, I gained speed quickly and ramped off an unseen hump. It shouldn’t have been a big deal, but after a teeny tiny bit of airtime, I landed on the side of a seemingly innocuous second hump of shale. It needs to be explained that, while that whole shale bench looks loose and soft, as if you could crash into it and your impact energy would be muted or even absorbed by the displacement of a cushioning bed of broken shale, the actual reality is that it’s all just a thinly veiled lie. The loose layer of shale that looks almost inviting is just thick enough to foil your quest for traction and overlies real rock -- solid and unyielding. Trust me.
As a test
dummy rider for new products that we’re contemplating on carrying, I have the fun job of hanging new parts on my bike and as you’ve always heard, ‘riding it like I stole it.’ This was the case yesterday. I had some lightweight XC type UST wheels that I’d just installed. They were shod with some UST tires and to my knowledge had about 40 psi inside. Now this is a combination I’d ride all day with and never, ever, ever think about -- not doing what they’re designed to do. But today, I think I’ve decided that there are limitations that should be considered with current tubeless wheel/tire systems. Obviously I used them out of context, and it got me thinking.
When my front tire touched down on the sloping side of that hump of shale, the sweetness of the line evaporated as quickly as I found myself weightless, and sadly that weightlessness was very short-lived. Yes, the rock was hard, but it was a perfect landing. And luckily my back broke my fall. My momentum carried me back up to my feet, but my lungs felt dead. I was helpless to make them do anything, but I didn’t feel helpless because I knew that I’d landed so hard that I’d simply knocked the wind out of myself. As I stood there it occurred to me that that was a silly way of describing my condition, but what else could you call it? I’d never heard it as anything else. I stood, then kneeled, then laid down failing to stir as much as a whisper, let alone a breeze or even slight wind inside my chest.
Cap was startled, of course, by the circumstances (she hasn’t hung out with mountain bikers enough I guess). She asked lots of simple questions, ‘are you ok, is it your neck, your back, want me to call 911?’ Each time I waved off her questions with a strained moan and a friendly wave of my right hand. And as the pressures began to equalize, I was able to take in some of the sweetest city air I’ve had in awhile. I’ve forgotten how tough it is to get started breathing again after that happens. I’m no doctor (it’s just a game I play sometimes), but I imagined my lungs hanging limp and flaccid inside my chest, and to be honest I much prefer them the way they are this morning -- plump and full of air and atmospheric pollutants.
When I got myself collected, we reviewed the video and sadly the spill was slightly off camera. She’d caught up to me as the bike landed after its last tumble and I rolled to my feet. Damn. Everybody knows that if you’re gonna eat it, it’s always best to go ahead and get it on film so you can watch it and laugh later. The crash itself was stunning in the way that I didn’t see or feel it coming. Most of the time, I can forecast disaster at least for a moment before it happens and it’s usually my fault. Yesterday it was a total surprise. After reviewing the instant playback and it revealed nothing that indicated the root cause of the incident, my inner detective took over and I found out what happened.
When I landed on the side of that hump, my front tire folded off to the left and the right sidewall of the rim dug into that scrim of shale on the uphill side of the hump. As I thought about this, I recalled some commentary from the Winter Olympics as they explained how the ski racers had to push hard into the skis to get them to flex into an arch and as they leaned that arcing edge into the snow and ice, the skis delivered the turn. Well I dug in an arc with a 13 inch radius and believe me, it turned. In fact, the wheel turned so hard and fast, it did it while I kept the handlebars relatively straight. When the dust settled, I found my bar and stem to be turned to the left about 30 degrees out of whack, and I recalled hearing the squawk of the properly torqued stem twisting on the steerer the instant before I did a squirrel dive over the bars.
As it turns out, I’ve confirmed in my mind what we already know. Narrow rims are best left on cross-country bikes. And perhaps 40 psi wasn’t enough for hard riding with tubeless tires. On that kind of terrain, I’d normally run bigger tires on wider rims and use tubes. In light of their recent demonization that coincides with the advent of tubeless tire technology, inner tubes still play a technological role. They help hold a tire against the rim. I know for sure that had I been on my Industry Nine Enduros (with WTB 2.3 tires and inner tubes) I wouldn’t have a story for today. Oh well. We live and we learn. Am I scared of tubeless tires? No way. Never have been. It’s just that there are certain horses for certain courses. That’s why I like to have more bikes than the average bike nut.
In the end, it was really funny. Cap was still a bit shaken, but I felt fine and walked away from the whole ordeal. I fixed my bike. I had to straighten the bar and stem and I deflated my squishy front tire to scrape out all of the shale chunks that got stuffed up into the bead in between the tire and rim. It pumped right back up (it’s UST, duh) easily with a floor pump and when the tire seated, I was ready to ride. We did some more shots and called it a day. As I loaded my bike and gear back into the van, Cap commented on how scary that was and I said, ‘yeah, that was a close call, if I’d have brought those new POC elbow pads instead of the knee pads, I’d be out $100 bucks!’ We both looked at my scraped forearm and thought of the irony of it all and laughed.
--Reminder: We’re hosting some of the Team Ergon members for a No-Drop MTB ride/evening clinic at 5:00pm on Thursday, March 25th. They plan to share inside secrets about Ergon products, being successful mountain bike racers, and what it will take to dominate our very own Noah Singer at the Ouachita Challenge marathon event this coming weekend.
Please be aware that we’re watching the weather very carefully and are hoping for a blessing. Maybe the rain will stay away as the local trails are in perfect condition as of this writing. But if it’s pouring rain and the ride is a bust, we’ll still have the clinic and you can be sure that the Team Ergon folks are an entertaining bunch!
For further updates on this event and for information about future Competitive Cyclist community events, follow us on Twitter! We’re @CompCyclistMTB