Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
Maybe you’ve heard the saying “even smart people make dumb mistakes.” Not that I’m feeling particularly smart about now, but I’ve been repeating that old saw lately trying to stop thinking about a recent very dumb mistake. Maybe sharing it will save one of you from making it.
El Morro National Monument
To recap, last week my wife and I were RVing in New Mexico and we stayed in a lovely and totally free (!) campground at El Morro National Monument in Ramah, New Mexico. One amazing feature here are the over 2,000 petroglyphs, signatures, dates and messages, left by the Zuni people, Spanish conquistadors and American soldiers and travelers on the base of Morro Rock’s wall.
What drew them to Morro Rock was the 200,000 gallon pool of water at its base, the only source of fresh agua for miles. This natural reservoir (created and fed by rain runoff and snow melt) also supported ancestral Puebloans who built housing for 500 to 600 people atop the rock in the year 1274. They called their clifftop village Atsinna (translation: where pictures are on the rock). The photo shows some of the ruins atop Morro Rock, the other amazing feature here.
Riding On One of the Oldest Routes in America
I was excited to ride from the campground because Highway 53, the only road there, traces the path that all these folks traveled to get to El Morro. It’s part of the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway. It was a beautiful drive in the RV getting to the park and even nicer to be spinning down the road on my Cervelo.
When I returned to the campsite, I carefully leaned my featherweight carbon wonder against a tree next to our RV. I made sure to lean it in such a way that it couldn’t fall toward the tree or back into our rolling home on its own.
Notice that I said “on its own.” That was my stupid mistake. Driving across Arizona and New Mexico to get to El Morro we had experienced ferocious winds. Even though we drive a 24-foot Lazy Daze Class C RV (smallish as RVs go), at times I had to arm wrestle with the steering wheel to keep our rig in our lane. And, while hiking we had to tie on our hats and watch our footing. One of the rangers in New Mexico told us the gusts were at times up to 55 mph.
Yet, that day on the bike had been calm so I completely forgot about the gusts when I parked my bike against the tree. I went into the RV to clean up and when I came out, our RVing buddy Sue who planned our trip told me that the wind had blown my bike over.
You can see in this photo that my poor bicycle never had a chance. Best I could figure looking at it lying there and then back at the tree and thinking how I had parked it, I believe the wind pushed a branch and that branch hit my bike knocking it over.
Unfortunately the bike’s top tube took the full force of the blow, which was delivered by the sharp point of a rock. In the next photo here you can see how the rock cracked the frame almost as neatly as splitting firewood with a hatchet. The crack in the frame travels more than halfway around.
Frame Materials Comparison
Before completely blaming the carbon frame material, it’s only fair to point out that an aluminum and steel frame suffering the same blow would dent. The difference obviously is that the carbon cracked, which is worse damage than a dent. I haven’t taken any steps to investigate how far through my tubing the crack runs but a cracked carbon frame is risky to ride on.
In contrast, dented steel and aluminum frames typically keep right on riding as they did before they were damaged. I have never tested the dent resistance of my titanium bicycle. I’d be interested if any of you have dented yours.
The thing about monocoque carbon frames like my Cervelo S5 is that they’re created with a heat-cured resin, which results in a crystalline structure. Sort of like how an EMT might save you in a crash by shattering your window simply by hitting it with a pointed instrument – that’s what the rock did to my frame.
Laying Down is Safer than Leaning
The moral of this sad story is that I should have known better than to park my bike by leaning it. Especially since I knew the wind was fierce and also unpredictable.
I should have parked it by gently laying it on its left (non-drivetrain) side on the ground. In that position – as long as it was where no one could step on it or heaven forbid drive over it, it wouldn’t have been able to fall down and wouldn’t now be broken.
Repairing the Frame
I haven’t had time to look into it yet, but my plan is to have the frame repaired by one of the carbon companies that specialize in it. I will let you know how it goes if I do that. Please comment if you’d like to share your carbon bike repair.
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s cycling streak ended in February 2022 with a total of 10,269 consecutive daily rides (28 years, 1 month and 11 days of never missing a ride). Click to read Jim’s full bio.
Doug Kirk says
Once again, one of bicycling’s great truths is proven: Durability, low cost, light weight—at most you can only have two out of three.
George Straznitskas says
Sorry to hear Jim. For what it’s worth, Calfee (California) did a great job repairing my Cervelo about 8 years ago. Highly recommend. Good luck.
My composite seat post cracked on my giant defy 3. Got a warranty replacement-that cracked. That scared me off carbon bikes. I don’t want to ride anything that delicate. No more carbon for me. I ride steel road bikes now.
I am sure people would be just as happy on a quality steel road bike.
Brian Nystrom says
I think it’s a bit extreme to assume that all carbon bikes are delicate based on experience with one specific model. My gravel bikes – which take a fair amount of abuse – would certainly belie that. I haven’t had any failures with the three carbon road bikes I’ve owned, either. There are millions of carbon bikes out in the world that are doing just fine.
If you really want the ultimate in durability, you should be riding titanium, not steel.
Tony M says
Here’s a story about titanium’s resilience. Many years ago I was riding my Serotta Concours on a 50 mile club ride. I noticed a persistent squeak during the ride that drove me crazy. I assumed it was the usual culprit, so after the ride, I lubed the seat post and saddle rails. The next day I went out for another 40 miler. Unfortunately, the squeak was still there. At two points during the ride, I hit some rough patches on the road and my water bottle fell out of my cage, which had never happened before. After the ride, I put the bike on my trunk rack and noticed what I thought was grease on the down tube just above the bottle cage. When I looked closer, I saw that the downtube had split in a spiral fracture that went almost the whole circumference of the tube. Because it spiraled up, the two ends of the fracture never met. Despite that damage, which I’m sure started on the first ride, the bike held together for 90 miles. Serotta, which was still in business at the time, repaired the bike and I still ride it today.
Brad Block says
Yes, Ti can be dented too. The top tube of my Lynskey Ti frame met with a bolt on the bottom of a repair stand. The dent looked like someone had shot it with a bb gun. Chipped the paint off also. Fortunately, I found someone who repaired it and duplicated the paint job perfectly. A $100 accident.
Broken Carbon in Boulder, CO did a great job on my Cervelo.
RICK SCHULTZ says
Where it hit the pointed piece of the rock, wow, that is the thinnest part (wall thickness) of the frame. Yes it can be repaired, with matching paint you are looking around $800. Several great CF repair shops around.
Eric Brandt says
I also had a stay repaired by Broken Carbon, no regrets. I was inspired to learn about repair myself. It requires a lot of sanding, but repair is quick with the right compressive shrink tape to assure proper bonding, fairly easy.
Jim Langley says
Thanks, Eric, the idea of fixing it myself has crossed my mind. Thanks a lot for the tips!
Barbara Dahl says
I also had great service from Broken Carbon after my beloved Orbea’s top tube cracked when it fell in a bike rack. $550 later, it’s as good as new. I LOVE carbon. I also have a classic Lemond titanium, which I love for different reasons. All good!
Robert Mairs says
I broke the frame on my Bianchi 928 in a race years ago. I had Calfee repair it. They did a fabulous job. So good that if you didn’t know where it was broken you would have a hard time finding the repair. New decals and clear coat. Some years later I sent it back to them to unstick a frozen seat post. Once again they did a fabulous job.
I’m too am sorry to hear about the cracked frame, that sucks.
I have seen that sort of thing happen before over the years since CF bikes have been out, that is why I won’t buy a CF bike. I knew a guy who parked his bike in the garage, his 5 year old daughter goes in to do something and she accidently knocked the bike and it fell, not down to the ground, just sort of fell onto a vise he had mounted to his work bench, and that small amount of drop cracked the frame; I have several other examples of where a bike fell and damaged the frame. I would much rather have a small dent and still be able to ride the bike, than a crack and not be able to ride it all till it’s fixed at a cost of $400 to $700.
If you’re out touring or camping far from home, and suffer that sort of damage, then what do you do?
What unsettles me with CF bikes is that I can take my index finger and my thumb and squeeze in the middle of any frame tube and get that section where I’m squeezing to flex inward, I’ve done it with forks too. I’m not a big guy either, and to make a frame do that with just my two fingers is a bit disconcerting to me. But in todays world even some steel, aluminum, and titanium bikes come with CF forks, so I have one on my TI bike, and Enve 2.0, I have to live with it since that’s all there is.
Chris Landry says
Minor point, but the cracking of your frame is *nothing* like an EMT shattering your tempered glass car window. Glass is an amorphous solid – not crystalline at all. Tempered glass is heat treated such that there is a lot of tension in the surfaces of the pane. This makes it much stronger but, also, when the pane is broken at one point, this tension pulls the entire thing to shatter into small pieces.
The windshield of your car is actually laminated glass, which is something else entirely.
Jim Langley says
Thanks, Chris, appreciate the correction. I was talking about the little pointed side window breakers the EMTs use: https://amzn.to/3FZCJb7 In the photos of their use, the side window cracked not exactly like my Cervelo but both did crack.
Bruce Ross says
Joe’s Carbon Solutions in Watsonville (http://www.carbonsolutionsrepair.com/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI_7z0gI_s9wIV1NrICh1D_QYPEAAYASAAEgKusPD_BwE) has done many projects for me and his work is stellar.
Ditto on Calfee for doing a wonderful job of repairing carbon fiber frames. Several years ago, I broke a chain stay on my Cervelo R3 and Calfee performed a perfect repair. Fairly quick turnaround too. Calfee, by the way is the guy who builds custom bike frames of bamboo. He also has his own line of CF bikes.
Haven’t “dented” my Ti frame. But, one day my seat stay completely cracked in 2 while riding, for no apparent reason. Luckily, while going slow, uphill, so no crash. Don’t believe the marketing hype about Ti lasting “a lifetime!”
Thanks. Laying down is better thal Leaning. I live in india and its hard to repair Carbon Bikes. This will help me to keep my bike safe. Thanks
I crashed my 23 year old Seven Axiom SL over 15 years ago resulting in cracked ribs, slight punctured lung, broken collarbone, smashed rim, and a slight dent from the handlebar on the top tube. I put a sticker on it for a year or two, but it has been gradually disappearing over the years and it is a small badge of honor.
My 2007 Merlin (titanium) frame met with a freak accident. I had pulled it out of my car in front of my bike shop and handed it off to a store employee…. so I thought. The guy didn’t take it, but let it fall over and smack on the granite curb, putting a nice dent in the middle of my seat stay. I was devastated. The shop owner, not taking any responsibility, told me it might cost hundreds of dollars, that I’d have to send it out and get the whole triangle cut out and replaced. I left in tears and asked all my friends what to do. Someone knew a custom builder who used titanium. For just $100, he did magic, rolling the dent out and applying a bit of welding to shore it up. You can hardly tell where it happened. I had to have a friend completely strip the components off the bike first, but that only cost me a six-pack of beer.
Jim Langley says
Thanks everyone for the great comments, tips, suggestions and stories, much appreciated!