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Not Just Another Bike Crash

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Part 1: Not a Novice

I am lucky enough to own one of the best mountain bikes made. On memorial day weekend, I bought a Specialized Stumpjumper FSR ("Full Suspension Response") Carbon Expert 29er. I have spent two full months building my skills to fully utilize this sophisticated machine.

I am not a novice mountain biker.

I started trail riding when the majority of mountain bikes where not far removed from road bikes. Back in the day, affordable mountain bikes had no suspension. The so called "mountain bikes" were steel road bikes with flat handle bars, knobbly tires and lower gearing.

In 1981, the first mass-produced mountain bike was introduced by a company that made bike tires called "Specialized". The bike was called the "Stumpjumper".

This is a photo of the 1981 Stumpjumper. The first "Stumpy" is displayed in the Smithsonian Institute. The first mountain bikes were crude, heavy and expensive at $750 in 1981 dollars.

Bike retailers were skeptical about the whole idea of "big BMX Bikes" for adults. The first shipment of Stumpys sold out in six days. The sport of mountain biking was born.

In 1982 I had just finished graduate school. $750 was a heck of a lot of money back then. I bought a knock-off Stumpjumper made by Huffy for $200. The Huffy was awful but it could handle dirt. I rode the Huffy until if fell apart.

I moved from Colorado to Texas and rode my mountain bike on the rough dirt roads through the Texas Hill Country north of San Antonio. SInce my house was the furthest north point in San Antonio, I just rolled down my driveway and pedaled about 250 yards right into the Hill Country.

I got a used Giant 1993 Giant Acapulco mountain bike upon returning to Colorado in 1996.

I gave the Acapulco to my 3rd son for transportation while he was in college. The bike got stolen. This was the tough old days when 95% of mountain bikes were rigid. I bought a Giant Boulder SE in 2004. This was the first bike I owned that had a front suspension.

I still own this bike, which I call "Big Red". In 2006 I bought a Specialized Stumpjumper Pro, which I call "Little Stumpy".

I have been riding mountain bikes for 30 years. I know what I am doing.

Part 2: Technical Trail

On Wednesday, July 25th 2012, my good friend Jason and I took the afternoon off to go for a ride up Bergen Peak in Evergreen, Colorado.

The trailhead is at 7,600 feet. The summit is at 9,708 feet. The trail is 10.9 miles long with an elevation gain of 2,108 feet. The trail is rated as "Advanced".

Jason's Yeti mountain bike is still in the shop. He had arranged for a demo of a new Yeti SB 66 29er.

We started the ascent together. Ultra Stumpy was climbing up the rocky trail like it was levitating! Jason kept saying about the Yeti, "I gotta get me one of these!" The trail is steep and rocky.

This is what is known as a technical trail.

Bergen Peak trail is a series of switchbacks.

This trial very tricky on both the ascent and descent. The way the trial erodes invariably leaves a exposed granite boulders directly above the switchbacks.

As you approach a switchback, you move into a defensive position with a flat back and your hips behind the seat. On any smooth spot above the switchback you check your speed by braking. As you roll into the boulders you release the brake and let the suspension deflect. As you free roll trough the rocks, you focus on the switchback ahead. Once over the rocks, you clip out of the downhill pedal. You skid the rear wheel and pivot through 90 degrees until your bike is pointing down the lower part of the trail. You drop onto the lower trail and then you pedal to the next switchback.

This is a photo of the defensive position on a mountain bike. Your hips are behind the seat. This bike just happens to be a Specialized Stumpjumper similar to mine.

On this day, I had the suspension on my Stumpjumper dialed-in. The bike was floating over monster boulders. I was rocking and rolling! I was flowing down the trail. The only discordant note was my front brake had starting to squeal like a wild pig. The front brake was dragging and squealing even when released.

This was a warning. There was something wrong with the brake. But everything was working well and the bike was flying. It felt so good!

Part 3: The Mother of All Mountain Bike Accidents

As I ripped down the trail I saw a particular nasty section coming. I am ready! I am in perfect position on the bike. I squeeze both my brake levers with my index fingers to check my speed.

Then white hot searing pain!!

The world had gone black except for stars. The Universe was void except for pain. The front brake had locked-up. The bike flipped forward so fast I was still holding the handle bars when my face smashed into the razor sharp rocks in the middle of the trail.

Then there was nothing.

I don't know how long I was out. I came to and tried to pick myself off the ground. There are no words to describe the agony. I staggered to my feet and dragged my bike over to the berm on the side of the trail. There was blood everywhere. I sat down on the cool grass.

I tried to remember where I was. I then noticed there was a man standing over me. His lips were moving but he was making no sound. The nice green forest then started to turn white. I lay back on the grass. The world was spinning. The pain was intense.

I heard someone say, "Hey, hey, are you OK?" I opened my eyes and saw the world had regained it's color and I could hear again. I recognized the man standing over me as a hiker I had passed way up the trail.

He said, "I have a first aid kit. I think I can stop the bleeding." I thought about a mountain biker I helped patch-up at Buffalo Creek. What goes around - comes around.

I tried to ask the angel-of-mercy, who was then digging through his pack , "What is your name?" I could barely talk and blood splattered out of my mouth with each word. But he understood. He said, "My name is David." I mumbled, 'My name is Bruce." Pleased to meet you. I crashed my bike. I feel terrible."

I reached up with my quivering right hand and touched my face. I was shocked when I felt a bottomless laceration in my upper lip. I felt the inside of my mouth with my tongue. My mouth was a tatter of torn flesh. My lips were torn and bleeding. I had two broken teeth. My chin was bruised and bleeding. My neck hurt really badly. My left knee was bruised bleeding and swollen.

I took off my helmet. Even in my dazed stupor I knew my helmet was toast. I guess that was a $100 well spent.

David handed me a gauze and told me to put pressure on my upper lip to stop the bleeding. He then fashioned a bandage from gauze and tape and applied it to my lip. I got to my feet and picked up my bike. We started down the trail together.

I was still pretty shaky. I asked David, "What do you do for a living?" He answered, "I am an Attorney. I do civil litigation." We chatted about law and natural resources. About a 1/4 mile down the trail Jason was waiting for me. I shook hands with David and thanked him profusely.

Jason shook his head, "Man, you look like hell." I swung my leg over my bike and said, " Let's go, I think I may need some medical attention." Jason nodded, "Yeah, I think so. Are you sure you can ride?" I replied, "I am not sure I can even walk. There is only one way to find out if I can ride." I jumped in the saddle and took off.

I felt totally relaxed. I hit the gas and flew down the rest of the trail. I left Jason in the dust. I fisted my left hand grip and did not touch my front brakes again. I managed to make it to the doctor's office 10 minutes before closing.

Part 4: Root Cause Analysis

First let me say I am not a happy camper that the front brake locked-up again. The first time the front brake locked-up was on Apex trail a couple of weeks ago. The bike shop where I bought the bike had a chance to repair the brake. They simply adjusted the brakes and warned me that the brakes get touchy when hot. Everything seemed OK during my next rides. I did about 5 miles at Three Sisters and 4 miles at Green Mountain. Both these trails are pretty easy.

The Bergen Peak Trail and Apex Trail have the terrain that my Stumpjumper was made for. Under these difficult condition, just when I need precise braking, the front brake has locked up.

I am not happy with the bike store. I took my bike back to the store on Friday. I have to say I got pretty angry when the tech insinuated that it was my fault. Of course, I was hurting pretty badly at the time. I informed him that I have been riding mountain bikes since before he was born and I did not over-brake!

I checked on mountain bike forums and found that this problem crops-up from time-to-time. I also talked to a good bike tech at another shop that does a lot of work for me on my out-of-warranty bikes. He races bikes with the same brakes I have on my bike. He said the the problem is likely improper brake bleeding. He said if there is too much brake fluid in the system, the brake starts to drag when they are used a lot because of heat build up. This dragging causes the brakes to get even hotter. Hence, the squealing pig sound. He said once the brake is abnormally hot, the brake will then lockup at the slightest pressure.

The fix is to disassemble the brake and replace any component that shows any sign of overheating. The fluid has to be flushed and replaced. The brakes have to bled with the caliper fully retracted using factory tools.

These Formula brakes are very powerful so any problem is magnified. I discovered on the mountain bike forums that these brakes have a rather bad reputation as dangerous.

Part 5: Damage Assessment

Other than a malfunctioning front brake, my Stumpjumper is fine. I did not fair so well. In order of severity, here goes:

Deep gash in upper lip that required 12 stitches
Two broken teeth that are fitted with temp crowns
Soft tissue damage in neck from whiplash
Broken Nose
Deep bone bruises and abrasions on chin
Dislocated jaw
Sprained wrists
Sprained ankles
Badly cut lips
Severely torn mouth tissue
Severely bruised and cut right elbow
Severely bruised and cut left knee
Too many other minor cuts and bruises to count

I can't chew anything and I am getting really tired of broth! The doctor prescribed Vicodin but I hate the way it makes me feel "doped-up". I only took one Vicodin pill.

This is me!

This is my elbow when I finally got home. It looks worse now.

I have lots of cuts and bruises all over me.

Part 6: Always Wear a Bike Helmet

The guy at the bike shop that works on my non-warranty bikes tells me that a lot of his customers won't buy a bike helmet when they buy a bike. His customers say they will not be going very fast. I was going only going 15 or 16 miles an hour when I planted my face on a rock. He wants my ruined helmet as a demonstration piece.

My helmet did a good job and saved me a lot more severe injuries. My helmet really took a blow.

There was a lot of blood on my helmet. The holes in the shell for the visor are totally deformed.

Here is a shot of the crushed styrofoam on the inside of my helmet. This helmet is now only good for a display. This was an expensive helmet.

I am tired now. Thanks for reading my blog.

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Huh. I got really serious reading your blog. And took long breath, one after the other.
    1997 days ago
    Wow! Love the part about the lawyer coming to your assistance . . . and I'm wondering if a consult with a personal injury lawyer with respect to the evidence that your brakes were improperly maintained might be worth your while.
    2054 days ago
    Wow! Might be worth letting your brakes cool during a ride before things lock up again. Wishing you a quick recovery.
    2054 days ago
    OMG...you have helped me to re-committ myself to sticking with the open road on my cycling adventures...! Whew! Good for you to keep at it!

    2054 days ago
    You do like to play hard, don't you? I'm happy to hear your injuries weren't worse. (Bad enough from your perspective, I'm sure!)

    Heal up...and take something for the pain. Have you tried half a Vicodin. (Funny, those don't do anything to me except reduce the pain. Which is the point.)

    You (and a few other folks) have inspired me to stick with cables for my brakes.
    2057 days ago
  • NWFL59
    So did you have the brake system replaced with an alternative system that doesn't have a similar heat related lock up problem or did you just get the original one restored to specs even though it has known problems with your type of riding scenarios?
    I see you're posting a lot lately so I hope that means you're feeling significantly better and are continuing to heal without any additional problems cropping up. I still shake my head when I think about the seriousness of your crash and that you still had enough clarity of mind and function of body to be able to get back down the trail under your own steam in to medical help. Amazing fortitude. You must be in really good shape (pre-accident of course) to pull that off. emoticon emoticon emoticon
    2060 days ago
    That was an interesting and eye opening blog. I stumbled across it because one of my Spark Friends (STRIVER57) commented on it and it came up on my friend feed.

    So sorry about your injuries, and I'm gld you are doing well. I learned a lot about mountain biking, something I know next to nothing about.

    Good luck to you, and thanks for posting!
    2061 days ago
    ok, you have more things going wrong than me. i'd be pretty pissed off at the bike store too. hope you feel better (are better!!) soon. (and it's certainly not your fault ... but it may be your luck) ... dare i say take care?
    2061 days ago
    Oh man I'm really sorry about all your injurie. Thankful they weren't worse though, as what would have happened without the helmet. I think putting it on display is a great idea to let others know what a crash at 15 mph looks like! I hope everything heals soon. I would have been really upset with the bike shop too. Hope you have a speedy recovery and can eat real food soon.
    2061 days ago
    Wow. Ouch. Wow. I hope you recover soon, Bruce, and also hope you find some answers on those brakes.
    2061 days ago
    OUCH! I am a devout helmet wearer for this very reason. I've had enough falls over a lifetime of various riding to know better. Hope you heal soon!
    2061 days ago
    Geez-oh-Pete! I'm sorry for the crash, Bruce, but I'm glad you're alright, all things considered. Here's to a speedy recovery. Take it easy as you mend.
    2061 days ago

    Glad you survived as well as you did. I so often see bikes without helmets, or with helmets strapped to the handle bars. I say a bike helmet becomes a safety device when it is properly worn on your head, otherwise it is just a bike helmet.

    I am not an experienced mountain biker but have biked a lot. Had one accident; I came around a corner and there was no road. Workers had dug out the road to put in a culvert, I assume someone had removed a barricade and warning. Long and short I crashed when I got up I could not hold my head level. I then discovered a large tree branch had pierced my helmet and the wait of it is what was causing the problem. It had stopped just putting a bump on the inside of the helmet. Having penetrated the outer layer and the inner padding, but did not even create a bump on my head.

    Hope your recovery is as speed as can be and that all your equipment works as expect next time.

    Take care

    And again. Ouch!!!

    2061 days ago
    I'm glad you're in one piece and I hope you heal quickly and feel better soon.
    2061 days ago
    Holy crap, dude! I hope you recover quickly, as that kind of mess is highly unpleasant! I also really hope the techs get Ultra Stumpy's breaks sorted out (or that you -- when you're better) do.

    Thank goodness you came out mostly in one piece!
    2061 days ago
  • KA_JUN
    Dude, Bruce. Dang, just, wow. emoticon Great reading, but more importantly, glad to hear your lid saved you some serious head trauma.

    Serious crash, for sure. Heal up fast, sounds like you had a bad go of it. That looks like 2000 ft of serious climbing.
    2062 days ago
  • OPTIMIST1948
    I hope other people at the bike shop learn from your helmet. What a terrible experience!
    2062 days ago
    OH MY GOSH! I knew it was coming when I read "and I was rocking and rolling". I'm thinking, okay, here comes the part that I don't know if I want to read or not. Geeze, so sorry to hear this. Isn't it sad that on so many levels, we really have to be our own advocate. So happy you understand your equipment. Heal quickly!! I'm thinking there's got to a book here somewhere... lol. Anterior (Front teeth)??
    2062 days ago
    I have a hybrid street/trail bike, and I had the same problems with my brakes locking up. Luckily I wasn't in a situation like you were, I was just out riding a trail, but it made the end of my ride incredibly difficult to the point where I had to completely disconnect my brake in order to finish.

    Your wreck looks really bad, I am glad that you made it out in no worse condition than you did!
    2062 days ago
    hope you feel better . this looks like another good one . how about slowing down alittle ! naaah ,lol heal quickly
    2062 days ago
    Thanks for sharing your story. I am a road biker and am amazed at those trails! I can't imagine biking them! And, thanks for preaching to always wear a helmet! I was learning how to go clipless and fell from a complete stop and now have about 12 scars! Falls can cause a lot of damage no matter how fast you are going!

    I hope you have a quick recovery!
    2062 days ago
    OUCH! I'm glad you're okay!!!
    2062 days ago
    Oh, wow! So glad you survived to tell this story. You really wrote a good blog here. However, it made me glad that mountain biking is not on my bucket list. May you have many more happy and less eventful miles!! Take care.
    2063 days ago
  • MPLANE37
    Hi man,

    I am so sorry that you had such an accident. Seeing the photos of the trail, you know what I do descending such trails? (first of all I hate steep descents, and love steep climbs) I get off the bike and walk. For fear of precisely what happened to you. But I think you were lucky, I've heard people hurt much worse than you did. I've heard people being carried by his friends to the ambulance waiting for him at the end of the trail. Mountain biking is relatively safer than road biking, but not infinitely safer.

    Hope you get better soon. You have a great bike, by the way, far better than what I own (Merida 60 with only front suspensions). I am sure you have a lot of experience, but, man, these descends are dangerous no matter what. Careful with the descends.

    Best of luck in your future rides.
    2063 days ago
    Well! I always say, if you're gonna do something, do it right! You do the most spectacular riding and you have the most spectacular accidents. Glad you were wearing your helmet; it probably saved your life. Hope you feel better soon, and don't the pain get control of you!

    (BTW, another friend of mine here on Spark had a bike accident on loose gravel a couple weeks ago, broke her pelvis, and is down for three months. You're in good company.)
    2063 days ago
    Oh my gosh, I'm sorry. I hope you heal well. I will defiantly remember you and I'll be sure to pass it forward the importance of a helmet. Get Well Soon!
    2063 days ago
    Man, this hurts just to read about! I hope you heal up soon. Just another reminder to me of why I don't mountain bike - you're a pro so I hate to think what I could do to myself as a novice! Take care!
    2063 days ago
    Oh my GOODNESS!!! Thank goodness you were wearing a helmet and glad you paid for a good one, if an expensive helmet took that kind of damage imagine what a cheap helmet would have sustained. So sorry you are so beat up and so sorry Stumpy had another braking issue. Poor Stumpy. Glad your friend knew the real problem, hopefully it can finally be really resolved. Hope your injuries heal quickly and you can get back to real food. So sorry....
    2063 days ago
    And I thought my concussion and whip lash were from a bad crash...

    Yours sounds like a super nasty crash and those brakes sound a bit unreliable.
    Good to hear that your bike is OK, but sorry to hear that you are not. Hope you heal up quickly and are back riding again soon. emoticon
    2063 days ago
    Hardcore, dude!

    I'm a new rider (road bikes) and TERRIFIED of my first crash! If I'd crashed like that, I would have needed to be medivac'd off the mountain!

    Sounds like an expensive fix on those brakes. Do they do recalls on bikes? Sounds like a manufacturing defect that should be recalled!

    2063 days ago
  • JENN03275
    Wow! I am glad you are "ok" in a sense. Thank goodness for the other rider, your experience and your helmet!!
    2063 days ago
  • NWFL59
    OMG! Bruce you do get into falls but this one has to be quiet the shocker to your system. I'm glad you were aided by a hiker with a stocked first aide kit and that you were able to safely continue your ride back and see the doc for your numerous physical injuries. Man you said you were injury proned but this one could have easily been so much worse. At least your bike wasn't totalled and you were able to get better informed about the brake problem. Did your non-warranty bike repair guy work on the brakes after you lost confidence in the other repair person? I suppose they manufacture safety pads for elbows and knees for mountain bikers, maybe its time you invested in some more safety equipment besides a new helmet. Thanks for blogging about your experience and letting us know that you're on the mend (once again). Try to take it easy on yourself and get fully healed before again attacking the mountain trails, advanced ones anyway since I'm sure you'll be back on the trails as soon as you feel able to navigate them.
    emoticon emoticon emoticon
    2063 days ago
    Oh good heavens, Bruce, this sounds really hideous and terribly painful. How awful to suddenly be in the position of presumably considering a lawsuit for negligence. I hope you are able to sleep.
    2063 days ago

    Comment edited on: 7/28/2012 11:13:49 PM
    Makes your last crash look very benign.
    Hope you'll heal quickly. Take care of yourself.

    2063 days ago
    Sorry to hear about the crash! I hope the facial stuff heals up quick and you can get your neck back in order.
    2063 days ago
  • LINDA7668
    Sorry to hear about your accident. Thank goodness that the helmet did it's job and that you will be ok. This will make me use a helmet when I start biking again, though they won't be as adventurous as your rides. I hope others will learn from this too. emoticon
    2063 days ago
    WOW! I am glad you are ok (ish)... I have a lot of friends and family members who are also experienced cyclists who have crashed so the facial injury looks familiar to me!

    Great example of why helmets are necessary too. In New Zealand helmets have been compulsory by law since the late 80s. People sometimes feel like it is a "nanny state" law, however I would most probably have lost a few friends and family without them.

    Wishing you a speedy recovery...
    2063 days ago
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