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
Deep bone bruises and abrasions on chin
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.