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The Saga of Little Cam and Death Plunge

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Part 1: Bike Accident Investigation

On Saturday, November 15th, I was cruising along the Colorado Trail on my Specialized Camper Comp, which I call Little Cam. All of a sudden I was launched off Little Cam and landed face first into a nasty shrub called Buck Brush. Here is a link to my blog about the event.


I have healed completely from this crash. I am as good looking as ever! emoticon

On "Black Friday" we have a tradition of going out into the forest and cutting down a Christmas tree. We get the tree cutting permit from the US Forest Service. This cutting area is near Buffalo Creek. As luck would have it, where my wife decided to look for a tree was right by the Colorado Trail. I grabbed my beagle's lead and headed for the scene of my earlier bike crash. Lucas, my beagle, was far more interested in nice walk through the forest that picking out the perfect Christmas tree.

I was surprised to find the crash site was perfectly preserved. Here is what I found:

This photo shows the evil rock that caused all the problems. I had just rounded a curve and was coming down off the berm. The Colorado Trail in this area is "loose over hard", which is a mountain biking term for rocky ball bearings that are very slippery.

The yellow "X" shows a rock embedded in the berm that deflected my front wheel downward. I know I hit this rock this because the rock still had some rubber from my front tire on the edge.

The red "X" shows impact point of my front tire. I could see the tire tread mark in the loose decomposed granite. The tread mark was a perfect imprint of a Kenda Nevegal 2.35" tire, which is what Little Cam was wearing.

This photo shows the point-of-deflection marked by the red arrow. The red dots show the resulting angle of the front tire. When the tire hit the soft dirt, the tire was nearly perpendicular to the bike frame. The red "X" shows where the tire "dug-in". The bike was moving at 14.8 mph when the front wheel hit the rock. The bike was nearly stopped at the red "X".

I came off the bike and landed, face first, in this buck brush.

I found broken branches on the buck brush where I did my face plant. I was lucky I was not hurt even worse.

Part 2: Conclusion from Accident Investigation

At first I was totally baffled. Was the accident caused by rider error? In retrospect, my choice to ride the loose berm around the corner was a bad idea. I should have noticed the hazard and picked a different line. But I had previously taken that exact same line with my Stumpjumper Pro hardtail ("Little Stumpy") with no incident.

Little Stumpy is a fun little bike.

But wait, there may be a clue there. Little Stumpy and Little Cam are both quick handling 26" mountain bikes. However, Little Stumpy always seemed more stable and more controllable than Little Cam. Little Cam is, frankly, a little squirrely. Well, maybe a lot squirrely.

Little Cam is a fierce and aggressive bike that is almost too pretty to be such a terror.

I wanted to get to the bottom of Little Cam's quirks. I alternately rode all my mountain bikes on my personal test track, which I call the "Mangled Mountain Trail System." I wanted to compare handling traits of each bike.

This is a tight S-curve on Mangled Mountain.

I made the S-Curve berm deeper. Can you say fun?

I rode Little Cam, Little Stumpy and Ultra-Stumpy. It became apparent that Little Cam had two issues. First, there was not enough weight on the front wheel making the front wheel easy to deflect and the steering on loose gravel was overly skittish. Secondly, Little Cam's cockpit felt cramped. The "cockpit" is the layout and geometry of the seat and all the controls including the handlebar.

I got out my tape measure and started measuring the bikes. Ultra Stumpy had a 26" top tube length, which is also called "reach". Little Stumpy had a 28" reach. Little Cam had a 24.5" reach.

Bingo! Little Cam is a very compact bike. Well, duh! Being really compact is what makes Little Cam evil, wicked, mean and nasty! Which is to say that Little Cam is the weapon of choice for tight and twisty trails.

I then measured the handlebar height versus saddle height. Little Stumpy's handlebars were 2" above the saddle. Ultra Stumpy's handlebars were 2" above the saddle.

Little Cam's handlebars where 0" above the saddle! Some bike fitters think that the handlebars should be in line with the saddle on a mountain bike. But I found this 0" handlebar height to be uncomfortable.

Part 3: The Fix

A few millimeters can make a difference in the way a bike feels and behaves. Why would Specialized make a bike with a front wheel that comes off the ground so easily? Two words, "bunny hop". Little Cam is ridiculously easy to get off the ground to jump over rocks, roots, logs, parked cars, small buildings, valleys, raging torrents, and low flying airplanes! Perhaps I am exaggerate just a smidgen.

I made a bargain for a very responsive bike and that is what I got. But every bike is a compromise. I am willing to give up a little responsiveness for a bit more stability.

I can't chop up Little Cam's frame and add head tube length. But I can change the stem. I did a lot of calculations on stem length, angle and handlebar rise.

This diagram shows the relationship between stem length and angle. The steeper the angle, the higher the handlebars.

I bought a new Specialized stem that was 15mm longer than the original stem. The nice thing about Specialized stems is that the angle is adjustable by using different inserts. I changed the stem angle from +8 degrees to +14 degrees.

This is a 105 mm Specialized Pro-Set Multi-Position MTB Stem.

This shows the +14 degree angle of the stem obtained by using the correct insert. I also added to headset spacers under the stem.

I used the stock Specialized mid-rise cross-country handlebars that came with the bike. I added Specialized P2 Overendz bar ends to allow me to get farther out over the front wheel during steep climbs. These Specialized bar ends are made of aluminum alloy and are covered with soft rubber. I have always thought bar ends looked dorky. But what the heck, I was desperate to tame the wild Little Cam.

Here are the bar ends installed and ready to go. I also change the hand grips to a softer style.

After the modifications to Little Cam, I measured the reach and handlebar height. I found the reach was 26" and the handlebar height was 2". This is the exact same cockpit geometry as Ultra Stumpy. I hoped this geometry would work on Little Cam.

Part 4: Roller Coaster

I had just got done modifying Little Cam when my wife and I had to leave for Western Colorado to attend Little Alora's 2nd birthday party. Little Alora is my grand niece and is a favorite of the whole family. I threw the untested Little Cam on the bike rack for the trip to desolate wasteland that is Western Colorado.

We met my brother and his wife at the Texas Roadkill House for steaks and beers in Grand Junction, Colorado. We had made reservations at a hotel in Grand Junction. Little Alora lives in nearby Fruita.

Fruita? Grand Junction? For mountain bikers, these are magical places.

We arrived in Grand Junction on Friday, December 7th. Little Alora's party was scheduled on Saturday, December 8th, at 4:00pm. If I blew off the Saturday family breakfast at the IHOP, I could get in three hours of mountain bike riding on great desert trails before the party Since I think chocolate chip pancakes are an atrocity, skipping breakfast didn't seem like much of a sacrifice.

My wife is a social butterfly and she was just a bit miffed that I would chose to ride a bike in the desert instead of participating in a pleasant family gathering. Strike one!

I found a trail that was just north Grand Junction. I roused my sleepy wife at o'dark thirty so she could drive me to the trail. She is not a morning person and was less than happy with my boundless enthusiasm. Strike two!

I was going to ride a trail called "Roller Coaster". Actually, Roller Coaster is a network of trails in the desolate hills north of Grand Junction. Here is a link to the site.


Roller Coaster runs along the top of sandy hills with steep drops on either side of the trail. The trail description on gjmountainbiking.com gave the length of the ride at 7.5 miles with a duration of 2 hours. I wondered what could be so difficult about the trail that the average speed was 3.25 mph? The difficulty was rated as "moderate".

Part 5: The Ride

I decided I was tired of poking holes in my hide. I bought some great knee and elbow pads.

This is a 6-6-1 Rage knee pad. This knee pad is very comfortable.

I got matching 6-6-1 elbow pads. I got the pads for half price because it is "off-season".

To replace my destroyed Giro Helmet, I ordered a Fox Flux Helmet on-line.

I like the looks of the helmet. The inside padding is great. Again, I got this helmet for half price.

I bought a Royal Racing long sleeve Jersey. After all it is getting colder. This Jersey was 75% off and fit like a glove.

I was also wearing my tried-and-true Pearl iZumi mountain bike shorts .

The temperature was 40 degrees so heavy clothes were not required.

I was all decked out in my gear and ready to go. My wife was grumpy as she drove me to the trail head. She snorted, "Are you going to ride your bike, or are you going to a fashion show?" Here is the thing - She really doesn't mind my fitness activities. She is a fitness nut herself. She just likes to work out, as she puts it, at a decent hour.

Someday I hope she goes on a trail ride with me. She has a good mountain bike. She just thinks I am crazy. When we arrived at the trail head there was not another soul to be seen anywhere. She mentioned that other people have more common sense that to get out of bed so early. The time was 9:00 AM.

Here is Little Cam at the trail head. Due to the sandy trail conditions, I dropped the tire pressure to 30 psi, which is the minimum for Kenda Nevegals. My wife was less than enthusiastic that I was futzing with my bike. Strike Three!

This is the first part of trail that leaves parking lot. You can see the low hills in the distance. These hills are 500 to 800 feet tall. You may notice a lack of vegetation. These hills are very alkaline with zero water.

Here is part of the ascent. Nice easy climb. Little Cam is feeling really good. The revised geometry is working like a charm.

Some uphill segments were steep. I kept Little Cam in a higher gear. Grabbed the bar ends, stood up, and powered my way up the hill. Little Cam rocketed up the hill under perfect control! Wow! I could adjust my balance point fore-and-aft and keep an ideal weight distribution. Given the nature of the trail, if Little Cam veered off the trail it would be bad, really bad.

This is a good shot of why the trail is called Roller Coaster. This is a blast! The trail is like a giant pump track. Little Cam and I sailed over this section. Little Cam had lost any hint of squirreliness. However, because I could move easier around the cockpit, Little Cam was even more responsive than before but totally predictable!

Here is a example of a long downhill. Little Cam and I were flying! Rider and bike had become one! Baby, oh baby, the bike is dialed-in to the max!

I put dots on this picture so you could see the trail. The black dots show a descent into a ravine. THere was a sharp left in the ravine, which is hidden in this view. The red dots show the ascent to the summit. The yellow dots show a fast downhill that was a lot of fun. The highest elevation is 4,950 feet, which is lowest I have ever biked. I could really breath well!

Nope, we didn't crash. Little Cam and I are just taking a breather. I had 10 ounces of Gatorade in my bike bottle and 64 ounces of water in my Camelback. I also had some GU gel packs and some sport beans with me. This area is lip splitting dry.

Little Cam and I had already traveled 12 miles. There were trails everywhere. I decided to take it to the limit. I called this downhill the "Plunge". This bad boy is a 500 feet plunge off a razorback ridge. I looked this segment over really well before giving it a shot. Four wheel drives had chewed-up this segment very badly in vain attempts to climb up. There was also a big bike-eating ditch at the bottom The top was almost vertical.

I just knew Little Cam and I could take this nasty chunk of real estate. There was no way to bomb this hill. I would have to use my brakes. But if the bike tires skid during braking, I can lose control. Losing control would be bad, very bad. But what the heck, I got elbow and knee pads. I also have an excellent helmet. I even had cell phone coverage and a first aid kit with me.

No guts, no glory!

You may have noticed that since I started at the top of this hill, and the photos were taken at the bottom, I survived.

At the start of the hill I cut across the top to avoid the vertical plunge.

While climbing, four wheel drives tend to bounce toward the left when they lose traction. I knew that if I went down the opposite side of the hill I could find relatively smooth terrain that would provide a good braking surface. This tactic worked extremely well.

The very bottom of the plunge was not as rough or as steep as the top and middle. Just before the bottom of the plunge I turned to the right, bounced off a berm, turned left and went trough the bike-eating ditch at an angle.

Little Cam is magnificent! I was buzzing after running down the Plunge.

I called my wife to come get me and pedaled to the parking lot. I covered 16.8 miles in 1 hour and 45 minutes at an average speed of 9.6 mph. Highest speed attained was 23.4 mph.

Part 6: Aftermath

Here is a very dusty bike.

This should give you an idea of the dry conditions on the trail.

Every bit of the 5" of suspension travel was used.

The suspension was dialed-in. This shows the 5" of rear suspension travel did it's job.

I found a nail in the rear tire. The nail went through a lug and did not puncture the tire. How lucky could I get?

Here is a very tired Little Alora party girl playing with the pink bunny we gave her. I made the party with time to spare.

My slate is wiped clean!

Alora's mom had fixed her hair really nicely. But Alora is two and her hair falls apart very quickly.

Thanks for reading my blog.

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    That is a saga
    Very interesting !!
    2320 days ago
    Wow, beautiful pictures of the scenery!

    Is this a new accident? I tend to read about bike accidents in your blogs... :-)

    Great analysis to avoid pitfalls for next time, and good job to make adjustments.
    2321 days ago
  • CHARITY1973
    That was a great read! I must get my man to read it as well. He treats riding (and running) with the care and attention you do. I also must get him to give you the details of 'Jemima', his baby.

    Thanks for the look into your ride. It's like being there.
    2322 days ago
    Hang in there!
    2322 days ago
  • BILL60
    You survived this one and you'll survive the others (Because there will be others). Hang tough, my friend.
    2322 days ago
    Just glad you didn't get hurt any worse in your accident than you did.
    With all of your planning I hope it doesn't happen again.
    2322 days ago
    What an awesome blog! You should send this in to a cycling magazine! Did your wife read this?

    Really smart to go back an analyze your crash so you don't end up crashing again. Are you going to take Little Cam back to the trail you crashed on?

    By the way, I bet you did look like a fashion statement in you new duds!!
    2322 days ago
    No photo of how you looked after the fall. I hope that you recover quickly.
    2322 days ago
    almost as good as the bike training newletter i get from colorado springs. just about makes me want to get back on a bike. but my balance is shot. ms will do that to a person.
    2323 days ago
    What an awesome analysis! So glad your falls don't discourage you and that your recovery is good. I just have one comfort bike and that's probably all I'll ever need, but I appreciate your knowledge and expertise. And what a darling child. Great way to end a super blog!!
    2323 days ago
    Glad I saw this blog. Had to go catch up on the horribly wounded blog! Great bit of detective work along with making adjustments for a better ride. Hope you two have lots of happy rides together.
    2323 days ago
    WOW !! What a highly detailed blog on your bike accident. Some accidents aren't about the bike or the rider. You just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. stuff happens.

    I have two co-workers who suffered serious bike injuries. One flew up and over his bike handles when he hit a pot hole. He landed on his fore arms. shattered one and fractured the other. Another co worker was side swiped by a car and ended up in the hospital. I suspect he may be Wolverwine ! With his injuries, he should have been in the hospital for 2-3 days. He was out in a day and back to work in a week. This guy, like Wolverine, had a body with amazing healing properties. Twice I've seen him bounce back quickly from serious bike crashes.

    Sound like you may have some Wolverine in you too !

    2323 days ago

    Comment edited on: 12/13/2012 1:11:30 PM
    Glad you are all healed up...it didn't look pretty.
    Nice bit of accident forensics :-)
    Yay for party!! So cute!!
    2323 days ago
    Reads like a novel :)
    Great adventure story and no crash!
    Sounds like a perfect day.
    2323 days ago
    Wow. The only broken bone I've ever had is my wrist, and it happened when I flew over the top of my handlebars while trail riding. I read this blog with my eyes squinched tight against the painful details.

    Glad you are recovered!
    2323 days ago
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