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« An old friend comes home | Main | What does share the road really mean? »

A new cycling hazard

There is a new hazard for cyclists that has been brought to my attention.

The chances of anyone experiencing this is remote, but never the less it would be remiss of me if I didn’t pass on this information.

It is a strange phenomenon known as Spontaneous Cyclo Combustion. (SCC.) It is similar to Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC.) but is relatively new.

The first recorded case took place in Southern Italy in 1985, whereas SHC has been around for hundreds of years.

Since the late 1990s there has been a rapid increase in the reported cases, last year (2007.) there were four incidents in the US alone. Two in Arizona, one in Nevada, and one Southern California. SCC seems to be more prevalent in hot, dry climates.

Unlike SHC caused by the melting of body fat known as the "Wicking effect," the cause of SCC is unknown. The end result is the same, the body burns completely, but cyclists have very little body fat, which has scientists somewhat baffled.

Prior to last year, in all known cases, the victims of SCC for some unknown reason, had all been riding alone. In each case the cyclist’s charred remains were found, usually a short distance from their bicycle, as if they had dropped their bike and tried to run from the source of heat before being totally consumed by fire.

However, in one of the Arizona incidents last year there was a witness. Two cyclists, let’s call them Tom and Brad. Tom is deceased; Brad wishes to have his name withheld for reasons that will become apparent. The two were riding in the desert somewhere north of Scottsdale, when Tom the stronger rider dropped Brad on a long climb.

By the top of the hill, Tom was some 300 yards ahead. Brad looked up and saw a bright glow ahead. At first he thought it was a trick of the sun on the hot asphalt, but then he heard cries for help from his friend. By the time Brad reached his friend, his bike lay by the roadside and Tom was fully engulfed in flames some thirty feet away.

Brad grabbed his water bottle and ran to help his friend. However, the heat was so intense he could only get within ten feet of the fire, and in less than a minute all that remained of Tom was a heap of smoldering black ash.

Brad called 911 and while he waited for the police and EMS he took pictures with his cell phone. When the police arrived Brad was promptly arrested on suspicion of murdering his friend. He was held for several days then interviewed by the FBI. After the interview, he was allowed to go home but never told that he was cleared of any wrongdoing. Which is why Brad wishes to remain anonymous.

On arriving home he discovered the pictures he took had been erased from his cell phone. It appears in such cases where some strange phenomenon occurs; our government becomes secretive, and suppresses information.

In the California incident, also last year, it is believed a cyclist who spontaneously combusted accidentally started one of the more serious wild fires that plagued that state. California fire investigators denied it, in what appears to be an official cover up. However, they did say if anyone should catch fire, to resist the urge to run into the surrounding chaparral.

So why the increase in cases of SCC in recent years? Scientists believe it is directly related to carbon fiber frames. It is believed that it is triggered by a build up of static electricity caused by the friction between the plastic saddle, and the polyester fibers in the shorts.

The padding in the shorts is usually highly flammable which adds to the problem, and may even be the primary key in this whole SCC issue. It's like the cyclist is sitting on a fuse to a potential incendiary bomb.

With the old steel frames this static electricity was constantly dispersed throughout the frame. A spokesman for Brooks Saddles in England said, " We have known about this for years, but were afraid to make it public because.......well......we might have appeared a little cuckoo."

He added, "It's the reason we increased the size of the copper rivets in our saddles. (Picture right.) Copper, as you know, is an excellent conductor of electricity and it directs the static electricity away from the danger zone."

So what can a cyclist do to avoid this slight but definite hazard, besides riding a steel frame with a Brooks saddle. Well help is on the way; manufacturers of plastic saddles and shorts are getting together to find which materials do not cause static build up.

It will be necessary to buy the correct shorts to go with a certain saddle. Each will have a warning label, and a code letter. (A, B, or C.) A type “A” saddle must be used with type “A” shorts, and it is not recommended that you mix code letters, or you may be actually be placing yourself at an increased risk.

These new saddles and shorts will not be available probably until early 2009. So what can a concerned cyclist do in the mean time? The incidents are so rare that I am not suggesting cyclists should become paranoid to the extent of carrying a fire extinguisher.

However, there are any number of proprietary flame retardant materials available, that you can use to treat the padding, and make your shorts fire proof. Or, you can simply keep the padding damp throughout your ride with water from your bottle.

There is a website with more information at BlazingSaddles.org

Reader Comments (16)

Nice one Dave, you must have been up all night long!
April 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Colin Griffiths
Har har har. Too easy Dave. Happy Spring! :)
April 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter mander
Who says snow was a bad thing. Think I'll stick to forest ride's then, also will make sure to take a dip in every puddle so as to make myself as fire retarded as possible.
April 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Hilton Meyer
This is why I rode naked to work today.
April 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter mojito
I particularly like how you pointed to carbon fiber frames as the cause. Nice.
April 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Heather
No doubt the use of an oil-based chamois cream could also be a contributing factor.
April 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter db
You got me good!!!
April 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter hillclimber
Boy, saddles sure are a thing of the past for me after this! The comfort they provide just isn't worth the risk.
April 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Jan
I have copper rivets implanted in my bum. The reason is that they generate electricity when rubbing against the copper rivets on my Brooks saddle.

Through a clever system of wires I provide electricty for the cappuccino machine mounted on my back rack so that I can enjoy a 'double' upon arrival.

stupid people burn. clever people sip coffee.
April 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Zakkaliciousness
There's a little truth to this yarn:

No carbon fibre involved though... Merry April:)
April 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter messedup
Very original Dave, nice work :-)
April 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter lemmiwinks
nice one
April 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter rideBikes ATL
Beware, you steel frame & Brooks saddle people... You may not be as safe as you think you are. I have witnessed one occasion where this also happened to a guy riding a steel frame. He was going downhill very fast, when suddenly he disappeared in a bright glow, just as described by Dave.

It has since then been determined that the rotating magnet in his front wheel was to blame for that. He had mounted it on the left side of the wheel, contrary to the manufacturer's instructions. It appeared that the induced current generated by that magnet moving at high speed and the current coming from his body got in resonance, and eventually generated a voltage too high to even handle for a steel frame...

So you're better off getting a pair of these shorts too. Until then, just get rid of your cyclo computers.
April 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Thomas F.
Hmm, makes me glad I live in wet Holland - it could never happen here; you'd never reach ignition temperature. And even if you did the rain would put you out instantly. I'm still glad I've ordered that Brooks saddle though.
April 3, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Nick
I had just found an old Giant CADEX Carbon fiber frame at a garage sale and really like it. As I was reading your post I was thinking that perhaps the aluminum fittings on the frame tubing would keep me from turning into toast. If I sold it would I have to disclose the danger of bursting into flame to some unsuspecting buyer who probably wouldn't believe me anyway. I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't true! Wasn't it?
April 3, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Moonlight Mark
Not bad! Time to ride with a high powered hydro pack.
April 4, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Epic Adam
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