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Friday
Mar092007

Lessons in defensive riding, learned the hard way

Statistics show that the most common bicycle/vehicle accident is caused by drivers turning left in front of an oncoming bicycle. (In the UK this would be a driver turning right.) This is exactly what happened in my accident.

When you think about it and analyze the situation there is a reason why this type of accident is common. The driver is sitting waiting for a gap in oncoming traffic so they can make the turn. When that gap appears they are going to move very quickly, it may only be a very small gap.

They don’t see the oncoming cyclist because he/she is hidden behind other traffic, especially if the last vehicle before the gap is a large commercial van or truck. The driver is watching that vehicle and the next one some distance down the road, not thinking there might be a cyclist between the two.

Once the driver has started the turn they are no longer looking down the road for other traffic, but rather are looking in the direction they are headed.

If they do see the cyclist at the last moment, slamming on the brakes will only place a stationary vehicle in the path of the cyclist instead of a moving one. The fact they don’t see the cyclist is no excuse, there could also be a pedestrian or a child riding a bicycle on the sidewalk. “Look twice, save a life” is a motor cyclist safety slogan, that applies equally to the bicycle rider.

Here are some defensive riding practices I will be using in the future:

1. I will be on the lookout for drivers waiting to make a left turn.

2. I will make a mental note of where they are and when I reach that spot, if I can’t see them, they probably can’t see me.

3. Depending on circumstances like speed and density of traffic, I may make the decision to move out into the traffic lane to a position where I can see them and they can see me.

4. If I hear a vehicle directly behind me, it is reasonably safe to say there is no gap in traffic and they will not turn.

5. If there is no traffic immediately behind me, and traffic is slow moving, I may speed up to stay close the vehicle ahead of me.

6. If 3, 4, and 5 don’t apply, I will assume the vehicle is going to turn and I will be prepared to stop. I will be watching the vehicle’s front wheels for any sign of movement.

This being the most common bicycle mishap, if you can avoid this one, you greatly reduce the odds of your being involved in an accident. In addition, this is a good one to avoid as it has the potential for serious injury.

Before my accident, I never paid much attention to this issue. I am hoping what happened to me will cause others to think about this serious problem, and avoid going through what I had to.

Should you be unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident Kent's Bike Blog has some good advice.

It’s a jungle out there, ride safe.

Wednesday
Mar072007

A stranger is a friend we haven’t met

I am amazed, somewhat overwhelmed, and at the same time deeply touched by words and actions of the bicycle riding community.

First, right after my accident there was an outpouring of well wishes in the form of comments on my blog and personal emails. Next came offers of practical help. Alex Flinn from San Diego offered to loan me his 53 cm. Fuso. Lorin Youde, who owns a John Howard, and a Recherche that I built, placed an ad on Craigslist, looking for a 52 cm. frame for me.

Just last week, Dana placed a comment on my blog offering me a bike with a damaged frame at no cost. I declined only because I have no tools or equipment to repair it. However, I was deeply touched by the offer from a complete stranger.

Yesterday, another complete stranger, I will refer to him as Ron only because I get the impression he is a very private person. Ron offered me a 51 cm. Fuso frame, free of charge, and even refused my offer to pay the shipping cost.

My own damaged frame, I have been told by cycling attorney Gary Brustin who is handling my case, should not be repaired at this time. It is evidence that may be needed in the future.

This of course left me without a ride, and I am anxious to get back on the bike again as I feel the exercise will speed my recovery. Physically I am fine, but I still have double vision from a damaged nerve in my right eye.

However, on the advice of my doctor, I am able to blank out part of my glasses, which cuts out the double vision and at the same time allows me to see either side without a blind spot that a complete eye patch would cause.

My damaged frame is a 52 cm (C to T) but the 51 cm. will work fine, I can ride either. My profound thanks go out to all those who have offered well wishes and help. I am also not forgetting Bob Gong who sold me the first frame, in near pristine condition for an extremely low price.

In addition, my very good friend Steve Farner who sent me enough components to build the complete bike. While I’m giving out thanks, I have noticed a recent upsurge in sales of my book on Amazon. It can only be from readers of this blog, so thank you to all who have bought the book.

I am deeply touched that there are so many good people in this world. I don’t think it is a coincidence that these same people happen to be bike riders.

Sunday
Mar042007

Attention Grabber

Checking out my favorite Bike Blogs this morning I noticed Fritz over at Cyclicious had some early pictures from the NAHBS, including this attention grabber. It is Craig Calfee's personal bike.

I was immediately reminded of the famous “Birdcage” Maserati sports car from the early 1960s. The car’s chassis being made up of hundreds of small diameter aluminum tubes.

It was rumored that one of the design tools used was a small bird placed inside the chassis. Wherever the bird managed to escape, they welded in another tube.

I understand this frame is a continuing work in progress, and I wondered if Craig had considered this design concept; maybe substituting a small mouse in place of a bird.

The frame could then be dubbed the “Mousecage Calfee.”

Friday
Mar022007

Against the Wind

"You know it’s windy outside when you look out of your window and birds are walking."

The weather was a stormy here in Charleston, SC last night, with the wind waking me up several times.

I was reminded of such a night in England back in the mid 1970s; I commuted on my bike, 29 miles each way to my frameshop just outside of Worcester. It was nine-thirty at night, raining heavily and with gale force winds blowing. The bad news was that the wind would be directly in my face on the ride home.

I was extremely tired after a very long day and while changing into my cycling clothes, I contemplated the ride ahead of me. Seated on a chair, I bent over to tie my shoes, and fell asleep. I woke suddenly when I almost fell over. I got my bike, staggered outside and locked up the shop. Succumbing to the realization that I had no choice but to ride home; I would make the best of it.

A mile into the ride I was not only wide-awake, but was riding into the wind as if it wasn’t there. I had somehow found super-human strength and was on one of those epic rides that happen just a few times in a life. Finding occasional respite in some sheltered areas, but mostly on roads across open farm land, I battled against the wind.

Meeting every strengthening gust with matching effort, uttering curses at the wind as if it were some demonic monster; never submitting or allowing it to beat me. Finally arriving home, wanting more, and only slightly slower than my normal time.

Years later, living in Southern California, it was a mid afternoon and I had to go on a long business trip by car. I was very tired and knew that I would be asleep at the wheel in a very few miles.

I remembered my epic ride home that stormy night back in the 1970s and how exercise woke me up. I got my bike out and rode about three or four miles as hard as I could. I turned around and didn’t ease up until I arrived back home again.

I showered, changed and took off on my trip. Once again, the physical effort had done the trick. Got my adrenaline going and woke me up.

Do you have a story of an epic ride against the wind?

Tuesday
Feb272007

Abandon or Repair?

Here is a quote from an email I received after my recent post about a severely damaged Masi frame sold on eBay.

“I am certain other readers of your blog would be interested in you expounding a little more on where you consider the break to occur between abandon and repair, and the salient factors you would consider.”

Probably the best way for me to answer this question is to explain what is involved in repairing a lugged steel frame, and how I would approach it.

The easiest tubes to replace are the top and down tubes. I would cut the damaged tube with a hacksaw a few inches from the lug. Heat the lug uniformly, and to do this I would often use two oxy-acetylene torches, one in each hand on either side of the lug.

With one torch heating first one side then the other, one side will cool as you move to the opposite side. If you don’t have the luxury of two torches, then a simple hearth made out of fire bricks, to hold the heat, is called for.

[Left: Brazing Hearth. Picture from Mercian Cycles.]

If you don’t heat the joint uniformly you risk breaking the lug. With everything at uniform heat, (Orange red for brass, dark red for silver.) you can simply grab the short piece of tube with pliers, twist, and it will slide right out.

Some framebuilders pin the lugs to ensure they don’t move during brazing, so you need to look to see if there is a pin sticking through inside the tube. If there is, reach in and grab it with a pair of needle nose pliers, heat the spot on the outside where the pin is, and pull the pin through inside to remove. Then you can go ahead and remove the piece of damaged tube.

After the frame has cooled, the inside of the lug can be cleaned up using a carbide burr in a hand held grinder. With a tube removed the frame is very flexible and will easily spring apart to allow the replacement tube to be inserted.

The most difficult tube to replace is the seat tube. It is a simple matter to hacksaw the damaged tube out and remove the lower piece from the bottom bracket. However, removing the piece of tube from the seat lug is a completely different story.


To heat this area uniformly you are going to melt the joint where the seatstays are attached to the seat lug, and in all probability, the seat lug will move or come off the top tube.

Some repair shops have a set up where they can machine out the piece of seat tube using a reamer or correct size milling cutter. This way no heat is used in the removal of the old tube, but you still need to exercise caution in re-brazing the joint. Care is needed so you don’t melt other parts of the joint.

The way I approached this repair, was to replace the seat tube complete with a new seat lug. This way I could cut out the damaged tube, and hacksaw the seat lug on either side of each seatstay.

Next I would heat and detach the rear brake bridge on one side only, and spread the seatstays apart by inserting a six inch piece of wood between them. Then the cut pieces of seat lug still attached to the top of each seat stay could be removed by heating from the inside without melting the entire seat stay cap.

The final piece of seat lug had to be removed from the top tube by heating uniformly and then pulling it off with pliers. After cooling and clean-up, it is a relatively easy matter to put the new seat tube in place, along with the new seat lug, and re-braze everything in the normal way.

It is rare to have to replace a chainstay or a seatstay, but these would be cut out with a hacksaw and the remaining pieces removed by heat. It is often easier to replace a both seat stays, even if only one is damaged, rather than try to match one new one to an existing seatstay.

Slightly bent seatstays can be safely straightened, (Providing they are not kinked.) as can front fork blades. These are much thicker that the main frame tubes.

I would only repair my own frames, and did this as a service rather than as a money making proposition; most other framebuilders are the same. A big consideration is not so much, can a frame be repaired, but can you find a reputable framebuilder to do the work, and what will be the cost?

I fail to see where buying a damaged frame on eBay or anywhere else is a worthwhile proposition. With used steel frames still plentiful and at reasonable prices, in most cases the only reason to repair a frame would be one of extreme sentimental value.

The frame pictured at the top is my own Fuso frame damaged in my accident last December. The frame cost me $260, and if I can find another for close to that price it would clearly be less than the cost of a repair and re-paint. On the other hand, it may be difficult to find another in this size (52 cm.) so I may have to consider having it repaired.