Sunday, April 23, 2006

Avid Cyclist and Shop Owner Injured in Freak Cycling Accident

On a noon ride with two other riders on Friday, April 21, avid cyclist and shop owner Steve Flagg was injured in a freakish mishap that put him in the intensive care unit of the local hospital for an overnight stay. Flagg is still in the hospital for one more night, after being moved to a private room Saturday evening.

While sprinting up to speed after entering a major road from a side road, Flagg's left shoe apparently shot forward off the clipless pedal because the cleat had not engaged properly. The accident took its freakish turn when his foot swung into the front wheel of the bicycle. The low spoke count of the Mavic Ksyrium wheel allowed his foot not only to jam between the spokes, but to rotate in such a way that one of the broad, bladed spokes actually jammed under the cleat as his foot was dragged into the forks.

The carbon forks of Flagg's Specialized Roubaix snapped instantly. While he would probably have gone down even if his foot hadn't gone into the wheel, the cleat entrapment and fork collapse probably made the stop more abrupt than if he had simply laid the bike down on its left side.

Examination of the wreckage and Flagg's injuries after the crash indicate that the bike only landed on its left side and bike and rider slid little, if at all. Flagg's body was driven into the pavement with the left shoulder rotated so far that he did not injure his collarbone, but fractured his scapula and two ribs instead. He suffered a collapsed lung and pneumothorax, but avoided serious head injury. He was wearing a helmet.

Steve was not riding fast or in a particularly reckless manner. He was accelerating at the back of the line of three riders.

I've been doing the FAA thing over and over since the wreckage was brought into the shop Friday evening. The spoke jammed under the cleat is in there so far we'll have to unbolt the cleat to get it out. Steve's friend had to remove the wheel from the remains of the fork and the shoe from Steve's foot to release him from the bike.

Aside from the snapped fork and four or five spokes torn out the the rim of the front wheel, the rest of the bike shows minimal damage. The left handlebar plug is slightly ground off. There might be some scratches on the left STI lever. The bike did not cartwheel or scrape down the road.

While pilot error is the primary cause, contributing factors are the low spoke count and high spoke rigidity of the Ksyrium wheel and the low profile of the front of the Shimano pedal, requiring more care when engaging. Steve had a lot of years on Look pedals, which some users say have a more positive feel when engaging. The Shimanos seemed functionally identical until he abruptly discovered what a major difference a minor difference can make.

No product was defective in this crash. It merely illustrates aspects of cycling components you might not consider when comparing specs and ride feel. Items strong enough for normal loads may very well not be strong enough for predictable abnormal loads. On the other hand, the spokes of the Ksyrium wheel were plenty strong, although the nipples tore out of the rim. At least one spoke also sheared off in the round section near the nipple.

A wheel with round spokes and more of them might have repelled the shoe.

A good old-fashioned toeclip would have kept him on the pedal. "Feetbelts" have their other drawbacks, but at least you know when they're snug. Mostly.

Too bad Steve can't tell a gripping tale of screaming down the Dolomites and having a front tire blow or a mountain goat run out in front of him. But it just goes to show you these things can happen just about anywhere, any time. At least it's more dramatic than slipping in the shower.

I'm suggesting we tell people he ran over a land mine.

1 comment:

beethoven writes said...

i read this and had to cover my mouth in shock. very true, these accidents happen when we least expect them to and that is what happened to me.

tom