Sometimes Falling Off Your Bike is Fun


No one who rides looks forward to falling off their bike, but push your limits just a bit and sooner of later you're coming off. Yesterday I rode with friends TJ, Tim, Marcella, Rick and Des in a local 100K (The Tour de Menlo). Nice ride on familiar roads.

Ignoring the practicalities of a tubular puncture (and no means to fix it), I wanted to take the Specialized Tarmac SL3 out for a decent loop. All week I've been enjoying my commutes as the Tarmac seems to eat up the road with a ruthless efficiency. The S-Works Double is a noticeable change from my normal compact setup and the day's short climbs didn't have me worried about gearing.

Tarmac SL3 after climbing Montabello Road

Not surprisingly the only component on the bike that hasn't agreed with me is the saddle... a very light, very stiff Toupe Team. A week is too short to adapt to a new seat. The night before the ride I switched out the Toupe for a familiar Fizik Aliente in the interests of comfort. A new bike and a familiar friend; the best of both worlds.

After a leisurely rollout through residential streets, we picked up the pace, pacelining a stretch of Skyline and then the return on Canada road. By the time we hit Sandhill the legs were warmed up and I bridged up to Tim and Rick who were pushing the pace towards Alpine. That's were I made my first mistake. I rode off the front and anticipating the last 200 metres got out the saddle to see how hard I could push myself on the Tarmac. That's when a rider 50 metres ahead pulled up fast as pedestrians walked out in front of him. I sat down and hit the brakes. Favoring the front I still locked up the rear and skidded dramatically, let off and skidded again, pulling up less than ten feet from the crosswalk.

The lightweight TRP 960 brakes on this build are dual caliper front and rear, and their action, particularly in the rear, is more dramatic than my own Campagnolo skeleton brakes. The panic stop should have been enough to alert me to the fact that the rear brake needed a lighter touch than I'm used to, but unfortunately it didn't click.

A few miles later spiraling down a steep downhill behind Tim's rapid descending, I locked up the rear approaching a tight left hander. Everything slowed down as the bike fishtailed left, then right, and I came really close to recovering, imagining Thor Hushovd catching himself right at the guard rail in this year's Tour... no such luck. I highsided, came completely free of the bike, rolled once in some loose gravel and popped right back up somehow holding the bike. First thought... wow, that was cool.

Damage report, a few scratches on my right knee, and after a 30-second scan not a mark on the bicycle. I remounted and rode on as if nothing had happened. Sometime later, with TJ riding behind me he spotted a major burn out on the rear tubular (no doubt from the skid). I rode the last 20 miles on the tire with no change in ride quality and without incident.

First thing this morning, I dropped into the Bicycle Outfitter in Los Altos, grabbed a new Vittoria tubular and was lucky enough to have Jim, one of their experienced mechanics, agree to have it glued up by the end of the day. I picked up the wheel, heard a nice story from Jim about learning to sew up his first tubular in a little bike shop in Italy when he was 16 AND replenished my supply of shot blocks, clif bars, sport beans and drink mix all in one shot.

Provided we're not badly hurt a fall every now and then could be a good thing. On the one hand it reminds us that we need to be safe out there, and on the other that a bit of road rash really isn't that bad. We skinned our knees and elbows all the time as kids, we're not that fragile. I only wish we had Tegaderm back then.

17 Responses to Sometimes Falling Off Your Bike is Fun

  1. Jon Moss says:

    Ouch! I can see it now Michael, one minute all good, and one minute launched skywards. Are the brakes that different? I’ve only ridden the Campags so couldn’t comment.

    High siding is never good, and sounds like you got off lightly (luckily). A friend regular does track days on his motorbike, and three people on the day highsided, one being airlifted to hospital after a broken femur. Not good.

    Riding safely can never prevent the unexpected, and why helmets are essential. I do still see people without them though. Just not worth the risk.

    • Jon,

      Actually there are lots of different variables to try and quantify. The SRAM Red brake levers, the TRP calipers, the brake pads (not sure what they are) and the Zipp 202s braking surface. Add them all up and the rear brake just “grabs” harder than my Campy setup. Guessing, I’d say my lever pressure on those two braking mistakes was 75 front/25 rear. From that point on I was stopping carefully and effectively with more like 90 front/10 rear.

      Lesson learned for future demos; experiment with some aggressive braking on the flat to figure out what to expect in a must-stop situation.

      I’d put this down to rider error, because overall I’m impressed at how efficiently and quietly the TRPs stopped those carbon wheels.

  2. kurt says:

    Sounds like you took the fall with the correct technique. I have read that rolling is practiced by tour riders.

    I love when a potential disaster is averted by the correct response.
    Very “Secret Agent” of you.

    • Kurt,

      I think it was more a question of physics than any cat-like reflexes on my part. I hear I really scattered the group behind, I’m just glad no one was following too closely and wrecked because of me.

      I’m also happy/unhappy I didn’t put a mark on the Tarmac SL3. A few good scratches and I might have had to buy it… there’s no way Juli would believe I didn’t do that deliberately. Damn.


  3. BR says:

    Don’t do that again.

  4. Malk says:

    Tegaderm rocks!

  5. Tim says:

    As the person who was right in front of you on that descent, I must say that I was surprised you came away almost unscathed. Because it SOUNDED horrible. There’s nothing like the sound of sliding rubber followed by that clattering sound of a carbon bike hitting the Tarmac (in this case, Tarmac hitting tarmac, I suppose) to make your heart miss a beat or two. I wasn’t sure quite what I’d see when I circled back; and was surprised to see you almost back in the saddle within seconds. Now that’s what I call pro! Only a few aches today, I hope.

    Cue sheet tip for next time: can we prep this a bit better and make sure we have someone with a vidcam behind you on descents? Marcella tells me it was pretty spectacular.

    • Tim,

      Video would have been nice, but I’m not planning on restaging one of these stunts any time soon ;-) No aches or pains. I was worried I might have damaged the Canon G9 in my back pocket when I rolled over it, but it’s fine. I don’t know about the sound of me going down but the only thing that touched the pavement was my right pedal.

  6. MeToo says:

    What kind of pedals are you using? I don’t recognize them.

    • They’re Shimano A-520s (single-sided spd mountain for road and touring). The pedal bodies are powder coated black as I normally use these pedals for bike shoots only. That’s why they look a little different.

  7. Scott says:

    Braking fascinates me. I was surprised about 9 months ago to find out people actually use their rear brake. I use front brake 100% of the time.

    I am ecstatic you got off ‘lightly’. Nothing worse than hearing about other peoples cycling related accidents.

  8. kurt says:

    Hard to beleive that a new tire got that ripped up on one skid.

    must of been one hell of fishtail!

  9. Paul Etherington says:

    I’m not sure which is worse, being in the accident, or being a witness to it!
    Glad you and your ride escaped (relatively) unscathed!

  10. Pingback: Flying the Specialized Tarmac SL3 "Blackbird" | VeloDramatic

  11. Les says:

    Too true!

    As evidenced on the 25th hairpin of the Passo Pordoi recently – front end washed out on the negative cambre whilst descending… Road rash, scratched Red lever (d’oh) but relatively ok.

    Lesson learnt – respect for the mountain – up AND down!