Shiny side up, please

The Bianchi Zurigo, with its oversized alloy tubes, 30mm V-section rims and broad-bladed carbon fork, catches a little more wind than some of the other bikes in the fleet.

The bike was moving around on me in the crosswind as I swept down Tramway Road toward Interstate 25, and I was starting to think that the Bianchi Zurigo Disc, with its fat alloy tubes, broad-bladed carbon fork and skinny 700×35 adventure tires, might not have been the right tool for today’s job.

There’s nothing out there to keep the wind off you, except for the cars passing too close and too fast, and the Bianchi is both a little small and a little stretched out for Your Humble Narrator, who is too lazy to give it a stem more appropriate to his wizened, shrunken carcass.

So there I was, bowling along at speed, thinking back to the time I got into a death wobble on a long, smooth descent at the Air Force Academy, when I noticed three brother cyclists off their machines just ahead, and taking up a not insubstantial portion of the shoulder, too.

I slowed down to ask if they needed anything, and that’s when I noticed the irregular black stripe leading off the shoulder and into the terra not so firma.

“Everything OK?” I asked, coming to a stop.

“I don’t know yet,” replied rider No. 1, the one wearing the fresh road rash. “I hit my head pretty hard.” At that, No. 2 inspected No. 1’s helmet while No. 3 checked the victim’s bike. There was a divot in the lid and a big oval hole in the rear tire, as though some strong fellow had taken a Magnum potato peeler to it. There was some discussion of “shimmy.”

The gent with the dent had that look on his face, the one that says, “This has fucked up my Sunday, and it’s starting to hurt, but at least I went off into the weeds and not out into traffic, where a helmet would have been tits on a bull, or more like tits on a bumper, now that I think about it, which I’d rather not.”

I asked if he needed a phone, but he had one, and dialed up the wife for a dustoff.

“You guys seem to have this under control,” I said to the others, and off I rolled, dialing my sensor array up to maximum. “Wind from the SW, roger. Land yacht off the port stern, check. Does that rear tire feel a little soft?” That sort of thing.

I haven’t had a good high-speed getoff in a while, not even when I got into that death wobble on the AFA, and I’d like to keep it that way.

What we like and what we get are often two very different things, though. So let’s all be careful out there. The world is full of hard surfaces and sharp edges.

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22 Responses to “Shiny side up, please”

  1. Pat O'Brien Says:

    Word to live by. Yea.

    You probably would have felt better on the disc Saga.

  2. khal spencer Says:

    Damn. Not a nice Sunday for crashes.

    I was in the Forester, headed off to the BLM land up this way to do some stuff involving lead styphnate that one doesn’t mention in nice liberal parts where I live. There is a descent on The Road Outa Dodge that acquired a deep layer of sand due to the recent rainstorms. I noted that sand pit twice this weekend, once on the K1100RS and once on the Cannonball Six-Thirteen, taking a careful line in the sand, so to speak.

    So this afternoon I slow down seeing two women on mountainbikes stopped at the wash, and a guy looking shaken and bleeding next to a 125 cc scoot on which he had gotten the rubber side up in the sand. A couple finishing their rides pulled up in their minivan. We ended up taking him home, since he seemed shaken up and not too keen to get back on the rice burner. I handed the keys to my Subaru to the wife and rode his bike home with him in the minivan.

    The scoot seemed to handle pretty well on tarmac but I suspect the small wheels washed out in the deep and uneven sand that had filled in the low part of the road.

    Be careful out there.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Was the scoot a Vespa? Those itty bitty wheels and the low center of gravity completely negate my mad handling skillz. I mean, you can’t just jump off, throw the thing over a shoulder, and run the obstacle. Thus I avoid all sand, especially in corners.

      When I bought mine in 2008 I recall one of the guys at Sportique in Bibleburg heehawing over all the questions he’d been getting from noobs, this being more or less at the height of the scooter craze.

      “Can you ride it on trails? Sure, if you want to get get hurt.” Words to live by.

  3. Herb from Michigan Says:

    I danced with The Death Wobble down a New Hampshire mountain with loaded panniers years ago and although I remainder mounted and intact never again trusted that Fuji America. Years later I was riding Miyata’s strange carbon frame with some magic wire imbedded in the carbon and danced again. I was sure the frame had come apart somewhere and after pulling over, and white as a ghost I might add, inspected every millimeter of the frame and fork. Nada. That frame was dispatched back to Japan, never to be heard from again. My Joe Appaloosa would bitch slap Mr. Death Wobble and reduce him to just a patch of snot.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      My first experience with shimmy was in my mom’s Anglia, a Limey Ford that the old man acquired in some arcane fashion because the family needed a second car when we got transferred from Ottawa to Randolph AFB.

      This bucket of bolts would start oscillating like a paint shaker at about 30 mph. Dad, being unmechanical, and Mom, being a skinflint, reasoned that this was fine, because (a) nobody ever needed to exceed that speed on base, and (2) if my sister and I died horribly in a fiery crash, they could always get more kids, and these might even be an improvement over the originals.

      • Pat O'Brien Says:

        Hmm, a Patrick O’Grady Redux. Wonder how that would have turned out?

        My worse downhill wobbles came on short wheelbase recumbents, both Bike E models. Scary shit that stays with you for months afterwards.

      • khal spencer Says:

        My worst bike for a death wobble was a 1978 Motobecane Mirage with a higher end Motobecane fork having nice chromed tips. On downhills, you kept the rosary in your grip.

        Of course the reason it had the fork upgrade was that a guy in a Volkswagen Beetle had made a turn in front of me and I nailed him, wrecking the original fork and front wheel, along with putting a serious dent in my grad school progress. So its not clear that the bad geometry was the bike’s fault. I didn’t start doing kamakaze descents until well after that crash and rebuild (a pic of that bike is in my January, 2014 blog post about turning sixty)

        My Six-Thirteen with the aftermarket Bontrager paired spoke ultralight wheels can get a wobble going on high speed descents, but if you hold the handlebars it goes away. So don’t ask why I was unweighting the bars on high speed descents. I wonder if a careful wheel/tire balancing could fix that, since it doesn’t happen with my traditionally spoked Mavic/Campy wheels.

        • Shawn Says:

          As the Zinn master would confirm, frame design, condition, handlebar type, stem type, tire type, rim type, etc. not to mention the rider, all add to the complexity of bike characteristics and feared speed wobble. The damping and spring effects of these components create a vehicle that has a specific range of “ok to ride velocities”. Needless to say, if you dropped Peter Sagan off on his TDF race bike out of a van at 100+ miles per hour, he probably would be doing the worm wiggle and resultant ground skidding within several seconds.

          A wise rider will properly experiment with their ride(s) to determine any stability problems before careening down a luscious steep winding road. But they should also note, significant gusty winds change the dynamics of going downhill a lot. Bombing down at 50 mph and suddenly catching a 35 mph sidewind……. Holy crap ! It’s enough to make an “old married man” out of you real quick.

          But as Khal notes, weighting and unweighting the bars, along with changing your cg more over the front wheel can help. Just remember it also effects your braking as well….. Feather those brakes !

  4. larryatcycleitalia Says:

    Hard to believe that Bianchi’s got enough surface area to make a lot of difference when compared to other bikes. Your average plastic-fantastic looks to be pretty much the same these days since they all have pretty stout downtubes and “aero” wheels. I’ve heard plenty of tales about various “speed wobbles” over the decades but (luckily) have never experience it first hand on a bicycle.
    Motos are a whole ‘nuther thang though, I still have a shoulder that likes to seize up when held just right – results of a 100 mph wrestling match at the old Riverside Raceway in SoCal with a POS Honda VF750F some friends wanted me to ride with them in an endurance event. After a miracle (said by others, to me it was just luck) save I told ’em, “Well, I can ride this POS around the track for you, but it won’t really be racing since as soon as you try to go fast on the thing, it starts wobbling. It needs a new rear shock/spring .”
    They declined to fix it and I declined the offer of racing on it.

    • khal spencer Says:

      Hi, Larry.

      Well, that was one reason I spent a decent pile of dead presidents on a new rear shock/spring last March for the BMW.

      After seeing that guy having crashed and burned on a scooter yesterday, I think I will either stick to full size motorcycles or give it up entirely. I never was fond of scooters or mopeds. Riding that gentleman’s scoot home yesterday on a winding New Mexico road clinched it.

      I think some of the problem is that if someone buy a motorcycle and it doesn’t manage to kill him/her, it means the rider probably takes it seriously. Not sure all folks buying scooters (Patrick obviously excluded from the following) realize that scooters are just as good at trying to kill you. Especially when folks don’t take them seriously. At least the guy yesterday was wearing a helmet, but he also had sandals and no gloves.

      • larryatcycleitalia Says:

        Dunno about the scooter idea – there are zillions of ’em all over Italy, some piloted by folks who have skills that seem rather low.. There are teenagers, clueless tourists, the guy who delivers our cooking gas (with two big gas bottles mounted sideways on a rear rack) guys who run fresh fish around the island (huge box on front and back, making the step-through essential) guys with a power take-off to turn a knife-sharpening wheel, folks with all kinds of groceries (or little children) balanced on the “floor”:between their feet and on and on…
        Seems if these things were the death-traps some make them out to be there’d be carnage all over and they’d have been banned decades ago.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        I don’t want to go much faster than 35 mph on them itty bitty scooter wheels, which is why I went for a 49cc instead of a 150 or something even bigger (plus I would’ve had to get the motorcycle endorsement on my driver’s license).

        That said, the Vespa GTV looks kind of cool. Until it’s shiny side down in a sandpile, that is. …

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