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Dents in aluminum frame can lead to catastorphic failure

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Dents in aluminum frame can lead to catastorphic failure

Old 04-28-12, 03:21 PM
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Dents in aluminum frame can lead to catastorphic failure

Yesterday my aluminum frame failed catastrophically, snapping into two pieces while I was riding it. The point of failure was a dent in the top tube that had been there for several years.

I believe that what likely happened was that the dent resulted in the frame tending to flex a tiny bit at that point when stressed (i.e. every time I rode it!), and over time, this slight flexing resulted in fatigue, which eventually caused it to weaken to the point of the catastrophic failure that occurred. (No, I'm not an engineer, but I am a physicist...)

Please see the link below for photos of my (former) bike.

https://picasaweb.google.com/ld50.30/April282012

I escaped this incident with a bit of road rash, but had this failure occurred about one minute earlier than it did, I would have gone down with absolutely no warning, as I did a few moments later, but with a car right on my tail, while I was making a left turn. Or it could have happened a bit later in my ride while going very fast down a hill, in traffic.

In short, this kind of catastrophic failure could easily have resulted in extremely serious and/or permanent injury for me, or even death.

I would urge anyone who rides a bike with an aluminum frame to check the frame for dents, and if you find any, do not continue to use it.

(I have sent almost an almost identical email to the manufacturer of my frame. Should they offer me a new one, that would be great, but that was and is not my primary concern. I can easily afford a new frame or a new bike, and I don't really care if they respond to my email or not. I think it's far more important that anyone using a frame with a similar condition to what is clearly the cause of my unfortunate incident, stop using it before it leads to a similar catastrophic failure as I experienced.)

Cheers, and safe, happy riding.

Joe
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Old 04-28-12, 03:29 PM
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Buy a bike with a steel frame.
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Old 04-28-12, 03:32 PM
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What brand is the bike?
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Old 04-28-12, 03:39 PM
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Wow. That's terrifying. Thanks for the heads up.

And I thought I'd dodged a bullet when I found a cracked headtube on my road frame.
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Old 04-28-12, 03:46 PM
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One day I heard a creaking noise on my bike.

20,900 miles

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Old 04-28-12, 04:31 PM
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Originally Posted by dsbrantjr View Post
Buy a bike with a steel frame.
Steel frames NEVER fail, right?
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Old 04-28-12, 04:57 PM
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Originally Posted by HillRider View Post
Steel frames NEVER fail, right?
They usually fail slowly enough that you have time to stop safely when the tubes start buckling.

OP, glad you survived with minimal injury!
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Old 04-28-12, 05:32 PM
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I zoomed in on the pictures and to me, it looks like the initial point of failure was a crack at the weld on the down tube. The downtube has a much cleaner fracture type of failure (fatigue follow by overload) while the top tube looks like it was torn apart.

This would be consistent with how the tubes are loaded while riding as well. A dent in the top tube would be a weak spot where I would expect it to fail once it met the massive bending load caused by the downtube failure.
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Old 04-28-12, 05:34 PM
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I have to start saying that it depends on the dent and in the tubing. You have good and bad aluminum as you have good and bad steel tubes as well, you have good built and bad built. Have seen 3 months atala columbus tubing to fail, have seen bikes with rust everywhere not failing ever after 60 years.

Happy nothing happened to you but as you said, you rode the bike for years before failing and sure those for sure aren't columbus or dedacciai tubes either. We are talking straight gauge tubing which the manufacturer got who knows where, so pretty much doesnt surprise me that at some point failed, you got your money's worth after years of service.

I wouldnt be complaining for the bike to fail tho, i would complain if it was a brand new colnago aluminum frame that failed. Just to compare.

Good luck with your new bike.
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Old 04-28-12, 05:45 PM
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I have to start saying that it depends on the dent and in the tubing. You have good and bad aluminum as you have good and bad steel tubes as well, you have good built and bad built. Have seen 3 months atala columbus tubing to fail, have seen bikes with rust everywhere not failing ever after 60 years.

Happy nothing happened to you but as you said, you rode the bike for years before failing and sure those for sure aren't columbus or dedacciai tubes either. We are talking straight gauge tubing which the manufacturer got who knows where, so pretty much doesnt surprise me that at some point failed, you got your money's worth after years of service.

I wouldnt be complaining for the bike to fail tho, i would complain if it was a brand new colnago aluminum frame that failed. Just to compare.

Good luck with your new bike.
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Old 04-28-12, 06:18 PM
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I'd expect the manufacturer to respond and maybe even offer at least a discount on a new frame. Of course if the root cause was the dent, he's not responsible; but bike makers hate to see photos like these. They're cyclists too, after all.

Last edited by jim hughes; 04-28-12 at 06:29 PM.
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Old 04-28-12, 06:20 PM
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Originally Posted by sethco View Post
"Steel frames NEVER fail, right?"
They usually fail slowly enough that you have time to stop safely when the tubes start buckling.
First indication that my steel steerer tube was failing was that the fork and front wheel were no longer connected to the rest of the bike. We stopped very quickly after that - but it wasn't safely.
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Old 04-28-12, 06:46 PM
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Originally Posted by sethco View Post
They usually fail slowly enough that you have time to stop safely when the tubes start buckling.

OP, glad you survived with minimal injury!
Unless your lugged frame comes apart.
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Old 04-28-12, 08:55 PM
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Happy nothing happened to you but as you said, you rode the bike for years before failing and sure those for sure aren't columbus or dedacciai tubes either. We are talking straight gauge tubing which the manufacturer got who knows where, so pretty much doesnt surprise me that at some point failed, you got your money's worth after years of service.

I wouldnt be complaining for the bike to fail tho, i would complain if it was a brand new colnago aluminum frame that failed. Just to compare.

Good luck with your new bike.[/QUOTE]

Thank you for the good wishes. But as I said, it is nowhere near the top of my list that I get compensated for the frame, and I don't really care at all if I don't get compensated; I can easily afford a new frame. The point of my original message was that if this can happen to my aluminum frame, it can happen to someone else's, and I think people should be aware that it can happen.

But to say that I should not complain when my frame snaps in two misses the mark as well, I think. What should I expect of an aluminum bike frame, with respect to "fitness for use"? Do manufacturers say up front that you should not be surprised if your frame suddenly breaks in two, if you've already ridden it N miles, and/or it gets a dent in the frame? If so, I missed that piece of paper with my bike documentation, and might have made a different buying decision had I known.

If the manufacturer really has no idea that their frames are prone to breakage after N miles and/or because of a dent, then they should know, and that's why I told them, not to get a freaking new frame. But if they *do* have an idea that this is the case, it should be stated up front when people buy their bikes. "Throw it out after 20,000 miles, or if the frame gets dented." Or whatever. That's just basic ethics.

I think this is something which should be passed along by someone to people who ride these bikes and who, like me, may not be expecting them to break apart underneath them as they ride, don't you think?

Joe
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Old 04-29-12, 07:05 AM
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You have to consider that your frame had a dent... is not a tube that was integrally flawless, i understand that you want to aware everybody that what could happen and that is nice from you, but you have to understand that your bike was dented, then after years suddenly failed. You cant forecast how the frame or the tubes will react to the dent, and it depends also where the dent is.

For the record and maybe you dont know but any tube can fail, yours failed more like a car crash. Tubes when fail they just get clean cuts like made with a laser, have seen all the brands of steel tubing to fail out of the blue, just a clean cut and you wonder WTF, fatigue, thats all.

Thanks for your posting but sure it doesnt surprise to many people what happened because if you look the word dent in the search engine you will find zillions of threads with the subject. I imagine the dent was in the down tube??

Dude I see your frustration but nothing else to do about it, stuff fails and if you used the bike for several years with a dent in the down tube (my best guess is that you had a hole in the tube aswell) was your choice, right? Top tube dents usually nothing happens because of the way the tube works, down tube is a different history IMO.

Well good luck man thanks for sharing.
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Old 04-29-12, 07:35 AM
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Thanks for the warning and it is very good to hear you are not seriously injured.
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Old 04-29-12, 07:54 AM
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Originally Posted by ultraman6970 View Post
You have to consider that your frame had a dent... is not a tube that was integrally flawless, i understand that you want to aware everybody that what could happen and that is nice from you, but you have to understand that your bike was dented, then after years suddenly failed. You cant forecast how the frame or the tubes will react to the dent, and it depends also where the dent is.

For the record and maybe you dont know but any tube can fail, yours failed more like a car crash. Tubes when fail they just get clean cuts like made with a laser, have seen all the brands of steel tubing to fail out of the blue, just a clean cut and you wonder WTF, fatigue, thats all.

Thanks for your posting but sure it doesnt surprise to many people what happened because if you look the word dent in the search engine you will find zillions of threads with the subject. I imagine the dent was in the down tube??

Dude I see your frustration but nothing else to do about it, stuff fails and if you used the bike for several years with a dent in the down tube (my best guess is that you had a hole in the tube aswell) was your choice, right? Top tube dents usually nothing happens because of the way the tube works, down tube is a different history IMO.

Well good luck man thanks for sharing.
You seem to be missing the principal point, which is, what should should my (and other people's) expectations be with respect to (apparently) minor frame damage, like a dent in the top tube? (Not the down tube...)

Should I throw the frame away immediately? Should I continue to use it, but for some limited time? If so, what length of time is safe?

O.K., any tube can fail, sure. You may accept this (unquantified) risk, but I assure you, there are millions of other riders out there who just don't expect their frames to disintegrate underneath them, EVEN IF THERE IS A DENT IN IT, AND EVEN IF THAT DENT HAS BEEN THERE FOR SEVERAL YEARS. Do you get that part?

If this really is such common knowledge as you are are suggesting, then don't you think it would be prudent, not to mention considerate and neighbourly, for manufacturers to issue general warnings, such as:

"If you dent your frame, stop using it, because if you don't, it may well break into multiple pieces unexpectedly while you are riding it."

If manufacturers know this about their frames then I would like that information to be shared. You know, kind of like knowing that the gas tank on your Ford Pinto is likely to explode is somebody rear-ends it?

Joe
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Old 04-29-12, 08:02 AM
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Originally Posted by Nerull View Post
Unless your lugged frame comes apart.
Like the stories of people hitting potholes and the frame comes apart.

Every material can have problems
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Old 04-29-12, 08:36 AM
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I have yet to see a properly constructed lugged steel frame "just come apart".

All materials will fail, but some materials (steel) will fail more "gracefully" than others (Al, CF, and to a lesser extent Ti). Reports of steel frames "failing" yet allowing the rider to get into a safe state (or even finish the ride) are quite common.
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Old 04-29-12, 11:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Joe Average View Post
If this really is such common knowledge as you are are suggesting, then don't you think it would be prudent, not to mention considerate and neighbourly, for manufacturers to issue general warnings, such as:

"If you dent your frame, stop using it, because if you don't, it may well break into multiple pieces unexpectedly while you are riding it."
It's common knowledge around here; every time somebody posts about a dent in their ally frame, there's usually at least half a dozen folks warning this may be on the cards.

I'm a bit surprised that American lawyers haven't made such warnings as mandatory as QR-defeating 'lawer tabs' - something that would seem less justified than this.

Perhaps it's to do with the ambiguity of a dent? Pretty hard to classify what should and shouldn't be a concern, given all the variables.
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Old 04-29-12, 01:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Kimmo View Post
It's common knowledge around here; every time somebody posts about a dent in their ally frame, there's usually at least half a dozen folks warning this may be on the cards.
^ This... A dent is a stress riser where a crack is most likely to form. Almost every bike manual will tell you to inspect your bike frame periodically for dents and cracks. A dent in the frame is typically user caused and not considered a manufacturing defect covered by limited warranty. I would be very surprised if the bike company offered you anything under warranty other than the friendly advice to inspect your frame regularly...
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Old 04-29-12, 01:06 PM
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So the OP doesn't have to say it again, it's not the warranty he's concerned about, but the simple moral dimension.
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Old 04-29-12, 01:25 PM
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That looks terrifying. I'm glad you are ok!
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Old 04-29-12, 02:52 PM
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Anybody want to guess how many Identical bike frames they replace overnight,
during the top Pro Stage races like the TdF..

and no one notices.
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Old 04-29-12, 07:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Joe Average View Post
Yesterday my aluminum frame failed catastrophically, snapping into two pieces while I was riding it. The point of failure was a dent in the top tube that had been there for several years.

I believe that what likely happened was that the dent resulted in the frame tending to flex a tiny bit at that point when stressed (i.e. every time I rode it!), and over time, this slight flexing resulted in fatigue, which eventually caused it to weaken to the point of the catastrophic failure that occurred. (No, I'm not an engineer, but I am a physicist...)

Please see the link below for photos of my (former) bike.

https://picasaweb.google.com/ld50.30/April282012

I escaped this incident with a bit of road rash, but had this failure occurred about one minute earlier than it did, I would have gone down with absolutely no warning, as I did a few moments later, but with a car right on my tail, while I was making a left turn. Or it could have happened a bit later in my ride while going very fast down a hill, in traffic.

In short, this kind of catastrophic failure could easily have resulted in extremely serious and/or permanent injury for me, or even death.

I would urge anyone who rides a bike with an aluminum frame to check the frame for dents, and if you find any, do not continue to use it.

(I have sent almost an almost identical email to the manufacturer of my frame. Should they offer me a new one, that would be great, but that was and is not my primary concern. I can easily afford a new frame or a new bike, and I don't really care if they respond to my email or not. I think it's far more important that anyone using a frame with a similar condition to what is clearly the cause of my unfortunate incident, stop using it before it leads to a similar catastrophic failure as I experienced.)

Cheers, and safe, happy riding.

Joe
Did you feel the bike flexing while you rode it? Or did you notice anything different after a while?
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