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Bike on roof rack vs. low clearance bridge

Old 04-08-24, 11:06 AM
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Bike on roof rack vs. low clearance bridge

It wasn't pretty and thankfully wasn't mine, though it does belong to a close friend. He had his bike, an early 90's Cannondale ST600 set up as a pretty slick gravel bike, mounted on top of his roof racks on his full size van, an older Ford Econoline. The van is tall and so is the bike so it's really up there. He's been doing this for a couple of years now so is familiar with his clearance but, as we all know, humans make mistakes and this was one of them. He spaced and forgot about it when driving under a low hanging bridge going to a local swimming hole. He was going slow, less than 10mph. The saddle caught the bottom of the bridge, turned the seatpost into a boomerang, ripped one roof rack tower clean off, pulled another way back, bent the others, bent the roof rails up, dented the roof where the roof rack towers got dragged across, pulled rivets out of the roof rack towers, eventually pulled the fork out of the mount and let the bike flop over. Didn't get any more photos of the roof rack carnage but you can figure out it based on the one photo I got.






Amazingly, the seatpost came right out once the pinch bolt was loosened. The seat tube right at the very top got flared out ever so slightly where the seatpost kinked and the paint cracked slightly but no metal cracks from what I can tell. It was hard to tell when looking at the front of the seat tube where it meets the top tube if there was any stress cracks in the paint as the paint is in rough shape but it seemed fine. Dug up a good replacement and it dropped right in, which was even more amazing. Swapped the saddle over, tightened everything up and took it for a short ride. Couldn't tell anything had happened to it. A testament to the overbuilt nature of the older Cannondale touring frames.
The van and roof racks suffered more damage. The roof racks can be saved but the guy is using this as a sign to upgrade anyways, something he's wanted to do for a long time now.
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Old 04-08-24, 12:02 PM
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Wow that’s my nightmare! That does say a lot about the strength of those older Cannondales.
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Old 04-08-24, 02:14 PM
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American Flyers must have had some impression on your friend.
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Old 04-08-24, 02:40 PM
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I "roofed" my Litespeed years ago - it was fork mounted, so the bars went under the carport, but the carport caught the saddle and shoved the whole thing back about 6" before I stopped - crumpled the roof rack "tray" and broke off one of the towers. Since the CF fork was the one part that was firmly clamped to the rack and therefore took the brunt of the "shove", I decided to retire it, even though I couldn't find any obvious damage. Apart from a small tear in the saddle, the rest of the bike, including the seat post (Campag Ti) was fine, but my life flashed before my eyes as I heard the crunching from above and realized what I had done The fork was a Reynolds Ouzo Pro that was no longer available, but I found a NOS replacement on eBay for a lot less than the original RRP - rim-brake bargains in a disk-brake world...
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Old 04-08-24, 07:58 PM
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When I use my roof rack I take 4 or 5 3x5 cards and write "Bikes on Roof" on them.
Then I tape them to the rear view mirror, on the dashboard and anywhere else in my immediate field of vision.
In my case, 10 minutes on the road and I completely forget I am carrying my baby up high on the roof of my car.
I know that practice has saved me from disaster more than a few times.
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Old 04-08-24, 08:22 PM
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if it were carbon, the damage control would likely have been less.
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Old 04-08-24, 08:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Pantah
It wasn't pretty and thankfully wasn't mine, though it does belong to a close friend. He had his bike, an early 90's Cannondale ST600 set up as a pretty slick gravel bike, mounted on top of his roof racks on his full size van, an older Ford Econoline. The van is tall and so is the bike so it's really up there. He's been doing this for a couple of years now so is familiar with his clearance but, as we all know, humans make mistakes and this was one of them. He spaced and forgot about it when driving under a low hanging bridge going to a local swimming hole. He was going slow, less than 10mph. The saddle caught the bottom of the bridge, turned the seatpost into a boomerang, ripped one roof rack tower clean off, pulled another way back, bent the others, bent the roof rails up, dented the roof where the roof rack towers got dragged across, pulled rivets out of the roof rack towers, eventually pulled the fork out of the mount and let the bike flop over. Didn't get any more photos of the roof rack carnage but you can figure out it based on the one photo I got.






Amazingly, the seatpost came right out once the pinch bolt was loosened. The seat tube right at the very top got flared out ever so slightly where the seatpost kinked and the paint cracked slightly but no metal cracks from what I can tell. It was hard to tell when looking at the front of the seat tube where it meets the top tube if there was any stress cracks in the paint as the paint is in rough shape but it seemed fine. Dug up a good replacement and it dropped right in, which was even more amazing. Swapped the saddle over, tightened everything up and took it for a short ride. Couldn't tell anything had happened to it. A testament to the overbuilt nature of the older Cannondale touring frames.
The van and roof racks suffered more damage. The roof racks can be saved but the guy is using this as a sign to upgrade anyways, something he's wanted to do for a long time now.
There are a few strategies, like this 3D-printable pop-up warning, apps and window decals to help you avoid a "roofing". Probably wouldn't have helped a bike on the roof of a van, but for a car roof, maybe.
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Old 04-09-24, 10:16 AM
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The strange irony here is that less than 24 hours after I fixed the bike did it get stolen. It wasn't even left unattended. My friend was working on the fuel system under his van with the bike a few feet away when some guy just walked up, hopped on and rode off. My friend chased him for several blocks on foot (he's a fast cross country runner) but the thief had enough of a head start that my friend wasn't able to spring the distance quickly enough before the thief built up speed. He spent a while driving around looking for it and I have my suspicions on where it's at but the hunt it still going.

If you see a 58cm older red Cannondale ST600 in the SF Bay Area pop up for sale, let me know. Here's a photo of it a few months back, only difference is blackwall tire on the front and a black seatpost. Identifying factors is it's in rough shape and has 36h older White Industries hubs and I think the crank is an older White Industries as well but not positive.


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Old 04-11-24, 03:40 PM
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I have to ask - why wasn't the bike carried / stored INSIDE the van?
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Old 04-12-24, 09:34 AM
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OUCH! A few decades back, during the Tour Du Port, in Baltimore, watched a car with 2 bikes on top drive into a parking garage. The top of the entrance hit the bikes about halfway down. I saw it coming and tried to yell loud enough for the driver to hear me, but to no avail.
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Old 04-12-24, 10:01 AM
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Originally Posted by Bald Paul
I have to ask - why wasn't the bike carried / stored INSIDE the van?
He's currently living out of his van. Kind of hard to get around your living quarters when the majority of it is taken up by a bike. It's easier to put it on the roof and leave it there rather than take it down every morning since he doesn't ride it every day.
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Old 04-15-24, 09:02 AM
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Not cheap, but neither are bikes, think if I was carrying bikes on a roof, I might invest in something like this:
Subscriptions - GiraffeG4
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Old 04-15-24, 10:16 AM
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Originally Posted by freeranger
Not cheap, but neither are bikes, think if I was carrying bikes on a roof, I might invest in something like this:
Subscriptions - GiraffeG4
We all know someone who has done this, no? Worse is when the bike is driven into the owners own garage, destroying the bike (custom Santana tandem) and also causing $2K+ worth of structural damage to the garage itself. Rooftop portage of bicycles is a hard no for me. I wince inwardly whenever I see a bike (or two) sailing past on a roof rack. Thankfully, it's not every day. Kayaks and Thule boxes, fine. Bicycles simply stick up way too high and are too fragile to be so exposed. Even a tandem can be carried behind a standard sedan and not stick out on either side enough to be illegal or dangerous.
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Old 04-16-24, 11:22 AM
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Originally Posted by Troul
if it were carbon, the damage control would likely have been less.
Not really. The carbon would have assploded, taking out the bridge in the process, then the person would have been investigated for possible terrorism, though in the end I am sure he would have beat the charge.
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Old 04-16-24, 01:13 PM
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That nearly happened to me on the way to an organized century. It was a new start location for the event. (The Gore R&D facility in DE.) The ride organizers routed people coming from a certain direction under an old railroad bridge that had a very low clearance. I realized it just after I started into the overpass and slammed on the car brakes. I ended up putting the bike in the back seat. The bike was a custom IF. My heart was still pounding when I got to the registration table.

When I got home, I took a measurement. My saddle height was 1” below the stated clearance. The GF (whose bike was very small) emailed the organizers. To their credit, the admitted the mistake and gave new directions the following year. They also included a warning on the website.
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Old 04-16-24, 04:07 PM
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I, personally, have never stuck one of my own bikes on a roof, nor did either of my parents growing up. Always had an alternate way of hauling them.
These days, the preferred method is inside my car, which is easy considering I have a Subaru hatchback and a Tacoma with a campershell. Even if I had a smaller vehicle, the bikes would still go inside. I've fit a bike, with the wheels of, in the back seat of a Camry. Even done the same in the passenger seat of an old Toyota MR-2 (a 2 door, 2 seat hardtop sports car). A friend used to regularly haul his bike around in his Miata by dropping the top and sticking the bike in the passenger seat with the front wheel sticking up vertically. The seatbelt kept it from going anywhere.
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