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Bad things can happen

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Bad things can happen

Old 06-11-20, 12:09 PM
  #1  
MikeAndJean
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Bad things can happen

We hit the ground on Sunday. My wife and I have ridden tandems together since 1973. This was only our second fall. The first was back in the late 70s when we were still made out of rubber, so there were no injuries, except for some abrasions and a bent front fork. The fall on Sunday left my wife with a broken hip. I am not writing this message to scare anyone. However, there may be some lessons in our misadventure that will be helpful to other tandem teams.

Our fall was caused by loss of pressure in the front tire. In 47 years and 100,000+ miles of riding, we have had plenty of flats. Some of those had been memorable, like the rear blowout we once had on a fast mountain descent. However, all of those memorable flats had been on rear tires. Flats on the front tire always were more benign. Typically, low front tire pressure would be an unpleasant discovery as we were preparing for a ride. Occasionally we would pick up a thorn or a piece of glass while riding. Those punctures always announced themselves with the tell-tell rhythmic hiss that is familiar to any bike rider.

Our flat on Sunday was gradual and unannounced. It snuck up on us. The last mile or so of our route was on smooth residential streets, so the loss in pressure was not noticeable. Then, at walking speed, as we were turning into our driveway, the underinflated front tire suddenly slid out from under us. It was an abrupt discontinuity in time as we switched from enjoying the end of a pleasant ride to lying on the ground waiting for an ambulance.

The low-profile tires we always ride may have contributed to this accident. Currently we have ReneHerse Chinook Pass tires on our tandem. Nominally this is a 28mm tire; however, the true dimension is closer to 25mm on our Velocity Deep V rims. We ride these tires at 100 to 110 psi. We have always ridden low profile tires, even back in the days when much of our riding was on dirt. Pinching an innertube has never been a problem – our combined rider weight is around 290 pounds. Nevertheless, I wonder if we would have retained better control, with a low tire pressure, if the tire volume had been greater.

So, watch your tire pressure. I know that sounds obvious, but it was not obvious enough to me on Sunday. The front tire was still “ridable” when I walked the tandem up the driveway after the ambulance left. I would guess that the pressure still was round 50 psi. Therefore, even a modest loss in front tire pressure can make a dramatic change in your ride.

Be safe.

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Old 06-11-20, 12:37 PM
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Oh, that's terrible! What a great photo and lovely stoker. You must be a very smooth pedaler. I always notice a low tire by the rhythmic bounce. We once had a truly terrifying front deflation in a fast right hander. Luckily, so luckily there was not oncoming because we were in the other lane before the rim dug in a bit and I got control back. We were descending, so no bounce, and you were probably coasting to your driveway.

I don't know the answer to your conjecture. I do prefer tires which measure 32mm on my 23mm outside rims - wider than the Deep V. 285 lb. team. I run my 32mm tires at 95 lbs., never a pinch flat. My scary deflation was with 23mm tires on Deep-V rims, back when I was just learning tandeming.
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Old 06-11-20, 04:41 PM
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So sorry to hear :(

Dear Mike and Jean,

That's so very unfortunate for you two. So sorry to hear and wish Jean a speedy recovery. I hope you two can get back out on the road soon.


My very first outing on the road tandem - a surprise 30 year birthday present to my future wife - consisted of blowing off our front tire on a small descent in Nevada City. It had nothing to do with overheating or any road condition, but a really dumb decision to save a few bucks on tires. Dumb, dumb, dumb. But luck was on my side as I was able to keep the bike upright as we slowed to a stop. Although we started drifting toward the centerline, I think I was able to keep us on the right side of the road before an even worse fate befell us. I owe my stoker credit as well as she was able to maintain composure as I nuanced the bike back on course and to stay upright (I came to realize later that she was/is a natural on back after realizing years riding on the back of her brother's moto gave her a fantastic skillset.). Glad to say the weekend away on the new tandem didn't end badly. That right there very easily could have ended our tandem experience before it even had the chance to begin. What would or would not have been! No road tandeming together. Who knows, would she have even stuck around after getting taken down with some numbskull on her first outing? Perhaps no future wedding bells, nor a mountain tandem on which we've had so much fun together.


Oh how things could have turned out! Dodged the proverbial bullet right there for sure.


I'll add that I was able to source "Tire Savers" a while back on Ebay and installed them on the road tandem. I must say it has increased my confidence on the tandem knowing any glass I encounter (a lot in the East Bay SF area) isn't as likely to cause a flat. Not having to manually brush off the front tire mid-ride and asking my stoker to do same for the rear is nice. They're old-school anti-flat measures, but I think a worthwhile addition for tandem riding. We haven't flatted yet, although flats haven't been much of an issue for us either way.


Thank you for sharing your experience. Not sure how it could be avoided if all the conditions conspire against a captain, but I think we'll all be a LOT more vigilant when it comes to monitoring tire pressure during the course of a ride. Best to Jean and thank you again for sharing your experience with us all.
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Old 06-11-20, 05:30 PM
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I'm very sorry to hear that, especially with how it ended. I hope she recovers as quickly and painlessly as possible. A trip to the hospital right now is a scary thing.

I ride 38mm Barlow Pass tires on my (solo) bike. I like to ride them at fairly low pressure, but I have noticed some scary behavior if I go too low (say below 25 psi). Nothing nearly as extreme as what you describe, but it sounded a little bit familiar. Also they are 38mm, which are inherently more stable, and I have them on Belgium Plus rims with tubes. All of those tires are very supple, and have only air as sidewall support.

If it were me, I would put as fat a tire set as could fit on there. I just got some 55mm Antelope Pass tires for my touring bike. I swear they don't slow me down.

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Old 06-11-20, 07:53 PM
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Sorry to hear about that and hope recovery goes well. Thanks for sharing your misadventure. We have been riding together 30+ years. Recently, we had a leak in the rear tire while on the asphalt path atop the Miss. River levee. I really didn't feel like doing what had to be done to replace the tube up there on the levee. I have a bike stand at home which makes it a lot less difficult. So, I pumped the tire and we stopped 3 or 4 times on the way home to pump the tire. Having read about your experience, I may not do that again. It got a little wobbly on me each time the pressure got low. My stoker was steady as can be and I was able to manage. But, your experience shows what could have happened if the leak suddenly got worse - not attractive.
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Old 06-12-20, 08:59 AM
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So sorry to hear about this! As we grow older, taking a fall certainly doesn't get easier. In our 35 years of tandeming, our only fall occurred in 1998 when a particularly mean dog ran out in front of us with the intentions of tackling the bike. While we both suffered concussions, my wife also dislocated her hip. Now that we're in our mid 60s,I can't imagine how we'd handle a fall like that today. Hoping your wife has a speedy recovery!
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Old 06-12-20, 01:05 PM
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Thank you for posting this and best wishes to your stoker for a fast and full recovery.

Your story sent chills down my spine. My wife and I had a beautiful ride along the coast yesterday. We had a tailwind on the return and cresting a hill I saw a turnout ahead with cars parked at right angles to the shoulder we were riding where people were accessing the beach. I decided to take the lane, get in the drops and get past the cars as quickly as possible. As we started up the next rise and slowed down, my wife asked me if I knew how fast we were going. I knew it must have been above her normally imposed limit in the high 30s, but this time both of our computers pegged the peak speed above 47 mph. Neither of us ever felt in danger, but I can just imagine what might have happened if the front tire had picked up a piece of broken glass during that descent.

Our front tire is a 28 mm Continental GP4000 S2 that measures at 32 mm at 82 psi on Spinergy rims. It has 2800 miles on it and I can still see the wear dimples. I have a new 32mm GP 5000 sitting in the cabinet waiting for the right time for installation. Your story is motivating me to do that sooner rather than later.
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Old 06-13-20, 12:10 PM
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Thank you for the kind wishes. Jean now has a new hip and is on her way to recovery. All of those accumulated miles should help her with that long process.

Like some of you (maybe most of you) we have enjoyed the incredible speeds that are possible on tandems. We will never forget descending the east side of Tiago Pass in 1979, just after a new surface had been laid. The dark black asphalt highlighted any light-colored natural stone that might have rolled onto the roadway, making it easy to see any debris that could damage a tire. Therefore, once past the turns at the top, we let go and I didn't touch the brakes until Mono Lake was in sight. We must have reached 60. That was back when we still rode on sew-ups.




I always thought of moments of craziness like that as the big danger when riding these wonderful machines. However, I now realize that the complacency that comes with less dramatic conditions can be just as dangerous.

Enjoy your ride this weekend. Out here in Northern California, it looks like it will be perfect weather.

Last edited by MikeAndJean; 06-13-20 at 12:34 PM.
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Old 06-13-20, 06:29 PM
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Sorry to hear of the fall and resulting injury but good to hear stoker is on the road back to riding. Fitness can be very helpful in recovering from injury/surgery. We've only had one fall in our 20 years of riding tandems - no serious injury and able to ride 20 miles back to the start.
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Old 06-14-20, 10:41 AM
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Sorry about your accident,
Larger tires should result in less incidents of flats. We use Snoqualimie Pass 44mm on our tandem at 55psi and cannot complain. I would fit as large a tire as possible on your tandem to reduce tire pressure and smooth out the ride.

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Old 06-17-20, 06:45 PM
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I can't imagine you didn't easily exceed 60 on Tioga Pass. Wow and on sew-ups too! Animals! We hit 55 descending Brockaway Summit into King's Beach on the mountain tandem. Fat, knobby tires and un-aero positioning kept us from hitting warp speed. A motorcyclist rode up next to us and yelled, "You're doing 55mph! Good job!" I didn't think we were going THAT fast. Given that, I know we must have hit close to 70 on a descent at the Wildflower Century in Chico on the road tandem. This time, I was TRYING to hit top speed on a faster road bike with more aero position. But I don't think I had a cyclometer on the bike, so I either couldn't confirm or didn't look at the time!

Anyway, thanks for the follow up and best wishes to Jean with her new hip. Titanium?* COOL!

*"The Disappearing Spoon" is a great read that tells how titanium was discovered to be the only foreign material that the body will not reject and bone with graft to. Plus, really good explanation of the Periodic Chart and history of many of the elements' discovery.
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Old 06-17-20, 07:51 PM
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Speaking of Tioga, we have Tioga Powerblock 2.1's on our 26 inch tandem. We hit 50 mph on the "Ride the Rim" event at Crater Lake last September without even trying. They roll nicely and handle nearly every surface short of loose dirt or mud.
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