Friday, February 6, 2009

Safety Moment : The Curious Case Of a Coat Hanger

I received an email last month from a person about a bizarre incident he had on the road. And I believe this could constitute a legit safety moment for February, although I felt like something like this has a low probability of occurring.

Fellow blogger Ole Eichorn, from Westlake Village, California (also a software specialist and CTO for Aperio) wrote to me the following :

"I have a Kestrel 200 EMS which I have been riding for the past nine years, logging some 40,000 miles on it. Anyway, so I'm cruising around 20mph the other day and I run over a coat hanger! I hear it banging around in my back wheel and suddenly the back wheel stops spinning. I fishtail to a stop, look down, and see that my rear derailleur has torn off the back of the bike, and is now dangling from the chain just behind my bottom bracket. Closer inspection reveals the coat hanger wrapped around my back axle, inside the chain, and also intertwined with the chain and the derailleur. What a weird thing, I could run over that same coat hanger 1,000 times and not have anything happen.

Once I got home, it took me 45 minutes to cut the coat hanger free and assess the damage. The really bad thing is that the dropout to which the derailleur attaches is mangled. The dropout is bonded into the frame, and I'm afraid the frame itself will have to be repaired to replace it. That means carbon fiber work. The rest of the rig seems to have survived; the wheel is undamaged, the cassette looks okay, and the chain looks okay (although it was tweaked rather severely and I'll probably replace it when I replace the derailleur).

My question is whether you think this can be repaired, and whether the bike will ever be the same again? I’d hate to have to buy a new bike just because of an errant coat hanger."

I felt pretty dogon sorry that a coat hanger took his bike out. Personally, I feel integrated derailleur hangers are such a bad feature in bicycle design. Once you accidentally destroy them in an incident, the whole frame is now a waste, assuming it cannot be repaired. And there goes couple of thousand dollars in water.

My swift response to him was about Calfee's carbon fiber repair program. I asked Ole to send an inquiry to them and see if they could help him. The following was his response :

"I did contact Calfee but they suggested I buy a new frame; apparently without having access to a replacement Kestrel dropout they wouldn’t be able to do anything. (They could do the carbon work on the frame.) The problem is that while there are still Kestrel bikes in the market, they really don’t have anything to do with the old Kestrel company which was bought a few years ago and folded into Fuji. So old parts and frames are no longer available.

I found a company called RR Velo which has a machine shop and builds custom carbon frames, and they said they’re able to do the repair. So I took the bike to my local shop, had them strip all the parts off the frame, and it is on its way to RR Velo. We’ll see how it all works out. I would sure love to be able to keep riding this bike, I’ve put about 40,000 miles on it these last nine years. A new bike would be great, but I don’t have a spare $6,000 lying around."

As bizarre as it sounds, this could happen to you. I think the key would be to watch out for items strewn on the road ahead of time and try and avoid them totally. You can bunny hop or maneuver around them. Its hard to be 100% confident that an impact with a small item such as a coat hanger would not have an adverse effect on your bike. If you can't avoid them, it doesn't take much to warn other riders behind you (if there are) and slow the bike down. In Ole's case, he wasn't able to do that and he lost his beloved bike in the process. What a bummer!

To put an interesting end to this post, I recall an incident similar to this that happened towards the finish of the spectacular and now classic 1988 Paris Roubaix. To every great performance in a bicycle race can be attributed strength, fitness, power and skill...but you simply cannot discount another deciding factor - SHEER RANDOM LUCK!

After 164 miles of dusty and bone jarring cobblestones, one of the two riders in the lead breakaway of two - Swiss cyclist Thomas Wegmuller - caught a piece of plastic bag on the road which eventually sucked up and entangled with his rear derailleur! What happens later brings one of the most crashing twists ever to the race in the history of the Paris Roubaix.

To see that section of the action, scroll the time bar to 6:16 min in the following video. Video courtesy goes out to the brilliant Socalrider909.

So, has anything like this ever happened to you? Would you mind sharing with us that experience?

* * *


Jamie Rockwood said...

Ouch. Good story. I'm getting old and so is my eye sight.

@ Luke : Very unfortunate. So did you get a replacement.

Wally said...

I have a 2000 Colnago C40 frame sitting in my basement for years now. I have not built up the bike but this very issue of unreplacable derailler hanger is whats keeping me from building it up. The challenge is now deciding between holding on to it or selling it if I can't justify the former.

Anonymous said...

That's why you don't want a plastic bike.

Anonymous said...


The same thing happened to me a few years ago. The culprit was not a coat hanger but a broken spoke. The spoke jammed into the derailleur and bent the rear dropout in pretty much the same way. My frame was an aluminium "Vitus" frame. I sent it away to be repaired and am riding it again now.

Good look with the repair!

Anonymous said...

one of the most crashing twists ever

That was a let down. I'll grant you that it was a twist but a "crashing twist"? I actually expected something like...a crash.

BLeemeister said...

I've seen a few odd thimgs like this happen, both to others and myself. Once I recall was years ago, when I was in Colorado Springs at the OTC. The coaches had decided we should do some interval training on Marksheffle road. I remember that this was a very windy day, hard core cross-winds. So I'm riding along when suddenly I feel something hit my bike. Turns out a big clump of sagebrush had been blown across the road and lodged itself into my Campy Super Record rear deraileur, bending the inner paralellogram arm plus the rear hanger. I could still ride, but only as a single speed.

Anonymous said...

Ron , seems like you're really putting together some input that needs to be considered for future derailleur designs.

Anonymous said...

It was interesting Kestrel was never called to see about if there is some sort of 'crash replacement' program.


- Ryan

Brenda Lyons said...

Ole....I work for Kestrel. Sounds like a bum wrap to have a freak thing like that happen. Please keep me posted, we'll do our best to help you --if a.) you don't get things sorted with the folks you sent your Kestrel to and/or b.) if you can provide us with the original receipt of purchase. It is true that we did not carry over warranty from pre-2008 models when we bought the brand over here at ASI (Advanced Sports Inc.), but we are a relatively easy going group of bike lovers and will always do our best to help. And we do have a crash replacement policy that would support you in replacing your bike a reasonable price. I am actually the SoCal territory rep for the company, so I would be the one to steer you in the right direction. I'd be happy to help. I'm glad i peeped the blog...crazy story! Please keep me posted.

and to Ron...thanks for a great blog. I enjoy stopping by!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reinforcing the point I was making and adding to it.

The customer service in most bike companies is really great and they usually will do everything they can to get a person back on the road in the most cost effective way possible.

- Ryan

Ron said...

Brenda : I have told Ole about your willingness to find a solution for him. From the last I heard of him, he had shipped his frame to RR Velo.

To others : Great stories. Seems like the derailleur sure could take a better design to avoid objects getting entangled/stuck in them.

Anonymous said...

My question is : Which person in his sane mind would dump coat hangers on the road.

Anonymous said...

Chris - Do you have any idea how old that design is?
Here is a hint, when this frame was designed, Ronald Reagan was the president of the United States!

Most bikes designed at that time most were steel and didn't have replaceable hangers.

Of the bike frames designed then, this is the only design that was mass produced, which when current materials are applied to it, the design yields a frame that is still very much competitive by todays standards.

It should be noted the last incarnation of this design was the 300 EMS which had a frame weight of just over 1000 grams.

- Ryan

Brenda Lyons said...

Hi Chris....I am working on helping Ole, whether he ends up choosing to go with a new Kestrel or not, i'm still getting involved in the process and am going to do my best.
Anon is right...we just don't have the capacity to "fix" that frame, but it doesn't mean we don't care.

Cheers from KESTREL

Anonymous said...

Can someone please explain to me why a ripped off hanger couldn't be fixed? could you not grind the remaining bit of hanger off and weld on a new hanger. As long as you can get a hanger replacement [have one made (should be an easy job for a machinist) or cut the hanger off a new drop/hanger piece]??
Just lost my hanger