07.6.2006 | 9:13 am

I did not intend to write today. After all, I wrote entries both for this blog and for Random Reviewer yesterday.

But something happened this morning, and it just can’t wait.

I Briefly Consider Myself an Accomplished Downhiller
I’ve started attacking the climb on my commute each morning. It’s about four miles, 1500 feet of climbing. I’m trying to re-learn to ride at threshold. It’s a painful skill, but incredibly valuable if you’re going to race.

Today, the climb went well. I suffered the whole way up, but did not crack. I was pleased; how could I not be?

Feeling good, I hit the downhill hard and fast, and it wasn’t long ‘til I was spun out. I looked at my speedometer: 52.2mph. Considering that I was wearing a bike messenger bag and was not in any kind of tuck, that’s pretty danged fast.

I said to myself, “I should write a blog entry about how I’ve learned to be a fast, fearless descender on the road. I’ll find a self-deprecating angle, but will nevertheless make it clear that I’m a force to be reckoned with.”

All Hell Breaks Loose
That’s when the bike started shaking side to side. No, not shimmying. Not wobbling. Shaking. Shaking hard.

I went for the brakes and slowed the bike down a bit.

The shaking continued. In fact, it got worse.

I kept braking. The bike was now shaking so hard that both the water bottles were flung from their cages.

I remember very clearly saying aloud, “I’m going down.”

But I didn’t. I managed to bring the bike to a stop. Even at slow speed, though, the bike kept shaking.

I sat on the guardrail, adrenaline making me completely unfit to ride.

I looked over at my bike. This is what I saw:

OK. Well, that explains things.

A wave of nausea hit me as I realized exactly how close to dying I had just come: My downtube had snapped at 50mph.

Wait a second, I think I need to emphasize that a little more strongly:

My downtube snapped at 50mph.

How to Ride a Bike with a Broken Downtube
I went and collected my water bottles, sat down on the guardrail, and thought for a moment. I was eight miles into a twenty mile commute. I had a broken downtube. What should I do?

Gingerly, I climbed back onto the bike. To my pleasure and relief, it held my weight. May as well finish that ride into work.

Here are some observations I have about riding a road bike with a broken downtube:

  • When you’re off the bike, the break in the downtube merely looks like a crack. When you’re on the bike, there’s a gap of about 3/4 inch.
  • A road bike with a broken downtube steers very much like a boat.
  • A road bike with a broken downtube is very vertically compliant. Really absorbs the road vibration, bumps, everything. It feels just like a full-suspension mountain bike, really.
  • Looking down at a big jagged gap in your downtube is not confidence-inspiring. I rode the rest of the commute at about 10mph. This affected my average speed significantly.

Goodbye, Old Friend
I’ve had that Ibis Ti Road for nine years. I planned to keep it forever. I still might, but more in a hanging-in-the-garage way than in a ride-it-til-I’m-old-and-gray way.

On the positive side, I now have the best possible reason to buy a new road bike. The shopping has already begun. Suggestions are welcome.


  1. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » How to Behave When You Know You’re Going to Die | 02.7.2007 | 10:45 am

    [...] Certainty of Death #3: Bike Failure at 50mphI’ve talked about when my trusty 9-year-old road bike discombobulated at 50mph fairly recently, so won’t go into the whole story again right now. I will say this, though: Once again, the knowledge of immediate doom didn’t make me scream or cry or despair at the moment it was happening. [...]

  2. Comment by Paul | 02.9.2007 | 2:08 pm


    I’ve just bought a second hand Ibis Road Ti. It looks to be in great condition and I trust the guy I bought it from. I was so happy with it. Now, having seen your picture of the bike, I’m eyeing my down tube with mild alarm.

    Did anyone ever tell you why it would break like that ? Ever heard of it happening on any other Ibis Road ?

    BTW, awesome if deranged job on the 52mph.

  3. Comment by Charles | 07.30.2007 | 12:55 am

    You might want to contact John Castellano or David Peoples.

    I’ve had my Ibis Road Ti going down Carson Pass at 60MPH. It’s still my current ride.

  4. Comment by Becky | 09.12.2007 | 3:53 pm

    WOW. You know, in a weird way that actually gives me more confidence in bikes in general. Amazing that you not only managed to stay up, but then were able to continue the ride.

  5. Trackback by Incest. | 10.13.2008 | 9:07 pm




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