SS Climbing Stalls, Slips, and Falls- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    SS Climbing Stalls, Slips, and Falls

    At the end of April 2016 I had a bad SS accident on a steep climb. I broke my sternum.

    SS riders experience "die trying" efforts. The intense efforts of climbing trails are a major attraction of SS. It is probable that there are many types of falls, fails, and injuries from trying to climb things on SS bikes. However, I have not heard or read of many.

    I will tell you a bit about my injury. Maybe you will have a story to tell as well. (All tales of SS climbs welcome, however.)

    By learning about examples, we can improve our chances for success and survival.

    Honestly I am not being hyperbolic when I say I nearly died trying to climb a steep trail on my SS.

    I was well into the second half of an epic ride, at about 42 miles and 7k feet of climbing. My strength was very good, and the ride had been rewarding, without pain, with many happy cleans of steep and sometimes technical climbs up to the point of my demise.

    So ultimately I saw this hill in the forest that the trail went up which looked really steep. So steep in fact that I said to myself that I should get off and walk. But I was too proud, and wanted to try. After all, what's the worst thing that can happen? Tip over, put a foot down?

    As is often the case, I was winded, in this case from a nice series of rollers, and I approached this grade on a slow roll gathering my breath, and forming a good posture for the climb.

    The hill is actually a double track over smooth and rough sandstone covered with redwood tree litter and dead tan bark oak leaves and sticks and a thin bit of soil overall, with some criss crossing roots near the top, and some acorns and redwood cones.

    It is steep for the first 10-15 yards, which I know is going to have me barely making it if I indeed make it. I make it, and for 5 yards then it relaxes grade a smidge, before going up a cruel deal steeper, and steeper, and then to some arm thick roots mostly buried in forest litter, and then the steepest part, and then the hilltop, which is another 15 yards. So the whole section is like 40 yards.

    (Before the accident, and since, I have ridden it on a geared bike. It's very very hard with gears...traction being the issue.)

    Having succeeded the 5 yard "rest" section I am ready to give it almost everything, save a little for the final roots.

    It's amazing to me how SS climbing really sharpens the powers of observation of trail conditions ahead. How is it possible to remember these details so clearly? Perhaps my mind is making things up as in a dream. Perhaps the memory is like the last minutes of dash-cam footage or airplane black box data.

    Anyway, I was really pleased to be onto the hardest section, and more than halfway up, and I felt that I had a chance of cleaning the climb because I still had some wind left and some power in my legs.

    But, I had to read the roots at the top, and find a good approach angle, and find traction to get there. Well, I should have told you by now that I have bar ends on the bike hat I really use when climbing steeps. So of course I am over the front of the bike gripping them and driving the rear wheel into the ground for traction as best I can.

    So I sort of steer left to prepare to get under the roots at a good spot and at the same time take a bit of the gradient off. This is the steepest part of the climb.

    In a lapse of judgement I moved too far forward, my butt is off the saddle, un-weighting. In that instant, the rear tire slipped under a power stroke.

    Because of the grade, the bike rolled backwards.

    Well aware of the danger associated with gripping bar ends while going backwards, I am instantly wishing I could hit the brakes, yet knowing that I cannot, and I have committed, like a rock climber into lunging for a finger hold, who knows he is about to fall.

    The flight plan is to fall to the uphill side onto the ground.I lean to the right so I can fall on my right shoulder hip and thigh. It should or work, or so I think.

    Unfortunately, dynamics dictate an outcome where the handlebar turns right causing the front wheel to move left backwards and down the steep hillside. The bike rolls beneath my center of gravity and before I can unclip the bike is falling like a coin on it's side, down to the left.

    I tried to fall right but I fell left down the steep side. The bike was under me and I fell on the handlebar. Since the bars are wide I couldn't brace myself with my arms. The bike had settled on the ground and in effect I was speared dead center in the sternum, by the end of the bar.

    If my chest was sheetrock and a pipe was rammed into it, that's the situation.

    It knocked the wind out of me. The bone broke horizontally, and the handlebar pushed the bone into my heart, and I had a momentary black out.

    My buddy came up behind and after I came to, I heard him say that didn't sound good.

    I had rolled off the bike and was sitting on the hillside taking off my pack and helmet, holding up my hand trying to say give me five minutes. It hurt!

    Knowing rib injury we figured I would simply have to live through it.

    Quietly I suffered heart attack symptoms, which I didn't describe, yet with disbelief I listed to myself.

    A month later I had the sternum fracture reduced and held together with steel wire.

    Three months after the injury I was back mountain biking, and single speeding.

    The bar end probably limited the penetration into my chest. At the same time, lack of access to the brakes contributed to the accident.

    In all my mountain biking since 1986, I have fallen climbing and descending many times, but this was the worst outcome by far.

    In retrospect:

    1. Pride does come before a fall.
    2. The fine edge of traction is a disaster to flirt with.
    3. I still love SS.
    4. I am stubborn.

  2. #2
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    Yikes!!

    No SS-specific crash stories myself, but having some brakes to grab when that rear wheel slips is very reassuring. Will you continue to use bar-ends now? I've not used them for many years and have come to appreciate the use of a wider bar for out of the saddle honking.

    Glad to hear you are on the mend though!

  3. #3
    Downcountry AF
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    ouch. that's a scary injury. being speared by anything sucks, shot to the heart even more so. glad you came out the other side and are back at it.

    i'm always a little worried something catastrophic could happen at maximum load under extreme effort. broken chain, snapping the bars in half, stem ripping off, some important tendons tearing in my body, but never really worry about landing on the handlebars... on a climb.

    it's not pride or stubbornness, ok maybe a little, it the challenge. that's a big attraction to SS for me too. if it was easy it would be a lot less fun.

    my only SS crashing while climbing stories are tight uphill switchbacks on loose gravel/dust. trying to put down maximum power while pulling up on the bars unweights the front tire, and because i was leaned over the front of the bike disappears to the side and i end up on my face before i can even let go of the bars. more embarrassing than physically painful. it amazes me how fast a rigid bike breaks loose and snaps out from under you. way faster than a bike with suspension.

    bottom line, try to keep some weight on the front tire and reduce power to the pedals until you get the bike partially turned. it's a delicate balance for sure.
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  4. #4
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    "and before I can unclip" that's the common thread of the half dozen or so climbing injuries I've seen over the years, though none near as bad as yours. All were right at a stall out, don't recall for sure if any were SS related in particular, usually gouged calf or hurt ankle/knee injury as well as bruised ego. Even on flats I've gotten high sided a few times but still a bit easier to recover going backwards.

  5. #5
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    I have stalled and fallen enough that now I see something that is better done dismounting and walking/running up, that is what I do. On my local trails there are a few sections that just are terrible with a geared bike, and worse with a single speed. They are steep technical with roots and rocks and I often see other riders just grinding up it with everything they have at speeds that just a little bit slower they would topple over. I just don't get that anymore.

    I've been working on my dismounting technique and getting into a run so that those sections are done quickly and efficiently and much faster than if I were riding it. I hit them kind of like I would hit a cyclocross course, where dismounting and running over obstacles or really bad terrain is just part of it.

  6. #6
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    Thanks for sharing this well written story. Basically you got so damn good at climbing steeps that you looped out backwards.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Burns View Post
    How is it possible to remember these details so clearly?
    My guess: The central nervous system and its memory function assigns "high priority" status to any experience that threatens its extinction, as a survival-enhancing strategy. Evolution at work. The amount of data the CNS disregards is unfathomable, whereas this experience got maximum priority.

    When I crash, I experience an eerie slowing of time. Very trippy. It would be helpful if I could take advantage of this heightened awareness, but instead I freeze up and simply become The Observer. I'm trying to figure out how to consciously act while in that slow-time dimension -- then I could become like Neo and dodge bullets! My guess is that I could learn to consciously act in that slow-time dimension if I regularly spent time in it, but that would require a lot more crashing. Perhaps meditation?

  7. #7
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    Some of my most memorable falls have been during climbing, and climbing up technical switchbacks as well.

    Perhaps I will be less bold in the future but so far I am still going for it, and finding new ideas.

    A lot of us have looped out and landed on the trail below. I did that once on the Colorado Trail somewhere south of Molas pass. Luckily nothing got hurt or broken.

    One time a friend was trying to manual and step up onto a boulder on the Rubicon Jeep trail in front of me when the rear tire rolled a rock and he basically landed on his chin while the bike slid out under him. He got away with a deep cut and some stitches.

    Those two examples were on geared bikes though.

    What latte1973 says is wise. Of course I have always agreed that it's best to ride to ride another day, and that there is no shame in walking. But to break it down further, into not only why and when to take a conservative approach, and explain how and in what style, you move through technical sections, is instructive.

    Once you've decided to get off, it does add incentive to realize you can move faster and with less energy expenditure than risking riding it out. I think I can adapt to the this tactic

    The capabilities of your bike in its current condition as well as an accurate assessment of one's fitness and skill are variables.

    The penalty for failure may even be the last!

    I have not snapped a chain or have a bar or stem break. I know about the weird feeling of speculating about such a catastrophe. Sometimes I have had dreams of riding and a crank arm comes off mid-ride.

    These are all valid and rational worries about risk.

    But heck, I plan on riding a lot more. I would prefer to be more constructive than morbid.

    Like for instance, which side is best to dismount on and whether on not to shoulder or carry. Always strive for ideal air pressure and tires for conditions.

    Our bodies and minds are amazingly capable, yet physically delicate.

  8. #8
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    Great story and it seems bar-ends might be your foe. Being able to brake and stall for a second would have allowed you to clip out maybe. I stopped using bar-ends years ago and have Ergon GS-1 on my rigid Sir9 SS. I'm not sure it that would help,but the grips take the sting out of long rides.
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  9. #9
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    I've had a similar accident but nowhere near as serious. Came down on the end of the bar after hitting a tiny rock at almost zero mph at the top of a steep pitch. One I have ridden many times.

    Felt something go crack, sharp pain, agony to breathe. It was in a 24 hour, so I carried on for another 2 laps but eventually wisdom/pain prevailed. I can remember the details with great clarity to this day. Plenty time to consider what was happening on the way down but reflexes like treacle.

    I would say it was a comedy crash, but I had to avoid laughing for quite a long time.

    These days I walk/jog long steep stuff because it is faster, rests my legs, and usually there's scenery to appreciate which you don't get to see when scanning the 2 metres in front of you for gotchas.

    I spent some time once on our local circuit timing myself on the climbs and then walk/jogging them. My technique is to attack the climb as usual but prepared to dismount and I'm off before the bike stops, and start running at the top so the bike has some speed before leaping on. In 24 hour events, I often overtake geared riders doing this.

    It's definitely faster for me not riding them. The time killer is the stopping for dismount/remount. That sucks the time, doing it in motion is the trick, there's very little if any difference in speed between walking and riding on really steep stuff, even with gears.

    Then when I get to the top all the go hasn't been sucked out of my legs.

    If you're concerned about rate of progress it's worth experimenting with a stopwatch and see what works for you.

    A bonus is it's kinder to the bike. I haven't twisted a crank, broken a spider, or ripped the spokes out since I started doing this a few years back. (That could also be due to age catching up though, or stronger components, or both. )

    But every now and then I have an attack of macho, and get to fall off sideways gracelessly at zero mph on to lumpy rocks.
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  10. #10
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    Zoinks.

    I've busted myself up on geared FS and hard tails mostly.

    Can't recall a really bad SS wipeout. I climb better than many of my cronies though now that I am 50 years old, I tend to go at it a bit less aggressively. When I am in doubt, I bail without hesitation.

    Once, my hands bounced off the handlebars on my rigid SS during an unexpectedly rough and steep descent. I barely avoided having the front wheel go sideways on me by placing my hands behind the grips. Took note of that and said, on unknown descents, go slower!
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  11. #11
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    Ouch! Glad you came through OK. The only one I vividly remember, because it comes to mind every time I ride this section of trail is below, luckily no injuries:

    I'm climbing a techy singletrack section involving some really steep sections, some flats between them, and plenty of rocks, roots, and tight turns. This is many years ago, so I was running bar ends as well, although my hands were not on them at the time. I just cleared a steep techy section and am winded, riding as slow as possible on a short flat section before the next steep up. Just ahead, the trail makes a quick right turn up a steep incline and then goes over a crumbled rock wall. I am staying to the left of the trail to get a better line into the turn and am looking up the trail at the line I want to be on. I stand up and start to accelerate, but on my first pedal stroke, my left bar end catches a little tree that I didn't even see because I was looking up the trail. Bar and front wheel swing left instantly and I am lying on the trail on my right side wondering what happened. Luckily no injuries or broken parts, as I was barely moving at the time, but it sure happened quick!

    That's all I've got for now.

  12. #12
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    My biggest failures climbing occurred when I had bar ends on the bike (flipped over onto my back). Oddly, my biggest successes as well. I've since binned the bar ends because they encouraged me to do things that could get me into trouble while removing a tool that I use to minimize damages or get out of a sticky situation.

  13. #13
    sofa king awsm
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    Damn. That's a scary incident, OP. Healing vibes.
    Baby, I want my face to be your quiver killer.

  14. #14
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    Nothing quite so dramatic, I was attempting to climb a similar steep section and it becomes rocky. There is a little reduction in the grade before the rocks, so I thought I would sit for a singlecrank turn and throw my weight forward while rising out of the saddle to clear the rocks. I didn't clean the section, ended up still in the saddle, tried a huge push with my left leg... the something felt like it "exploded" at my left hip... can't seem to bear any weight on it right now. Feels like it may be a while before it lets up, and this is my fav time of year to ride....

  15. #15
    The White Jeff W
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    Had just converted my bike to SS and didnt have the chainline right. Climbing a steep hill the chain came off during a power stroke and I came down hard on the stem. Broke a rib.
    No moss...

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeffw-13 View Post
    Had just converted my bike to SS and didnt have the chainline right. Climbing a steep hill the chain came off during a power stroke and I came down hard on the stem. Broke a rib.
    Damn, I bet that is painful, of all the injuries I have had (including a torn calf so bad I ALMOST had surgery for compartment syndrome...) I still can't imagine hitting your bar hard enough to break a rib. Hope you're on the mend.

  17. #17
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    Get Well

    Quote Originally Posted by jeffw-13 View Post
    Had just converted my bike to SS and didnt have the chainline right. Climbing a steep hill the chain came off during a power stroke and I came down hard on the stem. Broke a rib.
    Awe that's a huge bummer man!

    Tell us more if you can.

    Did the chain derail at all before the accident?

    Unrelated slightly, I have wondered if a frame could flex enough under a hard effort, enough to throw a chain.

    My wife and I have derailled a tandem timing chain from frame twist (combined with super fast spinning) before, on a downhill. That was scary, but luckily we didn't get hurt.

    Anyway, get well Jeff. Take the time you need to and make the best of it.

  18. #18
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    slohr,

    Just read your post. Sorry I missed it somehow.

    How are you doing now? Did you come up with a diagnosis?

    I went for a 1300' 13 mile SS ride last evening on the bike I hurt myself on and it was nice mellow and routine. But I began to debate about whether or not to remove my bar ends.

    I was thinking that they allow harder efforts, and that alone could be a risk.

    Still debating.

    Hope you recover.

  19. #19
    The White Jeff W
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    This happened a couple years ago. It was first time out on a geared bike I converted to SS, just to see if I liked it.

    I didnt know how to do chainline then so I eyeballed it. Bad idea.

    Like I said before, Im pounding up a steep hill and mid stroke the chain came off and my torso hit the stem just right and I broke a rib.
    No moss...

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