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handlebar breaks causing bad crash(34 posts)

handlebar breaks causing bad crashDougSloan
Apr 29, 2003 6:36 AM
Tim Coleman, for whom I crewed at the Davis 24, was riding the Devil Mountain Double Saturday when half his handlebar snapped off at the stem, resulting in a bad head-first crash into a hill. The worst injury was to his neck, requiring surgical fusion, with bone grafts and ti plate/screws.

The bar was a Prima 220, which had never been damaged before. It happened right when he hit a relatively mild bump in the road.

He was taken by helicopter to John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek, where he will be until later in the week.

He was planning on team RAAM this year, but that's out now. He was in fantastic shape, too.

On a personal aside, I'll note that Tim is an extremely cautious rider. The point is, if you think you are immune to crashes due to caution, and choose not to wear a helmet, here's an example of what can happen regardless of your caution. There was no way to predict, prepare for, or avoid this.

He has the same Prima 220 bars on his Calfee tandem, which he said will be immediately changed for something else before he rides it, probably a Kestrel EMS.

Be careful out there.

Prima 220 barsPaulCL
Apr 29, 2003 6:46 AM
Aluminum?? CF??? Steel??? Were they old bars? New?? Just curious as I've never heard of these bars before.

Any, most importantly, I wish your friend a speedy recovery.

Jeesh...this board is full of sad/bad news this AM...the girl killed at the MS 150, your friend's crash, the leader of my (?) tour with brain cancer. Hey, that's three...its' over. They come in threes.
Apr 29, 2003 6:53 AM
Aluminum, around 220 grams. Made by 3T. Actually a very common bar.

Less than 2 years old.

Sep 20, 2003 2:08 PM
I just received the e-mail about your friend who had his handlebars snap in two. I had the same thing happen to me in April. I was knocked out, and had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital, It happened so fast, I don't remember a thing. When I came to, the ambulance was there already. I was using the same Prima 220 handlebars. What did your friend end up doing? Law suit?? I'd really like to get in touch with him. My frame (Colnago) also broke.
Lee Nagel
re: handlebar breaks causing bad crashrwbadley
Apr 29, 2003 6:48 AM
That's sad to hear.

A friend of mine had a similar incident a while back with a set of mustache bars (not nitto). They broke at the stem, luckily he escaped injury.

Helmets are most definitely the best way to go...

Any other lesson?unchained
Apr 29, 2003 6:52 AM
Can one choose not to wear their helmet on quiet country roads? Maybe not if they use stupid light equipment.

People in Europe have been riding without helmets forever. Of course they use 300+ gram bars, and other reliable equipment.

For the sake of mankind and in the spirit of international cooperation, might I suggest we embark on an education campaign? The campaign will educate people in Europe, and people in cars (where there are a great many head injuries) to wear their helmets.

Think of the children!
Good reason to change your barsMR_GRUMPY
Apr 29, 2003 6:52 AM
The lighter the bars, the shorter the life. I had an old pair of Cinelli bars break on me once. I didn't know that bars were unsafe after 6 or 7 crashes. I was on a group training ride, and had just finished a sprint when we had to stop for traffic. I had one foot down and my elbows resting on the bars, when the right half just broke off at the stem. I had to ride back to my car holding the right bar, all the time thinking about what would have happened if the bars would have gone in the sprint.
Everybody tries to save weight, I wonder if bars are the wrong place to save it.
Good reason to change your barsharry hall
Apr 29, 2003 9:19 AM
Handlebars are definitely an EXTRAORDINARILY STUPID place to save weight. Why, why, why try to gram-shave a control component where almost any failure would be catastrophic?
Gram scales are for dope dealers, not bike riders.
Apr 29, 2003 6:54 AM
Do you think it was the make and model of the bar that was the culprit? You said it wasn't previously damaged, so does fatigue set in around the stem clamp and remain undetectable? The only way around that is to replace bars preventatively at regular intervals

Or was it just one of those freak things?
hard to tellDougSloan
Apr 29, 2003 6:59 AM
For me, if a bar requires replacement every so often, I'm not going to use it at all. Further, even if so, I'd better find a warning from the manufacture about tested fatigue life, etc. I'm sticking with heavier aluminum or carbon.

Interesting....was it a fatigue failure?Gregory Taylor
Apr 29, 2003 7:16 AM
I do know that it used to be standard procedure to replace your aluminimum moutain bike 'bar after about two years. It was a safety deal - in the bad old days the bars would fatigue and fail.
Sorry to hear that.elviento
Apr 29, 2003 7:20 AM
the Prima 220 model seems pretty old (from 5-6 years ago?). I remember Syncros used to recommend replacing their stem after 1 year of use. Different brand but that might say something about light aluminum parts.

Hope your friend gets better soon. Does he need a lawyer? Jstkdg.
Best of luck to your palNo_sprint
Apr 29, 2003 8:13 AM
I hate to hear stuff like this. Fusion sucks. Hopefully he'll recover 100%.

I broke a stem a while back causing a vicious crash. I prevailed in the ensuing litigation.

I'll stick with my Deda 215s and hope they're ok. No reason to think not. They're so very popular and I haven't heard of any trouble. Other than those, I'd probably go with ITT Millenium.
ITM not ITT. nmNo_sprint
Apr 29, 2003 9:13 AM
Litigation from a bike wreck, tell me more.....nmafrican
Apr 29, 2003 10:27 AM
Litigation from a bike wreck, tell me more.....nmNo_sprint
Apr 29, 2003 11:11 AM
Stem broke, I pursued action because of my injuries, my lawyer basically requested we arbitrate a settlement under threat of a potential lawsuit, we settled. No actual filing with the clerk.
re: handlebar breaks causing bad crashtookie
Apr 29, 2003 9:28 AM
your buddy busts a prima 220 and half kills himself, then wants to replace it w/ a a lightweight carbon bar? WTF???
failure modes?DougSloan
Apr 29, 2003 9:39 AM
Aluminum and carbon don't fail the same, from what I can tell. Aluminum can fail all at once (apparently), but I've seen carbon failures that begin with a weakening, then sort of shred before coming completely apart. Plus, the Kestrel EMS is not that light, probably the heaviest of the carbon bars. I have one, too.

failure modes?brian n
Apr 29, 2003 10:21 AM
As a materials engineer, I'm backing Doug up on this one. We all know that aluminum will inevitably fatigue, and for a given alloy system the lighter it is the faster that moment will come.

The other aspect of this problem is the fracture nature, i.e. does it all of a sudden snap or do the handlebars feel "softer" as the crack gets bigger and bigger until final failure (giving you a chance to say "something ain't right" and find the crack). In this case, a woven carbon fiber handlebar will show a much more controlled failure due to the fracture surface having to cut across the individual car fibers and the plastic matrix holding the fibers together. This is generally much harder to do than through a homogeneous metal alloy. Also, aluminum handlebars are generally much thinner than a carbon bar, which means you have less material to break.

i've seen both of these cases personally, in that i taught a failure analysis course for my undergraduate students using only bicycle related failures. We looked at a number of aluminum bars and carbon bars (mainly mtn bike though). all the carbon bars were broken but still in one piece (generally deflected ~20 degrees or so), while the aluminum were either completely snapped or buckled (>90 bend). while these were just a few handlebars, the trend (and materials science) is valid: the carbon bars fail in a more controlled manner, giving you a better chance to recover during a crash/impact.

to the poster who responded about replacing the light aluminum bar with a light carbon bar, there is much more than weight that determines the strength of the bar.


ps- Doug, if you're interested I could take a look at the bar and let you know how the bar failed. I know you're a lawyer though, and if this should go to court I would have take my name off the analysis ;)
Thanks for the explanationAaronL
Apr 29, 2003 1:21 PM

Thank you for putting it into terms the average person can understand. I have had 2 different sets of bars and one stem fail on me over the last 15 years None were stupid light or crashed. In all three cases, they just snapped with zero warning. In the first case (Modolo bars from the 80s), the bars snapped as I stood up to accelerate from a stop light, I just fell over with no injuries. The second bar failed (3TTT) in a corner IN A CRIT, but I kept it upright and didn't take anyone down. There was an angel on my shoulder that day. The third failure was with an ITM Tomahawk stem, one of their first tig-weled alu stems. It snapped forward of the weld, about 200 yards after I finished a fast downhill. To this day I shudder at what could have happened. Luckily, i just got a little skinned up.

I've thought of going with carbon, but now I'm really going to go carbon. As it is, I don't use anything less than 250gm bars and I swap them out every two years. It's just not worth the risk.

Now the big question, are the "budget" carbon bars equal to the high-zoot models? I was looking at Supergo's Weyless bars.
Thanks for the explanationbrian n
Apr 30, 2003 10:51 AM
Did the stem fail immediately in front of the weld? this is the most vulnerable area in a weldment, because the tube was heated to a few degrees below the melting point (but didn't melt). This wreaks havoc on the alloying element distribution, and makes the region very weak. That is why you have to heat treat all aluminum welded frames/stems etc. after welding. If this heat treatment is a bit off, you can have a significant strength deviation from what you designed.

Aluminum generally will allow a much smaller critical flaw size than other materials (steel, titanium, CF) before breaking, thats why most aluminum failure descriptions are like what you said, "it just snapped." If you see the crack before it breaks in an aluminum frame or component you are pretty lucky.

How do we know it was the bars' fault?LC
Apr 29, 2003 9:32 AM
Maybe the stem had a bur or was tighten too much at one time. Could even be from putting a 26.0 bar on a 25.8 diam stem. I rode the hell out of some TTT 220 bars for 5 years and still going!
all we know is that it brokeDougSloan
Apr 29, 2003 9:44 AM
Haven't attempted to attribute "fault" as of yet. All we know is that the bar failed unexpectedly, catastrophically, and without warning.

The stem was a proprietary Klein.

Sorry to hear that....DINOSAUR
Apr 29, 2003 9:43 AM
I remember reading your post about the Davis time trial. It was raining big time, up the hill above Auburn.

Hope he has a speedy recovery, very bad luck. You never know when you are called to pay the piper.

Generally speaking . . .TrekFurthur
Apr 29, 2003 11:01 AM
I advise customers to replace an aluminum handlebar of ~200 grams weight (including all "215" bars and lighter) on average of about two years, less if they ride more or very agressively (on the magnitude of +5,000 miles a year). Many of the new generation of lightweight components have such announcements on them or included in a pamplet. For instance, Deda recommends that it's Newton stem be replaced after two years (sooner for same reasons as above) and that the bolts be replaced every year.

For these reasons, and those others mentioned above, I run the "heavy" carbon Kestrel EMS-Pro, and my Newton will be replaced after this year (check the torque on the bolts every once in awhile).
why dont you justSteve_0
Apr 29, 2003 11:13 AM
advise customers to buy heavier-duty handlebars? seems silly to replace bars every two years; especially considering the de minimus of value they offer.

Ive been riding the same bars for over a decade. Of course, if i had sponsers...
I'd be nervous...gtx
Apr 29, 2003 11:22 AM
on any road bar under 280 grams--and I only weigh 145. And I'll only ride beefy ti bars on my mtb. I don't really understand why people use super light bars, stems, cf forks, etc...
Apr 30, 2003 4:58 AM
Trying to stop some guy with $150 burning a hole in his pocket and the latest OLN-run stage of the Tour in his brain from buying the newest, lightest Deda/ITM/3T set-up is like trying to stop a Mack track with no brakes on a steep grade. This is not poseur bashing (sometime I'll show you my collection of USPostal jerseys), but sometimes the only thing one can do is provide the customer with the proper information; in the end, though, I can't refuse to sell the customer what he/she wants.

This issue first came up with lightweight Al MTB handlebars and it hasn't changed since.
re: handlebar breaks causing bad crashdave woof
Apr 29, 2003 12:20 PM
I broke one a few weeks ago. It was a profile aluminum, maybe 2 years old, don't know the weight. I had been creaking a little for a few weeks before it broke, but I checked it thoroughly for signs of stress and found none. I figured the creaking was from the stem in the clamp area. When it did break it was a quick snap, not a slow break. I was cresting a hill and going less than 16-17 I guess. The left part broke, I had control for a second but then the broken half wedged itself into my front wheel and my wheel locked up, I crashed over sideways - luckily away from the road. Banged up knee and rear derailleur only.

anyway - moral is, if it creaks and doesn't show a crack, it could still be a crack. Be careful.

So, what about something like Cinelli'spurplepaul
Apr 29, 2003 12:47 PM
Solida Magnum which is aluminum wrapped with carbon? Might that not be a decent alternative to an all carbon bar?
So, what about something like Cinelli'sflying
Apr 29, 2003 5:31 PM
I have been using Cinellis Solida (200 grams )
for about a year now no probs.
Scary thought though....snapping a bar...........hmmmm

Funny but I remember back.....way back...when folks use to drill the heck out of components to save weight. I never did but was amazed at the parts they drilled. Cranks even!!

I tend to think this is a pretty rare case of the Prima bar breaking too. If not they would not be on the market as the court costs would have killed it long ago.

Good luck to your friend & hope he recovers well & quick.
Seems there are a lot of things that cotribute here...koala
Apr 29, 2003 5:40 PM
If he is a powerful, high mileage RAAM rider whose technique flexes light bars, these bars could have had 20000 or more high stress miles. My forgie bar flexes more than I like and since most of these failures occur at the stem, I am either going with oversized or carbon. The evidence here is that carbon bars may be the way to go.
that's awful...I hope he comes back quickly [nm]bent_spoke
Apr 29, 2003 6:44 PM
Sorry to hear this, Doug. Hope recovery is quick.Mike P
Apr 30, 2003 6:50 AM
Seems like you posted a nember of weeks back you were to crew for him. I was looking forward to reading your post on his ride results.