If you have any relationship to social media then by now you have probably caught the video of the Ag2r rider who crashed in a time trial after he hit a speed bump and his bars separated from his bike. Fortunately, it’s not a horrific crash, like say the way Jens Voigt crashed on his face on a descent during a stage of the Tour, but it’s enough to make the entire front half of your body squirm.
The good news is that thanks to social media we know the verdict: people have decided that the bike maker and/or the bar maker are responsible.
In 2008 David Millar, then riding for Garmin, was in a two-man breakaway at the Giro d’Italia and as they approached the sprint, outside an ancient castle, the chain on Millar’s bike broke. He lost the stage, natch, and in his frustration he threw his bike away from the road. It made for the most spectacular video of that day’s stage. Garmin was sponsored by Felt and Shimano at the time and the throngs of bike racing fans around the world concluded that Felt was responsible and the Irvine-based company must be making some pretty crappy bikes.
This would be where I’d like to reiterate that the chain on Millar’s bike broke.
I think this illustrates the predicament Factor (the bike sponsor for Ag2r) found themselves in once that video began to circulate. Clearly, Felt was not at fault when the chain broke. And while chains do break on occasion, it’s so rare I would be hesitant to conclude that Shimano’s product line is somehow substandard. I’d be more inclined to wonder if something might have been amiss in the installation of the chain. Pro team mechanics, after all, have a hell of a lot of bikes to work on and very often stunningly tight deadlines.
I mention the Millar story because even before a representative from Factor had a chance to make any sort of public statement, I was reading a multitude of opinions, mostly on Facebook, but also on Twitter, about how shoddy the work from that company is. What made the social media kings such experts on the topic, I’m still not sure. People decided that the steerer sheared, that the stem broke, and a whole host of other alternatives, all of which were wrong.
Let’s get one thing out of the way, first: nothing went wrong with the Factor bike. I got that directly from Factor’s top man here in the U.S., Richard Wittenberg.
Here’s another detail not widely circulated: neither the rider nor the mechanic were part of Ag2r pro team. The rider was part of the U23 team, and the mechanic was brought in on contract; he was not an Ag2r team mechanic. Prior to the TT, the rider asked mechanic to add a single spacer to his setup to bring the bars up. Stack height on the Factor bar is variable by 60mm. If you watch the video carefully, you’ll see that the aero bars break away from the base bar. In adding the spacer to raise the aero bar, the mechanic decreased thread engagement significantly in the four bolts that hold the aero extensions to the base bar, so when the rider hit the speed bump the bolts ripped out of the base bar, where they thread in directly. This was a change made virtually on the start line, so he didn’t have the support of the service course for the team. And while we initially reported that the maximum stack height was exceeded, upon further inspection by Factor staff, that did not occur, but the mechanic should have used longer bolts to achieve full thread engagement.
Factor is a company that has made bikes for the best of the best in the industry. Their testing facility is so world class that other companies go to them to test their carbon fiber products. Wittenberg, Factor’s man on the ground in the U.S., told me, “Our number one concern in making any part is making sure it is safe.”
He went on to tell me that because their TT bike, the Slick, they sent a representative from Factor’s factory in Taiwan to the Ag2r service course to train the team mechanics on assembly techniques, torque specs and more. They have since increased the education they will give mechanics in the future.
Wittenberg also noted, “It’s a wake-up call to the industry about education. This isn’t an old Cinelli stem where once you know how it works you know how every other stem out there works.”
Factor has since released a statement on their site about the incident. You can read it here.
Had the mechanic known more about the bike, he would have known to tell the rider that inserting more spacers wasn’t an option. With bolts too short to thread all the way through the threaded insert in the base bar, that bump asked what threads were engaged to take more load than they were meant to.
So, for those really concerned with why the rider went down, it was, to use that now cliched phrase: a perfect storm of opportunity. We saw the result of a borrowed rider on a borrowed bike being worked on by a borrowed mechanic.
Update: Factor supplied us with photos of the parts in question.
This shot shows the spacers stacked up and gives you some idea how long the bolts need to be to achieve full thread engagement. The top 10mm spacer is the one added on the start line.
This shows the inserts in the base bar into which the bolts thread. This is a top view of that first, 4cm spacer. The bolt must pass through the aero bar mount, then any spacers before fitting into the inserts.
This is one of the four bolts that pulled out of the base bar. Prior to adding the 1cm spacer, the full 15mm of threads were engaged, but after the spacer was added, less than 5mm of threads were secured in the mounts.