I generally ride at 4:30 AM, so when I stared out at 3:00 PM on this sunny June day in Colorado, I figured that maybe I felt off because my body wasn’t used to riding in the heat of the day. I literally felt drunk, or maybe that’s an exaggeration and it was more like I was tipsy, as I started my ride.
I headed up our closest switchback climb in Boulder, Colorado — Flagstaff Road. As I was climbing I just felt off balance, not exactly dizzy, but not quite all there. Then about 2 miles into the climb I looked down and noticed my water bottle cage move in relationship to my pedals. I immediately thought about a recent repair I’d done to my bike to resolve one of those bottom bracket creaks that ends up having noting to do with your bottom bracket. (This is the case with 90% of BB creaks, in my experience.) The day before this ride I spent about an hour trying to diagnose a creak, and in the process of elimination I removed the downtube coupler on my Ritchey Break-Away Ti/Carbon frame and cleaned everything, greased it up, and reinstalled it. This didn’t end up solving the creak, but it was one of the dozen-plus things I did to the bike before finding the culprit; the creak was caused by a set of bolts that go from the rear dropouts up into the seatstays being loose. (If you have one of these frames I recommend checking these bolts periodically. I didn’t even know they existed.)
Anyway, back to my ride. I’ve always had a little fear tucked away in the back of my head about what would happen if that relatively small coupler were to fail while riding, and as I jumped off of my bike I was almost positive that I was experiencing just that — a broken coupler. But to my surprise, the little black clamp was right in place with no obvious sign of damage. So I flipped the bike back upright, put it down on the pavement and pushed on one pedal while holding the seat and the bars; the classic bogus test that strangers do to your bike as they say “Let’s see how stiff this puppy is”. Let’s just say that the puppy didn’t pass this test; the BB shell moved about 5 inches to the side with very little pressure on the pedal.
I can’t believe that I missed the actual damage to the frame when I was initially inspecting the downtube coupler, but I guess I was focused on a small area and not even considering other possible issues. Also I had the bike entirely upside-down and from that vantage the damage was obscured by the BB shell.
Here are a few photos of the frame:
I’m no frame builder, but it looks to me like there was a cold weld on one side of the seattube/BB joint, and that it failed there first, and then migrated around to the other side where it tore the titanium.
Now to the happy ending. I purchased the frame at ExcelSports.com and they took the frame back from me, without even giving me a suspicious look as I said the famous “I was just riding along” words, and sent the frame to Ritchey. A week later Excel called me and said “Nico, your new frame is here.” I LOVE the bike, and I’m happy to keep riding it. I love the customer service I got from Excel, and from Ritchey, and I’m glad that it wasn’t the little coupler that failed. And I’m really glad it was my bike that was off, and not my brain. (My balance is fine for now…)