The Broken Handlebar

Vail Race 012
Riding Downhill

I was going downhill, and the trail flowed well. The section of the Colorado Trail we were mountain biking on drops slowly and steadily for miles as it winds its way down the Craig Creek drainage. It’s a fast, fun, and effortless ride that I’d done many times before. Sure, there are some obstacles along the way, such as unfortunately positioned rocks, encroaching Potentilla bushes, and washed-out ruts. But the only significantly tricky spots occur where small creeks, thick with willows, come in from the sides.

I’d ridden it in the other direction before, which is considered an “uphill.” While going that way isn’t all that steep or physically demanding, it’s simply more fun to go in the downhill direction.
When going in the downhill direction, the start begins with a short climb from the trailhead up to a high point at the west end of Craig Park. At that point, a gate separates the uphill from the downhill. It marks the start of over two miles of carved turns, fast straightaways, and almost effortless pedaling slowed only by the creek crossings and a persistent desire to stop and soak the surroundings in. In my mind, at least, it’s Colorado mountain biking at its best.

As we rode, Drew and I enjoyed the flow. And we worried about nothing other than how to maneuver around the occasional rock, keep our pedals from hitting the sides of the trail, and avoid each other’s dust. Bison Peak and the entire Lost Creek Wilderness loomed to the west, but since we were focused on the trail immediately ahead, we didn’t have the luxury of looking at or pondering them. We could sense the remoteness of where we were but were confident that speed would quickly gobble up the distance and soon enough take us back to the world of cars, roads, and computers. Of course, that would happen soon enough, but for the moment, we just relished the ride.

For the first third of the descent, I kept my attention on the riding technicalities of the next bit of trail. If something other than that started working its way into my thoughts, I blocked the vision out before it could gain traction.

But, eventually, I let it happen. It was my fault and no one else’s. I knew better and should’ve been stronger in my resolve. But I wasn’t and began to mentally speculate about what would happen if a handlebar broke during a downhill such as the one we were on. If that were to occur, I concluded that there’d be an instant loss of bike control, likely resulting in a horrendous crash. As I rounded yet another corner, I envisioned an out-of-control cyclist riding straight off a massive drop-off as the trail veered in another direction. I pictured nameless faces smacking into rocks, heads auguring into the ground, and bodies sailing off cliffs. It was ugly.

With those visions dominating my mind, we rode up to one of the creek crossings. We picked our way along the trail for a few feet into the willows before stopping in front of a large rock blocking the entire trail. So, we got off our bikes and began pushing and maneuvering them around the rock and across several mudholes.

After only a few minutes, we came to a particularly tricky spot, and I latched tightly onto my handlebar to hoist my bike up and over another rock. Unfortunately, when I pulled up, the right half of the bar did the same, but without the bike attached. The incident caught me off-guard because it wasn’t the response I anticipated. I bumbled around for a moment as I dealt with the rocks, mud, and bushes as the two of us laughed and speculated about the various “what ifs” related to the situation. But then, our smiles turned to frowns as we realized our predicament and the potential wasting of another mile or so of downhill bliss.

I was at a momentary loss for a solution and began to visualize walking with my bike the rest of the way. Far off down the valley, I could see where Craig Creek turned toward Lost Creek, which gave me a time/distance frame of reference regarding the situation. From where we were, I calculated it would take two hours for me to walk (what could be ridden in 15 minutes) back to my truck, and that was not how I wanted the ride to end.

And so, I rifled through my small pack looking for any remedy. I pulled out a headlamp with its cord tangled up with my rain jacket, an old grapefruit that had become solid, a fleece hat, and then — my first aid kit. “That’s it,” I immediately concluded, “the first aid kit!” “Undoubtedly,” I reasoned, “somewhere within that heap of band-aids, tape, and gauze, there would be a fix.” I opened it up, and the possible solution was right there in front of me. I would be saved by the ace bandage and roll of white athletic tape, almost staring me in the face. Sure, I knew that the intent for their use was for human body repair. But I realized there was no reason why I couldn’t use those two items together for this specific situation.

I determined I could combine them in such a way as to put the bar back together, at least sufficiently enough to allow me to ride back to the road. I became overjoyed and realized the ride could go on.

I pulled the two items out and wrapped and taped the broken bar back together. But when finished, I realized the repaired bar would be way too flimsy for serving its purpose. And that assumed it even remained stuck together. So I concluded my idea didn’t work.

At that point, I was at an emotional and mental crossroads. But then, Drew pulled out a single-shot flat repair Quickfill air cartridge. He inserted it into the hollow and still partially tape-attached handlebar tube as if he’d done it before. The three-inch-long, full of CO2, and hollow submarine-like piece of metal was an almost perfect fit. Then, he inserted the broken bar into the part still attached to the bike. Finally, I wrapped a bunch of tape around the whole thing and checked for excessive wobbling or movement. There was none, and it seemed almost as good as new. So, while it wasn’t perfect, I reasoned that at least it was solid enough to allow me to ride out to the road.
And that’s what it did, but with a bonus. After finishing the repair, we were soon back on our bikes and rolling down the trail. Initially, I was a bit tentative and backed off on my speed, but for the most part, the handlebar felt as good as it ever had.

I felt total satisfaction about how the fix was allowing me to ride rather than walk. Although, admittedly, I was kind of amazed that it was working. We rode slowly at first, picking our way down, gingerly steering clear of the Potentilla bushes, and giving the jutting rocks wide berths.

But our riding method didn’t last. Slowly, our speed increased. Single bushes began to blend into several, and we kept getting closer and closer to the jutting rocks. Instead of seeing each potential trail hazard and consciously dealing with them one at a time, we began to pass them almost mindlessly and kept looking further and further down the trail. Something seemed to take control, and it wasn’t rationality. Our concern about simply being able to get back to the car with both of us riding soon became a simple “given.”

Eventually, we were back up to full cruising speed, weaving in and out and almost rhythmically flowing our way down the trail. The valley where Lost Creek veered off toward the road kept getting closer. But instead of just savoring the end of the trail, we were suddenly hoping the ride would last a little longer.

We soon reached the road and, ultimately, my truck. When the handlebar incident had occurred, our hope had only been that the two of us would be able to ride out in any form or fashion. But the episode became epic since we ultimately got to ride that last mile of single track the way it was meant to be ridden. The situation convinced me, once and for all that problems can indeed be solved by using mind over matter.

A dirt road via mountain bike
Mountain biking

Author: David Appleton

I was born and raised in Texas and currently live in the Texas Hill Country, spent some 30 years living in the smack dab middle of Colorado, and have spent a lifetime adventuring and leading others on adventures in many parts of the wild world.

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