By Barry Gantenbein
The temperature was 15 degrees Fahrenheit Tuesday morning when I left my house to ride my bike to work. Wearing two pairs of gloves, two jackets, and wool socks, I was plenty warm.
There was almost no wind, and roads were clear of the snow that had fallen the previous week. The commute was going well until I had to cross a six-lane highway about a half mile from my office. I had made it as far as a small island that separates the southbound lanes from northbound traffic, and was waiting for a break in the waves of car and trucks to complete my crossing, when the trouble started.
A couple of stragglers passed, and a 150-foot break in traffic opened. If I was quick, I could make it across before the next wave hit. I got up on the pedals and began to sprint. The swaying of the bike must have caused contact between the bike bag on my left side and the spokes of the rear wheel. I felt a shudder, and then heard the pop-pop-pop of the bag in the spokes. With traffic racing toward me at 45 mph, I powered the bike to the safety of the far side of the highway.
At curbside, I pried the twisted bag out of the rear wheel. I spun the wheel a couple of revolutions, and with a quick hand adjustment of the brakes, everything seemed fine. I continued onto work.
I made it to the office, and was stashing my bike in a back room when I noticed a dime-sized tear in the corner of the panniers. When I inspected it more closely, I saw a bit of whiteness on the interior. Salt from the road? When I touched it, the leaking bit of whiteness was slick. Instantly, I knew that it was the Triple Zero Nonfat Yogurt that I had packed for my mid-morning snack.
Zipping open the bleeding side of my panniers, I grabbed the plastic grocery bag that held my lunch. The corner where the yogurt had been looked like it had been chewed open by a hungry rat. When I put my hand beneath my lunch bag to remove it, I immediately felt the sticky wetness that coated the inside of my panniers
I walked to the break room to rinse the contents of my lunch bag, and grabbed some paper towels and wipes to clean up the Triple Zero explosion. My keys and sunglasses case seemed to have taken the worst of it, coated like bushes after a heavy snowfall. I got the bag reasonably clean, and then started my workday.
When I returned for a closer inspection during my mid-morning break, I discovered that yogurt had splattered on the underside of my bike and panniers. That meant more wipes and more wet paper towels. As I turned the rear wheel to clean the spokes, I noticed the rim rubbing against the brake pads, and did what I could to fix it. The chain guard looked kind of funky, and I realized that two of the four screws that held it in place had snapped off.
I could limp home, but the damage was greater than I initially thought, and a visit to the bike shop was necessary. After dinner, I cleaned the bike again and put it into the car for the drive to the bike shop. I told the story to the mechanic, and 15 minutes later he had trued the back wheel, adjusted the brakes, and just to be nice, tightened a loose headset.
Wednesday morning, I wiped my panniers one final time, put the bags back on my bike, inflated the tires to 80 psi, and lubed the chain. Riding to work, I realized that my erratic riding caused the accident. The swaying of the bike as I raced across the highway made the panniers fly into the spokes. If I had exercised greater control, I wouldn’t have a hole in my bike bag. The upside of the yogurt blast, my commuter bike is in great shape for the few weeks of riding that remain until winter’s darkness, snow, and ice end my cycling season.