Metal Bridges/Cables/Geese

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I was riding out West in Flint Hills on Sunday and there is a long metal bridge that crosses the Kansas River. There aren’t that many bridges crossing the river between Manhattan and Lawrence. Really just a couple West and then one East in Lecompton. That isn’t counting the 4 in Topeka. Anyway, we were talking about the bridge, and my friend Jack says something about trying to ride across the bridge when it was wet. I was horrified. I thought it was common knowledge, especially for all cyclists, that metal bridges are pretty much to be completely avoided with the smallest amount of water involved.

I told him a story about racing the PAC (a race around the Performing Arts Center) criterium, during SuperWeek in Milwaukee, one time, a while back. I was in a 6 or 7 guy break. We were about 3/4 of a lap ahead and were going to lap the field for sure. The problem was that there were two short metal bridges each lap. So, all of a sudden I start feeling a little drizzle on my face. I instantly said I’m done, that I’m not riding across a bridge. These guys thought I was nuts. I pulled my brakes and got on the sidewalk. To my amazement, they made it close to two laps before they all fell. Plus the field crashed too. There is a 0% chance I could have ridden over those bridges 30 times or so.

The Dupont Stage Race on the East coast one year had the same problem. There was a break, a metal bridge, rain and then no more forward movement by the break because they all fell. I couldn’t believe that the race marshals would let the riders attempt to ride over a wet metal bridge. It defied all common sense.

I spent most of the night last night screwing with my cross bikes. Everything needed to be rebuilt. And it is barely working still. It it amazing how much damage you can do to every bearing on a bicycle, wallowing in mud for 3 days in a row. Plus, the cables. I just cut them all off and started over, which is normal. What always surprises me, changing cables, is how much housing and how many cable ends it takes. I always stretch the cables pretty seriously after I put them on. It is so weird how much the cables stretch. I don’t know where I learned that, but I know a ton of guys that don’t stretch their cables at all. I have no idea how their bikes even shift the first couple days. A team mate, a couple years ago, Nick, changed his cables before a road race in Iowa. I tried to adjust his derailleur on the go, from my bike, half way through the race, with not much luck. Afterward, we messed with it and the cable needed to be tightened a half an inch at least. Common sense again.

The geese are flying over Kansas right now. Today, it was only in the mid 20’s and we rode MTB on the trails down by the river. The geese were on a flight plan to land on the river. It was great. Then walking Bromont tonight, around midnight, there was the constant sound of the geese migrating. The wind was from the north all day and tonight, about 30 mph, so it was probably a big mileage day for them. I love listening to geese migrate at night. Ever since I spent most every night for 2 months roofing that building a couple years ago, I have a special relationship with geese. They were my only company most nights and I really appreciated the companionship. I’m going to have fond memories, probably the rest of my life, which is nice.

The metal bridge by Willard Kansas.

A picture shot down through the bridge looking at the river.

Now this bridge looks interesting.

A pile of cables after changing them.

Geese migrating near sunset.

Here is a video from the race in South Africa that has the bridge in it.

17 thoughts on “Metal Bridges/Cables/Geese

  1. JimW

    Believe it or not the cables don’t stretch.
    It’s the cable housing compressing into the ferrules and stops.
    A crucial step to any Pro build though.

  2. -kw

    I heard that some guys who crashed on that metal bridge in the Tour DuPont stage got broken fingers when they put their hands down while crashing. Makes me cringe to type it.

  3. Seis_Pendejos

    If I recall correctly regarding metal bridges, about 30 years ago the Apple Lap in New York was run in the rain and a lot of people crashed, including Nitz. It was either the Apple Lap or the Tour DuPont that laid carpeting over the offending bridge to help the riders navigate it safely.

  4. tilford97 Post author

    Jim-You’re not the first one to think it’s only the housing. But, it is both.

    Wayne Stetina at Shimano told me that back in the 90’s. He didn’t have an answer when I told him that you still got some stretch when you only change the cables and leave on the old housing.

    It is probably more the housing that the cable, but you have to stretch it either way.

  5. tilford97 Post author

    IowaGriz-I believe the bridge is at a MTB race in South Africa. My brother sent me the photo. I’ll ask him where exactly he got it.

  6. Matt Gibble

    I remember doing PAC in the dry one year and a guy fell on the backstraight in front of me, rolled over and I got to see his forearm laid open. I remember stopping pedaling for a few strokes it was so shocking.

    The old Gotham Cup in Allentown, PA also had a nasty cheese grater that had a left hand off camber turn at the end of it.

  7. Zach

    Of course cables stretch as well. They fatigue like any other metal wire. Just think of your guitar right after a restringing, or a piano. Its new its metal and loaded several times before settling.

  8. ED

    Back in the early 80s I did a race on Memorial Drive in Cambridge, just over from Boston. There was a metal bridge which the promoter had covered with old carpets and connected with duct tape. After the first few laps the carpet bunched and then came a slew of nasty crashes – rug burn, literally. I’m curious what other means people try to deal with that.

  9. old and slow

    It was indeed the Apple Lap but a bit more more than 30 years ago, probably 1977 or 1978. A 75 Mile circuit with a very very juicy prize list for its time. I remember a Dartmouth guy telling me that Tom Officer bought a new (Datsun or Toyota) pickup truck from his winnings and I think he only came in second? That bridge was so feared that it actually dictated the tactics of the race, nobody wanted to cross it in a group.

    There also used to be a Hundred Mile point to point road race up the Maine Coast from Portland to Camden that had two very nasty steel grate bridges as well.

    It’s been at least 25 years since I’ve had to ride over one of these beasts and I can’t believe that I used to do it all the time on cheap training tubulars.

  10. Bryan

    What you didn’t mention about the Willard bridge is the “no bicycle” signs on the approaches to the bridge on both side. The State doesn’t want bikes crossing there I’ve ridden across it a couple of times – even have a picture of my bike leaning against the no bicycle sign – and even when dry it is nerve wracking. You can’t fly across it on narrow road tires and with absolutely no shoulder space you just hope two cars don’t meet during the crossing right where you are at!

  11. tilford97 Post author

    Bryan-I’ve ridden over that bridge 100’s of times and have never had a problem with it being dangerous. And my nerves have never been wracked.

    Once we got stopped by a Highway Patrol that had followed us from Rossville. He wouldn’t let us cross the bridge, even on foot, which I thought was a little inconsiderate.

    I like riding across the bridge looking down the whole way. It almost seems like flying.

  12. GHall

    Vaguely recall that it might have been Henk Lubberding crashed on that bridge and pretty much ended his career.

  13. Kimberly Coats

    Thanks Steve for posting the video of the bridge in SA. It was in the Joberg to Sea race this past fall in SA. I saw our rider Adrien Niyonshuti (2012 Olympic contender in XC Mtn Bike). The mtn biking in SA is incredible.

    By the way…Team Rwanda took top team at last week’s Tour of Rwanda! Obed & Kiki the two riders you met in CO took 2nd and 5th in one of the stages. Great event!

  14. Rick

    Steel grate bridges are more fun when covered in ICE!

    My favorite is in the Quad Cities, Rock Island to Davenport at the lock & dam. In the spring during the ice melt, if you look down, the ice, just 10 feet below, is going downstream pretty fast and it makes you want to turn even though you shouldn’t. That’s a pretty wild optical illusion.

    Next favorite is on the TOMRV route between Sabula and Savanna. 2 lane steel grate deck with bumper high side rails and you are 135 feet above the river. I ride in the midde and let the cars wait.

  15. Chris deHahn

    ED, that sounds like the Bay State Games course back then. There were no grated bridges when I raced it but they exist at each end of the road. The course must have been shortened in subsequent years. The road conditions underneath the Mass Ave overpass were pretty horrid, though.

    I went on a training ride last weekend in central CT that went over a grated bridge. The conditions were dry but I didn’t like it one bit.


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