I ride the same 20-mile loop on my dinner hour 2-3 times a week during warmer weather. This night almost ended in tragedy when my Shimano Ultegra crank simply snapped in two.
Almost every night between late spring and early fall, if I don’t have a weather or schedule conflict, I ride a 20 mile circuit called the Bandy Loop. On the night of September 1, I was powering up a smallish hill, maintaining the momentum from the previous downhill, when the Shimano Ultegra 6800 11-speed crank on the right hand side simply snapped in two. I am lucky to be alive or at least not badly injured.
I would estimate, based upon experience and my perception at the time — not to mention the opinions of my wife Mary and friend Barbara Butcher, who were riding just behind me, that we were going about 20 miles per hour. With absolutely no warning there was a loud crack. My foot hit the pavement, the bike dove into a ditch about a foot deep and I landed between a utility pole and street sign that that are little more than shoulder width apart.
I have no idea whether I was able to guide myself between the two poles or if perhaps, divine intervention played a part. But I shudder to think what would have happened if I had hit either one of them. As it was, I was a bit shaken.
“How are the legs?” asked Barbara as she pulled the bike off of me. “Not sure, let me check,” I groaned.
I moved my legs around a bit and determined that they were both fine. So was the rest of me other than a sore shoulder and some bruising on my ribs. Once on my feet, I was surprised to look down and see half the crank still attached to the cleat on my right foot. I pulled my cell phone from my jersey pocket and took a picture of it.
As my head cleared, I checked the bike over and found no apparent damage other than a flat rear tire. I’m still not sure how that happened, or how the bike wound up on top of me. As they say, it all happened so fast.
You may be wondering how old/used these parts are. They came new on my Guerciotti Alero which I purchased in July of 2015. They had between 2,500 and 2,800 miles on them. I don’t clean my chain after every ride, but my bikes are well maintained and get regular shop care.
Since the Crash
I called my bike shop the next morning, and they immediately began contacting Shimano and searching for a loaner crank, so I could get back on my bike. Ultimately they pulled a Shimano 105 crank off one of their demo bikes. As I write this, that is the part that is currently on my ride.
Shimano has agreed to replace the part at no cost, which I appreciate. For the record, I requested an upgrade to the Dura-Ace version. I believe my lack of trust in the Ultegra part is well justified, and truthfully, who wouldn’t want the better (presumably safer) lighter crank right? However, Shimano would have none of it. As my shop guy put it,”They wouldn’t even entertain that conversation.” As of this morning, I have agreed to pay the ~ $200 difference for the upgrade. So be it. I’ll feel a lot more confident and the bike will be a few grams lighter.
Does Shimano Know About the Problem?
There are a few forces at work here that cause me some concern beyond my own issues. First, a friend who heard of my problem, contacted me to say his 11 speed Ultegra crank had also failed — about two weeks prior to mine. (Unlike me, he noticed a crack and had the bike serviced before it became a problem.) Second there is a bit of evidence that Shimano has heard this story before. Well, how many times?
My friend Pepe saw my post on Strava and sent a message that his crank had also cracked. When I saw him a week or so later at a group ride in Waynesboro, he showed me the photos on his cell phone. The failure appeared to be in exactly the same place. I have fewer than 20 followers on Strava, so to have one of them with the same problem surprised me. Two failures in a sample of less than 20 riders. I’m sure a lot of it is coincidence, but still…
Then, when my shop called Shimano to explain what had happened, the rep on the other end of the phone cut them off and said he already knew the story. Translation: He’s heard the story before. Meaning there are other broken Ultegra cranks out there.
The question is how many? I have no idea how many Ultegra cranks Shimano places in a given year in the United Sates and beyond. But you have to wonder if this is a design flaw or material defect. If it is, then how many of these high end cranks have failed or are bound for failure? If it’s only, say one-percent, or a fraction thereof — how many is that? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Have there been or will there be other crashes? Is there a way to know if your crank is about to break? Can you tell by looking? Can the shop tell by looking? I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. But I’d like to know and I’ll bet you would.
For the Record
My wife and I own a combined six bikes and every one of them has Shimano components. Lots of my friends have gone to SRAM or Campy — but I’ve always been a Shimano guy, for both my road and mountain bikes. Other than this setback, the performance of my Shimano parts has been exemplary. But after this kind of surprise, I may think twice before I spec my next ride.
For all I know, Shimano is working right now on a recall, or an advisory or whatever other options may be available for big companies that mass produce products. On the other hand maybe they are not. I am hoping to call their PR folks to find out.
I’ll let you know what I learn. In the meantime, if you or someone you know has had this problem, please tell me in the comment section.