I was driving west on I-74 in Indiana on Sunday, October 2, going about 75 mph, when what I thought was a rock, cinder block, brick, something like that hit my car. All in a split second or two, around 10:25 a.m., my brain processed the following: I knew it couldn’t have been a rock because there was no overpass, I was in the middle of flatlands, no one was around, and no cars were near me. I looked up at my rearview mirror and saw my bike somersaulting east on the highway and then bouncing into the grass median. As I’m watching that aerial display, I realize that my back windshield is shattered and that my day of mountain biking Kickapoo in perfect fall weather was not going to happen.
I pulled over to the side of the road, and then called my wife while walking to gather my bike. I picked it up and saw that it had bent handlebars, a gashed grip, a flat and ripped back tire and some damage to the seat.
Back at my car, I called 911 to have the police come to file a report so that it would be on record for the insurance company and for Thule. While waiting for the police to arrive, I took some photos with my phone. I noticed that the Big Mouth clamp/jaw was still locked.
Ten minutes later, the officer arrived and proceeded to get a softball bat from his trunk to knock the rest of the glass out of the frame, saying that I could drive it home like that if I wanted to do so. He filed the report and gave me his card in case I got pulled over on the return trip home. I got home forty-five minutes later. My bike was in the passenger side Thule Big Mouth during the drive this time.
How did it happen? To start, I knew for certain that both wheel straps were fastened in my driveway, as I’ve always done when transporting my bike. I know without doubt that I secured the big clamp and locked it in my driveway, as I always do, even on trips across town. From the time I pulled out of my driveway to when the incident took place, no one touched the bike rack.
Some relevant background: It is pretty well-known that bikes can wiggle and shake a bit when on a roof rack, even when locked in a fork mount device, which some people think is more secure than the upright bike mounts. Sometimes, and this has occurred with my rack, the wheel straps do come loose. That was more likely to happen with the old version of the straps than the new ones. I put new wheel straps on in 2010.
Here is what I think occurred: The wheel strap at the front end of the bike tray near the front of the car somehow came loose. That allowed the bike to sway a little and move forward some in the tray. The locked Big Mouth clamp slid up on the down tube of my Cannondale Scalpel. The bottom of the down tube is thicker than the top of the down tube. With wind resistance, the bike was “pushed” and lifted from the tray and flew head over heels, the back wheel strap still fastened as the bike went airborne. The bike slammed into the back windshield, snapping the back wheel strap in half, and then the bike careened off the car and bounced east on the highway.
Thank all gods everywhere that no one was behind me.
Thule response: Because this happened on a Sunday, and that Thule is closed on Sundays and Mondays, I had to wait two days until I could talk with them. I called right away at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, October 4. The customer service representative was perfect in taking down my information and explaining to me the procedure for filing a claim. I hung up and then emailed the claims rep. By 4:00 that afternoon, the rep had called me. I explained what I thought had happened.
The Thule claims rep found it plausible. He expressed concern, and never once suggested that it was probably my fault, that I had done something wrong. He said he’d send me a new Big Mouth and locks right away, and that I needed to file a claim form and send in photos and all receipts/estimates for damages to the car and bike.
Thursday, October 6. The new Big Mouth is already on the way. I am to send the Big Mouth that malfunctioned back to Thule in the box that the new one will come in. Thule will send me the shipping label to put on the box, meaning no cost to me. I’ve received a confirmation email that my claim form and other documents have been received and are in proper order, and that they will do all they can to fully reimburse me for all damages. I already have replaced my back windshield.
Saturday, October 8. The new Big Mouth arrived and I installed it on my car. I boxed up the old one up.
Monday, October 10. I sent the old Big Mouth out to Thule.
At this point, I had to travel abroad for work. Travis confirmed that he received the old Big Mouth and that he could reimburse me for all damages. I had a LBS complete an invoice for needed repairs/parts. I returned to the States on October 29. All paperwork was filed shortly after.
Today, November 15, I received the check from Thule.
Lessons learned: First, I will now add a cable lock(s) when mounting my bike on the roof rack. It’s not really about the car damage. Cars can be replaced. The additional lock is about preventing, hopefully, what could have been a major disaster. Second, Thule is a top notch corporation, in my experience. While working in the “business,” I had great interactions and experience with Thule customer service and product reps. My experience with them on this incident was simply outstanding. Third, in researching if this has happened to other people, I came across many stories online of malfunctioning bike racks, some due to user error and some not. No matter how great you think your bike rack is, and no matter if you always use it exactly as the instructions say you should use it, it seems that all brands/models have the potential for malfunction. You might consider adding an additional safety feature/lock/cable, especially when going out on the highway.
Check your bike racks, replace worn parts, and review the warranty for the products you are using.