31 Mar, 2016

If You Want My Advice...


After many years and many events, our resident bike guru Obi-Wan can share a few tips and tricks that could help smooth the passage for you in your multi-day stage racing, including how to fix your bike when you think you can’t!

Multi-day stage racing is now a fundamental part of the South African biking landscape, and experience counts in these events, with the ‘old soldiers’ often having learnt their lessons the hard way. So it’s best to heed their advice when you are about to take on your first big adventure, as a few words taken to mind now could save you many hours of anguish later.


Problem 1: I have broken down and I’m panicking!

I like to first have a temper-tantrum, and then settle down and sort it out, ha ha! But seriously, don’t panic! May seem obvious, but when it hits the fan, keeping a level head when exhausted is invaluable, and almost anything can be sorted out.


Problem 2: My rear derailleur cable has snapped.

Yes, it’s a conversion to single-speed now, but not as you know it! Take the offending cable out of the gear shifter up front, remember you are working on the rear shifter, keeping a short length of the cable for part two: Thread the cable through the rear derailleur as per normal, note here that only the head of the cable will rest in the hollow where the outer cable would butt up against and the cable follows through to the cable stop.

Then one can choose the gear most suitable for the job and push the derailleur into place while pedalling (carefully) by hand, holding the derailleur in place, then pulling the cable taught and tightening as you would when installing a new cable. The beauty of this is that the cable length will determine which gear you use and it can be easily changed in a few minutes, as opposed to a full single-speed conversion, which is pretty fixed.


Problem 3: My derailleur went into the back wheel and is now a mangled wreck, along with a few links of my chain!

This is like the neutron bomb of the riding world, but not necessarily the end of the world. Once again, it’s single-speed time, and there are two crucial elements when converting: Which gear to choose and what length of chain you can get away with. This becomes more tricky when dealing with a full-suspension bike, as when the suspension goes through its travel there is the phenomenon called ‘chain growth.’ A derailleur compensates for this by being a spring-loaded parallelogram that can deal with varying chain length. So, keeping the suspension locked out is crucial, along with not having the chain too tight, as a little chain slack prevents a taught chain from snapping as the suspension bottoms and the chain growth becomes too great.

Pick the gear you think will get you to the finish – I tend to gear for the climbs, not the flats, usually a 38x19-ish – and hope you have enough usable chain. Remove the derailleur completely and trim the chain to length, removing the damaged links from the equation. The front derailleur will hold the front end in check and act as a chain guide, while the rear just has to make do. It isn’t ideal, but it’s still a whole lot better than walking!


Problem 4: My brake rotor has bent.

Brake rotors bend slightly as a normal matter of course, but a long descent followed by a cool mountain stream can send the poor rotor into thermal shock, and it could warp as a result. Luckily, you rarely have to replace a rotor, most of the time it can be bent straight by hand out on the trail.

One needs to look for daylight between the pads and the rotor. If you see where the rotor is contacting a side, take note of the position, turn the wheel away about a quarter-turn and push the rotor with your fingers in the opposite direction. Just remember to do this only when it has cooled down, because brake rotors can easily burn straight through your gloves and give you the third degree in a matter of seconds! If in a hurry, use your water bottle to cool the rotor quicker.


This is only a small sampling of the tips and tricks available, but remember, you don’t want to try any of these for the first time in a race – practice at home first, and don’t be afraid to come up with your own solutions. Good luck, and remember, always shiny-side-up. If not, you’ll have a good story to go with it!