PSA from my race-ending mechanicals: check your bike before your next race

Phoenix Cycling Collective rider suffers a rear wheel puncture during the 2018 Goulburn Great Divide Road Race

My last two races ended prematurely.

A fortnight ago at Penrith’s Regatta Centre, I’d sat in the bunch and conserved energy for the first ninety-five minutes. Then, in the final kilometre, when I made my move towards the front– “pop-pop!” Two pinch flats. Down went both tyres, and out of the race I went.

Then, last Saturday at Oakville, I was barely six minutes into the race when– “clang!” My chain snapped clean off and clattered to the tarmac.

Two races, two race-ending mechanicals. In hindsight, both might have been avoidable.

Before the Penrith race, I’d forgotten to pump my tyres. They must have been sitting at just 70psi when I hit a sharp edge at speed along the asphalt verge. The flat tyres were unfortunate, but probably a product of my own forgetfulness.

Here’s a video of my double puncture:

Before Oakville, I’d suspected there was a problem with my drivetrain. The first warning sign was dropping a chain on the way home two days beforehand. It happened at an innocuous time. My chain had fallen off while I’d been climbing a steep hill, but not while shifting gears. I’ve basically never dropped a chain before, so that was very unusual. The second sign was feeling a dead spot every few pedal revolutions while riding in my lowest two gears.

I’d had issues with my rear derailleur cable before, so my first thought was to remove the cable, inspect it for issues and thread it back into place before re-adjusting the tension. This seemed to improve things, until my chain dropped again during my warm-up at Oakville. I had with no time to investigate further, so I started the race with this undiagnosed issue. I even told my clubmate Ben about my drivetrain problems while marshalling for the race, but I specifically said I didn’t think it was a worn chain. Clearly, I was wrong.

It’s disappointing when your race ends due to a mechanical. Apart from having thrown away your entry money, you feel dissatisfied, having not had the chance to test your ability that day.

At least my incidents happened in unimportant club events with cheap entry fees. The disappointment would have been magnified tenfold if I’d flatted at the start of a big state open, for example.

Still, let my DNFs serve as reminders for you to make sure your bike is in sound working order before a race. It’s not just for the sake of your result. It’s also a matter of safety for yourself and your fellow competitors.

Here’s a quick list of things to check on your bike before a race. It’s by no means comprehensive. What would you add to this list?

  • Pump up your tyres – don’t make the same mistake I did. Remember to inflate your tyres to the optimal pressure. For me, weighing 60kg on 25mm tyres, I prefer 80-100psi.
  • Check for brake rub – I was dropped in the opening metres of the 2017 National Capital Tour because, unbeknown to me, my rear brake was rubbing against the rim. No matter how hard I pedalled, the pack kept pulling away from me. It was a disaster.
  • Check for brake engagement – squeeze the brakes in turn while rolling your bike forward along the ground. When you squeeze your front brake, the bike should stop and the rear wheel should lift off the ground. When you squeeze your rear brake, the rear wheel should lock and the bike should skid forwards. That’s how you can quickly check that your brakes are working.
  • Fine-tune your shifting – adjust your gear cable tension if necessary. Make sure your gears are shifting smoothly and crisply.
  • Tighten your quick releases – make sure your front and rear quick release skewers are snug and secure. The last thing you want is for your wheel to depart from the forks while you’re sprinting flat-out with 30 riders around you.
  • Tighten your headset – with the bike on the ground, squeeze the front brake hard and rock the bike back and forth. You shouldn’t feel any play in the headset. If you do, undo the two stem bolts, tighten up the headset cap, re-tighten the stem bolts and try again.
  • Give your bike a clean and a lube – it might be overdue for some TLC. Make sure the chain is running quietly. If it’s filthy, give it a good clean before adding some lube.

Mechanical issues are an unavoidable part of bicycle racing. But with some good maintenance (unlike what I practised) you can at least prevent the avoidable ones.

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