Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Pre-Pre-Race Ritual

Almost everyone I know who races has some sort of pre-race ritual. These rituals can vary as widely as the personalities that they are attached to. From what you eat, and when you eat it, to how you prepare yourself for an event. These rituals can range from how you pin your number on, to which shoe goes on first. We all have some form of ritual, whether we recognize them or not.

As for me, I go one step further. The pre-pre-race ritual for me focuses entirely on the machine. For without the machine, I am merely a spectator. The pre-pre-race ritual involves a top to bottom review of the machine. And the first step always includes a wash. Sure a dirty bike proves to an onlooker that you actually get out and train. But a clean bike on race day shows that you care about what the outcome of the race may be. Showing up to a race with a dirty bike in my opinion is like showing up being prepared to lose. Why? Simple. Someone who looks after their machine on a regular basis knows that it will work for them when they may perhaps need it most.

To start a race being undertrained is one thing. To start a race not knowing for sure if your bike will work flawlessly is inexcusable. I'm sure you have heard the stories post race of how someone would have made the selection or out kicked someone in the sprint if only their derailleur would have shifted better. I have also seen more than once someone lose a crank arm. A crank arm? Yup, had that racer gone over their bike and been familiar with all of its parts a crank arm would have never come off. This is where the pre-pre-race comes into its own.

The most important thing is to start with a clean bike. Get a bucket, a hose, a few brushes, a sponge and some dish soap and water. A good cleaning can go a long way in keeping a bike running smoothly. And a routine cleaning after muddy or rainy events can prolong the life of a drivetrain. Rinse it off, scrub it down, repeat as necessary. A clean bike can also reveal things that a dirty bike may not. With the abundance of lightweight carbon fiber parts on bikes these days, a clean bike can reveal the tiny cracks in stems, handlebars and seat posts that otherwise might not have been noticeable. I would rather discover that I have to replace a seat post that has devoleped a crack in it in the driveway, rather than the crux of a race when the post fails.

Once the machine has been throughly cleaned and dried, take the time to look over the shifting mechanisms from the derailleurs, to the shifters, and cables. A smaller brush and some degreaser can clean out the rear mechanism and a few drops of lube on the pivot points can keep everything running smoothly. At this time you can also check and make sure the brakes are working properly and the pads are hitting the rim squarely. A quick check of the cables and their tensions is also a good idea at this time. The chain should have been scrubbed with a stiff brush during the wash. Now check for any tight links and apply a lube to each roller. Wipe off the excess and the drivetrain is complete.

At this point you should turn your attention to the frame, fork and components. Check the high stress areas first. If there were any crashes recently check for any additional damage. Check the fork crown for stress cracks and make sure the drop outs are in good condition. Seat posts, stems and handlebars are the controls of the machine. Make sure they are secure and are not broken in any way.

Wheels and tires are the last thing to be checked for me. Start with a spin of the wheel and make sure there are no wobbles. A rim that rubs a brake pad not only wastes energy, but could signal a larger problem. Check the tires for cuts, and make sure they are seated in the rim. If using tubulars, make sure the base tape is still firmly attached all the way around and on both sides. Finally check the wheel alignemnt in the frame and fork and make sure the skewers are securely fastened.

One final thing. If you are using white or colored tape, a scrub brush and some soapy water will return them to a new appearance. For the ultimate in PRO cleanliness, also be sure to clean the mud off of the bottom of the saddle.

Doing this all sounds like a lot of work. But so is all of the training hours that we all put in. A little bit goes a long way if you can ensure that you can cross the finish line with a bike in working order. There are so many variables come race day, from the weather, to the parcours to the competition. Why not eliminate one of them and make sure your machine is as ready as you are.