You’ve spent months training and analyzing your data, hours researching the right hashtags and filters for your #crossiscoming posts and then on race day all that hard work comes undone from a preventable mechanical. Bummer.
Ben Bergeron says there are 5 things you can control as a racer: sleep, recovery, nutrition, training and mindset. I would add that for bike racing you can also control the initial state of your equipment. That said, I realize it’s challenging to put in the work as a bike racer and then have to be a bike mechanic too. My experience has proven there are two really easy ways to provide the best return on your time and keep your equipment in for cyclocross season.
First, wash your bike.
This can take many forms, and it’s somewhat situational dependent. After a muddy ride or race, the minimum you should do is lean the bike up against something and hit it with a hose to knock the majority of the mud off. This will keep your sidewalls and any metal parts on the bike happy along with the cables, if you still have any of those! Spend two minutes on this.
It doesn’t need to be perfect, it needs to be clean enough to lube a chain and see the details of the drivetrain components. The real action happens with a deeper wash, which should happen once a week. Remove the wheels, install a chain keeper, and put the bike in a repair stand. I prefer dropout-style repair stands for washing and detailed work, but also have the luxury of a standard upright repair stand too. Get a bucket, some brushes and some Dawn soap and go to town. This isn’t about being a black shoe, white sock roadie. Think of this as an active meditation with your bike. Clean all the surfaces, making sure some sort of cleaner (soap for the bike, de-greaser for the chain) gets liberally applied and washed off. As you do this, have a close look at the frame and all the moving, rotating and gliding components. Spin the cranks while you clean them and feel for looseness or crunchiness in the bearings (bottom bracket, pedal and derailleur). Think about any issues you had with the bike when you last rode it – the minute I dismount my bike, I seem to forget any problem I had until the next time I ride.
This whole bike wash process should take around 15-20 minutes from the time you fill the bucket until you put the bike back in storage. The main point in all of this is to engage with every part of the bike and catch things like bent chain links or worn cables before they become a problem on race day. This is a great time to quickly check your brake pads too.
So yes, you get a clean bike out of it, but more importantly it’s a bike inspection and preventative maintenance.
In tandem with the above, and maybe even while you still have it in the stand, check your bolts.
You don’t have to do this every week, but once a month run through the stem, seat-post and saddle bolts at minimum. I’m in love with my Feedback Sports Range for this sort of work. You can loosen and tighten any bolt with it (unlike most torque wrenches) and it comes in a very handy little case that keeps all the bits in one place. All my other torque bits are scattered somewhere across my work bench at this point. I’ve taken to just keeping my Range in my race clothing bag as a race day essential.
As I said earlier, bike maintenance is definitely something you can control – it’s called “preventative maintenance” for a reason, and it’s a great use of your time – I’ve witnessed too many races undone by the avoidable. And as with any task, the right tool makes it easier and faster to do, which means you’re more likely to do it.
Racing bikes is hard work, on and off the field. Don’t let all your hours of training and preparation come undone by one loose bolt. Spend some time owning the state of your equipment. Get it clean enough to notice any small issues before they become a race day nightmare. Run through the bolts periodically to make sure nothing is loose and don’t forget the bolts in your shoes. If you want to make all of the above easier to perform there are some Feedback Sports items that would be worth putting on your wish-list.
Good luck at your races, and remember: you can often make your own luck.