CalARA: On Wheels

On Wheels

In Race Fixes – Broken Rear Derailleur

The longer you spend out on a ride, run or kayak, the more important it becomes to know how your equipment functions as well as the limits you can take it too.  For AR, this can become extremely important.  Getting stuck out in the middle of no where with a broken piece of equipment, and no way to fix it or patch it up is not fun.

Recently at a Big Blue AR event at Del Valle I ran into a serious bike breakdown.  My rear derailleur’s internal spring broke.  This spring is what places tension on the chain.  Without it, your bike becomes unrideable (unless you’re ok with dragging your chain along the ground and constantly popping gears).

After a bit of futzing, I realized there was no way to fix the derailleur (in the field anyway), but there was a way to get me back to the TA.  If I could manage to position the derailleur in a way to place some tension on the chain, I could at least get back to the TA quickly, and avoid a hike out.  I grabbed my handy stash of zip-ties (a great thing to have on the course), and found a way to ziptie one of the pulley plates to the main body of the derailleur, gaining me just enough tension.

My bike was now effectively a single speed, and rideable!  I was stoked.   I made it back to the TA quickly…and decided to push on to get the last bike CP despite the questionable state of my bike.  It was able to deal with me for another hour, all because of a simple field repair.

Now…I can’t take 100% credit for the novelty of this repair.  As fortune would have it, I had recently seen a picture of this trick in “Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance” during a time wasting read at Sports Basement.  Still, know how my bike works was critical with coming up with the solution.  The more time you spend around your bike, maintaining it, and learning about it’s inner workings, the more prepared you will be to take on these field repairs.  Trust me, you and your team will love you for it.

Rear Bike Lights

Rear bike lights can be a life saver. Buy two, there small (one on your back and one for the bike).

Although there are some expensive options out there, the $15 options work great (maybe better) than the fancy jobs. Cateye makes a dozen varieties.

My all time favorite rear bike light is the Cateye TL-LD260 and run for 160 hours (which is good, since I don’t really think about changing the battery that often!). Most importantly, it’s small, which is pretty key when you have a bike rack, towing leash and rear bike light competing for space on my seat post. Note, however, this light doesn’t throw out allot of light from its single LED.

Because the LD-260 doesn’t throw much light, we’re also using the newest addition to the Cateye line — the ultra bright LD1000. When riding anywhere that I’m worried about being hit by a car, this is my go to light. The LD1000 is a bit heavier than other lights, and gets 100 hours of blinking our of two AA batteries and cost around $30. The biggest drawbacks, however, is the size on the post — about the size of a D battery. (It won’t fit on my bike when I have the rack on as well.)

Mountain Bike Towing for Adventure Racers

Mountain bike towing takes some practice, but can be an excellent way of increasing overall team speed in an adventure race. Below are some tips on setting up a mountain bike towing system.

Our preferred mountain bike towing system is very simple; we simply attach a retractable dog leash around the seat post on our bikes. The smallest leash works fine and the handle fits well over most seat posts — no need to use zip ties or other devices to hook it on. At the end of the leash we tie a loop of thin bungie cord. Once attached, we cut off the metal hook that came with the leash. (If you cut the metal hook first, the leash will get sucked into the handle, and you will be back to the store to buy another!). Note, we prefer a thin cord, like this 1/8th inch shock cord. It will break fairly easily, so have some extra when you first start out. However, because it breaks easily, you reduce the danger of the rear biker being violently tugged. You also are more likely to develop good technique, minimizing the jerks on the towing system. The loop it then attached to the stem of the bike of the person being towed (or to a hook or other device to which it can attach and detach easily.

Moutain Bike Leash

Warning: Although towing is a critical skill, and quite easy once practiced, it involves risks, especially for novice towers. Start by towing on a flat paved surface, practicing hooking and unhooking frequently. Practice hooking and unhooking the tow system at various speeds, and on different grades and surfaces. We often find it easiest for the tow-er to attach the leash to the tow-ies bike, but this require a fast hand and some skill. Below are some other common towing systems to consider.

Lighting for Adventure Racers

The search for the “perfect light” for adventure racing is futile. One must match the light to the purpose for which it is being put. Each light involves tradeoffs among cost, weight, form factor, brightness and duration.Bike lighting can generally be divided into heavier brighter HID lighting systems with separate batteries and lighter on piece LED-based lights.

Most headlights are now LED-based, but styles, costs and weight vary greatly.

In addition to light designted to light you way, there are lights designed to ensure you are seen, such as rear bike lighting, signal lights and emergency flares.

The Hunt for the Perfect Saddle 

If you like to ride, then you should know how important the bicycle seat is to your success. A painful seat can shorten your bike ride and, in severe situations, cause physical stress to your pelvic anatomy.  If you are racing, you could be spending 1.5 hours to 5 day in the saddle. Having the wrong saddle is not good and just not acceptable.

This article will dispel myths, provide both basic and advanced knowledge about the saddle selection process, and, most importantly, how to properly setup you saddle for the best performance. Believe me, most people are not using their saddle properly.

All hips are not created equal.  For that reason, saddles come in a variety of sizes, shapes and materials. The goal of these variations is to maximize comfort by making sure the saddle makes contact with your sit bones properly.

SIZE – The first consideration in saddle selection is the size. Saddle width must be optimized for hip width. Most commonly, I see new cyclists with very large and/or wide saddles. People usually equate big saddles with comfort. This is usually not the case. The saddle must fit you properly.

SHAPE – The second consideration is saddle shape. Along with size, shape is used to optimize the contact of the saddle with your sit bones. Some manufacturers make gender specific saddles, taking into consideration the anatomical differences between men and women. The goal is to ensure that the saddle provides support without restricting blood flow.

MATERIAL – The third consideration is material. Leather, plastic, and gel are some of the common materials that you will find in saddles. The main goal of these materials is to provide the cyclist with some level of cushion and support. Avoid tricking out your saddle with added cushioning. Your good intentions could actually end up making the saddle less effective, not to mention hurting your other “good intentions.”

SHOP – Work closely with your local bike shop to find the best saddle for you. Don’t let cost prevent you from getting the best saddle. Confirm the return policy with your LBS. It is not uncommon to have to return a saddle after a single bike ride.


Remember, having the right saddle is a must if you plan to do a lot of riding.  Now, the next challenge is how to make sure you are using your saddle correctly.  No, it is not as easy as simply installing it and sitting on it.  You need to make sure that the saddle is at the right angle and proper forward/backward position.

Slippery Slope?

  1. Pointing DownWithout question, most cyclists have adjusted their saddle in the pointing down position. The common logic used is to point the saddle down and away from your soft tissue areas. This may be logical, but this position is the worst possible position for cyclist. The downward sloping angle will actually cause you to slide forward on the saddle creating additional pressure on your soft tissue.  Also, since you are sliding forward, you will have to use you arms to hold you up.  This creates unnecessary stress on your shoulders, wrist and hands.  The pointing down position is a common cause of hands going numb during rides.  Lastly, though I will not go into details, this position is a common cause of feet and toes going numb.
  1. Horizontal positionThe horizontal position is recommended for the majority of cyclist. The rider’s hip will be supported without leaning or sliding forward.
  1. Pointing up

Some riders and saddles may favor a slight upward angle.  This is an advanced adjustment and should not be attempted without expert instruction.

Now that you understand what angle you need, you will have to adjust the forward/backward position.  First make sure your sit bones are sitting properly on your saddle.  Clip into/step on your right-side pedal.  Put the pedal in the 3 o’clock position.  Your knee should be above the pedal ( Illustration ).  If your knee is ahead or behind the pedal, you will risk injury.

What does size mean for a saddle?

No, it is not about how much cushion a saddle has. Size usually refers to the width of a saddle. As you can see in the illustration, your pelvic sit bones will be contacting the saddle. Having a saddle that perfectly supports your sit bones is a must.

What happens if the saddle is the wrong size (width)?

If you are not sitting on your sit bones, then you are putting a lot of pressure on “soft” tissue in your pelvic region. I don’t have an illustration for that, but I think most of you have experience with this type of pain. Soft tissue pressure is not only painful, but can cause tissue damage.

How do you find your size?

Entertaining way – use a ruler, locate your sit bones, and measure the distance between the two bones.  Do this in private as it may appear strange to your friends and family members.

The easy way – Specialized bicycles has devised a very simple way to measure sit bone width. The cyclist simply sits on a gel seat pad for 60 seconds. The sit bones will make an impression in the gel pad and the width can be easily measured. Any Specialized shop will have this gel pad.

Are you ready to buy a saddle?

No, you are now ready to start shopping. Same width saddles made by two different manufacturers will feel different. The main reason for the feel is the shape of the saddle.