Ready for this? On Saturday at the Ironman World Championship I watched an athlete in the pre dawn hours of race morning pump up his tires. He had deflated them the previous day following the antiquated custom of “letting some air out of them so they don’t pop” in the afternoon Hawaiian sun. He was using his own pump from home not one of the ones supplied by WTC. But the pump was broken. Had been broken for awhile. The needle on the gauge was broken off so he chose to pump the tires up until they felt right. When I discussed this technique with one of the panic mechanics on the pier, a gent who works in a bike store and does this every day, he mentioned, “Once the pressure gets to 90 or 95 psi I can’t tell if it’s 195. I doubt he can either.”
The basic importance here is the hopeful elimination of race flats. But if on race day, with the adrenalin flowing, tires get over (or under) inflated, the athlete is risking not only malfunction and lost time, but an accident should the tire deflate when descending a steep hill at 40 mph.
A second and somewhat sad observation the mech offered was how “ill prepared and ill equipped” some of the athletes were. In Kona, not only are you expected to be able to handle routine bike maintenance issues, the eager race volunteers are instructed not to mess with your bike or wheels. They can hold the bike or pump and the rest is up to the racer. You’d best be ready.
So many are not. When it comes to their own equipment be it tires, tire pressure, valves clogged with sealant just to name a few, experience is lacking. According to my new friend the mechanic, “These people would have a lot less stress if they’d just take the time to understand how their race wheels work.” (Think Normann Stadler melt down as defending Kona champion after his second flat in so many hours which lead to heaving his not inexpensive bike off the side of the road into the lava fields melt down.*) This experience comes from using race wheels in training such that when an issue arises, they’ve dealt with it before.
We’re entering the offseason. Why not see if your local bike store offers a 3-4 lesson course on basic bike maintenance. If not, ask for a private one. This is what these folks love to do. When you show interest in their trade they’re usually most enthusiastic about sharing what they know.
Give yourself the gift of knowledge. You’ll thank yourself one day.