Cyclocross Tips

Hug your mechanic
Hug your mechanic

Looks like I picked the wrong career to stop sniffing glue.

For many of us the 2014-2015 cyclocross season has already been in full swing for weeks. The rest will be starting their fall campaign this weekend. One thing that never seems to change each year is the number of mad rush requests I get for last minute major bike or wheel/tire interventions in order to save someone’s entire season – that apparently depends on their 1 performance in whatever that weekend’s race is.

I try to impart a lot of advice that I feel I have picked up over the years and sometimes that helps. With that in mind I thought I would list some things that many would find useful as a sort of beginning of the season primer for the bike to go along with all of your training.

To start with – if you are one of those riders who last saw their bike when they hung it up after Barry-Roubaix in the spring and haven’t touched it since then I would suggest you run it to a trusted mechanic as soon as possible and simply hand them a blank check alongside a full array of healthy snack and/or their alcohol of preference. Then run quickly from the building before the various wrenches and other tools within arms reach begin sailing in your direction.

Cyclocross, in general, is extremely tough on gear. Luckily for most of the season here in Chicago the vast majority of the riders are only subject to fairly good racing conditions. A muddy race or two here and there and we all high-5 and take pictures of our mud-butts to post on Facebook on Monday mornings when the cross hangovers have us pining for 2 wheels instead of the donut laden corporate speak of whatever horrible team meeting we are being subjected to. For those that continue to race into late November and December into the regional and national events in Jan/February they start to understand how gear truly becomes as important as all of the training was to all those September and October races.

I have created a rule of thumb that has helped during the season for those unfamiliar with how damaging those bad weather races truly are. Every bad race, where the power washer was used more than once let’s say, can put at least a year’s worth of normal wear and tear on a bike in just an hour.

For those of you who are technical – think about the maintenance you do every year on your bike. Yup, that means you should probably consider that same maintenance after each one of those bad races. No, I’m not kidding.

Regardless of your background I would recommend everyone at least do the following:

1. Chain: replace your chain at the start of every season. I don’t care how old it is. Also have a spare in your personal inventory. If you’re smart you will bring it to a race with you.

2. Bottom bracket: if your current one is truly OK then simply buy a spare and hold on to it.

3. New cables and housings: easiest way to restore top performance to a bike for fairly little money. Even if you think it’s “ok” now, replace them and be amazed at the difference.

4. Pedals: if you haven’t been riding the bike then odds are the bit of moisture that got in there last season has trashed the bearings. This seems to affect crank brothers pedals way more than any others. Luckily they make a simple and inexpensive bearing and pedal rebuild kit. Get one and then another to have as a spare.

5. Tires: tubulars are and will continue to be the only real cyclocross tires for performance. If you are riding tubeless or clincher then move to the next section. As for the debate on why tubular, I will save that for another post.

On tubulars you should deflate them and then go around the rim applying a gentle but firm rolling force to the tire looking for gaps between the tire and the rim edge. Small ones ( 1/16-1/4″) that are shallow aren’t really much to worry about but keep an eye on them. If you find larger gaps then apply a rolling force to the tire to check how firm adhesion is. Odds are that pressure broke the tire loose meaning it’s time to re-glue.

If you are a do-it-yourself kind of person and want to glue your own then Kudos to you, but do me a favor and if you roll it with people around and it’s on a wheel with my name on it then stand up and tell everyone you glued it yourself. Gluing is the hardest simple thing I have ever seen anyone try to do. I’m not going to do a gluing primer in here, but let’s just say I’ve glued a lot and learned even more. There are some studies out there I have referred to and then just experience on probably about a thousand gluing jobs I have done. I’ve gotten back to the point where I do all gluing myself. That means I charge at the high end of the gluing spectrum. If that means less gluing work for me then I am OK with that (I can build wheels instead), but ask yourself how good you feel saving money going with a glue job from someone with minimal experience. Just sayin.

If you have someone else do it then pick someone who knows what they are doing. There are a ton of good options around Chicago. In other areas simply ask experienced racers for referrals. Good gluers stick around while bad ones roll under the pressure.

If someone asks what the single most popular tire is at the moment it would be, hands down, the Clement PDX. If you are running PDX though and you are into your second season with the same tires I would recommend adding some sealant as some added insurance.

6. Cleats: put a new set on your shoes each year. Keep the old set as a spare or better yet a new set as a spare all year. Also- get spikes for your shoes. Have them with you along with the tools needed to change them. You never know when they may come in handy.

7. Brake pads: if on disc brake then have a set of replacement pads. (Front and rear) with you at all times. The same for rim brakes as well. Put a new set on at the beginning of the season. Too many people take their bikes with already worn pads to mechanics before the season starts. The mechanics adjust them to be tight with the worn pads. Ends up making it near impossible to put new pads in a rush when at a race as you then have to re-adjust every cable and spring balance, etc.

After even a mild race be sure to clean the bike/wash it down and dry/re-lube the chain. Put a drop of lube near the pulley and RD points. Clean out any accumulated water, etc.

These are the basics but can go a long way towards making your season more enjoyable. Now when you see someone having a stupid mechanical that was caused by not having done what I outlined here you can smile to yourself knowing that the small $ you spent now saved your registration, transportation, training time, and family time investment made to get to the race.

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