Everyone will tell you a sportive is not ‘really’ a race, and then visualize leaving you behind in a proverbial ball of smoke. No matter how you approach it, everyone wants to maximize their bike’s performance and do what they can to gain an edge on the road.
So as a race-loving mechanic, here’s the down-low on my various last-minute hacks that can help you prepare for your next sportive.
Note from Monty: Today’s post comes from Simon Laumet, an experienced bike mechanic based in London. Simon’s post has already inspired me to give my drivetrain a proper clean (the drivetrain on my bike…), which will be the subject of a future post (ooh, can you contain your excitement…). If you find the post useful, please do let me know in the comments below (along with any tips you have).
Pump the tires (or get new race tires)
A fresh set of tires works wonders on the day of the event. I find it’s best to invest in a really nice set of tires that you only use for racing and that you fit to the bike the night before. Don’t train on race tires though – you’re just smearing money on the tarmac.
Have a close look at the curvature of your tires (head-on view, not side). If you can see a slight flat section in the middle, you should change the tires. That flat section means that your tire has more contact with the ground when rolling in a straight line – giving you more resistance. It also means that, when you corner, the tire has less grip due to the ridges on either side of the flat section. Basically, you’ll roll slower and are more likely to wash out during a corner.
If new tires are not an option or your current ones are fine, then make sure they’re properly pumped up!
If you can, check wheel bearings
When it comes to friction, wheels are king. You’ve reduced the tire’s rolling resistance by following the steps above, now let’s take it a step further by servicing the wheel’s hubs.
Before moving forward, we should first test how smooth the bearings are. Simply grab a wheel by its axles and give it a gentle spin so that one revolution takes about 1 second. If you get 10 revolutions or more before the wheel comes to a stop, you’re fine.
Note: if you have never serviced a hub before you should probably skip this step, as if you mess it up it will ruin your sportive.
Different hubs can be opened up differently – check the manufacturer’s website for specific instructions. In general though there are 2 types of hubs – ones that use sealed bearings and ones that use a cup & cone system.
For sealed bearings there is not too much you can do other than give the axles a good clean and remove any gunk you find. You could get adventurous and pop the seal off of the bearing and fill it with some fresh grease, but that tends to damage the seal and requires a fair bit of finesse to do properly.
For the cup & cone ones though you can do quite a lot, especially if you own a set of cone spanners and are fairly DIY accomplished. You’ll want to loosen off one side and remove the nuts and cone from the axle, so that you can pull the entire axle out of the hub body. Then carefully (you really don’t want to lose these) remove the bearings and put them in a small dish (I use the lid of a bottle) of WD40 or GT85.
Leaving the bearings for a second, use a rag to clean out all the old grease from the hub and the axle, and apply some fresh high-grade bearing grease. Next use a clear rag to wipe the bearings clean and carefully place them back into the hub body. Then, insert the axle and thread the cones and nuts back on.
Finally, use your cone spanners to tighten the entire assembly, taking care not to over-tighten. Do the 1 second=10 rev spin test again – if you don’t get the 10 revolutions then back off the bearing cone by ¼ turn and try again until you do.
Clean drivetrain and re-lube (with very light oil)
Rear wheel off, chain off, rags and old toothbrushes out. You’ll want to thoroughly clean out the derailleurs chain, chainrings and cassette with degreaser and the toothbrush. Really get every last bit of grime out of there! For bonus points you should take the jockey wheels out of the rear derailleur to give them a really good clean too.
Once the degreaser has had time to work its way through the gunk (10 mins or more), use hot water mixed with bike cleaner and a rag or sponge to clean off the now-dirty degreaser. Again, be thorough. Once you’re happy it’s as clean as can be, rinse everything with hot water and use a clean rag to dry everything out.
Before you reassemble everything, use GT85 (or similar) on the various pivots and joints of the derailleurs. Apply some to the shifters as well, and then click through the gears to get the lube to really work its way around the system.
Next, use a light oil on the chain and – if you took them apart – a heavy oil on the jockey wheel bushings/bearings.
Put it all back together and you’ll have a very low friction drivetrain 🙂
Check that wheels are true (and brake pads aren’t touching)
Seems obvious enough, but I’ve seen a guy do an entire TT race with one of his rear pads in constant contact with the rim. His entire caliper was warm to the touch at the end!
Adjusting brake pads is one of the easier jobs on a bike, and can usually be done with nothing more than a humble multi-tool.
Fresh bar tape and grips work wonders
Good grip on the bars when you’re hammering uphill is key to getting that power down to the pedals. Fresh bar tape will also be more comfortable on the descents, and prevent palm pains from road buzz.
Mental trick – clean that top tube and stem!
The power that a clean bike has on your perception of its performance is massive. If you feel that your bike is high performance, you’ll push yourself harder to do it justice. Fact.
It was first proven by research done prior to a TdF race – it compared the performance of riders on identical bikes with clean transmissions, but where one set of bikes had slightly dirty top tubes and stems. The riders on the ‘perceived dirty’ bikes were all slower than they should have been despite all the riders claiming to have been pushing 110%. So wipe that top tube & stem!
Smash that sportive
So there you have it. If you ever wondered exactly what your bike’s capable of during a sportive, now you have the tools to find out. So saddle up, and I’ll see you on the road!
About the author
Simon Laumet is a veteran bike mechanic and an industrial designer from London. He’s the cofounder of Honor Cycles, a bike repair shop and social enterprise which, apart from fixing bikes, aims to give back to the community and solve the prevalent issue of underpaid and undervalued bike mechanics in London and beyond.