12 Hours of Darkness
Racing means riding lots and riding hard, and that leads to worn and broken bikes. Sounds like a good place for Park Tool to be, and on a pleasant spring night above Red Wing, Minnesota, that's where I was. This was a 12 hour race, beginning at 20:00 hours and ending 08:00. (That's eight o'clock at night to eight the next morning.) I arrive with my usual pile of equipment: repair stands, tools, compressor, some parts, lubricants, and a cooler with snacks.
On the bluffs over the Mississippi river at Memorial Park, Red Wing, Minnesota
For this race we have a team of three mechanics, Brad Cole and Matt Gaukler of Erik's Bike Shop, and myself. We set up two pop up tents, arrange the stands and supplies, and then do our pre-race stretches. Well, not really, but just like the athletes we serve, getting in some warm up is beneficial. The National Bike Patrol is there, and they well deserve what attention we can provide their rides. We give them, and ourselves, a quick check-over.
The National Bike Patrol ride the course looking for any downed or hurt riders
Working all night is a strange thing. The tent is staked down in case of wind, which it does later. We used two lamps to light up our life. The pops-ups are white, so we point the lights upward. This bounces the light and spreads it evenly, providing a pleasant indirect light throughout the work area. This also makes the tents visible for any passing aircraft, and provides a collection area for any cyclist-entomologists as we attract our share of moths.
The glow at night attracts all our friends, be they cyclists, insects, or chiropteran
It gets dark, and we've got trouble. That begins with "T" and that rhymes with "B" and that stands for bent. We love the athletes, but sometimes we would rather meet them under different circumstances. We get to know one particular single speed (seen below) well, beginning with a trashed ring. We are not afraid of some blacksmith work to get something up and running, but the ring is now oval, and also cracked. Re-bending is not an option. Another athlete provides him a spare ring, showing us the true spirit of racing.
Single speeds are not as simple as their reputation belies
As always, we look for the cause of a failure, and not just replace the part. We think we've found it. There are only four arms in this design and one bolt failing means almost certain catastrophe. One chainring nut failed, sure enough, it was aluminum. After our rider leaves, we discuss the old adage, "steel is for real."
A tough nut to crack? Not if it is aluminum.
It gets quiet for a bit. Luckily it is breezy and gets cold, so there's no nodding off in this tent. I check out Brad's box, which appears to have enough Vitamin B, as in Blue.
Wait a minute, haven't we seen this bike before? More ring problems, and a broken chain. He is a solo rider, so he get's the deluxe double mechanic treatment to get him back out there fast.
The old chain tells a story but it is incomplete. One rivet and one outer side plate are missing. Another aluminum bolt ring was missing, but our steel replacement bolt is holding its own. Did the ring failing break the chain? These are the type of exciting discussions that occur between mechanics under support tents at 03:00.
A creaking hub? Not a problem for this team of mechanics. We throw some good punches: taps, hammers, punches, bolts, retaining compounds, solvents, and then the knock-out-round-house: knowledge of what we are doing. The quiet hub and pleased rider continue their quest for victory.
A bobbing rider airs up his tire using our PFP-3 pump. Ambient light photos are something of a pain, but can also be interesting. This exposure was 2 seconds.
The official tent, with a projector showing rider placement and rock videos all night long. Wonder if they have an Internet connection?
Left to right: Brad Cole, the PCS-11, the Moon, Matt Gaukler, the PFP-3, the PCS-10, and Calvin Jones.
Recognize that paint? Yes, our one-speed friend, back again. These are disc mechanical calipers, and the front inner-pad adjusting knob is missing. The pad adjusting screw turns at will, and is backing up, meaning he basically has no front brake. Break out the penetrating thread-locker, dribble in a few drops in the threads, and it will stay where we want.
All good things must come to an end, thankfully. Time to pull up stakes, literally. Brad shows his stuff once again grabbing something big and blue.