As soon as we're done practicing, it's game on to get our bikes ready for race day.
Generally this involves a bike wash, wheel swap (cassette, brake rotor, and tire), fine tuning of drivetrain, as well as a swap out of whatever parts you may want to change or replace (for performance decisions, as well as if any damage was done during practice).
Let's just say that life as a blue collar racer isn't as glamorous as it is for the true professionals.
While factory riders sit back analyzing Go Pro videos, eating all the snacks, taking naps, and generally resting while their mechanics and team managers take care of things, Nick and I are generally hustling from practice to wheel/tire swap (don't forget the cassette and rotors), to food, to watching GoPro far too late into the night where we ask ourselves are we benefitting from watching this more than the the sleep we are losing from staying up so late.
Over the years, we've figured out ways to make this bike prep more efficient from a blue collar standpoint, while ensuring we're able to rest as much as possible, recover from practice, replenish calories, and get ourselves ready mentally for race day.
Here's our top five tips for race day prep:
1. Bring a Spare Wheelset with New Tires Pre-Beaded
A spare wheel set is self explanatory. New Tires pre-beaded with sealant may not be.
Ideally whatever type of wheel you are practicing on (aluminum or carbon), you are racing on. Each wheel rides a little differently as they vary in internal/external widths, as well as stiffness (particularly laterally). Not enough to truly make a big deal, but it's noticeable. Between the lines, get to know your gear....
New tires already mounted (& beaded!) is not self explanatory. For the longest time, we would bring a spare wheel set, but wait to mount tires, as we wanted to be sure we were choosing the right tire for the conditions. This is very important, however, between a little ahead-of-time research (reading trail reports -- are trails clay based and slick when it rain? Is it rocky and dusty? What does the weather look like for race weekend?), you can make a pretty good condition on the tires you will be running. Mount brand ones on your race wheels, and add sealant BEFORE you leave for the race). After practice, once you've had your wheels on the dirt, you can decide if you want to change your race tire, but you've potentially saved your time knowing it was forecasted to rain, by mounting your favorite wet tire. Worst case you pull it off and simply have another spare laying around in case you get a flat.
Not to mention, in foreign countries it can be very difficult to find compressed air to properly bead your tire. In Italy, I think it took us three hours to find a gas station with a hose that fit our valves. In Chile, I borrowed a plastic Coca Cola liter version of an "AirShot" that was terrifying, but did the job.
With the invention of the "Burst" pumps, that pre-pressurize a chamber via pump-action and release it in one go into the tire, it is less common of a problem in terms of mounting tires, but still something to be aware of.
By Colombia, we'd learned and mounted new tires on BOTH practice and race wheelsets, giving us a few tread options for race day, not to mention the few extra tires we brought along as well.
We didn't have to do any last minute tire swaps. Our race day wheels were ready, minus rotors and made for a much easier evening, saving time for dinner and GoPro Review.
Remember: you can always go to a bike shop and buy tires, BUT it's highly likely they won't have your casing of chose, and will be out of CO2, especially if an international race focused in a small town. Call ahead and have them hold CO2 for you, or plan to find elsewhere.... On another note, I do not recommend flying with CO2 -- our boarding passes were taken away from us in Colombia for having it, after three years of no problems. You decide if it's worth the risk!
AND... if you have to mount tires the night before race day, be sure you check tread direction.....
2. Bring a Mini-drill!
Mini-drills can save boat loads of time, and headaches.... especially when it comes to rotor bolts. Make sure you've got the right head for your bolts, and blast away (but always remember to hand start - no one needs a stripped out hub).
Top of the World, Whistler
3. BYOB: Bring-your-own-food
Food is vital to recovering from practice, but also to your success on race day.
By bringing all your on-bike food with you from home you can save on grocery shopping time, while still ensuring you get what you need. We like baby food packets, bacon, nuts, whole food whenever possible, and bars if necessary (fewer ingredients the better -- Larabar, Kate's, Kind).
Not to mention, sometimes, at international aide stations, you'll roll up and there's loads of chocolate, waifers, and chips. If that's your go-to, good for you. Otherwise, you might be screwed. Always bring your own food.
Nick pondering trail snacks in Argentina
4. Pre-trip tune
If your schedule allows, get a pre-race tune before you leave your home. Chances are you hit the ground running once you get to your destination, going for practice then racing. There's not a whole lot of extra ride time prior to racing. After all, you want to save your energy.
With this in mind, go ahead and replace your cable and housing, service your fork/shock if needed, bleed your brakes and replace your pads, bleed your seat dropper, swap to new tires on practice and race wheels (see #1). While you can have a shitty or generally heinous practice day that has you doing all this the night before race day, you can at least try to do what you can to save yourself time (and parts!).
However, just because this was done, doesn't mean it shouldn't be looked over, and practice take into consideration relative to wear and tear on parts. How does my cable look post practice? How about my brake pads? What's the weather like tomorrow/what's the dirt like -- should I be concerned my pads will wear all the way?
5. Bring Spares and Learn How to Work on your bike.
Dakine's new bike bag fits ALL the spares, and more! Pack those nooks and crannies!
Self-explanatory -- this saves loads of times, and stress.
You're no longer waiting in a massive line at Shimano or SRAM to get your brakes bled, or snag a new rear derailleur (which they might not even have) or running to a bike shop for new pedals.
While it's time saving to sometimes keep out of the Shimano/SRAM pits, they are mighty fun!