Ask Nick: Ride planning, Olympic pedals, chain replacement and race radio espionage

Our tech editor answers reader questions on planning a trans-Oklahoma charity ride, drivetrain wear and radio scanning in the team car

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Editor’s Note: VeloNews tech editor Nick Legan is a former ProTour mechanic who most recently wrenched for Team RadioShack at the 2010 Tour de France and elsewhere. His column appears here every Thursday. You can submit questions to Nick at, and be sure to check out Nick’s previous columns.

I’m trying to organize a charity ride for my collegiate cycling team (University of Oklahoma) and have a few questions about preparing proper support that I hope your experience can speak to. The plan is to cross the state of Oklahoma from the southern border to the north in a day. The route is about 260 rolling miles and I’m organizing donors in a walk-a-thon style format. Obviously this requires a support vehicle.

I’m expecting five to 10 riders and was planning on a large van with a trailer to act as sag and carry food with a mechanic and paramedic inside. What I’m wondering is what kind/how much food and/or drink should be brought and what kind of unexpected things should I expect? Any additional advice or anything I’m overlooking would be great. — Andy

Sounds like a great adventure. I would first consider what vehicle to use. Unless you’ll be required to transport everyone back to the start, you won’t need a van and a trailer. To be honest, it’s good to have fewer bike spots available on the follow vehicle than you have riders on the road. This means they must finish the ride. If you can arrange for a vehicle to transport all the bags to the finish and let the follow vehicle simply take care of rider needs you’ll be happy to have a smaller setup.

Expect each rider to drink at least one bottle an hour, hopefully more. So you’ll need several coolers. But you can also leapfrog ahead to gas stations and buy ice/drinks as they are consumed. For food, I would ask the riders that are participating. Normal ride food (bars and gels) usually get old after four or five hours on the bike. You’ll have riders looking for savory snacks and real food. Beef jerky is good, so too are tortillas with turkey and cheese. Potato chips, fruit, Cokes all work too. I make rice cakes like the pros eat before my big events. To be honest, you’ll have to improvise out on the road a bit. But try to keep something up your sleeve as a surprise for the riders. An ice cream sandwich could taste like heaven in the middle of a hot day.

The paramedic will have a med kit, but you should pack toilet paper, antacid tablets, ibuprofen, chamois cream and plenty of sunscreen. Make sure to have emergency contacts for everyone as well as a list of allergies and preexisting medical conditions. Having everyone sign a waiver might not be a bad idea.

On the mechanical front, bring tubes and a couple tires, a floor pump, chain oil, rags and some tools (your mechanic should bring a kit too).

After participating in Tim Johnson’s Ride on Washington, I would also say that having a captain rider is really important. Pete Webber called the shots for our group, corralling riders and encouraging quick stops. Your captain needs to have a clear idea about how the ride will happen. Will the group come to a complete stop at all stop signs and red lights (I vote YES!)? Will the whole group stop if one rider needs a natural break? What about a flat? Will you feed from a moving car (I vote NO!)? Will it be a rotating paceline? Will it start easy and ramp up in speed? These decisions need to be decided upon and told to the participants. Getting everyone on the same page about your ride’s etiquette is probably more important than whether you have Mountain Dew on hand or not. Best of luck! Remember to keep it fun.

As coverage of the Olympic track cycling begins, I can’t help but notice that many velodrome riders opt for pedals with straps on them. Is there an advantage in a sprint scenario where the straps are more beneficial than clipless pedals? — Joel

Many track athletes, especially sprinters, prefer the security of toe clips and straps. In a violent effort it’s easy to pull a pedal out of many clipless pedal systems. Accidentally twisting out of clipless pedals on a fixed gear bike, at speed, is not a pretty sight. Because the toe clip and strap have to be manually loosened, that risk is decreased. But that doesn’t mean they’re foolproof. Sprinters will still break toe straps in starts. Track mechanics keep a spare handy at all times.

Is there any formula for the frequency of replacing chains in order to get more than one season of 4,000-5,000 miles out of a cassette? Usually I replace chains every 1,500 miles or whenever my Rolf Gauge says I need to. The cassette I’ve had on for the last year is now starting to indicate wear and time for replacement after only three chains. If one were to replace their chain between 800-1,000 miles, would that extend the life of the cassette beyond one year? — Chris

Unfortunately there is no formula for chain replacement. Because conditions like rider weight, strength, gear selection and maintenance are all so case specific, it’s difficult to give hard and fast rules about the problem. A chain wear gauge is a great start, though, and it sounds like you stay on top of it.

Changing your chain more frequently could help, but I would first ask about how frequently you clean your drivetrain. Sandy conditions, wet rides and neglect can speed up the process. If you find that you’re often on a dirty bike, more washes could save you some money.

I have two questions regarding race radio. First, do race directors ever play music via race radio for the riders? Second, can directors change the channel and tune in to other teams? — Appel

I suppose that a director could play music via the team radios, but the audio quality wouldn’t be the best. It’s hard to get across simple instructions or questions over the radio in many cases. It never happened while I was in a team car.

As to your second question, that’s a touchy subject for some directors. I have heard stories of directors listening in on their competition but it isn’t really fair play if you ask me. To my knowledge there is no rule forbidding radio scanning, but the truth is that the effort may not be worth it. Directors would better use their time paying attention to the race and their riders.

But do know that at times radio communications are overheard by accident. I’ve been in many team cars, riding along looking at the trees, and suddenly we were hearing that a rider on another team needed water bottles or was hungry. Channels get mixed up all the time. It can make for some entertainment, but rarely changes the outcome of the race.

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