Featured photo for Assessing the Damage: Part 1

Assessing the Damage: Part 1

I already had a reputation for breaking bicycle parts—and that was on the road. So before the Tour Divide, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going to break during a 2,700-mile mountain bike race that was >85% off-road.

Turns out, a lot!

A quick inventory of the broken or worn components from the Tour Divide include the following:

  1. Cateye front headlight (loose internals; broken mount)
  2. rear taillight (plastic lens ground down by tire)
  3. Cannondale CAAD3 frame (rear rack eyelet pulled out; photo above)
  4. Reevu rear-view helmet (numerous cracks and chips due to crashes)
  5. Middle chainring (broken teeth)
  6. Sea-to-Summit dry bag (numerous holes; no longer can be trusted to keep items dry)
  7. Ritchey SPD-style pedals (shot bearings; pedals no longer turn freely)
  8. Performance Hurricane airpump (worn internal o-ring)
  9. ’99 Specialized Body Comp saddle (cracked leather cover due to being wet all the time)
  10. Brake pads (front and rear worn all the way through by midway point; replaced in Steamboat Springs)
  11. Tires (replaced in Steamboat Springs)
  12. Chain and/or rear cogs (chain started to skip in the last few days due to wear)
  13. Right shifter (lever stopped bouncing back; also requires a lot of force to downshift)
  14. Bottom bracket developed a lot of play causing the chain to rub on the front derailleur. Video below.

Below is a detailed, chronological list of other mechanical troubles I had during the race. My most frustrating problem were flat tires. I figure I lost at least five hours during the race because of them. I regret not injecting, say, 30 grams of sealant (e.g., Slime) in each of the tubes before the race because that would have obviated perhaps 90% of my flats—most of which were small pinholes that slowly leaked over the course of hours.

  • Day 1: Loose rear hub. I didn’t have the appropriate-sized cone wrench, but managed to tighten it back up with my fingers.
  • Day 2: Stuck front derailleur. Turns out so much mud from the morning had dried on it that it was completely seized. I chipped away the dried mud and was good to go.
  • Day 2: Flat tire #1 (rear). I had pulled over to, um, water a tree and promptly plopped my bike down on a half-inch thorn. It took me about 25 minutes to change it. The good thing is, right after I finished, fellow racer Kevin Hall caught up to me. We’d camp together behind an old church later that night.
  • Day 11: Flat tires #2, 3, and 4 (all rear). The first two were first thing in the morning, and after the third, I called it a day as it was 9:00 p.m. and I was right in front of the Togwotee Mountain Lodge anyhow. In my hotel room, I diagnosed the culprit as poorly applied rim tape that left three spoke holes exposed.
  • Day 12: Front brake pads out of alignment. They may have been slightly misaligned before but as they wore down, stopping power was greatly reduced and I was forced to adjust them. It was hard when there was so much mud on them from the area around Brooks Lake.
  • Day 13: Flat tire #5 (rear). This was an overnight one. I believe that it was an existing hole in the tube caused by the poorly applied rim tape (i.e., the exposed spoke holes put two pinholes in the tube, but at the Togwotee Mountain Lodge I only discovered and patched one of them).
  • Day 16: Brake pads (front and rear) were completely worn, and the tires were nearly so too. Shifting also required an inordinate amount of force with my thumbs due to a sticky grime (perhaps from Gatorade or Coke and mud) that coated the cables. Orange Peel Bicycle Service in Steamboat Springs, Colorado very kindly took care of all that by replacing the brake pads, tires, cables, rear rim tape… and even cleaned my bike somewhat and lubed the chain. They freed up a mechanic to do this right away and only charged me for parts, saying that they wanted to support the Tour Divide racers. Thanks to Assam, Zach, and the entire Orange Peel shop!
  • Day 21: Cyclometer malfunction (turns out the sensor battery went dead). The Ascent Delta wireless cyclometer started showing erratic (often, zero) readings near the Colorado-New Mexico border, which became a major crisis since it was critical for navigation and there wasn’t a bike shop or department store within hundreds of miles close to the course. Ended up making a 28-mile round-trip detour (half of it uphill) to Chama, NM where I found a cyclist named Joshua who gave me an old Cateye cyclometer.
  • Day 23: Flat tire #6. This one was the front and I found the offending object.
  • Day 23: The much-used air pump malfunctioned due to an internal o-ring that wouldn’t seal.
  • Day 23: Left rear rack eyelet pulled out of the frame, the result of being too stressed on that side (the screw on the right loosened and fell out, so not having a replacement screw, I was using a tie-wrap on that side). See photo above.
  • Day 24: Gulp valve for the Eddie Bauer “camelback” water bladder fell off while I was drinking out of it while riding. Never found it; good thing the tube also had a main shut off valve.
  • Day 24: Flat tire #7. Rear tire—never found the offending object.
  • Day 26: Flat tire #8. Rear tire was flat after I crawled out of/packed up my tent. Again, I could not find the offending object and it seemed like all my spare tubes were flat. Since my airpump was not working well I used my last CO2 cartridge.
  • Day 26: SPOT unit started blinking red due to a dying lithium battery. Thankfully, I was able to replace them with a couple AA alkaline batteries a couple days later.
  • Day 27: Flat tire #9! Actually, this happened on the night of Day 26 in the midst of a monsoon. Being out of good spare tubes, I resorted to an inject-air/ride/inject-air/ride strategy. Thankfully, I was able to get my airpump working again. However, on Day 27 this strategy didn’t work because the leak in the tire got too large, so I had to replace the tube with a spare tube that had a smaller leak.

Part 2 of “Assessing the Damage” will focus on the damage to myself!

After about 15 days the mounting portion of this light broke, resulting in the headlight flying off the bike several times.  Resorted to string and tape to hold it on.
Unfortunately it's also time for a new helmet.  Lots of cracks and chips after crashing several times during the race!
After 1400 miles, my bike needed new tires, brake pads, cables, and rear rim strip.  Zach of Orange Peel Bicycle Service did an awesome job with that in Steamboat Springs.
After 2000 miles, the cyclometer (which I got brand new a week before the race) stopped working due to a dead battery in the sensor.  Had to go 28 miles off course to find another cyclometer.
I lost a rack screw on the right side, so I was using a tie wrap on that side.  Hence, only one screw and rack eyelet was used afterwards.  A long bumpy climb resulted in too much stress for the eyelet and it popped out of the frame.
By my ninth flat tire, I was out of spare tubes, CO2 cartridges, and my pump was only half-functional.  Should have used tubes with sealant to begin with!
All the rain resulted not just in lots of mud and chainsuck, but also shot bearings.  The pedals by the end of the race no longer turned freely.
My Summit-to-Sea dry bag had so many holes in it by the fourth week that I no longer trusted it to keep my gear dry without using additional plastic bags on the inside.
After the race I was shocked to see just how worn the middle chainring was, including broken teeth.
My comfortable Specialized Body Comp saddle from 1999 (which I "borrowed" from my road bike) is very cracked now.  Time for a new saddle.
On bumpy trails, my tent bag would press this taillight into the rear tire until I attached the mounting bracket to the top of the rack instead of the bottom.