Triathlon Magazine Canada
INSIDE THE AGE GROUP MIND
Before You Hit the Road Again, Show Your Bike Some Consideration
He had just coasted down a mountain road onto a straight-away, gauging the long, flat stretch before the next climb. Down he dropped into his aerobars, picking up his cadence. Then, crack! The metal plate under the pad supporting his right forearm gave way. He darn near toppled over.
This is my husband David I’m talking about, and yes, he lived to tell the tale. The snow was still piled high on
Montreal’s streets, and we were riding virtually, someplace in Italy where the roads are smooth and it’s always spring. So, no harm done, beyond the time it took for Canada Post to deliver a replacement aerobar. Oh, and David’s wounded pride.
“I knew you were sweaty,” I said, looking with disgust at the salt-encrusted, broken piece of aluminum that had been hidden under the worn arm pad. “But who knew it was that destructive?”
It turns out sweat is incredibly corrosive.
It’s something bike mechanics see all the time, especially when riders bring in bikes that have endured a few thousand indoor kilometres over an off-season.
“We could probably collect the salt and put it on the roads in the winter, and it would melt ice,” says Guillaume Drolet-Paré, a discerning mechanic who co-owns Hors Catégorie bike studio in Montreal’s Mile End with his partner, Stéphanie Guénette. “It is a very nasty substance.”
“I had a customer last year who did an immense amount of time on rollers, and the salt actually pierced holes through his brandnew handlebars.”
When you spend most of your time riding outdoors, you tend not to think too much about the sweat issue. Your perspiration evaporates quickly and doesn’t all drip in the same place – as in drenching your handlebars and rusting out your cables.
“Even with a big fan indoors, you are going to sweat a lot on your bike, and it will creep into hidden areas such as the headset and various components on the front of the bike,” says Drolet-Paré.
At 40, he has been taking bikes apart and putting them back together since he was 16, and he chooses his words carefully, apologizing for making a generalization before admonishing triathletes:
“Unfortunately, they tend not to be very conscious of bike maintenance, overall – regardless of whether it’s an entry-level bike or a high-end one. Taking care of your bike is not seen as something that’s a priority.”
I see my old self in that statement. I came to the sport from running, enticed by the benefits of cross-training. I did my first half-dozen triathlons on a borrowed road bike that was two sizes too big, and I picked up bike knowhow the hard way – like having to replace a crank one day before Ironman Canada in 2009, after stripping it while trying to get the right pedal off and wrenching it in the wrong direction with all my might.
It wasn’t until I started training for that first Ironman that I got serious about my cycling mileage and started spinning through the winter months. But for years, it was always on someone else’s equipment: first at the local Y on a spin bike and later, on CompuTrainers in the basement of Montreal’s Cycle-Technique, where people were hired to keep the bikes clean and lubed. You were expected to spritz and towel the seat and handlebars before you walked away from the trainer, but that was all you had to think about. Then along came the Wahoo Kickr, Tacx Neo, Elite Direto and all the other smart trainers that you could pair up with TrainerRoad, Sufferfest, Rouvy or Zwift – and just in time for a global pandemic, a whole new world opened up inside your very own personal pain cave.
“People started doing this monster season indoors, and all that wear-and-tear was no longer on someone else’s equipment,” says Drolet-Paré. “You’re putting all this mileage on your gears, thousands of kilometres in some cases. So yes, you will wear down your drivetrain, especially if you forget you still need to lube your chain, even indoors.”
Riding inside actually puts more strain on the drivetrain than does riding outside, since you never coast on the flats or down hills.
“You also usually put out more constant power, since you don’t have any momentum helping you,” says Drolet-Paré. Most cyclists know this after a tough winter of indoor riding: just look at your metrics to see the calories you’ve burned for proof that a one-hour session on a smart trainer is harder work than that same hour out on the road.
“I burn fuel at two-and-a-half times the rate indoors on my Direto than I do outside,” says Drolet-Paré. That’s two-and-a-half times the energy going through the drivetrain, as well. “You’re actually wearing down components quite a bit faster.”
The veteran mechanic has some simple tips for these issues: make it part of your indoor cycling ritual to wipe down your bike after every ride – and lube the chain now and then, while you’re at it. Keep track of the kilometres you’re putting on that chain, indoors or out. Buy an inexpensive chain checker to measure the wear regularly. If you’re on a direct-drive home trainer like the Wahoo Kickr, you are dividing the wear of the cassette between the one on your smart trainer and the one on your bike, but the same chain sees all of the action. “It’s important to change the chain at the appropriate intervals on your trainer, because the moment you go outside, that chain will be out of sync with your wheel set. You’ll be in for a nasty surprise,” he says.
Oh, and don’t skimp on buying new handlebar tape. Drolet-Paré has seen triathletes resist changing their tape for sentimental reasons, such as it’s the tape they put on before they did their first Ironman, three seasons ago. “It just reeks because it’s been sweated on for years – and it’s hiding what’s literally happening right underneath you, which could have serious consequences.”
“Keep track of the kilometres you’re putting on that chain, indoors or out.”