Wednesday, December 7, 2011

#Cyclocross Pitting For Dummies

Where's my bike? (Joel Quimby Photography)
They call it the credit card, when the rear wheel gets slid through a rider’s rear end on a botched cyclocross pit exchange.  It’s the dreaded remount bobble, caused mainly by having a drunken person pitting for you.  It was the biggest mistake I saw in the pits at the muddy Kings CX race on Sunday.  The 2nd biggest mistake was seeing riders pull in the pit looking as if their car was stolen from the mall parking lot, only to realize their pit crew was still on the opposite side of the pit Tweeting about how great their rider was doing in the race.  Contrary to popular whining, no matter how many middle fingers get thrown between riders and their pit person, the rider is ultimately responsible for everything that goes wrong in their pit.

If you’re going to put a dummy in the pit for you, the best thing you can do is realize that they’d rather be back at the hospitality tent checking Sunday football scores or shopping for pretty shoes on their smartphone.  Outside of actually finding someone who has a fetish for rain gear and mud or someone with a vested interest in how well you do in the race, the second best thing you can do is prepare them.  Realize the dummies in your pit crew are only as good as your instructions and how much Chipotle you bribe them with. 

"A yuk-yuk.  Sure I'll pit for y'all!"
Outfitting Your Pit Dummy
Unless they wear as much latex as Lady Gaga, don’t count on your pit dummy to come prepared to be wet.  Bring the following for your dummy:  a pair of rain pants with belt or suspenders (because for some reason rain pants are only available in Paul Bunyan size), long johns, a sweatshirt, rubber boots, rain jacket, hat and waterproof gloves.  If you’re really smart, you’ll give them a team hat so they feel like part of the team and you can pick them apart from the 40 other people wearing yellow jackets in the pit.  Plus, if you pack a spare backpack with all this stuff and carry around a giant burrito wrapped in tin foil, you can raise your CX scepter and appoint any gap-toothed weirdo your pit dummy. 

All Hail The Conical Brush
Tools for Dummies:
Unless you’re shacking up with someone with perpetually grease packed finger nails, chances are your dummy is no mechanic and thinks an Allen wrench set looks identical to a set of measuring spoons.  Do not trust a pit dummy with unfamiliar tools.  The cassette brush will be challenging enough.  Give them the basics: a bottle of lube, a few rags, a bucket, a bottle of dish detergent, a chain/cassette brush and a conical brush.  Tell them if something is mechanically wrong with the bike to take it to the neutral support guy under the tent with the tools and bike stand and repeat exactly what you shouted at him when you dropped it off. 

Clean BioWheels Exchange (Joel Quimby Photography)
The Most Important Thing:
Tell your pit dummy that the most important thing is not cleaning the bike.  It’s not catching your dirty bike, getting the bike back to you in a ½ lap, lubing the chain, or other mind numbing details like making sure your drive side pedal is in the 2 o’clock position when you get on the bike.  The most important thing while pitting is making sure you go to the bathroom before the race starts.  The 2nd most important thing is …say it with me…making sure the rider mounts the new bike smoothly.  Nothing else matters as much as you getting cleanly on the clean bike and out of the pit.  Show them how to hold your spare bike correctly and practice an exchange or two.  See “The Hand Off” for dummies below.

The Pit Signal (Joel Quimby Photography)
Tell your pit dummy to take mental note of the riders in front of you, so they have an idea when you are due in.  Tell them you’ll most likely be in the top 10 riders, or in my case, the one wheezing like a donkey mid pack.  Explain that on each lap you’ll pass by the pit twice, once on each side.  Since lap times are about eight minutes, you’ll pass by the pit about every four minutes.  Tell your dummy, you’ll raise a hand in the air a turn or two before pitting which is a signal that you need a clean bike.  Tell them to wave back or shout “ready” when they see your hand.  Tell them, if you don’t get confirmation you won’t come into the pit. 

The Pits (Joel Quimby Photography)
Claim Your Pit Home:
With the bucket, your bin of rags, tools and brushes, along with the spare bike or wheels, stake out an area of the pit with your dummy to call home prior to the race.  If you’re lucky, you’ll set them up next to a friend maybe with a stick of beef jerky and a flask of bourbon, or perhaps a granola bar and a can of soda.  Put some dish detergent in the bucket and fill it up with the pressure washer.  This is a perfect opportunity to show them how to operate it…the pressure washer not the bucket. 

Clean Hand Off (Joel Quimby Photography)
The Pitting for Dummies Routine:
Tell your dummy to clean your bike the same way every time.  Upon seeing you off, they should quickly take the dirty bike back to your place in the pit.  Other riders are coming in and it’s very important to get off pit road as quickly as possible.  To save your pit dummy from trying to figure out your gearing, before you come into the pit shift into the gear you wish to have when you pick it back up.  Then tell your pit dummy not to mess with the gears.

1 DECHUNKIFY.  Using the conical brush, dip it in the soapy water and run it above and below each brake shoe front and back.  Then, run it through the bottom bracket area between the wheel and frame and between the crank arms and frame.  Then knock the big chunks of mud off the frame.  If there’s time, they can clean their ears with it.  If the brush goes in one ear and out the other, you have a perfect pit dummy.  Done: 30 seconds.

2 POWERWASH.  Since the bulk of the debris was knocked off with the brush, time at the power washer should be minimized.  Since most pit dummies don’t understand the laws of gravity and jet propelled water, tell them to wash the bike top down: saddle, bars, top tube, down tube, seat tube, brakes, wheels/tires, bottom bracket, rear derailleur & pullies.  Done: 1 minute.

3 BRUSH DRIVETRAIN: Facing the rear of the bike on the drive side, supporting the bike with the right hip, use the smaller brush to get the debris out from in between the front gears and rear wheel gears.  Believe me, explaining the difference between chainrings and cassette cogs is like explaining Skype to your grandmother.  Spinning the pedals backward while brushing works well.  Then work to remove the stuff from the derailleur pullies, also known as that thing the chain snakes through on the back of the frame.  Done: 45 seconds.

4 LUBE CHAIN:  Still in the same position, spin the cranks backward and squirt lube on the chain as it spins.  Tell them to do it exactly like they did on their Huffy when they were 11 years old.  Done: 15 seconds.

5 RETURN: Take a rag, head to the opposite side of the pit the bike was picked up at and look for the rider.   With the rag quickly wipe the bars, saddle and shifter levers.  Time permitting, pick any loose leaves or grass still in the brakes or drive train.  Watch for the raised hand from the rider and signal and call out “ready” when you see it.   To alert others in the pit, have your pit dummy shout “rider up” when you are a turn away from coming in to the pit.

One Man Pit Crew (Joel Quimby Photography)
The Exchange:
I saw 10 year olds catch bikes perfectly Sunday.  Any dufus can do it.  You know who else is great at catching bikes?  The ground.  Once again, say it with me, the most important part of the bike exchange is…yes, going to the bathroom before the race.  The 2nd most important thing is getting the rider cleanly on the clean bike.  Let the dirty bike fall into the grass if need be.  Tell your pit dummy to ask someone nearby to catch your bike when you come in.  If that’s not possible, they can do it solo. 

Whoever’s catching the bike, should stick their left hand out at handlebar height toward the rider coming in, look them dead in the eye and say “your mama was right, you are ugly.”  No really they should say something to the effect of “Right here Dude.  I got it!”  That way there’s no confusion on where the bike is going.  If they’re doing double duty, catching and handing off, it’s not so much a catch as a slowing down and gentle deflection of the dirty bike to the ground with your left hand.  The pit dummies main focus should be on making sure the clean bike is ready for the hand-off. 

Two Hands Two Bikes (Joel Quimby Photography)
The Handoff. 
There are ways the pros do it, but there is only one way your dummy should do it, with the most minimal involvement possible.  Tell them to position the clean bike over the pit line, angled toward the best exit to the pit with the handlebars pointing forward.  The drive side pedal should be up and forward at around the 2 or 3 o’clock position.  Tell them to hold on to the bike’s saddle with their right hand at the rear edge on the drive side and not let go until you pull the bike away from them.  Repeat this to them.  Assure them there’s no need to hold the handle bars.  The fewer interfaces with your pit dummy and your bike the better.  This way when you grab the bars, the bike gets pulled from their grip and you’re on your way in the best direction.  

They should not push you.  While it works in bobsledding, the guy in the blue shirt with the USAC badge frowns upon riders getting an unfair advantage.  He also frowns at just about everything.  The last thing you want to do is get DQ’d because your pit dummy is a dummy.  Secondly, pushing a rider off essentially hogs the limited space on pit road by putting yourself in front of other rider’s pit crews.  Lastly adding extra arms, legs and heads around the bike is a recipe for throwing the rider off balance and making for a bobbled transition.  Let the rider make the mistakes.  A pit person should be a dummy.


JeffC said...

I had never used a pit bike until this past weekend, neither had 1/2 our team. Me and one other teammate shared a pit guy. My second trip through the pit almost had me on a sweet black Ridley, great huh? Nope, since it was neither my or ANY of my teammates bike. I wouldn't consider our pit guy a dummy but rather overwhelmed by the situation....and too many beers.

Joe Biker said...

ah...the beers...always the downfall of a good pit crew!

Dave P said...

Long time reader...first time pitter...
I am the fool running past my bike in the first photo. Certainly didn't get it right on my first ever pit exchange. Had it fairly dialed in after that hot mess. Aside from beer, I think another issue was racers having 2-3 different people at one time assisting them with one exchange. Created unnecessary congestion in the entrance to the pit area. My pit dude was the shit. I screwed up that exchange. Great fun none the less...made me feel big time for the day. And now I'm on your blog too. Well shoot.

Hondashakes said...

After P washing bikes for a few hours, j also learned that redlines cannot pass mud through the bottom bracket, Mud 2 tires may have actually been designed to excavate mud from the course like some third world wheelbarrow, pitting for two riders can get a little crazy when those riders come together on the course, and only about half the crews relubed the chain.