Most of us would not want to get out of bed before 6AM on a Sunday morning. How about a dark, gloomy and rainy morning of Sunday 5th of November 2017? Well this day is special, this day is the MS Gong Ride, this ride raises funds for people living with multiple sclerosis and has been running for 36 years.
This year is the first time I’m participating in the Sydney to Wollongong ride, 80 something kilometers through the scenic route via the Royal National Park. Most of the ride passes through the coastal fringe of Sydney. What makes it special for me is that I am not participating as a regular rider, instead, I’m volunteering as a mobile mechanic!
A wet day on a bike is guaranteed to result in punctures and expose all sorts of mechanical defects on a bike, therefore I am glad to have signed up to be the guy riding around with a backpack full of spare inner tubes, multi tool, patches, tyre levers and anything else that I can carry along the ride, in other words heavy backpack. Most cyclist would not want to carry anything on a long ride as each and every gram works against you as the distance increases or when the road starts to point up.
I was teamed up with Garry who recommended me to signed up, we set off at 7:30AM in light showers. The first breakdown we stopped to checkout was only about 400m from the start, it was a broken rear derailleur hanger. This woman, with some friends, said someone is sorting out a replacement rental bike for her so we wished her good luck and off we went. Next one was about 2km along, a dropped chain, this one was such a bad drop that the chain was stuck between the chainring and the frame. It took a bit of looking around the area and some improvisation with stick and timing of the crank spin, I managed to get the chain unstuck and back where it belongs. The guy was thankful and happy to continue with his ride.
The rest of the way continued to rain and my prediction came true, puncture after puncture, sometimes we stopped and both Garry and myself were repairing a bike each. The most disappointing puncture was on a tubeless setup. This nice chap paid a decent amount of money on his brand new carbon bike with disc brakes. The shop suggested that he convert his bike to tubeless with the original Giant tyres, these tyres are as good as using a garbage bag as a make-do raincoat. The sealant in the tyre didn’t patch the hole so all that money paid has gone to nothing, maybe a nice dinner for that shop mechanic. Anyhow, I told this guy not to worry about it and remove the tubeless setup which he had on and replaced it with a simple but proven, inner tube and recommend him to buy some Continental tyres if he wants to go back to tubeless again.
Throughout the ride we were cycling and stopping regularly to check if assistance was needed. I am also a qualified First Aid so in my bag I was also carrying a First Aid kit, luckily I didn’t have to use that.
Another challaning repair was when we stopped to fix a simple puncture but this time, the rear wheel was installed with an anti-theft key and can only be removed with a special key, where was this key? Now, when I stopped to help this woman she was already in a bad mood, she said it's her third flat and the key to remove the wheel is most likely left with the previous repair pitstop. She started to flip out as we still had about 20 km or so to ride to the end. I told her that it's OK and I will work something out. Im my head i was thinking, this is going to be a long and annoying repair so I told Garry that we will have to patch this on while wheel is on the bike as we cant remove it to do a simple inner tube replacement. I wet the inner tube then pumped it up, listened carefully for any hissing and slowly ran my fingers across the tube to identify the leak. The tiny hole was eventually found, patched, reinstalled and pumped up. I was so happy to have fixed that one.
On most repairs I was working as efficiently and as fast as I could to make sure that riders could get back on the road fast as if it was a race but this was not a race. I am sure most would appreciate a fast repair as no one, including myself wants to be stationary on the roadside on a wet and cold day.
As we got to about 10Km to the end, I was telling Garry that we shouldn’t find anymore breakdowns from here but within that final 5Km we encountered 3 more, two of them were simple patches but one was a broken rear wheel, 5 broken spokes, this wheel was in such bad shape it warped so much to one side that it was pushing against the brake pad. My initial conversation to this unlucky women was not good, I didn’t know what to tell her but “sorry this is not fixable on the roadside” she seemed very worried about getting to the finish line and home. I recommended that she wait for the bus to pick her up to the end but she didn’t want to wait as no one knew how long this bus would be. I did my best to make this bike rideable by removing the broken spokes but leaving the nippes in the rim and disconnecting the rear brake to allow more clearance for this warped wheel to turn. I told her that this bike is no longer safe to ride as the torque from the chain pulling on the rear cassette will just rip another spoke out but I said she can sit on the saddle and scoot along like a child’s coaster bike. Her face did not show any sign of relief but that was all I could have done for her on the roadside.
Garry and I rolled through the finish line together both feeling like we had done something useful with our skills, it was 17 repairs all up between Garry and myself, we never would have imagined to have helped so many. During a few repairs we were offered money which surprised both of us, we kindly denied and said to go and donate money to charity. Being able to put riders back on their bike on what is already a horrible cold and rainy day. It was smiles and the thank yous that we traded for our repairs.