Mechanical Monday: Tips for the Pits

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Pitting: doing it right can be just as tough as racing. © Cyclocross Magazine

Pitting: doing it right can be just as tough as racing. © Cyclocross Magazine

Pitting can be tricky business: there’s always the chance that your racer will have a grievous mechanical issue, there are hand-offs, you may have a bike hurtling at you at ridiculous speeds, you’ll get muddy, wet or cold, or all three, and when the course is muddy, you’re going to be in high demand. Just got roped into pitting? This is the article for you. And even if you’ve been pitting occasionally, reading this might give you some tips that could save your racer’s race.

by Chris Mayhew

These tips are admittedly high level, like if you were pitting for Myerson or another pro. Generally speaking, just showing up matters an awful lot. Seriously, when it comes down to it, being a “human kickstand” in the pit is a huge help. But on the other hand, if you’re going to pit, you might as well know the full thing, right?

What to wear:

  • Clothing you can get dirty and wet
  • Boots and/or waders. I picked up waders for $14 at the WalMart in Providence, Rhode Island, in 2005 and still have them.
  • Warm clothing (and spare warm clothing for post-race if it’s wet!)
  • Team clothing of rider you are pitting for if possible.
  • If warm, at least shoes you can run in.

Tools to bring:

  • Y-wrench
  • SoulRun Pro Tool roll!
  • Multi tool
  • Some food
  • Chain tool
  • Brake and shifter cables
  • L wrenches in 4, 5, and 6 millimeters
  • Pliers
  • Brushes and towels for cleaning bikes
  • Chain lube
  • (Stu Thorne carries a shifter and claims to be able to change in one lap. Something to think about.)
A muddy day means the pressure washers are going full steam in the pit. © Cyclocross Magazine

A muddy day means the pressure washers are going full steam in the pit. © Cyclocross Magazine

What to Do:

  • One hour before the race, check in with your rider. See what bike is going to the pit, what else is going to the pit (pump, shoes, tools, wheels).
  • See if the pit bike needs any attention. (Wash? Prep?)
  • Acquire team clothing if possible.
  • Talk with your rider to see if they have any preference on: which pit to use, what gearing they want, if they think they might pit, if they want the bike moving or not, and when and where they’d like you to stand.
  • Scope out the pit ahead of time. Are there roots/debris on the entry or exit?
  • Are there wheels in the way? Or bikes? Clear a space if you need to, the pits are usually a mess.
  • Follow your rider to the line.
  • Plot a path from the line to the pit and figure out how long you can stay at the line, but make it to the pit before they get there. You may acquire the team clothing you’re going to wear on the line.
  • When you get to the pit, figure out your place. You know about where you rider will be. Don’t shoulder Stu Thorne out of the way for the best spot. You may even slot in behind Stu when his spot opens up as he moves to the other side.
  • Figure out where you can first see or hear your rider. They’ll probably give you a heads up before they actually get to the pit.

    Nick Keough comes in for a bike handoff. © Cyclocross Magazine

    Nick Keough comes in for a bike handoff. © Cyclocross Magazine

  • When your rider comes by, don’t cheer. You need to hear what they have to say. (“Flat,” “Gears,” “Crash.”) Hopefully, if they do come into the pit, they will say something and not drop the bike off like a dead mouse on the porch.
  • If you know your rider is coming in, ask someone to catch the bike for you. If you can’t do that, don’t worry about the bike. Your rider should put it down as best they can. Your responsibility is the hand off.
  • Speaking of hand offs, if you’ve never pitted for the racer before, consider doing a couple of hand-offs while he or she is warming up.
  • Once your rider goes by, move to the other side. The pits are busy and you need to be out of the way.
  • The pit is not the place to hang out. It’s business and stuff happens quick. Help or get out of the pit.
  • After their last pass, head back to the line. They may want their jacket back or a fresh bike to cool down on.
  • Get your dolla dolla bills! You should get something for pitting.

One family that has pitting down to a science is definitely the Keoughs, who, with their own pressure washer, work the pit together like a well-oiled machine. In this clip, Luke Keough talked to us after Nor’Easter (a muddy race where pitting made all the difference) on the importance of pitting, and practicing for pitting:

Tips to add? Let us know in the comments!



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+1 On your comments. Thanks for the additions!


Couple of things

First I am sure it is just an oversight but a pump/pressure gauge is something I consider essential in the tools list. I also like a pair of screw drivers over a multi tool but that maybe a personal preference.

For a muddy race I also like a bucket of soapy water as the wash like can be a problem if the site has limited water access with lots of bikes queuing for washing.

Around the not cheering item. I understand and support that idea, but often find instead of just waiting for information from the rider there is often useful information that can be given to the rider. From experience some riders really like small pieces of information like what place they are in or time splits.

I really try to train my riders for slightly more information on hand off still in the short few word phrases: more pressure, less pressure, front shifting, rear shifting, clean bike... Anything is better than just a bike change unless the problem is readily obvious because I really hate getting a bike and wasting time trying to troubleshoot why they dropped the bike when the time could be spent fixing the issue so the bike is ready to go back out.

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