The scene at the Shimano neutral support tent on course during each stage of BC Bike Race is often the stuff legends are made of. Retail Service and SMS lead Ben Pye has been managing this program since 2010 and has more than a few tales of unreal repairs that have saved races – and one that even led to a marriage proposal.
BC Bike Race, now in it's 13th edition fields 600 international racers yearly. Many of these participants are seeing BC singletrack for the first time.
In a hectic environment that can see racers from as many as 40 different countries in one race, Ben wades through language barriers and racer anxiety to find solutions that would make MacGyver envious.
Thinking outside the box while under pressure has become his specialty. “I have to try and figure out a way to get some guy's seat post to stay up or try and figure out a way to have his chain not keep falling off, with the limited resources I've got on the side of a mountain in British Columbia. Thankfully many times, Mother Nature provides. I've probably got four or five pictures of dropper posts that are propped up with a wooden splint and held in place with medical tape provided by the medical staff onsite.”
This is part of mountain biking, yes but hopefully both rider and bike are ok after a small OTB. Nice to know there are two Shimano Tech zones out there on the long courses each day at BC Bike Race. It’s Not Just Boy Scouts Who Are Prepared.
Coming into the event with years of experience as a World Cup mechanic – where he worked exclusively with current and top-level Shimano products and had a stocked trailer to pull from – preparing for life in the field at BC Bike Race was a challenge for Ben. He would need to fit everything required to service 600 racers with bikes and components that range wildly in brands, age, and condition into the back of an SUV.
“When I started, I think I had a couple duffel bags full of derailleurs and brake sets, and that sort of thing, and realized I was carrying around a lot of stuff, it's not that I didn't need it, it's that in situations like that, you never bring what you actually do need,” says Ben. “You can't bring everything. And it's usually the situation where I brought five right-hand shifters and the guy breaks the left one.”
Nearly a decade later and Ben has refined what goes into the field with him. In addition to bringing neutral support loaner bikes and wheels, he now brings fewer entire components, favouring small parts instead. “I used to bring five derailleurs. Now I think I bring one or two derailleurs, but ten sets of pulley wheels. It’s the pulley wheel that typically falls out. The derailleur becomes useless, but you don't want to replace an entire derailleur, just because the pulley wheel fell out.”
He has also put thought into packing the most universal of parts. “I can fit an 11-speed pulley wheel or a 10-speed pulley wheel into a 9-speed derailleur and vice versa. But I can't make a 10-speed derailleur work on an 11-speed bike or a 9-speed bike.”
No matter what he packs, however, there will always be a mechanical that requires something he doesn’t have. That’s when Ben’s creativity and generosity shine. During his first year at BC Bike Race, Ben pulled apart his own bike in order to keep a rider moving. The Sechelt to Landale stage is known especially for its final descent – a 7 kilometre flowy and fast downhill. So, when the racer showed up to the Shimano tent at Aid Station 2 with a broken crank, Ben was happy to make sure he got to experience it, “I gave my crank to that guy. He was the first cyclist from Israel I had ever met. What an amazing place to ride a mountain bike, I'd never even fathomed you could mountain bike there. I thought that was so rad.”Cupid’s Wooden Shock?
When Ben’s carefully curated selection of parts and even his own bike can’t fix the problem at hand, he goes foraging. “During my second year at BC Bike Race, a guy came through with a blown shock. It was the second half of the stage on Day 1. He walked his bike into the Aid Station and leaned over and said to me, ‘I’m trying to impress this girl, you have to fix my bike.’” It turned out that the two had met online and their first date was at BC Bike Race.
“I got out a saw from my toolbox, cut a branch up, and whittled it into the shape of the shock, and then attached it where his shock would be with zip ties and tape, and that sort of thing. And they were able to finish the last 18 kilometers to the finish line.”That Little Orange Plastic Thing Saves the Day.
While many of the repairs that Ben has made over the years start to blend together, one of the few that stand out was the repair of a derailleur using a brake pad spacer. “I typically have some of these spacers in my toolbox and this guy had broken half of the carbon cage off his derailleur. Every time he went over a bump, the chain would fall off the pulley as the piece of derailleur cage that typically holds the chain in place was missing. Considering this is mountain biking…not good!”
By the time the racer got to Ben, he said that his chain was falling off every 50 to 100 feet and he’d stopped about 100 times to fix it. “He was at his wit's end and going nuts. I looked at the bike and I assessed what the problem was, and then looked at my toolbox at my spare tools and spare parts, wondering what in here can solve this issue? And I found this little orange piece of plastic Disc brake pad spacer that had a hole in it, that looked like I'd be able to get the screw from a pulley wheel through it.”
Unfortunately, the hole wasn’t quite the right size, so Ben took a round file to it, spinning it until the hole was big enough for the bolt. “He got to the finish line no problem, he said it didn't drop off once the entire time. and he took the bike to Obsession Bikes (the base camp mechanics) and they put the proper derailleur cage back on.”Taste of Home.
Ben’s commitment to helping the racers complete their seven day often goes beyond the technical services he provides. It is usually the same fifty or so people at the back of the pack each day that he and his team get to know. They stop for longer at the aid stations and usually need more in the way of encouragement than mechanical help.
“I remember this South African woman from a couple years ago, she was beat down. She’d had a crash, so the medical staff checked her over. We put her bike in the stand and made sure it was good. We lubed her chain, checked everything, took some air out of the tires because they were probably too hard. I'm South African as well, and I happened to have some biltong [South African version of beef jerky] with me. All South Africans love it. You're not officially South African if you don't. It's like a welcome taste of home. I offered it to her. And just the smile on her face – she could tell that she could keep going. And then every day after that, we waited for her to come up and when she showed up, I'd cut her a couple pieces of biltong and it'd give her the energy to keep going. It's one of the greatest feelings about doing aid support at BC Bike Race, those last 50 people that need the most encouragement.”
Here Ben and a BCBR Moto team member are going all out to assist a racer in need. A supreme effort was required, going well above and beyond the call of duty to facilitate a racers finish! Ben loads a spare Shimano bike onto the back of BCBR Moto team member, the racer in need was too far from the tech zone and not willing to give up, neither were they!
Ben and his team play an integral and exhausting role each day, leaving to set up before the racers have eaten breakfast and often returning to camp while they are already eating dinner. But they enjoy their work and over the years have developed quite the team with their Aid Station 2 community. The whole set up includes a food and hydration station, a medical tent, and, of course, a Shimano neutral support tent. “When the food truck arrives, all of us put in a hand to put the tents out, and put up all the tables, and set up the water system. In the hour or so we wait before the riders come through there's a lot of stuff happening. In previous years, when it was really, really cold, we'd go off and gather wood for a fire.”
After an average for 9 hours out on course, Ben and the team will return to basecamp and need to locate the wheels and bikes that have been loaned out during the day, then dinner and beer, and then onto looking after the Shimano athletes who are competing.
Even with the long days and hard work, Ben is energized when talking about the event. “[These stories], that's why I was there, and that's why I'm there every year. I just want to help these people finish this amazing journey.”A Little Advice from an Expert.
Always carry a spare derailleur hanger with you. “It's designed to break to save your frame and save your derailleur. But the number of rides that have been ruined because one of those things did its job properly. . .”
Clean your bike! “Cleaning is something that's so often missed or neglected. Especially at the tail end of the race. Those guys, they're on their bike for seven hours, and they get back to the finish line, and they find their tent, and they drag on some damp clothes because it's rained for the last two days, then they have to go find some food. The last thing they want to do is spend half an hour cleaning their bike. By day three or day four, that dirt has just worn their drive train out, or their derailleur pulleys are so gunked up now that they won't turn anymore, and that leads to a failure of something else. Cleaning your bike also gives you an opportunity to examine it, so you can check it for cracks, or you can check your brake pads to see if there's any life left in them. Then you can avoid not having brakes halfway through day two, because you wore them through in day one but just didn't check them!”
Ryan Sweeney, Shimano Canada Tech Rep, once raced the BC Bike Race and suffered some misfortune. He now works alongside Ben at the on-course Neutral Service.
BC Bike Race 2019 runs July 5-12, 2019, Shimano will be back on course saving bikes and offering moral support where needed. A big THANK YOU from all the racers who have been saved from long walks and missed opportunities to whoop and holler.
Words: Danielle Baker
Photo Credit: Dave Silver, Margus Riga, Todd Weselake