As riders, it’s inevitable that we think of the things that could go wrong with our bikes, and prepare by packing tools, learning about our bike, and bringing supplies — such as a GPS or map — to help get us out of situations.
However, there are some things you can’t quite prepare for. This year, I had a few interesting moments while racing that are worth noting. Moments that I couldn’t predict or expect.
I tried my hand at the Red Bull Outliers race again; I didn’t do well, but that’s beside the point. On the prologue day, while riding an endurocross course, I had the unfortunate luck of snapping my handlebar in half. Luckily, I was able to purchase a handlebar that night and prep for the upcoming main race the following day.
A few weeks later, I was at a local race called the Squealing Pig Hare Scramble in Vernon, B.C. It’s known for dusty and difficult terrain, as well as a night race the evening before the main race. I figured I might as well try the night race as it was something completely new to me.
The race started at 8 p.m.; the sky had a rosy glow as we took off. The plumes of dust engulfed us and minimized any visibility we may have had. About halfway through the race, I could hear something rattling in my bike. Not a minute after I ramped up for a hill climb my throttle had no tension — I had snapped my throttle cable. I was stuck in the middle of the woods, looking at an uphill both ways and pondering how I would get my bike out of the trails.
This was something trailside tools could not fix. I tried pushing my bike up the hill in a second of panic and soon realized that this was a futile attempt at getting my bike out. Instead, I worked it out in my mind — my throttle cable was broken, but there are still ways to provide the bike with power through the carb.
I turned up my idle screw on my carburetor all the way and soon had a high-revving bike that, while in gear, would provide just enough power to drive the rear wheel. Along with the high idle, I pushed my bike up hills and over logs until I had reached a logging road. I waited there for the sweep rider to let them know where I was and ask how to get back. As I waited for the sweep, I considered other options of how to get my bike out — an extra hand certainly would’ve helped. But I didn’t have that luxury considering the “everyone for themselves” race mentality.
The sweep arrived and it quickly became very clear that he wasn’t as concerned with collecting people as he was riding the course himself. I had to jump out in front of him just to catch his attention. When I asked him how I should go about getting back to camp, he had few answers and was just as lost as I was, only following the flagging tape in the trails. I was once again on my own. At 10:30 p.m. I began trying to navigate the logging roads to find my way back. I was tired, my headlamp had died, and my bike was continuously sounding worse the more I rode with the idle so high.
Although I didn’t have a GPS, I did have a phone, and while I didn’t have cell service, I was able to triangulate my location just enough to give a rough idea of where I was. I would take one road, only to find a dead end. Then another, and another. Finally, I got onto a road that led to a well-travelled logging road. As I rode, I would gain speed on the downhills and then promptly hop off my bike to push, trying to keep up my momentum as the idle itself wasn’t enough for the uphill slopes.
I finally made it back to my campsite at 12:30 a.m., worn out and exhausted. I was proud of myself for thinking on my feet, but it was an important reminder that anything can happen in the trails. This could’ve happened to a new or old bike and, aside from carrying an extra throttle cable with you, there aren’t a lot of great options for trail fixes.
In this situation, knowing my bike helped me the most. I thought if I could work backwards from the problem, I may find a solution, and I did once I got to the carb. It pays to be prepared, but pays even more when you know your bike, how to fix it and, in a sense, how to break it to get you back home safely.