I am nocturnal by nature. The "on the road by 6 am" requirement
was particularly difficult for me, but it did net me my favorite
assignment, the first pit stop. (I like it because you get some of the more interesting problems). The ride had some particularly challenging hills, especially towards the end of the first day, and the start of the second. The bikes were a truly mixed lot. There were at least 20 tandems (none of which required my ministrations), 3 recumbents, and a pair of armcycles. The "half bikes" ranged from a 3 speed, and a varied collection of 70's bike boom road bikes, and entirely too many "department store specials" to Ti framed exotica, both road and MTB. The riders ranged from "team caffeine", that rode a disciplined paceline, and blew off the water and lunch stops, arriving in camp by 11 am, to those that were ready to be sagged at about the same time. At times the riders stretched over 70 miles of road.
The route was a mixed bag. There were lots of quiet rural roads, but the ride was also routed along the main drag of some of the larger cities and towns, to bring them into contact with lots of people. The sign crew was quite thorough, and a local women's motorcycle club provided corner workers.
Many of the riders decorated their bikes and helmets, stuffed animals and drag queens were popular. One rider covered his bike with fake fur. A tandem was covered in painted daisies. One of the corner workers was out there in a cow suit. Jackie O's ghost put in an appearance, he wandered around camp in a tight white sequined dress, with angel wings, handing out strings of faux pearls. He also found a perfect pink A line hat and all, and was standing at the New York border, greeting riders.
I did notice an interesting trend, and buyers of "mid range" bikes should
take note. In order to meet the price points, yet have "brand name"
parts in the drivetrain, corners need to get cut. It seems that a
popular place theses days is the bottom bracket, as it is tucked out of
sight. It was not uncommon to find a bike with an LX external drivetrain,
and an $8. clone of a cartridge bottom bracket hiding out of sight.
We had at least 10 of them fail, on bikes that were under 2 years old.
Usual failure was collapse of the sealed bearing on the left side.
It wouldn't seize, but the assembly would develop 1/2" of
lateral play, which is hell on the shifting.. (we did have two seize however). My bottom bracket tap set was popular with the other mechanics, who found that the pounding administered to the shell required them to chase the threads before they could get a replacement in.
We were very lucky, and the threatened rainstorms didn't arrive. Last year, there was one day of quite heavy rain, while the riders were going thru the hilliest part of the course (that year also featured a near tornado just prior to closing ceremonies). We had 300 bikes needing new brake pads in camp that night. (we ran out of replacements last year. This year, we had a case of pads, and I only remember installing one set).
In one of the pre-ride discussions, I didn't realize that the crew leader was kidding in our discussion of just how much frame repair gear I should bring. The joke was on him, when by sheer luck, I had the correctly angled dropout to replace the one that a pothole claimed. I had about 10 people watch me braze the new one in. As far as I know the rider finished on the repair. (he stopped into the first pit the next day to tell me it was working well) (btw: Ted, how should I get the "ornament" to you?).
In the spirit of decoration, the techies made a "mojo" -- starting with a broken rim, some of the particularly spectacular mangled parts got hung from the rim, usually by a broken spoke. (It wasn't as morbid as it seems, the parts represented bikes that had been ridden away after our ministrations -- it documented successes). We attached it to two broom sticks, and carried it into closing ceremonies. I welded the broken dropout bits onto it.
One part didn't get on the mojo, the "wheel from hell". A rather
beefy rider (offensive line material), on a department store bike, had
bent an axle. We installed a new one, and sent him on his way.
He stopped at every water stop, and successive mechanics re-adjusted the
cones, which seemed to refuse to stay adjusted. Finally some leaking
grease on the inside of the hub led to the discovery that the pressed in
place hub flange had broken free, and the hub was changing width
with each pedal stroke. Since the rider was determined to finish (and the sponsor that was supposed to be providing loaner bikes had a ownership change at the last minute), a wheel was borrowed from another bike, and he finished the day. While he was heading in, a wheel to fit was found, and it was installed when he got to camp. If you can, imagine a linebacker running around the repair tent hugging every mechanic present. Several of us trampled the dead wheel, lest it escape. I thought I had quartered it (while I had the torch out, it seemed like the right thing, as we didn't have a stake to put thru
its hub) but it turned out that I had gotten a different trashed wheel.
Lots of amazing human stories: The "chicken lady" (chicken motif on
the bike, with a feathered helmet, and a messenger bag of rubber chickens)
climbed each of the long climbs several times. He would tow or push
some of the folks having a difficult time, then when he got to the top,
would ride back down, shouting encouragement, turn back around at the bottom,
and help another batch of riders up the hill. Then there were all the signs
encouraging riders that people along the
route erected. The city of Bridgeport was particularly good in this regard, some group put up a bunch of "burma shave" like sequences at regular intervals along the route. The best part was the last mile of the route in Bridgeport, where thousands of residents lined the streets, and cheered for every rider (and crew truck) that passed. And I won't forget the steady stream of bikes that passed on either side of the crew procession, on a closed to traffic 8th ave.
Yes, it was a lot of work, and it was great to get home to a toilet that flushed, lights that didn't mean a noisy generator, and a bed I didn't have to inflate first. Right now, my only concern is how am I going to top frame repair when I do it next year. Electricity for a milling machine would be hard to arrange...
I slept for most of Monday.