If you ever really want to care about the details, I recommend opening a business. You will begin pondering things you never pondered before. You will search out ways to improve your business that often involve improving yourself. This has been one of the greatest unexpected blessings of business ownership. And through the process of trying to improve the bicycle service and repair aspect of our business I was led to a quality control concept called the ‘bathtub curve’.
The bathtub curve is a simple concept, and states that a product’s failure rate (in this case a bicycle) is initially high but quickly decreases as issues and problems are identified and fixed. With bikes, this is working out the creaks, cable stretch, wheel tension, etc. Once these initial problems are fixed or discarded, the bike should function well for an extended period of time until it begins to near the end of its expected life cycle, at which point we would expect to see an increasing rate of failures again. If you graph this trend out, it looks a bit like the curve of a bath tub.
When it comes to mechanical service the Test Ride is the key to negotiating the bathtub curve’s initial drop off. At TriTown, we call a test ride a ‘Teddy Roger”, and after every bike tune I expect our mechanics to shout out “Teddy Roger!” as they walk a bike out the door for a test ride. I promise you that if your mechanic does not test ride the bikes he or she works on they are not a mechanic you want to rely upon. A mechanic can do everything right, they can follow the textbook, yet if it is not proven in the test ride then it doesn’t matter. Also, the test ride can bring to light other problems that may not have been apparent before but should be addressed nonetheless.
For the triathlete, the bathtub curve’s relevance to racing gear and equipment is obvious. We have all heard it before, “Don’t try anything new on race day.” Yet we do it all the time. Ironically the gear the athlete choses may work really well in the long run, but if they haven’t given the product time to prove its reliability and to work out the kinks, the product becomes a risky choice on race day.
When it comes to racing gear many triathletes make the mistake of ‘saving’ their equipment for race day and never give the equipment the chance to negotiate the first drop of the bathtub curve. I suspect a lot of the stress athletes tend to feel on race day has to do with the reality that a lot of the gear they’re about to be racing on is untested and unproven. Essentially the race itself becomes the “Teddy Roger”! Why not use that awesome racing gear from time to time in training and make sure it’s race worthy?
Here are some racing items many triathletes should consider using more often:
Race Wheels: Many triathletes falsely feel that their carbon fiber race wheels are fragile and not up to abuse of regular use. As an avid cyclocross racer I can promise you that your Zipps or HED wheels can take more of a beating than you’d expect! Try conducting your key workouts with race wheels, tires, and tubes. An added benefit is that you’ll learn the cornering, traction, and crosswind behavior of your wheels - making you that much more confident of a cyclist on race day. And finally, make sure your spare tube has the correct length valve in case you get a flat.
Aero Helmet: A key concern I hear from racers regarding aero helmets are with overheating. Despite the fashion faux pas at stake here, the wise triathlete will conduct key workouts with their aero helmet to best determine when temperatures are too hot for an aero helmet.
Race Shorts/Top: Many triathletes only wear their racing suit or kit on race day. Doing the occasional test workout in your race kit will bring to light any chaffing or temperature issues. It’s also a great idea to try wearing your race kit under your wetsuit for the occasional open water swim to determine if it’s restricting your stroke or chaffing in any way.
Race Day Nutrition: This needs to be fully tested and proven before race day. Again, race paced workouts are key here. Swim/bike brick workouts are best from my experience, especially when the bike is at or near race pace and duration.
Check out our blog next week for more “Lessons from a Bike Mechanic”.