Friday, December 14, 2012

The Equipment Question

Cycling is an equipment intensive sport. It’s fun to have all the geeky bells and whistles and show them off to your friends on the group rides. If you’ve been good, maybe the new wheels you’ve been wanting will appear under the Festivus pole. If not, go support your local bike shop. Everyone tweaks their equipment somehow to make it fit their needs whether it’s the position of their hoods on the drops or running brakes loose. Just like you, my bike is set up for my needs. Sure there’s that whole one-handed thing so maybe my bikes are more customized than other people’s. More than any other question, people ask me “How do you shift and brake?” Here’s some of the technical stuff to answer that question.

“Do you shift? You must only use one brake, then.” Sometimes, I want to answer “No, I ride a single speed and power slide every turn” to see the look on people’s faces. Yes, I shift, and no, I use two brakes. (For the purpose of this column, I’ll focus only on my adaptations not any other type of para-cycling equipment.) I have all of the shifting and braking set up on the right side of my bars. This type of modification is the most common adaptation in para-cycling. The front derailer is operated by a TT shifter plugged into the drop on standard road bars. I do, in fact, operate both brakes and it’s not on a hope and a prayer. A BMX part called a cable splitter allows me to run two brake cables to a single lever.  That’s it. A lot of the time people don’t notice that my bike is any different. (The only modification to my TT bike is the brake splitter. The shifters on aerobars are close enough to use them normally.)

My riding hand (the fake one) was designed on a napkin and made by a friend, in his workshop, out of some pieces of scrap metal. It’s simple, reliable and lightweight. All I have to do is unscrew the hook on my everyday arm and screw in the riding hand. Boom, ready to rock. The C shaped design of the hand allows me to move quickly from the hoods to the drops or the tops of the bar; it doesn’t lock in or attach to the bars in any way. Prosthetics are custom designed for each individual and are often made of carbon fiber. They’re lightweight and pretty durable although there is lasting evidence of crashes on the elbows of some of my old arms.

This is the only way I’ve ever ridden a bike so it’s difficult to say how different it is from a run of the mill setup. I speculate that riding with a prosthetic would be similar to holding a stick in your hand and controlling your bike with that- you can feel what’s going on but it’s obviously not a real hand. Bike handling skills and drills are things that I try to work on regularly and I encourage everyone to do the same.

So, there you have it. Hopefully this answers the equipment question for you. Don’t be shy, ask any question you may have be it about equipment, training, racing, traveling or real life- nothing is off limits! Thanks for reading.

Bar end shifter

Brake splitter

A view from the cockpit.

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