Off the Rails: Derailleur Failure During 5K Cycling Time Trial

At today’s Nevada Senior Games 5K cycling time trial, I experienced my first ever “bike mechanical” — when something goes haywire with one’s bicycle. Luckily the issue wasn’t a flat tire, but one that played havoc with my cadence and confidence about racing well.

Last week, I checked out my older Trek FX 7.5, named Lil Raven, on the trainer (after inadvertently leaving my lightweight Trek FX Sport 6 in Utah – doh!). Shifting seemed smooth, chain looked fine, and rear brakes felt as quick as ever. Perhaps I didn’t ride it long enough or something jiggled out of place on the 35-minute drive out to the race location along the frontage road at Interstate 5 and Highway 93 interchange.

The morning started with greeting my long standing bike friends who I see once or twice a year at either the Nevada Senior Games or Huntsman World Senior Games’ cycling races. The 2019 National Senior Games champion, Donna Ingle, would continue to dominate women’s cycling with her ultra-fast times. Diana Ready pedaled like the goddess she is while still on the mend from a serious mountain biking race crash last year at the Huntsman Senior Games…which she will compete in once again! Erika Turner, powered by a smile as radiant as sunshine, may have passed me early on, but cycled back (spoiler alert!) to cheer me on during the final meters from the finish line. I also met a very speedy Patricia McCarver from Prescott, AZ. Hugs and congrats to these women (and the guys, too)!

On the way to the start line, Lil Raven decided to be the trickster character that corvidae are known for. When attempting to shift the front derailleur into the big ring, my left thumb felt zero resistance and the chain never moved. I shifted down into the little ring then back to the middle ring, and again failed to shift into the big ring.

“Oh kwap!” I muttered. I mulled it over, thinking I probably wouldn’t be in the big ring very long. The course did have a grade that grew steeper in the last mile. I figured I’d just stay in the middle ring and use the small “granny” ring as a last resort. With luck, if that stiff headwind gave me a nice tailwind, then I’d be okay. I settled into an easier gear to start my race with then adjust as needed.

About a mile into the race and with a fast (relatively speaking, of course) cadence and speed, the back derailleur suddenly went “froggy” on me. The gear jumped out into a lower gear then up a couple, down one, then another, back up two…all without any assistance from me. I told Lil Raven to knock off the shenanigans and to behave. I still had around two miles to go, and I didn’t want the chain to break or to walk the bike across the finish line.

After trying several gears, I found one (I think number 7) that stayed fairly stable for the next mile. When the course started getting steeper, I shifted down into the small granny front gear while pushing 7-something in the rear in order to keep my cadence going. The gears still leapfrogged a bit, but I made it across the finish line!

End Result: A Golden Personal Best

A PR despite “frogging” gearing

Despite all the leapfrogging gear issue, my final time of 18 min 5 seconds was (get this!) 4 minutes 2 seconds faster than 2017 and 5 minutes 28 seconds faster than 2016! Was it the tailwind (that none of us felt while waiting for our starts, or on the course), or have I just gotten a tad better at this? How much faster would I have been on my FX Sport 7?

I’m so glad I didn’t let the bike problem “psych” me out, that I stayed present and focused on making things work, and, of course, crossing the finish line.

That gold medal was definitely worth the effort!

Photo, top:Nevada Senior Games 5K cycling time trial gold medalist Donna Ingle (left) and silver medalist Diana Ready (right) in women’s 65-69. Photo by Be Better Coaching Services.