– By Chris Carmichael –
For the pros, quick wheel changes become second nature, but it’s actually a multi-step process you have to learn and practice in order to get right. Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Get a flat tire.
This is the easy part, as it typically happens without any input from you. Unfortunately it also tends to happen when the race is going full-throttle and when you feel like you have the best legs of your career.
Step 2: Get your hand up.
There are two reasons to get your hand in the air. The first is to signal the officials’ car immediately behind the group that there’s something wrong so they can announce that fact on race radio. If you’re lucky, they will notice from the way you’re riding that you have a flat tire and announce that too. The hand you raise makes a difference. If it’s your rear wheel that flat, you raise your right hand, which obviously means you raise your left hand for a front flat. With radio communication directly between the riders and the team car these days, this is becoming less important because you can just tell them which wheel is flat. However, if you’re going to be getting a wheel from neutral support, the hand signal is still important.
Step 3: Prepare the bike.
If you have a flat rear tire, you shift into the smallest cog on the rear wheel in order to make the current wheel drop out of the rear end more easily and make it easier for the mechanic to get the new one on. Whether it’s a front or rear wheel change, you flip the release lever on the brake so the pads move away from the rim.
Step 4: Remove the offending wheel
If you have time before the mechanic arrives, flip the quick release lever and remove the wheel from the bike. Remember to hold on to the bike. Sounds funny, but the mechanic is completely focused on getting the new wheel on and secured, not holding the bike upright. If you hold onto the bike, he can use both hands to get the wheel change done faster and get you on your way. And don’t hurl the wheel you just took off the bike, no matter how frustrated you may be. Oh, and if you’re getting a new bike instead of just a wheel, grab your water bottles off the bike you’re leaving behind. There’s nothing worse than realizing you’re back on your way but now you’re also totally without water.
Step 5: Get started again.
Staying calm is the key to getting going again quickly. Inexperienced riders start panicking because even the fastest wheel change seems to take forever when the pack is leaving you behind, and then they hop on the bike and flounder around looking for the pedals as if they’ve never ridden a bike before. Take a deep breath, get one foot on the pedal and shove off. Let the mechanic give you a push and then focus on using the caravan to get back to the peloton.
When everything goes smoothly, a wheel change takes just seconds to complete, but it has to be practiced to happen like that. Beginner race mechanics run drills, and experienced guys get their pre-season practice during the teams’ winter training camps. Pro riders get enough practice with wheel changes during races, but it’s a useful process for amateur riders to work through before they enter a road race that will have a neutral support vehicle following the pack. A flat tire doesn’t have to be the end of your day, but it can be if you completely bungle a wheel change.
• Chris Carmichael coached Lance Armstrong throughout his 15-year cycling career. This year he’s providing commentary on the race for PezCycling News and offering a special Coaching + 12-month PowerTap Payment Plan promotion during July. For more information on Carmichael Training Systems’ coaching, the free Do the Tour…Stay at Home training program, and the free CTS Tour de France Newsletter,