Words by Simon Stewart
I rounded a corner and fired right into a shit show: The bike was upside down, the racer was frantic and, from what I could initially see, the drivetrain was properly banjaxed.
“Hey there, patrol here, need some help, buddy?”
He described some sort of derailleur trauma that I couldn’t quite get my head around as I was staring at his twisted metal sculpture. The only thing coming to mind was how the hell he’d managed to get the beans above the frank: The lower pulley was above the upper pulley and the chain looked like a cobra about to strike. At this point we ended up in this pseudo doctor-patient relationship:
“It’s not as bad as it looks, really. I’ve seen much worse.”
“Can you save it?”
“It’s going to be touch and go. I’ll do my best — might have to amputate … ”
This scene plays out daily for the BC Bike Race patrol. I couldn’t salvage this racer’s derailleur, however, and ended up making it a singlespeed. His day was saved, albeit made considerably harder, but he finished on his bike. He found me later that evening and was overly thankful. It’s one of the reasons we all do it; helping people is incredibly gratifying and is a driving force for the entire bike patrol team. Stage racing is a massive commitment for most people—lots of time and money not just for the race, but also for the training and immense preparation that go into it. For the majority of the field it’s a bucket-list event, so when shit goes pear shaped for them out on course it can be seriously demoralizing. We ride up and, more often than not, put the pieces back together, high five ’em and turn their day around.
The patrol team is made up of some of the most accomplished riders in British Columbia; there’s a provincial champion, a Red Bull Rampage alumnus, a couple of guides, a frame builder, two of Whistler’s most reputable and experienced instructors, a course designer and a bike-hostel owner, not to mention the guys who terrorize the local B.C. race circuit. They’re all total haunches and I feel fortunate to be a member of the team. I once was helping a racer sort out his balled-up tire when he said to me, “Hey, I heard everyone on patrol has won this race before and you all do, like, twice the mileage every day, right?” I responded, “Yeah, that’s fairly accurate” while chuckling to myself, thinking, What’s the harm in stoking the myth? Little did he know that I was feeling a bit flexed myself; coming off a broken femur the previous summer, I was way off the back, especially considering how strong the rest of the patrol was. I was hiding it well, though, employing many tactics learned through years of guiding. I even pulled out a few new ones, like the fake radio call to pull off the trail and let a fast crew that was breathing down my neck go by.
I’ve worked ski patrol as well and there’s a special bond there that feels very similar to how it is on bike patrol. I think it comes from the underlying mission of helping people. We give each other a lot of crap and often make the joke that you need to be “patrol fit”—a combination of bike fitness coupled with the ability to still crush beers night after night. It’s not all roses, though: You have to carry a heinously heavy pack; if you’re out on forward patrol to check the course marking, you have to pin it to stay ahead of the pros; you stop and start all day and rarely find a rhythm; and you can be out there until the last racer crosses the finish line. But damn is it satisfying work.
I think stage races promote a much greater sense of community than one-day events. In the case of the BC Bike Race, it’s like a roving village that winds its way through the breathtaking landscape of British Columbia, allowing plenty of time to actually get to know people and enjoy the comradery. If you’re even remotely considering a stage race, take my advice: Pull the trigger and just do it. And if you decide to choose the BC Bike Race, take solace in the fact that there’s a team of badass motherf’ers out there to take care of you.
Ed. Note: This column originally appeared in Dirt Rag 201.