Hands On Hands On

Hands On

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

All photos © VeloImages

Will Lachenauer was paralyzed from the trunk down in a motocross accident in 2008. A dedicated athlete, Will began competing in paracycling following his rehabilitation. In 2012 he won the US Paralympic selection qualifying race, all three domestic US cycling championships, and became the first H2 (injury classification) American to win an individual UCI World Cup paracycling medal in his category.

The following story is written by Will and tells of his experiences at the Redlands Bike Classic, his first race on SRAM RED eTap. He is currently training to compete in the 2016 Rio Games.

I just keep reminding myself “don’t forget your gear,” “don’t forget your gear.” It is the first race of the year which necessitates the continued recital of a morning checklist, “take your batteries, grab your number packet… prefill the bottles” loading my bike into the car and heading over to The Redlands Bike Classic to toe my first start line since July of 2015.

I have to be honest; I am as excited to use SRAM’s new RED eTap as I am to race. I have been waiting for electronic shifting to move into the 21st century and drop the wires; partly for reliability reasons, but mainly because I am a paracyclist riding a Maddiline Carbide handcycle powered by my arms. Handcycles present all kinds of drivetrain challenges as it is reclined and flipped over to allow for a front wheel drive and steering configuration. It makes running controls to your hands a bit of a challenge as they spin away to drive the bike. With cables connected to the constantly rotating grips, broken cables are pretty common. The easiest way to think about it is the next time you’re in a finish line sprint or drilling it to create a little separation, imagine shifting and braking with your big toe. eTap opens up a completely new level of control to paracyclists and infinite flexibility in every bike’s control setup.

The first stage of the Paracycling four day Omnium is a circuit race out in Yucaipa, CA and like the rest of the week, our start is mixed into the rest of the day’s racing. The start is a four percent drag for about 1k before it hits a little choke point and turns into a twisting residential section, which makes up most of the course and includes two short rises before returning to the start/finish. Climbing is a challenge simply because of the increased weight of our three wheeled bikes and less muscle to power it in the upper body. True to form, most handcycle races start with a blast like a mountain bike race. The short climb from the start that transitions to a fast decent is the perfect place to put the new eTap chainring shifting to the test. It definitely allowed for quicker access to the full range of my drivetrain. As expected, I needed all the help I could get this time of the year and end up clinging on for 3rd in my class behind a competitive field that includes a few rivals for the very limited spots on the US squad heading to Rio for the Paralympics this summer. 

The second day is a short time trial. The first section is pretty gentle and then pitches up to a turn around. The pavement is rough and became a cool part of the course. Laying on the frame, it shook all the fillings out of your head. It’s sort of like laying your head onto your top tube, it’ll rattle you. The course was an American version of a cobble road but with the sharper edges creating a high frequency vibration. Handcycles run a long chain, one and a half lengths, which have been known to be thrown in stiff crosswinds let alone bouncing down the road. There were a bunch of dropped chains on the day in the field and I was stoked not to be one of them.

The top of the course required me to move out of my big ring then turn the bike while jumping back up to the big ring for the buzz saw ride down to the finish line. This was my first time trial with eTap. I noticed two things: First, the chain stayed on and second, when looking back at the Garmin GPS file it is clear I was shifting more often and more efficiently while under power which helped keep my chain on the bike. The cog shifting and rear derailleur is so trick and visible and right there with the push of a Blip. However, the chainring shifting is where there is such a performance advantage that I really can’t imagine being on a handcycle without it now… I’m hooked. I finished second place in my injury class for the day and crossed the line right before the rain arrived in force. We had been dodging the forecast all week and tomorrow’s downtown criterium promised to be wet.

Racing in the rain on a handcycle at about 10 inches off the road surface with a front wheel scooping everything off the road and depositing it directly on your face is not my favorite. I think it is referred to as waterboarding in some circles. It also doesn’t help that our already poor braking becomes almost nonexistent. The upside is even if you lose your front wheel in the wet, you stay upright; the downside is if the backend steps out, there is nothing uglier than a paralyzed guy’s handcycle high-siding with body and bike spilling all over the road. The criterium is pretty short and I lose contact with the lead group after lap 3, never to reconnect. The chase group I hooked up with stayed together till the finish and I ended up sprinting for fourth.

The Redlands crowd is always great for the Saturday Criterium. I also got to finish my race, spin down and then have time to watch my teammates on the H24Cycling squad put together a great ride that had the whole team scrapping to keep position and be ready to fight for it on the last lap. Timothy Rugg was sixth after one of those crazy fast races that saw every effort to get away swallowed up by the Jamis team and a couple of other teams who kept it pinned for the whole 90 minutes. It was a great ride for the whole team and put Tim fourteenth in the GC with only the road race on Sunday to decide the GC order. I love watching bike racing and the more the USA cycling events incorporate paracycling categories the better. The handcycles will finish the last stage with a short course downtown criterium, while the Men’s field sorts out who the GC winner will be in their Road Race.

The final day for the Handcycle field on the short criterium ends with me sprinting for third. It was an okay showing for me and I will have to pick it up considerably as we move through the Rio Paralympic team qualification process and get closer to the games this summer. One thing I came away with though was confidence in my equipment and how significant eTap will be in reaching the top of the Rio podium. Even more significant is the impact eTap will have for paracyclists that need infinite flexibility in the placement of their controls. Amputees and diminished hand function riders can now shift both derailleurs with one hand, cycling for everyone. SRAM has definitely changed how cyclists control their bikes with eTap… again.

Follow Will and his team at: www.h24cycling.com 

Or connect directly with Will on Facebook or Twitter.

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