Sunday, 3 June 2012

On the other side of the fence on the Tour de l'Île

Like many years past, I was in the Tour de l'Île this year. Unlike previous years, I went as a volunteer bike mechanic. A friend of mine who has been volunteering for the Tour for many years talked me into it. (In fact, he has been doing it for enough years, that a picture of him is featured in the volunteers' manual!)
In honour of my role, I eschewed my semi-"traditional" Tour de l'Île corroplast moose antlers. Instead, I made a corroplast "wrench" to simultaneously "decorate" and announce my particular function as a volunteer. People got a huge kick out of it. While I was waiting at the start, someone took my photograph. (The above picture isn't it.)

The team of volunteers I was in was the last group of bike mechanics to start the tour. Consequently, we spent well over an hour standing by the side of Parc Avenue wielding bicycle pumps. A number of tour participants asked us to pump up their tires for them. One of them had a very odd-looking valve, not unlike a Presta valve on his rear tire that we weren't quite sure how to operate. However, we could fill it using the Presta valve opening on my pump. The bike had been brought from Europe by the significant other of the rider. With the benefit of a computer, I now think it was a Dunlop valve.

In addition to pumping up tires (including my own) while waiting, I also replaced an inner tube and adjusted the wire on a front derailleur. I also used the time to clear my chain which was grungy after a week that featured a lot of rain.

The weather forecast called for showers and quite cool temperatures. The predicted high was no more than 15. This may explain why the turnout seemed quite low and why the demand for mechanics' services wasn't very high on the whole. My theory is that the "soft core" cyclists are more likely to need help and to be dissuaded from attending by a bad weather forecast. Conversely, the more hardcore types will be the opposite. 

Not that everyone in today's Tour de l'Île were die-hard cyclists: at around the 16 km mark, I spoke to a mother with a young-ish (about 8) girl whom I had noticed biking along quite determinedly in her pink shirt. The mother (who looked slightly Hispanic) wanted to know about whether there would be places to take a break and if so how far the first one would be. I was able to say inform her that there were several breaks and that the first one would be in just a few kilometers. I got the sense that it was there first time doing the Tour and the mother wasn't sure about their ability to do it. I did my best to set her at ease, by saying that she could (and should) take her time, and that there was a drop-out service should they need it. I hope they finished. While they were keen, they weren't hardcore.

Contrary to my expectations and the forecast, the weather was actually very nice with sunny skies and no rain. The former has sunburned my arms and face as I didn't pack sunscreen! I thought it was going to be a wet slog, and went in a merino shirt which I kept on putting on and taking off under the red mechanics t-shirt they gave me.

The need for my services was relatively light. I really only helped in the first third of the route. First, a man asked me to raise the seat on his son's bike. A little later, I replaced a man's inner-tube as his friends and family watched. In the second third, I shielded a young father as he pushed his son's stroller across the route. In the last section, I pointed out to an older woman that a strap on her saddle bags was hitting her rear spokes and jobbered a solution using a bit of old inner tube.

I stopped for a breather at the first relais. As I walked back towards the course, I asked one of the participants about the yellow, blue and red flag he had on the back of his bike. It turned out it was a Venezuelan flag, (I'd had the idea it was from South America) and he was on vacation from that country. I kept on coming up beside him during the rest of Tour, including once when I had to tell him that wearing earphones on a bike was against the law. I also jokingly warned him about being careful about escapees as we passed the Bordeaux Prison. He commented that it looked five-star compared to prisons in Venezuela.

I had lunch at the second relais. As I left, I saw a pedal car, and chatted with the owner. Thankfully, he wasn't participated in the Tour as if anything went wrong, I suspect very few of the mécanos (myself included) would be able to help him.
We went around the Olympic Stadium.

As always, some people go wild with decorating. Here are some examples.
 Here are some angels
 Some people taking their flowers for a ride
And someone with a (fake) bird on her helmet.

Given the relative shortage of people in need of mechanical assistance, there was a tendency to bunch up. Near the end, I saw my friend and another 4 mechanics standing around one client. I stopped as well to make a quip about how many mechanics were needed to help one person. J.-P., my friend, replied that unless I had a spare derailleur, none of us would be of much use. I observed that we had just passed La Cordée (the outdoor store where I had bought die Fleddermoose) and they might have a derailleur for sale. My suggestion was considered but not taken up.
I bumped into J.-P. and his gang at the end. I enlisted one of them to take my picture from behind so as to show off the wrench along with my mécano bénévélo t-shirt. J.-P. is the figure at the left of the picture.

Not a bad day on the whole.

Anyway, time to start getting ready for the next section of AMUAM JuNITO.

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