Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How To - Pin Your Race Number

Ah, bike racing.

Such a fun, exciting sport. It's fun to watch races, watch the field approach, riders pedaling furiously, the occasional attacks up the side, the strung out chase, the different expressions on the racers' faces. Then they start streaming by, the drivetrain and nowadays the aero wheel noises almost drowning out the thrumming of the tires on the ground. As the peloton-created breeze picks up, you can smell the embrocation, the heat rub, and you get overwhelmed by an overload of bodies flying past as you lose focus on the individual racers. And then...


You hear the flapping numbers.

Oh, the agony.

There's only one thing you need to do when you pin on your number.

Okay, I take that back. There are five.

1. Pin it on the correct side. If you have a lot of numbers, usually at big races, put them all in the correct places. It's bad form to have your number on the left when everyone else has it on the right. If you forget to ask and can't see the finish area, look around and take a survey of the racers warming up near you. Are the numbers on the left or right side? Once you've counted at least five on the same side, start pinning on that side. It's a safe bet. If you see one dissenter, count a few extra just in case.

2. Pin them right-side up. You won't believe how many guys pin their numbers on upside-down, even after years or, scarily, decades of racing. I have to admit that twice (!!) last year year I had to look around quickly and quickly re-pin my number. Yeah, I got afflicted with Upside Down Number.

3. Pin the number so it doesn't come off. A good fall may rip your number right off, but it should take that and nothing less. Don't be the guy riding along with their number held on by one desperate pin.

4. Pin the number so it doesn't Parachute. That's a technical term for "slowing you down", aka "flapping number syndrome". I'm sure you've driven down the highway and seen that vehicle cruising in the slow lane, a mattress on the roof, front end arched up like the mattress is doing yoga. It's not efficient. And if your number parachutes, it's not efficient. Make sure it doesn't.

5. Use enough pins. I used to think 4 was okay, 6 preferable, but one year I decided to step it up to 9. I figure 9 was enough, but then I saw this post, where he uses 10. Now I feel like I'm in This is Spinal Tap. I think I need 11.

A well pinned (over pinned?) number. It did not flap. Leading edge is to the right. 8 pins. I provided 2, promoter provided 6.
Note: Do NOT wrinkle the number. My number is wrinkled because I pulled this out of the car after the race.

Some tips:

Don't use rusty old pins. They ruin your jersey, discolor the number, and will give you weird diseases if you poke yourself with them. Toss rusty pins (or those with rusty tips) into the metal recycling bin. Use shiny dry pins. If you're saving pins, save them in a dry spot. Unpin your number after you race, put the pins in something dry. You have a little tupperware thing? Grab one of those "Do Not Eat" silica packets, toss into a beat up tupperware, and put your pins in there.

Also, try and bring your own pins. Promoters sometimes run out of pins. I know we did one year at Bethel. That's why we have about 20,000 pins now (15 or more boxes of 1440 pins each). Every year I think, "Well, just in case, we should order more." If I see less than 14,400 pins, I feel uncomfortable. If you see a plethora of pins, help yourself. If not, use sparingly and dig into your own reserve - the promoter may have missed a little detail in the frantic rush to hold the race. In the above picture I actually had very few pins in my bag (I stopped with the tupperware a long time ago - now they sit in a normally dry pocket in my gear bag), so I had to rely on the promoter for pins. Sorry, and thanks.

The trick to prevent flapping is to pin the number so that you pull the number flat when you put your jersey on. If your pins are too close together, it'll flap. A long time ago I saw a teammate slip his jersey over the car steering wheel. Properly "stretched out" (not too much, but not bunched up), he pinned his number on.

If I am pinning my own number, I'll typically lay my jersey flat on a table, the road, a hood, something, anything. Then, being careful not to pin through the other side of the jersey, I'll pin my number. Start at one side (like the leading edge), doing the top and bottom. Then flatten out the number to see where it'll end up. Don't block your pocket if you need it for anything - food, drink, keys, money, whatever. If you're doing a road race this is especially important.

Make sure the number is legible once you put your jersey on. Yeah, it's great if it's not flapping, but if it's in your armpit it won't do anyone any good.

Double pin the number with each pin. In other words, make two holes in the number with the pin, not just one. If you have just one hole, the number will align itself to give the number the most flap possible. You'll end up with a parachute. You'll make two holes in the jersey too, but that's why you buy extra kits.

The final test is slipping the jersey on. If you hear some slight tearing you may have been a bit aggressive with keeping the number tight on the jersey. If you've already warmed up your jersey will stick and tend to rip your number. Double check and make sure the number isn't too damaged. Check out the view in the car window - hunch over ("assume the position") and pretend you're a finish line camera or a finish line official. Will you see your number?

All that solo stuff can be avoided if you have a friend you feel comfortable enough around that they can touch your back. Put the jersey on, have assistant pin number. Watch out for pin pricks, double pinning (pin jersey to base layer - the worst is when it's pinned to your bib shorts, and it's the pin that's closest to the center of your back). Make sure that your pockets aren't blocked - the worst thing is getting 30 miles into a road race, reaching back to the other pocket for the second round of food, and finding that your helper has pinned it shut. Arg.

As a final "aero" thing (it looks clean anyway), you can pin the number from the inside. However, if you fall, you'll be digging those pins into your flesh. I pin my number from the outside, as an FYI.

So there you go. Now you won't be one of the parachute numbered riders.

Keep the bike racing feel on a straight line - don't have a flappy number!


Yaniel said...

Lots of good tips, I also do one more thing when I pin the number on, I make sure the tips of the pins are pointed away from my arm in case one opens during the race it won't prick me if i move my arm.

LeGimpe said...

...and if a show-up-late buddy asks you to pin him up with his jersey on, ALWAYS pin through his jersey to his bibs and base layer and then watch after the race. Priceless. Preferably get his other friends in on it so he has to beg a stranger.