The Handlebar

A broken mountain bike handlebar in the Colorado backcountry leads to an interesting fix.

mountain biking in the Aspens
Mountain biking the Colorado Trail

It was a long downhill and flowed well. I’d ridden it before and knew that even though we were going down the valley toward Lost Park, I needed to pedal most of the way, in order to keep my speed up. That particular section of the Colorado Trail keeps dropping slightly and slowly for miles as it winds its way down the mostly open Craig Creek drainage and since I’d ridden it before, I knew that it’d be fast, fun and effortless. Sure, there were plenty of obstacles all along the way- loose, unfortunately positioned rocks, encroaching Potentilla bushes, and washed out ruts, but only a few consistently tricky spots, all of which occurred where side creeks, thick with willows, came in. While the trail obstacles could be dealt with by using vigilance and technique, the creek crossings required something a little more. With their mud, roots, big rocks and water, they were simply best done on foot. Despite all of the downsides, it was Rocky Mountain mountain biking at its best.

I’d ridden the thing in the other direction, a couple of times before, which obviously made it an uphill. While the grade going that way wasn’t steep at any one point and essentially the whole thing rideable, albeit slowly, it was simply more fun to go the downhill direction, and so, like this time, that’s what I mostly did.

A substantial climb leads up to a high point on a low pass at the west end of the “park”, which is what many such open valleys and meadows like the one we were about to ride into, are called in the Rockies. A gate separates the uphill from the downhill and, in our case, marked the start of over two miles of carved turns, fast straightaways and effortless pedaling slowed only by the creek crossings and the sporadic need to stop and soak it all in.

As we rode, Drew and I had no need or time for water, food, adding or removing layers, or worrying about anything other than how to maneuver around the occasional rock, keep our pedals from hitting the side of the trail and how to avoid each other’s dust. Bison Peak and the entire Lost Creek Wilderness loomed to the west, but since our focus was on the trail, we didn’t have the luxury of looking at or pondering it. We could feel the remoteness of where we were, but were confident that speed would quickly gobble up the distance and soon enough take us back to the world of cars, roads, the telephone and computers.

For about the first third of the descent, or 15 minutes, I thought of nothing, other than what the next bit of trail was like. If any other sort of thing tried to work its way into my thoughts, I blocked it out before it could ever gain traction.

But, eventually, I let it happen. It was my own fault and no one else’s. I should’ve known better or been stronger in my resolve, but I began to mentally speculate about what would happen if a handlebar broke in the midst of a downhill like the one we were on. If such a thing were to occur, I realized, there’d be a guaranteed instant loss of bike control which would likely lead to some sort of horrendous crash. As I rounded yet another corner, I envisioned an out of control rider going straight off of a big drop-off while the trail veered off in another direction. I started seeing nameless faces smacking into rocks, heads augering into the ground, bodies sailing off of cliffs and people heading straight at big trees.

I was beginning to feel almost sick, when we thankfully began to slow as we rode up to a crossing. We picked our way, still riding, a few feet into the willows and finally came to a complete stop as we rode up to a large rock, blocking the way. We got off and began walking and maneuvering our bikes through and around big rocks and mudhole after mudhole.

After only a few minutes, we came to a particularly tricky spot and I latched tightly onto my handlebar to hoist it over a rock. When I pulled up, the right half of the thing came up, but without the bike attached. I was initially surprised and caught off-guard by the whole incident as it wasn’t the response I was anticipating. I bumbled around for a moment between the rocks, mud and bushes as the two of us initially laughed, sighed, and speculated about various things related to what had just happened including a few “what- ifs”. But then, the smiles turned to frowns as we realized the predicament we were in of a potential wasting of another mile or so of downhill bliss.

I was at a momentary loss as I visualized having to walk the rest of the way. In the far distance, I could see Craig Creek turning toward Lost Creek way down at the bottom of the valley. It would take me two hours to walk what could be ridden in 15 minutes just to get over to the Lost Park Road. I didn’t want that to be the way the ride went. I rifled through my small pack looking for any sort of remedy for the situation. There was a headlamp, snacks, rain jacket, toilet paper, a small ball of cord, an old orange peel and my first aid kit. That was it, I rejoiced, the first aid kit. I opened it up and there it was. I would be saved by the ace bandage and roll of white athletic tape I always kept in there. I was sure the two could be combined to tape and put the thing back together, at least sufficiently enough to get back to the road. I was pleased to have a fix handy, pulled the two items out, wrapped and taped the broken bar back togher and then realized that the repaired bar was going to be way too flimsy for serving its purpose, if it did, indeed, even stay stuck together.

I was at something of an emotional and mental crossroad, when Drew pulled out a single shot, CO2, Quickfill air cartridge, which he always carried in the event of a flat tire and inserted it into the hollow, still partially attached, handlebar tube, as if he’d done it before. It was an almost perfect fit.  Without hesitation, we stuck the broken end of the bar onto the other side of the cartridge and then began wrapping tape around the whole thing in order to secure and hold it in place. When finished, I pulled and tugged on it to check, and it was solid. There was no movement. It was almost as good as new, although it had probably added 6 ounces to the weight of bike. At least, I thought, it’ll get me out to the road.

And that’s what it did, but with a bonus. Within moments of finishing the repair, we were back on our bikes, rolling down the trail again. Initially, I was a little tentative and backed-off a bit on my speed, but for the most part, the handlebar felt as good as it ever had. My first thought was of the simple satisfaction and realization that the fix just might actually allow me to ride, rather than walk, out. I was almost amazed that it was working. We rode slowly at first, picking our way down, gingerly steering clear of the Potentilla bushes, giving rocks that jutted out into the trail wide berths, and attacking the trail with the greatest and almost slowest care possible.

But, our riding method didn’t last. Slowly, our speed increased. One bush, became several. We cut closer and closer to the rocks sticking out of the ground. Instead of seeing each potential trail hazard and consciously dealing with them one at a time, we began to somehow collectively pass them all by and kept looking further and further down the trail. Something seemed to take control and it didn’t seem to be rational. Our concern about just being able to get back, soon became just a “given”. Eventually, we were back up to cruising speed, weaving in and out and back and forth, almost rhythmically flowing our way down for the final mile. Each time we looked down at the bend where Lost Creek turned toward the road, it got closer. But instead of just savoring the end of the trail where it joins the road, we were suddenly hoping for more single track.

We did reach the road and ultimately rode on back to our car. At first, when the whole handlebar incident had occurred, our hopes had been simply that both of us would actually be able to ride out to the road and from there, Drew would be able to ride on back to the car and then come and get me. It seems like a small thing now, but us being able to ride all the way back, was a big thing at the time. That, and of course, the fact that we got to ride that last mile of single track back to Lost Park, the way it was supposed to be ridden.

Mountain biking Colorado
Mountain biking through the Potentillas

Author: David Appleton

I was born and raised in Texas and currently live in the Texas Hill Country, spent some 30 years living in the smack dab middle of Colorado, and have spent a lifetime adventuring and leading others on adventures in many parts of the wild world.

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