BOISE – Whether commuter or racer, cyclists dread the telltale clunk-and-spin of a dropped chain.
At minimum, it’s an inconvenience. For professional cyclists, one errant shift that throws their links into limbo can mean the difference between climbing the podium and also-ran status.
In this year’s Tour de France, at least one team, U.S.-based Garmin-Slipstream, will use a “chain catcher” first employed by former world champion Kristin Armstrong when she won the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics time trial.
In a sport in which components like Armstrong’s “K-Edge Chain Catcher” are traditionally tested in professional cycling’s macho male peloton, this elegant innovation was put through the paces by a woman who pays attention to the tiniest details of bike racing.
“Everything you do to your bike adds up as free speed,” the Boise resident told The Associated Press in mid-June from Minnesota, where she won the Nature Valley Grand Prix stage race. “It’s what you’re doing above and beyond what everyone else is doing that’s going to give you the 5- to 10-second advantage you need to win.”
She’s given one of the devices to Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour winner, and Levi Leipheimer, the bronze medalist in the Beijing Olympic men’s time trial. However, Philippe Maertens, a spokesman for their Astana team, said in an e-mail that it was “never on their bikes in a race” and won’t be used by them when the Tour begins Saturday in Monaco.
Riders have long jury-rigged chain catchers. Others that clamp around the seat tube are available commercially. But Kristin Armstrong’s 10-gram aluminum version bolts onto the front derailleur, making it suitable for modern carbon-fiber racing bicycles with large, unconventionally shaped frame tubes.
A self-described aggressive shifter, she nearly lost the 2006 World Championship time trial in Salzburg, Austria, when she dropped her chain.
Fearing a repeat in Beijing, Armstrong’s engineer husband, Joe Savola, sketched out the idea on a napkin. Boise-based AceCo Precision Manufacturing, whose main products include knives that chop McDonald’s French fries, refined it.
Her chain stayed on. She won by 24 seconds.
At least two other American domestic women’s teams – Jelly Belly and Kenda – are using them, said AceCo vice president Eric Jensen, a cycling enthusiast and a friend of Kristin Armstrong.
“As a fan of cycling, I’d like to see the Americans have every advantage,” said Legan, whose company has produced about 3,000 chain catchers and is selling them for $45 each.