The purpose of a bike tow system is to assist slower and fatigued teammates; faster riders slow down and slower riders speed up such that the team’s overall speed increases. Towing systems are usually anchored to the seat post of the stronger rider’s bike (tower) and attached to the front of the weaker rider’s bike (towee). An alternative system is a waist-belt pair joined by bungy cord.
NOTE: tow rope systems are also used with great success on foot too.
Variation 1 – seat post
The most common version has a piece of PVC pipe attached to the seat post, through which a length of bungee cord or surgical (rubber) tubing is threaded. The PVC pipe should be from-the-post-to-just-past-the-end-of-the-wheel in length. The pipe keeps the cord from getting caught in the lead rider’s wheel when there is slack on the rope. With the PVC pipe in place the tower is able to reach behind to ‘catch’ the cord should the towee drop it instead of passing it back to them when they release from the tow system. Without the piping, if the tow rope is dropped it will get caught in the wheel spokes – nasty – and it is more difficult to grab hold of.
- length of PVC pipe
- short length of thin accessory cord (for connecting pipe to seat post and elevating it above the wheel from the seat underside)
- length of bungee cord or surgical tubing (alternative: length of accessory cord with bungee cord tied on both ends)
- light wire gate carabiner (optional)
The Tower End: attach to the seat post
- make two holes near the end of the PVC pipe (this is to thread a short length of
- thread the bungee cord through the length of the PVC pipe; tie one end around the seat post and knot it
- tread a piece of thin accessory cord through the two holes, and tie around the seat post (this keeps the PVC pipe close to the seat post and prevents it from floating along the length of cord); remember that the PVC pipe is not load-bearing
- use another piece of the thin accessory cord to suspend the pole from the rail underneath the seat – so that it doesn’t droop on to the wheel
The Towee End: make a loop or attach a carabiner
What you do with this end comes down to personal preferance and how safe the towee feels on their bike.
- Option A: Cable tie an open hook (an ‘S’ gate carabiner will work) to the towee’s handlebar stem. Make a loop in the end of the tow rope. Attach a light-weight wire-gate carabiner to the loop. The towee will be easily able to clip it in to the ring – it is slightly more difficult to remove, especially over bumpy ground. An open ‘S’ hook carabiner is another option. This can be similarly fastened on to the stem of the towee’s handlebars; the two rope will have a loop in the end.
- Option B: A loop in the end of a surgical tubing tow rope fits quickly over the headset; it is also fastest and easiest to release in a hurry
- Option C: Make a loop in the end of tow rope. The towee holds it in their hand (their hand will be on their handlebars)
Here, doggy doggy
Another option is to use a retractable dog leash with a bit of thin elasticated cord added to the free end. Cable tie the handle of the retractable dog leash on to the seat post. You can either thread it through a PVC pipe (as above) or use as is. To hook, the towee grabs the end and attaches to their bike. To unhook, the towee releases the rope from their bike and guides it as it retracts so that it doesn’t get caught in the tower’s rear wheel.
How long is a length of rope
You will have to play around with the length of rope, especially as bungee cord stretches. Ideally you want the length to be sufficient to keep the towee in the draft of the tower – not too close, not to far.
Using the system
When not in use the tower usually clips the free hanging length of rope underneath their seat. When needed, the tower hands the end to the towee, who attaches the end to their bike. It is rare that the rope has to be unhooked in a hurry (it does happen though). Always remember that the rope is elasticated and if under tension it can bounce back and hit the tower. Take care. The towee should rather alert the tower, telling them that they are going to unhook. The towee holds the end in their hand, moving to the left or right (decide between you the side that is preferable); the tower slows as the towee comes alongside. The towee passes the end to the tower, who clips it underneath their seat and safely out of the way.
Variation 2: waist belts
Attach a length of bungee cord to two waistbelts using quick-release clips. The waistbelts should be adjustable (to fit bigger and smaller waists; or make them specifically for your teammembers). Use quick-release clips (clips used on backpacks work, but they’re not always easy to release quickly); one side on the waistbelt and the other on the end of the bungee cord. With this method all team members can have a waistbelt and anyone can tow or be towed. Although this system works, it is more comfortable to have it attached to the bikes and not to people.
Remember to practise hooking and unhooking pre-race. It will build the confidence of both the tower and towee in the system.
Author: Lisa de Speville