We all love the Grand Tours and the Spring Classics, and everything in between. We put our favorite riders on a pedestal, and wait anxiously as the race-winning moves are made, to see who has the fitness and who doesn’t. But we rarely think about the army of people who enable riders to access the depths of their performance.
Here’s a Q & A with “Mechanic’s Name”, that helps paint the picture of what it means to be a mechanic at the top level. While this might seem like a glorious job, read closely to see if it is in fact a “dream job”.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Columbia, Missouri. It sits right in the middle of the state. The cycling is extremely good, and that’s where I learned to be a bike mechanic.
What team do you currently work for?
I’m a mechanic for super duper pro cycling team, based in Golden, Colorado. It’s a team compromised of a men’s and women’s’ program and they race pretty much anything with 2 wheels! Road, MTB, gravel, cyclocross, and even a track program.
How many years have you been a mechanic? How many years as a professional mechanic?
I started wrenching ina bike shop 30 years ago, this coming summer. I spent nearly 15 years working in shops around the US. From 2001 to 2003 I worked as a mechanic for professional adventure racing teams – that was wild. Very little sleep, very inconvenient working conditions! But I did get to see the World! Then in 2007 I went into full time professional wrenching. I have worked for road, MTB and cyclocross programs.
What was your first job as a mechanic?
This was definitely in a bike shop. I REALLY wanted to be a mechanic for whatever reason. In fact, in a way, I’ve always enjoyed bikes as much (or more) than actually riding. The shop started me building bikes – the way they ship, it’s pretty easy to learn the fundamentals of mechanics because they’re mostly ready to go. So I spent a summer building boxed bikes and had the older mechanics evaluating my work. Needless to say, there was plenty of hazing! After building about 100 bikes, I landed in the eservice department and would focus on the easy repairs. The more proficient I became, the more difficult repairs I would pursue, unti lI was building wheels and doing full service on suspension systems. I never attended any of the formal training programs.
Tell us a little about the first job where you would consider yourself a “professional mechanic”.
That was definitely in 2007 when I started working for Jelly Belly Pro Cycling Team. In a way they were a development team and didn’t have a massive budget. So my skills as an experienced shop mechanic paid off because I didn’t have the luxury of throwing away parts and installing new ones – I had to service parts as much as possible. We rode Campagnolo then and I absolutely loved it because everything in those days, especially from Campy, was serviceable. So I was truly a mechanic, not just a parts installer!
Some riders know how to handle tools – in your career, tell us about riders who would occasionally pick up a wrench?
Hahahahahaha. Ha. Ha. Yeah, I know a few who could truly wrench. And I know several that thought they could wrench. Ugh. My favorite riders were always the ones who knew how to tactfully ask for me to do things to their preference. The best riders are the ones who know it takes a team to win – mechanics and soigneurs included! Any rider that knows his stuff, but also recognized that being the mechanic was my job was good with me. And there are a handful that I’ll never forget – true professionals – after a race they hand you their bike, look you in the eye, and thank you for the work you did and the work you’re going to do. Class.
All riders have different personalities – which are some of your favorite riders, and why?
I’ve always enjoyed those that just get on with the work at hand, but aren’t too serious to come have a coffee with me occasionally. I don’t know what you call that personality, but I’ve worked for 2 different World Champions and they couldn’t have been more different. One who truly appreciated the team aspect and one that did it “all by himself”. I guess I like “team players”!
What is the most memorable day you’ve ever had as a mechanic for pro teams?
I would say the 2009 Tour of California stage from Seaside to San Luis Obispo. It was already slated to be a long day, but the skies opened up and a headwind formed along the coast. It was almost 7 hours in the rain. The constant juggling of wet clothing and never-ending series of crashes from slick, wet roads – it was brutal. There was such a massif attrition rate that the UCI had to change rules on rider dropping out. Given that it was a long stage, it started early – so that meant an extra early start for staff. And then of course, we had tons of repairs that night. It was like a 20hr day by the time we wrapped up.
What’s the day as a mechanic that you wish you could forget?
Aaaaaahhhhh. Damnit. I still have frustrations about this one. I was working the US National Criterium and had a rider that I truly believed would win. In fact, he’d won the elite and amateur titles previously on the same course. He was fit and on fire. The race was going perfectly. The way the route worked, the wheel pits had the next to last and last corners in view. He was right where he should be, sitting in about 3rd or 4th wheel, ready to pounce out of the final corner. Well, somehow his chain dropped off the big ring and that was that…. Ultimately we had discussed using beefier rings for the sprinters because we were dealing with frames that we felt were not stiff enough. Combined with ultralight chainrings there was just enough flex in the system to allow his pedaling force to pop the chain off the rings. I blamed myself, and still do. That was a national champion jersey missed. A lot of work went in to that opportunity. Was I to blame???
What race (or races) do you enjoy working the most? Why?
I always enjoyed stage racing because it presented lots of opportunities to create success. And there’s usually a ton of work to get to a race. Driving 10 hours for a single race always chaffed me a bit. But that too was part of the job. That said, I always really enjoyed “Philly Week”, leading up to the US National Road Race. It’s sadly no longer a thing, but when it was, it was such an awesome experience for riders and staff. Beautiful routes, history and heritage of racing in the area, and what was for a long time the premiere racing in the US. Those crowds were the best in the country!!
Which races are the most demanding for a mechanic? Why?
For me it was always time trials inside a multi-stage race. The equipment is always so different, and riders all seemed to suddenly become “Princess and the Pea” when it came to TTs – even if they were terrible at the discipline. Aside from the race itself, time trials almost always meant 3 rides in a day – morning ride to shake out the legs, the actual time trial, then a shakedown ride to clear the legs again for the next day. That made for a lot of washing and wrenching.
Do you prefer riding in the car or assisting in the transition to hotels? Why?
I always enjoyed the action inside the car, but sometimes it can get mundane. You’re always wishing for an uneventful day, that meant your riders were safe and the equipment was sound. But that can make for a loooong day! You find yourself trying to find new ways to stay awake – games with Director Sportifs, having fun with other mechanics, etc. Conversely, working with soigneurs to help them get organized and work feed zones, that was always fun too!
Mechanics all have their favorite service procedures. Sometimes mechanics thrive on the most difficult service procedures – punishment of sorts! Do you have any favorites? Washing? Tuning? Gluing tyres? Removing cement? Inspecting frames? Something else?
Oh man, did I LOVE gluing tubulars! Seriously! Gluing the perfect tubular is something not many people could do, and I was determined to do it as good as the best in the World, and I learned from the best. The magic of creating the perfect glue solution, applying it perfectly, getting the tire straight as an arrow so that it would never roll off….it was an artform. Treating and conditioning sidewalls, curing rubber in specific conditions, all these things to me were where it was at! I also geeked out on wrapping bars perfectly, and washing bikes so well the riders would just stare at their rigs…fun stuff! Like I said, I like bikes as much as riding!
Would you mechanic colleagues say you have a “technical specialty”?
Gluing tires was definitely a strong suit that they always leaned on me for. But I believe in processes, and that’s what I’m known for. Eliminating mistakes by tackling early preparation and following the same extensive processes time and time again. That truly is the way to be a great mechanic – the “5 Ps” – prior preparation prevents poor performance!!
Do your colleagues have a nickname for you? Tell us the story of where it comes from!
No ncikname….just “difficult”. And I was always OK with that. Our team, sans the experience I mentioned above, didn’t have mechanicals. I’ve seen cranks fall off, handlebars rotate on big bumps, tyres roll off rims, seatposts come loose. Pretty much everything that can go wrong, I’ve seen it from pro mechanics. I always saw that as embarrassing and my aversion to embarrassment forced me to be more thorough! So anytime I’d work with other mechanics they’d generally get tired of my processes. I like to think most of them silently stole those ideas and used them later 😉
Press-fit bottom brackets, disc brakes, integrated cables, proprietary cockpits, time trial bikes. What part of modernizing bikes has caused you the most headaches?
Integration and proprietary parts can be a struggle. But unlike a shop mechanic, I’d work on the SAME process every time. And this makes things much easier. You develop a process, maybe create a unique tool or two that help make it easy, and you repeat it some many times you develop tricks to make it easier. And you have to love it, because your riders need to feel like they’re on the most advanced equipment and that it’s working flawlessly. You NEVER tell them how much of a pain in the ass it was…that’s just unprofessional!
If you weren’t a pro mechanic, what would you want your career to be?
I’d be a non-pro mechanic! Seriously, it runs through my veins and it’s something I really enjoy. Ok, since I’m force to answer, I’d like to mow grass for a living! Maybe at a golf course or something. There’s something incredible about the smell of fresh cut grass, and the aesthetic you can create with the straight lines and such! Like the patterns on professional baseball fields – I want to be that guy!!
If an aspiring mechanic asked you for advice on how to become a mechanic, what would you tell them?
Oh boy. I used to get that a lot. I’d ask them straight up, “do you like bikes more than riding?” – the answer has to be “yes” without hesitation. Then, do you love bikes so much that you’re willing to work an 18 hour day? Are you prepared to do inventory? Drive truck and trailer for days at a time? Be immaculately organized and structured? Do you have thick skin for disappointed riders (sometimes they’ll point to their bike as an excuse). You can’t just love wrenching on bikes, you have to truly love the sport too. It’s not for everyone!
Last question – Pro-Elite or Sprint Repair Stand?
Tough call! I really like the stability, rigidity, and convenience of the rotating platform of the Sprint. Of course, the ability to leave the front wheel on is pretty awesome for the Pro-Elite. I guess I’d lean into the Sprint because it’s both an amazing wash and service stand. Sprint!