There are many things we need to do to keep our bikes running smoothly, efficiently, and safely. A bicycle safety check is quite possibly one of the simplest and most important bike maintenance tasks that you can do on a regular basis. Not only does it keep your bike safe to ride, preventing unwanted movement in bicycle components like the handlebars or seatpost, but it also prevents creaks and offers an opportunity to inspect your bicycle. Plus, you don’t need many bike tools to get the job done right!
As you can probably guess from taking one look at your bike, there’s a lot of bolts and you need to keep track of them. Experienced mechanics develop a systematic approach – working from the front of the bike to the back, or starting from the back and working your way forward.
No matter which way you find works for you, do it the same way every time so that it becomes automatic. For this example we will work from front to back. I find this method the easiest for my memory considering the more complicated components of the bike (derailleurs, rear brake, chain, cassette, etc.) all reside near the back of the bike.
The Front – Handlebars, Headset, Stem, and Front Wheel
Starting at the handlebars, use yourtorque wrenchto check the face plate stem bolts. Be sure to use the torque listed on the stem or bars. If both are marked with different torque values use the lower of the two. If neither is marked, 5Nm is typically the most common torque value for these bolts. Be sure to check each bolt twice. After you tighten one the torque value of the bolt next to it may drop because of the face plate snugging up. I also check the bolts that hold my hoods, grips, brake levers, dropper post lever, derailleur shifter, and any other controls on the handlebars.
Move to the stem bolts that attach to your fork steerer. Typically these are on both sides of the stem – check them twice. This is also a good time to check for play in your headset. We’ll offer tips on this in the future, but in the meantime, here’s an awesome headset adjustment video from the folks at Cane Creek Cycling Components that describes the process well. Global Cycling Network also has a nice video if you prefer an English accent!
Moving down the fork check your brake bolts. If you have rim brakes, first squeeze the front brake lever, then check the caliper fixing bolt for tightness. While still holding the brake, to ensure no brake pad movement, check the bolts that hold the brake pad shoes on. If you have disc brakes check your caliper bolts and if you use 6 bolt rotors, check your rotor bolts as well. To finish off the front of the bike I like to check my skewer or thru axle.
The Middle – Seatpost, Crank, Front Derailleur, and Pedals
Check seatpost (aka saddle) bolts, some use a single bolt up underneath the saddle or to the side of the seat post and some use opposing bolts to make micro angle adjustments easier. If you have the two bolt system be sure to tighten front and back bolts equally so that there is no change in your saddle angle. Moving on down the bike check your seat post clamp. Most have a torque value printed on them and it’s best to go by this value.
Next check the front derailleur clamp and cable, chainring bolts, and waterbottle cage bolts (these may seem insignificant, but a loose bolt will drive you crazy).
Now it’s time for the cranks and pedals. There are many different types of fasteners used to affix crank arms to the spindle but the most common are a single 8mm bolt for Sram crankset and a combination of two alternating 5mm bolts coupled with a crank fixing cap for Shimano cranksets. The best way to gain leverage on a Sram crankset is to use the crank arm on the drive side to hold on to and reach over the top tube or through the frame with your allen key. For Shimano cranksets be sure to check both alternating bolts twice at least.
As with cranksets there are a various size pedal fasteners but the most common ones are a 6mm or 8mm Allen Wrench on the back side of the pedal spindle, and/or a15mm Pedal Wrench Flat. Remember, the drive side pedal has a regular thread (righty tighty, lefty loosey) and the non-drive side pedal has a reverse thread (lefty tighty, righty loosey).
Pro-Tip: while pedaling your bike, the pedaling motion contributes to the pedal staying on the bike, so excessive torque is NOT necessary. You’ll be glad you only tightened it 4-5Nm when it comes time to take them off!
The Rear – Pivots, Rear Derailleur, Cassette, Rear Wheel
This is the point at which road bikes and mountain bikes will begin to differ drastically. If you’re doing a bolt check on a full suspension mountain bike there are quite a few more fasteners to consider. This is the time on a mountain bike to would check all of the pivot bolts . While the location and appearance of pivots differ from brand to brand, check each pivot and use a torque wrenchwhen possible.
Moving further back, all of the shifting components function off of the rear wheel being in a fixed position – it’s a good idea to check the rear skewer or thru axle to make sure the rear wheel is securely fastened and in the dropouts correctly.
Now check the rear brake same as the front. Moving onto the rear derailleur and cassette, check the derailleur fixing bolt, cable bolt, and finally give the cassette a quick wiggle to make sure it’s fastened correctly.
Wrapping it Up – Bike Accessories?
The last things to check are any cycling accessories you have on your bike – bolts that hold seat packs, bike pumps, racks, and fenders, to name just a few. These can be safety concerns, but more than likely just annoying – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
For your first attempt this can take a bit of time, but as you become familiar with the process and find a system that works for you, it will become a quick and simple. It’s a good idea to do a proper bolt check every other week at a minimum but once a week is ideal. One opportunity to do this is after washing your bike. For more pro tips check out our Mechanic’s Corner series.
All the moving parts on your bike function well and last longer when unnecessary friction is removed. Learning how to clean your bike is the easiest way to increase your it’s performance and prolong the life of expensive components. When done regularly, it’s a quick and simple task – the title “bike mechanic” is NOT required!
Fill your bucket with water and soap and thoroughly soak your brushes and sponge.
While your brushes and sponge soak get your bike set up on your choice of support. For this example we’ll use the Sprint Bike Repair Stand.
How to Clean Your Bike’s Drivetrain
We like to start by cleaning the drivetrain because it will inevitably splatter grease and grime on to other parts of the bike, which we can then remove later.
Install a Chain Keeper so your drivetrain has a bit of tension in the system and plenty of access to the entire drivetrain (or simply leave the rear wheel in the bike). Use a mild degreaser to soak your chain, derailleurs, and chainrings – we use a diluted biodegradable solution from a major home goods store. While that’s soaking, prepare a mild soap detergent to help wash this all away when you’re finished.
Start with the chainrings and give them a good scrub to remove any caked on grease. If you have extra soap, wash, or degreaser apply it directly to your brush.
Move toward the cassette and rear derailleur – scrub, scrub, scrub! Get the outside of the derailleurs, inside, the pulleys and anything you can see – various brush sizes and textures help a lot here. If your pulleys have a large build up of grease use a flat head screwdriver to scrape them clean. Apply more degreaser or wash as needed.
Once the derailleur, pulleys, cassette and chainrings are clean rotate the pedals backwards with the brush over the chain and add more degreaser as needed, either directly to the brush or directly to the chain. Work from side to side and get both top and bottom. Scrub until the chain is clean.
Rinse off the grit and grime. Once it looks clean, we recommend taking your sponge and soap solution and giving it one more clean.
Take all of these brushes and remove them from your bike cleaning process – don’t drag grease and grime on other parts of your bike!
After that, you’re ready to clean your bike frame and wheels!
Washing Your Bike Frame
Spray your entire bike down and soak areas of mud build-up. Remove by hand any mud/gravel/ pebbles that will scratch your paint – soaking and peeling them off by hand prior to dragging a brush across it will protect your paint!
We prefer using bike wash solutions (like Muc-Off Nano Tech) because they don’t negatively affect rubber or disc brake pads. Some soaps can affect the rubber of your tires and the seals of the bearings – be sure to dilute!
If you choose to stick to soap and sponge, no problem! Grab your sponge and get all the frame parts, wheels, and any smooth surface soaked.
Now grab your large soft brush and scrub your tires, rims, headset (especially behind the fork crown), and crank and any other nook and cranny that is not covered in grease. Don’t use any of your drivetrain brushes
Rinse and Hand Dry for a Cleaner Bike
Now that everything has been thoroughly scrubbed, use your sponge to soak down the bike one last time, then rinse. Using the light spray from the hose, work your way from top to bottom letting the water drip down, clearing the bike from any leftover soap and degreaser.
Grab your microfiber towel and wipe down your bike, reinstall the wheels, then allow it to air dry the rest of the way.
How to Lubricate Your Bike Chain Properly
Now that your drivetrain is clean it’s time to lubricate it. We recommend grabbing an old rag to make sure the chain is as dry as possible – wrap it around the bottom of the chain, add a bit of pressure while rotating the cranks for 30-seconds. Use a new part of the rag and repeat until you’re confident your ready to lubricate your bike chain.
Apply your chain lube of choice one link at a time to your chain. Once applied rotate the pedals backwards a few turns then wipe off the excess chain lube with a rag.
You’ve Successfully Washed Your Bike Like an Expert
The first few times you wash your bike it may seem a bit tedious but the more often that you do it the easier and faster it will become and the less dirt, grease, and grime will build up between washes. Keep your brushes, bucket, hose, and bike holder in an easy to access place further reduces the amount of time it takes. Soon you’ll be washing your bike in less than 15 minutes. As long as it’s not as muddy as a cyclocross race in Belgium!
Have any tips, tricks, or hacks for washing your bike? Be sure to let us know in the comments or on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
We’re deep into the riding season, here in the Northern Hemisphere anyway. It’s time to consider the preventative maintenance that can keep your riding free of clicks, creaks and pops. In addition, wearable items are starting to see the effects of your daily mileage. To help maximize your Team Edition and Ride Prep Tool Kits, and any one of our premium bike repair stands, a couple of weeks back we took a look at the most common wear items today we’ll dive a little deeper.
DISC BRAKE ROTOR MAINTENANCE
With the ever-increasing popularity of disc brakes (hydraulic and mechanical), one of the easiest bike maintenance procedures is to inspect disc brake rotors. This maintenance tip suggests a quick way to insure you are getting the best performance from your braking system.
WHY DO I NEED TO DO THIS?
Disc brake rotors endure a large amount of heat and friction on a regular basis. They can withstand large forces and are responsible for slowing our bikes down, which they do quite well. But as a result of these physical demands, it is a good idea to check them for wear regularly. Disc brake rotors will typically last through 2, maybe 3 pairs of brake pads (pad material and riding conditions influences this), but it’s never a bad idea to add a thickness check to any regular maintenance schedule.
Rotor inspection is easiest with the wheel removed because the minimum thickness standard is etched quite small on the rotor. This print is located on the outer surface and is presented something like “Min. TH=1.5”. This is interpreted as “minimum thickness of 1.5mm”. Anything less than 1.5mm means it is time to replace (for this particular Shimano rotor). This measurement is not the standard for all rotors – for instance, Hayes is 1.52mm, Shimano is 1.5mm, Sram minimum disc brake rotor thickness is 1.55mm. However, these aren’t guidelines, but rather highlight the fact that there is no universal standard and looking closely at your specific rotors is crucial.
Use your Feedback Sports Digital Calipers and measure the thickness at the braking surface, ensuring you have as much of the rotor braking surface within the calipers jaws (as seen). With such precise measurements, it’s good to check several points on the rotor, multiple times.
If your rotors measure above the indicated minimum thickness then you’re in the clear. If your digital calipers measure below, contact your local bike shop (LBS) to purchase new ones. Your shop will have questions, so be sure to take note of your rotor size (140, 160, 180, 200, 203mm, etc.) , mounting style (centerlock or 6-bolt), and manufacturer of your disc brake caliper.
Since you’ve got the wheels out it is a good idea to double check your centerlock lockring or your rotor bolts for torque. The Team Edition Tool Kit includes the Bottom Bracket + Lockring Tool (which can manage standard and over-sized centerlock lockrings) and our Range Torque + Ratchet Wrench can handle 6-bolt, T25 torque specs. If you’re replacing the rotors, be sure to face any writing on the rotor outward from the hub as pictured.
Now that you’re confident you understand the mechanical status of your rotors, reinstall the wheels and get back to riding! Or replace them if needed, of course!
This simple check, and so many more to come, can be done with little mechanical experience. As we always say, with the right tools and a quality bike repair stand, anybody can service their bike.
In our Mechanic’s Corner series we’ve been shining the spotlight on the ones behind the scenes that make racing and riding happen for us, the mechanics. Earlier this week we announced that we would be the co-title sponsor of Maghalie Rochette and the CX Fever team. So let’s get to know her Mechanic, Coach, partner, and skilled baker, David Gagnon.
When did you start working as a bike mechanic and how did you get into it?
I raced triathlons when I was younger and quickly realized that having a bike that works properly is important. I liked working with my hands so I started doing small things on my bikes really young. When I was in university, we started a small bike shop where 3 of us really had to do every single task from building bikes to ordering and accounting, so I quickly learned the proper basics at that moment. That shop didn’t last long. It was a lot of work and we ended up closing after 3 years. From there I worked on my personal bikes but I never worked in a shop.
How did you transition into becoming a race mechanic? How long have you been working as a race mechanic at this point?
That really came out of necessity more than a transition. When Maghalie started racing cyclocross 7 years ago, there had to be someone for her in the pits and so I found myself working on her bikes and helping he out at the races more and more until it became clear that she was really good at this and that she would need full time support.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a race mechanic? What is the most stressful part, before, during, or after the race?
Honestly, it’s a great job. You have to be very adaptable and flexible with work conditions. You won’t always have the perfect light, the perfect environment and/or the perfect conditions to get the bikes ready, but if you are a bit creative and have the right tools, it becomes fun. For me, I see these different work conditions more as an opportunity to be creative and find solutions more than challenges. The biggest challenge for me is all the driving. Being from Canada, we often drive down to the US for a few weeks at a time and go from one race to another and a lot of times it means a ton of driving. Driving 40-60 hours per week can get hard on the body and mind sometimes.
The most stressful part for me is the first 30-60 seconds of the race. There’s a lot of traffic and if a crash is going to really mess up the race, it’s most likely going to happen in the first few turns. Once they go by the pits once, I’m pretty stress free. Since most of time it’s just Maghalie and I at the races, getting the race bikes ready, building the setup at the races, and packing everything up isn’t really stressful. It’s actually relaxing 🙂
What are some of the most challenging last minute or on the fly repairs you’ve had to do?
Honestly, nothing very exciting here. We come to the races prepared with all our equipment working 100% and spares of everything and Maghalie runs 3 or 4 bikes per weekend so if for whatever reason one bike isn’t perfect, we can usually do without it and I can fix things stress free following the race.
Only one time I remember being a little worried. At Supercross Cup in NY a few years back, it was very, very windy and one of Maghalie’s bikes fell on the ground really hard 15mins before the start – the frame was broken. That got me a little stressed but we ended up using a friend’s bike that we fitted as best as we could in 15mins as a pit bike for Maghalie. That friend was over 6ft tall, and had a 58cm bike, wider bars, longer cranks & a different company shifting/braking system. So needless to say, it was quite the change for Maghalie when she had to come in the pits. It was super muddy so she had to come in every half lap. We made it work and Maghalie went on to win, and sweep her first ever UCI race weekend!
Do you have any pre-race rituals? What are they?
Nope, no rituals. Except cleaning the bikes, do a proper bolt check and double check tire pressure.
How do you balance being a coach as well as a mechanic?
It’s actually great cause I can see the race from the inside and adjust training a lot with equipment testing and such. I only work as a mechanic for Maghalie and a few close friends that sometimes need help at home or at the races so my job is mostly coaching. Working as a mechanic feels more like a hobby and a nice change sometimes 🙂
You work with Maghalie exclusively all season, what sort of unique challenges does that present throughout the season and how do you move past those?
Working only with Maghalie is great, it gives us a lot of breathing room and a realistic amount of work and logistics that leave us enough time that we don’t feel overwhelmed. We do end up spending a ton of time together driving, training, travelling, eating, etc. and that could be a challenge for a lot of people, but we get along pretty well and we actually feel very fortunate that we can both do what we love, together, for a living. There is no one else in the world I would do this with.
You and Maghalie would be what most consider to be a privateer program, what are some of the largest challenges you face as a mechanic/only staff? What are some of the benefits?
You know, it looks like that from the outside, but Maghalie’s family help us out a lot. Maghalie’s mom and dad come to a lot of races and they are always happy to help, whether it’s in the pits or with the logistics of travel. Magh’s dad is a big cycling fan and for him, to have the pit passes and be around that environment makes him really happy and excited.
In North America, cyclocross is a very tight knit world and when the races require a bit more manpower, we’re always very fortunate to have friends at the races helping us. I’m also good friends with a lot of mechanics from North American teams/riders and so we help each other out in the pits. I’ll catch for them when their rider comes in and they’ll do the same for me when Maghalie comes in. CX in North America is a small world and everybody is super helpful. I could go on for days talking about situation where Cannondale Cyclocrossworld carried Magh’s bikes from one race to another or when we drove other team’s mechanics at the airport or used their bike wash area, etc. It’s a big family.
In terms of the benefits of being just the two of us, well, there are a lot. We only book 1 hotel room. We travel in the same car. It’s very easy for us to make or change plans since we don’t have to fit in other people schedules.
Having experienced a lot of different countries and meeting a lot of other mechanics, what are some differences you notice between the way North American mechanics approach a repair and the way European mechanic’s do? Are there differences in the relationships they have with their riders compared to that of North American teams?
The first thing that comes to mind is swapping parts vs. fixing stuff. I feel like Euro Mechanics will spend a lot of time trying to fix things and be very creative making custom tools for custom parts that they custom fixed as where here we’re most likely going to just put a new derailleur on the bike instead of fixing it. I guess that also reflects on the overall lifestyle and choices of Europe vs. North America.
In terms of the relationship between mechanics and riders, in Europe a lot of riders have their dad, brother, husband, father in law, etc. be their mechanic. It’s not uncommon here in North America to see the same thing, but in terms of team structure, the American teams will most likely provide a mechanic for the riders, where in Europe, the rider has to have his own mechanic, the team will most likely not supply one.
What is the number one thing home mechanics can do to keep their bike in excellent working condition?
Clean it. Lube it & Protect it with some sort of shine/polish often. And pay attention to the bike when you do so. That way you’ll go over the bike and parts very carefully every time you wash/lube/protect it and you’ll see quickly what there is to fix, change, etc.
The one thing I tell people is make sure your cleaning setup is easily accessible. Leave the pressure washer plugged in water, or keep a hose and a work stand out. That way, it takes a lot less time and you’re not discouraged by the fact that you have to setup before cleaning. You can just come back from a ride, throw your bike on the repair stand, start the hose or pressure washer, clean, lube protect and you’ll be able to keep a close eye on things that need replacement, fixing, etc.
Your Instagram is chock full of phenomenal food photos, specifically loaves of bread and pizza, could you give us one simple recipe for bread or pizza?
Hahaha. I love baking. Pizza & bread are probably my favorite food. Pizza is a very simple recipe that you can make on the BBQ or in the oven at home if you have a baking stone. It’s delicious and it can be healthy if you put good stuff on it. We have a sourdough culture that we use at home, so we need to do something everyday with it or throw away a bit of it, so we try to bake at least every other day.
Quick Pizza, could be done with sourdough too if you have a starter
1-Anytime before 2PM, Sprinkle a bit of yeast (like a teaspoon or so) on 400G of +- room temperature water. 2- Add 500G of pizza four (00 type) if you have some or just any flour to the water, a pinch of salt and knead for +-5mins 3- Let it rise for 30-60mins, Go back and knead again a few turns. 4- Let it sit for another little bit, until it +-doubles in size. 5- Take it out of the bowl, fold in a ball one last time on the counter, line a bowl with Olive oil, throw the dough ball in that olive oil lined bowl. Put in the fridge until 1h to dinner. 6- Take it out, split the dough in as many pizzas as you want to make. let it rest on the counter +-30 minutes before stretching it to a pizza!
1- Can of San Marzano Tomatoes. Drain the juice from the can. 2- Put the tomatoes in a bowl, break them with your hands, add a bit of salt & basil to taste and there’s your sauce.
Put in whatever you want on top of that and you have a yourself a nice pizza. I really like just the classic Margherita with a top quality fresh mozzarella on top of that sauce. Never gets old and lets you appreciate the quality of the dough and sauce 🙂
If you’d like to learn how to glue tubular tires from David, check out this post.
It’s mid summer, and all the miles on the bike are adding up – it’s time for some basic maintenance to your bike. Fortunately, some of the most common wear items and how to check them over are well within the grasp of even new mechanics. Mike Gavagan, seasoned technical veteran, will share some tips!
Tires and Sealant
The classic signs of service are excessive wear on the tread, cuts or tears, worn knobs, flat spots, or visible tire casing. When in doubt, replace the tire. And as you’ll no doubt notice, rear tires wear faster! Use the Dual-Sided Pick to pull out any debris from the tire – glass and small pieces of metal can sit in the tire, just waiting to be the source of your next flat.
If your tires are in good shape and you are running a tubeless tire system, it may be time to refresh your tubeless sealant. You can do this without breaking the seal/bead of the tire . Using your Valve Core Wrench, remove the presta valve core. Using a sealant injector to add 1-2 oz of sealant to your tire (check the manufacturer’s suggested volume). Inject the sealant at the 6 o’clock position. After the sealant has been injected rotate the tire to the 12 o’clock position and then remove the sealant injector. Trust me, you’ll avoid a lot of mess if you do this. Finally make sure the valve nut is finger tight.
If your tire has to be replaced or you want to visually inspect how much sealant is left in your tire, you’ll need to break the bead and remove at least one side from the rim. This is also a great time to clean out any old or dried sealant from inside the tire. This will allow your wheels to spin more balanced. When tubeless sealant dries, it forms a sealant ball, or simply dries to the inside of there tire like a thin skin. Using a set of Steel Core Tire Levers remove one side of the tire. If you are replacing the tire remove the old tire from the rim and install the new tire in the correct tread direction but not installing the tire completely.
Dump in the recommended sealant volume and install the tire bead back onto the rim. You will likely need a high volume floor pump, charger pump or a compressor to re-set the tire bead onto the rim. Pump it back up until the tire seats completely – don’t be alarmed if you hear a loud pop, and don’t exceed the tire’s maximum pressure. Once the bead is seated on both sides, you can then set your tires back to your preferred riding pressure.
Brake Pads and Rotors
Check to see that there is an adequate amount of brake pad left – this goes for disc brake and rim brake systems. Many rim brake pads will have a small line indicating their wear limit. If you are running disc brakes, you want to see about 2.5mm of brake pad material left. If the brake pads are worn past this point it’s a good idea to replace them. Also check to see if the pads are wearing evenly. If one is significantly more worn than the other, it could result in the pad backing contacting the rotor and generally poor braking, as well as damage to the rotors.
If your brake pads are worn down to the metal it is most definitely time to replace not only the brake pads but the rotors as well. More about this topic in our next post!
If you are experiencing poor shifting regardless of derailleur adjustments, excessive noise from your chain, or excessive chain slap, it’s probably time for a new chain and or cassette. If the cassette has excessive burring on the teeth of the cogs a brand new chain may not sync with old cassette and may slip or pop in certain gears. Shifting performance will also suffer. Other ways to look for wear on your drivetrain, is if the teeth of the cogs, or the teeth of your chain rings have a very sharp shark tooth profile on the loaded edge. If you notice this shark tooth profile then it is time to replace. Our chain tool is ready to do the job, even for new Sram AXS 12-speed drivetrains.
Visit Your Local Bike Shop
If you’re uncomfortable making any of these repairs, or unsure of if you should replace a part due to wear, always be sure to take your bike to your local bike shop. But having this information can at least help you be informed, and help you and your mechanic communicate.
Mike Gavagan is the owner and sole mechanic of Gav the Mechanic. Mike has years of retail service experience, but has also worked for numerous pro and amateur teams such as Drapac Cycling, Specialized S-Racing, Rally UHC, and Slipstream Sports.
With racing season in full affect, it’s common to make the daily commitment to watch our favorite superstar cyclists do their thing. Whether it’s World Cup Downhill, XCO and Short Track, the Tour de France or your own regional series, the racing is heating up and it’s time to acknowledge some of the people that truly make it happen – the mechanics. Given our long-standing commitment to producing pro-level bike repair stands and premium tools, we have relationships with some of the finest mechanics around the world and we’d like to share some of their stories. Introducing Eric Fostvedt, mechanic extraordinaire and all around nice guy.
When did you start working as a bike mechanic and how did you get into it?
When I was sixteen I found a job at the Bicycle Village location in Boulder, CO. I started out on the sales floor and thanks to the kind heart and patience of the mechanic there at the time, I was able to make my way to the back room and learn the basic bike mechanic skills that built the foundation of my career.
I worked there until I left for University in Texas. When I returned to Boulder I went back to Bicycle Village and resumed work for another four years. In a fortunate turn, the same mechanic who had initiated my education set me up with a job at Excel Sports, also in Boulder. It was in that sophisticated shop where I fine-tuned my skills. Building hundreds of wheels, assembling premium bikes from the frame up, and doing all of this for a very discerning customer base highlighted the difference between good and great.
How did you transition to race mechanic? How long have you been working as a race mechanic?
My transition from bike shop life to the racing scene was challenging. I quit my job at Excel to take an opportunity out on the road. The first paycheck I received from a pro racing team was for driving the promotion truck for Toyota-United at the Tour of Georgia – my job was to hand out branded cowbells in the expo. Fortunately, that role transitioned to a day-rate, contract mechanic position. It’s important to note that the connections I made driving the promo truck set me up for my next two jobs. Unfortunately, my first attempt at being a race mechanic didn’t go so well, but I landed on my feet and found work with the Rock and Republic Team – directed by Frankie Andreu. I stayed on board for one season, and the following off season I applied to work with Slipstream Sports, a new start-up.
While Slipstream’s mechanic roster was full, they needed an Operations Manager and I jumped at the opportunity. I believed in Jonathan Vaughters’ vision and wanted to be a part of something unique. I spent three years as the Operations Manager while also doing some mechanic work at the bigger stage races – known as a “3rd mechanic”. It was an incredibly valuable experience. I gained knowledge on how a bigger budget professional road team operates. The outstanding efforts of the people behind the scenes never ceased to amaze me. As the team grew, I transitioned from the Operations Manager to the Head Mechanic position for their U23 team. I stayed with Slipstream Sports for six years in total and in 2012, I accepted the Head Mechanic role with Axel Merckx’s development team.
At the time Merckx’s program was known as Bontrager-Livestrong. The next seven years of my life were a blur of learning, challenges, and huge successes both personally and professionally. Working with Axel was a dream come true. I have always considered myself a student of the sport, so there was definitely an element of admiration as I got to know Axel, his racing friends, and of course his father, “The Cannibal”, Eddy Merckx. Axel possesses a knowledge of the sport that few others in the world can even grasp. I did my best to act as a sponge, putting my own opinions aside to follow his lead. He’s an incredible leader, and quickly empowered me to grow and improve, I consider the opportunity to learn from Axel a gift.
I was also fortunate to have legendary mechanic Julien DeVries guiding me during my first three years with the program. I can safely say that I learned more from Julien than from all the other mechanics I’ve worked with, combined. He quickly taught me what it means to be a professional race mechanic. To this day, he remains a dear friend.
The point of my story is simple, don’t turn your nose up at a job opportunity just because it doesn’t exactly fit what you want to do at that very moment. Sometimes the lessons learned and connections made handing out cowbells will serve you well.
This past April I made the jump from road to mountain, accepting a mechanic position with the Specialized Bicycles Factory XC Team. It was time for a new challenge, and a new focus on a different style of racing – that means fewer riders, but more adjustments on race days (suspension, tire selection, gear choices), and new venues. It’s started off well and I am grateful for the opportunity. The transition happened fast, and since joining I’ve already been promoted to Team Manager. This is a new role for me, and I’m sure I will draw on every experience I have had while working in the cycling industry.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a race mechanic? What is the most stressful part, before, during, or after the race?
The life of a race mechanic is full of challenges – sleepless nights, long travel days, managing personal relationships with riders and other staff – none of it is easy. It wasn’t long into my career that I realized the bikes are the easiest part of the job. I believe that a mechanic who denies that truth is on the road to a short career.
For me, the biggest challenge is preparation. It is the time spent planning, packing, and working long days in the service course that define how the coming races will go. When a mechanic has put in the work, everyone’s life is easier. A team which runs like a well-oiled machine will find great success, and from my perspective that begins with the mechanics. You simply cannot be an effective race mechanic if you’re playing catch-up. Of course, some situations are beyond control, so I would say that the second biggest challenge is calmly managing the unexpected, like when one of those lovely airlines loses a bike in transit. Flexibility and putting the team needs above oneself will lead to success. Stress for a race mechanic is a given, managing that stress is crucial. I found that the moments of stress, and levels of it, were directly related to how prepared I felt about the given situation.
With proper preparation, humility, and willingness to accept and admit a mistake, life becomes much less stressful. My advice here is to work hard and put your best effort into every task, own your mistakes and learn from them, and finally and maybe most importantly, try to remain positive in the hard moments. The old adage of the grumpy race mechanic that the riders are scared to talk to has no place in this career – it’s no way to be an effective team member, much less help your riders find success.
What are some of the most challenging last minute or on the fly repairs you’ve had to do?
Last minute repairs… that statement sends shivers down my spine. I hate things left to the last minute. Of course, some things are beyond control and must be managed on a limited time. I will answer this one with a story.
I was at the U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2017. The riders had been called to staging and the final instructions were being given when the defending champion, Logan Owen arrived at the team car in a panic. “My shifters are dead!” he exclaimed. I put down my pre-race coffee and pastry (at LBL there are always pastries and I thought we were all set to begin a five hour slog through the Ardennes). Systematically, I began the process – confirmed the shifters weren’t working, changed the batteries on both derailleurs, got a powered response, but still nothing. I went through the pairing process, still nothing. Final thought – must be the shifter batteries (which rarely, if ever, go dead).
Remove three micro-screws, replace the coin batteries, replace the screws. Easy, right? Sure, when you’re not standing minutes from the start of what we as a team considered one of the most important races on the calendar. This is when it’s important to take a deep breath, remain calm, and try not to let the athlete’s or director’s stress, or the pressure of being watched by an entire crowd of spectators affect your calm. I worked through the process, had Axel take his spare bike off the top of the car just in case we ran out of time and could not get the job done. In the heat of the moment I event fumbled one of the screws. Thanks, by the way, to the Belgian guy with the cigarette who kept an eye on it, picked it up and handed it to me with a classic “Belgie” wink. Logan made the start and had a great ride with no further issues. He set up the move that helped his teammate win and it turned out to be a great day.
But the critical point is that although I’d never seen these batteries die before, knowing the system allowed me to mentally run the process and deduce the problem, and find a solution. This begs the question, who carries coin batteries? The mechanic who’s prepared, that’s who.
On the fly repairs are an interesting beast. I’m with the UCI on this one and think that a mechanic hanging from the window of a car adjusting a derailleur, a brake, or even a saddle is an unnecessary risk. However, sometimes you do it simply because it’s what needs to be done. Calculated risks. I’ve changed derailleur batteries, adjusted derailleurs, change a radio, and even helped riders change shoes from the window of the follow car. I don’t recommend it, and if you can’t make the adjustment with one hand, while pushing the rider with the other, you should probably stop and fix it on the side of the road. I cringe when I see riders holding on to the car while the mechanic fiddles with their bike, they are one pothole away from catastrophe. If you have to work from the window; pull the mirror in, have the rider keep both hands on the bars and their eyes up the road, and be quick and calm.
Have you ever had any riders that always seemed like they needed something fixed, changed, adjusted? For example Eddy Merckx was rumored to change his saddle position daily. (You may be in a unique position to speak on that example.)
I can attest to the fact that Eddy is never content with his position! I was lucky enough to build him many bikes throughout my years working with Axel’s team. Our service course in Belgium was in the old Merckx Bicycle factory, which is attached to their family home. Just about every trip I took to Belgium, began and ended with work on Eddy’s bikes. It was always an honor, and he regularly thanked me with the finest Belgian beers.
I have had many riders over the years who always needed something adjusted. I won’t name them out of respect for my friendships with them, but I have assigned many riders nicknames such as “Mr. 1mm” (always asking for 1mm saddle height adjustments) and Buttercup (because he was a ‘princess and the pea’ regarding saddles). I have found that at the end of the day, the rider’s comfort and confidence with their equipment is of primary importance. When a mechanic is able to go along with what may seem like a ridiculous request, and find a way to work with each rider, life is better for everyone. If you are one of those riders, don’t forget that your mechanic only has so much capacity and you should recognize their efforts with an honest “thank you”, a cold drink, an ice cream, or the ever popular…cash. Shouting “Thanks!” over your shoulder as you walk away doesn’t mirror their efforts – make it count.
Most bike racers are not known for their mechanical aptitude. Have you ever worked with a rider that could hold their own when it came to mechanic work, or even replaced you as the team mechanic?
These are the unicorns, but I have found a few throughout my career. The vast majority though are far from competent mechanics. It makes sense when you consider that race mechanics are at the truck or in the service course working on bikes, while the riders are out training. But. my beloved friends and former riders Ryan Eastman and Tao Geoghegan Hart are pretty solid with a wrench and receive honorable mentions here.
What type of riders do you prefer working with? Those that appreciate the fine details you put into your work or those that just swing their leg over the bike and ride it?
Of course, it is nice to be appreciated, but this is a bit of a catch 22. The guys that just swing their leg over and go off and race are always nice because they rarely present extra work. The riders who appreciate the mechanic’s attention to detail commonly require more work, because they do notice those precise details. Personally, I have found it most rewarding to work with athletes who really understand what goes into the job because it results in a much deeper appreciation of the work investment. It is always nice when you make an extra effort for a rider, and it doesn’t go unnoticed.
What are some of the wildest quirks that you’ve had to work around? Any riders ever need their computer mount at a perfect 1.5 degree angle or have their hoods positioned in a crazy way, etc.?
The most challenging quirks come from time trial specialists. This special breed of humans are so exacting in their preparations and their pursuit for marginal gains that they can drive a mechanic to insanity. Fortunately for me I’m a genuine aero nerd. Time in the wind tunnel, perfectly trimmed cable housing, or a more creative way to route wires on a time trial machine has found a welcome place in my world.
The wild quirk that I will never fully accept is moto, or UK brake setup. There is a far too large group of riders who prefer their brakes to be setup as they would be on a motorcycle. I understand why, but I reserve the right to think this is, at best silly and at worst, dangerous. Especially in a road race where it is not uncommon for a domestique to hand his bike off to a team leader in an emergency. I have almost gone over the bars a number of times having grabbed the wrong brake during a test ride or pre-race coffee run.
Any pro tips for the home mechanic? What is the best thing they can do daily to keep their bike in tip top condition? Most overlooked repair or maintenance?
This one is simple, both in understanding and execution. I will sound like a broken record, but WASH YOUR BIKE! A clean bike is a happy bike. The more often you do it, the easier it is. Built up grease, dirt, oil, sand, muck, spit, sweat, drink mix; all of these things greatly reduces the lifespan of vital parts.
Almost every bike shop in the world offers a clinic, many free of charge, to teach this relatively simple skill. I will happily show anyone who asks how to professionally wash a bike in under ten minutes. The required equipment can be found in most homes; a sponge, a pipe brush or old toothbrush, a stiff bristled brush, some dish soap, and a hose. Add some degreaser and chain lube to that list and you’re set. There are a number of eco friendly degreasers and chain lubes available on the market, I am partial to the products from Finish Line. They make a great run of bicycle care products; get those and their nice brush set, and your bike will be happier. Remember to be mindful of where you are spraying pressured water (if you use high pressure). A little effort with a sponge will always be better than a high-pressure water stream for longevity of your bikes moving parts.
Most overlooked maintenance? Tire care. I suggest checking your tires often. Look for cuts and abrasions that could lead to failure or puncture. Check your pressures, a tubular tire will bleed out roughly 3 psi an hour, a clincher far less, but still need to be checked at least every four to five days. Consider your tire pressure as well. Most road riders will find the best performance between 70 and 105 psi, depending on rider weight, tire selection, road condition and weather. On the XC mountain bike side, anywhere from 20 to 27 psi will provide the best combination of traction and efficiency. Finally, a quick pre-ride bolt check is always a good idea. Respect manufacturer torque specs, and don’t forget to carry a small multi tool in your ride kit.