Thursday, May 29, 2008

14 The PRO Mechanic

So you want to be a PRO mechanic?

Afterall, someone's got to do it.

Boy, how do I even start telling of the wondrous things they do?

Like a woman is behind a successful man, mechanics complement the riders with their talents.

You NEED the energy to go, whenever, wherever. "Problem on his bike? No problem. Where? Middle of the peleton? 12% gradient? No problem, give me the job."

When riders sleep, you prepare their equipment, wash their bikes, grease its bearings, lube the chain.

You know torque specs like they were on the back of your fingers. You inspect sprocket wear and remember everyone's favorite saddle height. Not a millimeter more, not a millimeter less.

Like the rider is fond of the bike, the bike is your baby too. You put it to function, gave it that white handlebar tape, put the shine on the chain and the gloss on the top tube.

You adorned her with cables and cut it to perfect length and saw that the brakes kissed the rim perfectly.

The words "straight", "length" and "centered" are not just some vague terms in an installation manual anymore. You deal with them every damn minute.

When the rider is ready for office, you are at their beck and call.

"Oh you don't like that saddle sir? No problem."

"Monsieur, special stem just for you. Here."

"Oh, too lightweight bike? F**k UCI. No problem, lets stuff some lead balls here. No, here will be better I think. More aero, no?"

You see, you need the creativity to CREATE. Your rider is your master, and you please him for the 100 mile arduous journey ahead with your tools, your head, your hand and your penchant to make shit work.

Yes, you make shit work while the rider makes shit happen. That, he will do during the race, and his legs will do the talking.

But if he fails, he will look at you and so will the team. The newspapers will spot you, a whole nation may be upset. Can you take the risk? Can you make shit work or will you put your reputation on the line?

At a time when commercial shelves have not seen a new arrangement, you create for your rider. Your handiwork is there for all to see in Huang's relentless Cyclingnews photos. You may be more at home with zip ties and duck tape than anything else, but it must work. It will awe some, it might be ridiculed, it might make the next big idea for a cycling component. What do you know?!

If you think only riders need fitness, you are WRONG my friend. Take a look at the picture below.

You must be ready to make shit happen, whenever, wherever. Fitness is important, yoga and core strengthening is the name of the game. Too much of a belly? BIG problem, sir! You're not going to fit through that car window. Better retire.

At 0mph, or 50 mph, you must be ready to get the tools out and make minute revolutions to his dérailleur barrel adjuster.

"Transponder sticking out! Aaargh, he's slowing. Quick, he's too unaero. Fix it!". Forget yourself for a moment and bring the real James Bond out.

"Rider down! Rider down!! Pedro, run get him!!!"

Can you run? Okay, good. Can you push him as he jumps into the saddle? No, not flat. I'm talking uphill. Like UPHILL, UPMOUNTAIN, not the puny crap roads you have in the States. Show me your triceps. Ah, its okay, but more work needed! Hit the weights, Pedro!

The office of the rider is on his bike. You go to your office, the team truck, to prepare his office, think about that!

No office means big holiday for everyone and everything is a waste. Catch the next flight back to headquarters.

Holidays during the pro season = BAD BAD BAD.

When in the truck, coffee can be your friend. Carry some cheesy music from the 70's and some Mozart too. All will serve you well.

Proper communication is absolutely essential. You can be the liason between a multinational bicycle corporation and your team. You can be the only one who understands the rider's language. Who knows...

You must listen to your rider and give him his heart's desire. Leave your subjectivities, likes and dislikes at home. Respect what they like, be at home with their eccentricities.

"What did he say he needs more on his bike?" Did you listen?

Not all riders are the same. One can be nice and zero work. Another will be so problematic that he will give you hell.

You must take hell with a smile on the face and an Allen key in hand. Ready for the challenge?

How about - Can you speak to that other mechanic from Iceland? Maybe the word for "help" might be a nice idea. Something like that you know...

Miscommunication can cause lots of bad things. Look below, need I say more?

The team entrusts you with its inventory. Only you must know where each thing is. You must be organized and have something for tidiness. This is not your high school days. Serious business here, my friend.

"Did you loose a cleat screw? No problem, here, I can find you one." This is the sort of reply that your rider expects, not : "Oh you know, you go climb that baby, haha, you'll be fine I'll search and give it you in like two days."

You must be ready to leave your mechanic role and be a friend in need, brother, mentor whatever you want to call it. Here comes your rider with a broken collarbone. Stage race, didn't make it. What will you tell him?

When the team van is raided, or that doctor is busted, you must be ready to fight for team integrity. You worked hard to prepare the bike for a rider who rides naturally. You didn't see pharmaceuticals. "No, not here officer!"

You see, this may be a funny/stupid/false/very true intro to a hard job, but in the end, mechanics are those special people behind the riders we know. Hardly in the press or the sports channel, these men of tool and grease help make the backbone of every successful team.

Riders are on camera, mechanics may be in team buses sitting humbly, cheering the "hard men of the road" on.

But they make shit work.

You bet.

* * *


  1. Anonymous3:10 AM

    Haha...wicked funny dude. Great post.

  2. What a well composed "Ode to the Bicycle Mechanic".

  3. Sounds like a potentially stressful job with a high requirment to have your personal as well as mental shit together. Sort of reminds me of my job. It is too bad I work on robotic machines for a multi billion dollar company that pays very little and forgets immediately.

  4. Groover, anon : Thank you. I was working on a new dish in the kitchen when I started thinking of this post.

    Rickie - Where do you work? Any chance for a promotion? Seems like ur passionate about cycling.

  5. Ron,
    Supposedly maintenance is suppose to receive some sort of pay adjustment because we are well below the area standard for the work we do. I work at Walmart Optical Lab. Though there has been some training, it is mostly learn as you go. It isn't a terrible job, just dirty, loud, and can be a little stressful at times. A peak, the lab produces 40,000 lenses a week. Everyone has there specialty, but generally it is learn as you go. I work with a lot of really good guys, and that is the only thing that makes it tolerable sometimes. Love bikes. I own an Italian Viner Pro Team Nemo built by Tom at GVH bikes in Oregon. She is a beauty. I enjoy working on bikes occassionally and I don't let anyone touch mine unless I just don't have the tools and it is major surgery. Enjoyed the blog. You can check mine out, but I haven't added anything to it recently. I am sort of training for the Joe Martin next year. I wasn't ready by any strech of the imagination this year, but it gives me something to work on. The course is pretty brutal.

  6. Holy Moly, I didn't know Walmart makes anything here in the U.S in the first place, leave alone an Optical Lab. Atleast ur in a sport that'll make you look forward to something exciting on the weekends. Awesome.

  7. Walmart has 4 of the largest and most sophisticated optical labs in the world in the Continental USA. Totally automated, and employing 1000s of people. Big business!

  8. ...excellent tribute to the men (& women, tracy wilde was a killer mecho for shimano, campagnolo & several mtb teams) who do, what is at times, a thankless task...but w/out a great mechanic there are no confident riders...

    ...i can turn a wrench but i'll never be an artist & magician w/ a bicycle & that's just what a great PRO mechanic needs to be...

  9. Thank you. They deserve it, in the recent past I have not seen anything much written on mechanics and what their life may be like.

    Rickie - Totally automated and 1000's employed don't seem to go together, but I'll take your word for it! :)

  10. ...ron, when you have the time, go to my good friend steve 'gravy' gravenites, who specializes in wheel building these days, was a PRO wrench on the mtb circuit for at least ten years...the site is new but give it a has dirt credentials...

    ...these days, gravy builds 'stuff' for just guys who ride bikes up to gary fisher's personal bikes...

    ...& i wasn't paying attention to dates but i somehow just found yer "victory salutes" column & that is awesome funny stuff...

  11. Ron, You are right, the optical lab is not "totally" automated, but is to a large extent. Some machines require an operator to load and unload a lens, but many are robotic and do an entire process. The only thing that requires total human labor is the mounting process where lenses are mounted in frames. I was checking out the Bicycle Museum video and apparently much of the technology we have today stems from the invention of the bicyle. I have a new book, "Bicycle The History" by Yale University Press. I was curious because I was reading a book, "An American Cycling Odyssey 1887" by Kevin J. Hayes and wanted to see the designs that were mentioned in the book. The fact that someone could cross the entire continental US on one of those contraptions blows my mind. I crossed Wyoming and part of Colorado in 2000 and that was hard enough.

  12. Anonymous9:01 AM

    Where do you sign up... sir??

  13. Rickie,

    I've seen how lenses (camera) are made on Discover channel. It blew my mind!

    Here is the video from my vodpod.

    Is it similar to what you do out there?

    Fixed Gear : Thanks! Not too glamorous there. I stole a pic if you dont mind, seems to go with my flow of thinking. :)


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