Riding the Wind of Change

I took a brief hiatus from writing on my blog, not because I didn’ t have anything to say, but because I simply haven’t had time to cram another thing into my schedule.  Looking back, I see my last post was before Cyclocross Worlds in February, so I’ve got some catching up to do.  Here’s a few highlights:

  • Sickness – Everyone in my family (with the exception of my amazing wife) got some form of a flu or stomach bug AT LEAST a few times.  Niki had some debilitating migraine issues, rather frequently, which required some added responsibility on my part after work.
  • School – Had one class during the first half of the semester, and one during the second half (which ended May 10).  I did okay during the first class, but the second, I tanked.  The class wasn’t interesting to me, and I didn’t put in the time needed to make the grades happen.  I feel really guilty about it, but sometimes those things happen.
  • Shop Closed – The shop job that I landed in September came to a halt in mid-April.  Free-Flite Bicycles bought a multisport store in Sandy Springs, Cadence Multisport, forcing our store location to close.  It was a great financial move on the owner’s part, and will work well for the company, but a shame for the Canton community.  Half of the staff decided to transfer to the main store in Marietta, and half of us opted for other things.  I didn’t know what I would do at the time, but I knew I could get some jobs in the interim, in order to make it work.
  • We’re Moving! – With all the melee going on with my job, Niki and I decided that it was time for a change.  We informed our landlord that at the end of May, we would be vacating our current residence.  The plan was to head to Jacksonville, FL, to spend the summer with Niki’s parents.  It would give the kids some quality “grandparent time,” and give us a break to regroup and figure out what our next step would be.

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Those were the difficulty-riddled bullet points.  The following are some great things that came along, filled in the gaps, and offered the silver lining to my aforementioned dark clouds:

  • UCI Paracycling Open (Greenville, SC) – I was asked to round up a crew of mechanics to provide neutral support for an international paracycling race near my hometown.  I was happy to oblige, mainly because it was a win-win; I had the opportunity to work on some exquisite machines, meet some absolutely unbelievable athletes, and my kids got to spend some quality time with their grandparents.  The field was filled with World Champions in their individual disciplines (at one point, there were FIVE World Champs in the TT start house at one time!), and other local athletes, who had never competed in road events before.  It was an incredible experience, that I will post about later.  I want to thank my neutral support crew for all their help:  Neal Herring (Sunshine Cycle Shop – Greenville, SC), Tim Wellborn (Cycle Center – Columbia, SC), and Derrick O’Shields (Grady’s Great Outdoors Bike Shop – Anderson, SC).  Honorable mention goes to my wife, Niki, who helped me at the TT start and ran a lot of errands for things we needed during the weekend.
  • Athens Twilight/Roswell Criterium –  Since my bike shop had closed, I had some free time on my hands, so I picked up a job with a pro team, Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis.  I had followed them for a while, and had worked for some of their riders when they were on other teams in the past.  They had a split team, meaning half their team was racing in Arkansas at the Joe Martin Stage race, and the other half were racing the USACRITS Speed Week criteriums in the Southeast.  I provided mechanical support for them over the course of the weekend, and they managed to be one of the strongest teams in the field, putting several riders in the Top 10 each day.  More to come on those events, as well.
  • Amgen Tour of California w/CTS – I’m currently in California, on my way to work at the Tour of California, once again working with Carmichael Training Systems.  I worked California, Utah, and USPRO Challenge in Colorado with them last year, and had a really good time.  I am looking forward to the next nine days of work.  Although there are extremely long, hard days of work ahead, I really am in my element when working like this.
  • Race Across America (RAAM) – A week or so ago, I accepted a position as mechanic for a RAAM team from Bristol Myers Squibb.  These men are trying to raise money to bring about a greater awareness, and hopefully a cure, for melanoma.  After Tour of California, I will be home for three days, then flying up to Princeton, NJ, for a camp with the team.  On June 12th, I’ll fly back out to California and follow Team Melanoma Exposed across the United States, on their mission to spread awareness of this terrible form of cancer.
  • GOT A NEW JOB! – When visiting my parents in SC last weekend, I visited a friend in Greenville, SC, who is regional manager for a chain of stores called BikeStreet USA.  He was in need of a Service Manager at his largest store, and asked if I was interested.  After several discussions and a really great visit to the shop, I have accepted that position, and will start very shortly.  The plan is to spend a week in Greenville after my Tour of California and RAAM Team Camp trips, but before RAAM.  After RAAM is finished, I will fly back down to Greenville and be there full-time from that point on.  This will mean a big move for our family, but we’ve discussed it and feel it will be a good move for us, on several levels.   I am going to try and take some traveling mechanic positions in the future, and it seems by the way the regional manager and I were talking, that scheduling adjustments and vacation days can allow some of that to be possible.

Lots of change is happening, and on some fronts, I’m very nervous and anxious.  I can’t help thinking that when things stop changing, we stop living.  We become stagnant at that point, and fall into a really bad spot that nobody wants to be in.  I’m glad things are changing for us, and I can’t wait to move on to the next several chapters of our lives.  We’ll be leaving a lot of good friends in Georgia, but we’re close enough to make occasional visits, and there’s always Facebook

We’re currently halfway finished with our move, but will be transitioning over the next two months.  If you need to contact me, e-mail me at probikewrench@gmail.com.  Thanks for your friendship and support.

 

Cyclocross Worlds LIVE STREAMING VIDEO!!!

I had planned to attend the UCI World Cyclocross Championships in Louisville, Kentucky this weekend, but life happened and things got crazy. I wasn’t going to be able to make the drive until after work today (Saturday), in order to catch the Elite races on Sunday. Then, the organizers changed all the races to TODAY, because the park where Worlds is being held is expected to be flooded by a major storm rolling through tonight, thus ending my plans to attend. Oh, well…

The next best thing to being in Louisville today is watching the races LIVE online! Live streaming video of today’s events starting at 9:30am: http://www.cxmagazine.com/live-video-stream-2013-cyclocross-world-championships. Lots of racing today! Tune in and cheer on the Americans!

Tools I Must Have – Post 1 in a Series

I’ve been drooling over several new tools lately, so I’ve decided to start a list of which tools/items are striking my fancy.  Here’s the first of many:

Abbey Bike Works Dual Sided Crombie SL

This gem is a sweet new tool from Abbey Bike Works, called the Crombie.  The Crombie does the obvious job of removing a cassette lockring.  There are a few different models of the Crombie, including a single-sided model with a Campagnolo or Shimano head , a dual-sided model with Campagnolo AND Shimano heads, and a dual-sided SL model with both heads and a hollow handle.  The hollow-handled SL model is made with the traveling mechanic in mind, understanding that for those mechanics, like myself, who utilize air travel from time-to-time, there are weight restrictions on toolboxes that we must meet, in order to spare extra fees.

It’s a pretty handy tool with these functions alone, but one additional function of the Crombie makes it stand head and shoulders above the rest.  The Crombie fits over the quick release nut, enabling the mechanic to swap cassettes without removing the QR skewer.  This is a HUGE plus for anyone having to make a cassette swap in a hurry.  Sure it doesn’t take THAT much longer to remove the skewer, but every second counts in a race mechanic’s day… why not make it easier on yourself?

The fact that I can carry a handled multi-use tool, and eliminate two small bits and a wrench, makes this a tool that I must have.  Several mechanic friends already have the tool, and are really enjoying it.  Abbey Bike Works is also beginning production on a chain whip that the Crombie will slide into, making a very lightweight and compact two-tool combo.  Both tools are on my shopping list, and will be purchased soon.

Oh, yeah… for an extra $10, you can get your name engraved on it, making it a truly custom piece.  Yes, I’m a nerd.  Yes, I’ll probably pop for the custom tool.

For more information on Abbey Bike Works and their line of tools, visit http://www.abbeybiketools.com/

Professionalism in the Workplace

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It’s always fun to work on nice things in the shop.  Take, for instance, these HED Wheels above.  One is a disc rear wheel, the other is a tri-spoke rear wheel.  Both are very expensive, aerodynamic upgrades for a time-trial or triathlon bike, and are very rare to see in most bike shops on a daily basis.  The wheels were in the shop today to switch axles and overhaul the hubs, a pretty simple task.

I disassembled both hubs to find there was some writing behind the freehub bodies, on the aluminum surface that the carbon is bonded to.  It was not etching, like you may find from a machine shop, indicating a lot number or technical specification.  It was just a couple of stupid sayings, which made no sense to me, but were obviously written by the last mechanic that had done the same procedure on the wheels.

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The writing on the hubs was not a structural or mechanical integrity issue, but rather a professional integrity issue.  The writing was put there, thinking that no other mechanic or the owner of the wheels would ever see it.  Well… I saw it, and I take issue with it.

If I took my bike to a bike shop, I would want the mechanic that repaired my bike to treat my bike like it is a prized possession.  It is, after all, MY prized possession, that I spent my hard-earned money on.  Going into a bike shop, the customer has a certain level of trust in the bike mechanic, and from the time they drop off their repair, they believe that the mechanic will do the absolute best job possible, with great attention to detail, and care for the bike.

That was not done in this situation.  Was the repair completed by the last shop it was serviced at?  Sure.  Was it done with care and detail?  Absolutely not.  No professional bike mechanic, in my opinion, takes a Sharpie to someone else’s property without their permission.  Regardless of what it said, whether the customer would never know, or whether or not it affected the performance of the wheels, drawing on someone else’s property like this is childish and disrespectful.

I probably sound like I’m going off the deep end with this one, but I can’t help but feel that if a mechanic doesn’t take the work they are paid to do to your bike seriously, even in little matters like this, would they really provide you a proper level of customer service if you were in a bind?  I’ll say it again… working in a bike shop is less about bikes, and more about developing and maintaining relationships with people.  If you conduct yourself in a professional manner and provide a premium service, it will be recognized and you will have a loyal, repeat customer.  Act like a fool and treat customer badly, and they will pick up on it… and will find another place to have their bike serviced.

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I’m not sure why the customer that owns these wheels started bringing them to our shop to service them.  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because he found the writing behind the freehubs on his wheels.  Maybe it was because he and I developed a working relationship, and he is more comfortable bringing his bikes to me for service than to take them to another shop, which I know is a shorter drive from his home.  I appreciate that he values the work I do, and I appreciate his business.

The Sharpie musings of the last mechanic came off the aluminum really easy with some light rubbing with a bit of steel wool, and it didn’t enhance or detract from the performance in any way.  But in case this customer takes his wheels to any another shop for service, I can rest assured that there is no mistaking that the repair was done properly and professionally… and that they won’t have anything to write a blog post about.

Passing It On

Over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with several mechanics, some who are aspiring to either jump into the race mechanic scene, and others who plan on opening their own shops in the near future.  We have had discussions about goals, dreams, plans, ideas, and aspirations for the future, as well as how I got started in the industry, as a race mechanic, and how I landed where I am right now.

I consider it a privilege and honor to talk to these up-and-comers, and appreciate the fact that they value my opinion as someone who has gone before them in the bicycle mechanic arena.  I don’t consider it a burden to pass on information or spend time with any of these guys and gals, because I was there once, myself.  If there hadn’t been other mechanics who had followed the same path and passed the knowledge and experience on to me, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.  I can’t name them all, but a few of the influential mechanics and bike folks in my life are:

  • John Duncan – John was the owner of the first bike shop I worked at, WheelSport Bicycles in Anderson, SC.  After begging for a job for a long time, John finally gave me a shot.  I had already been working on my own bikes for a few years, but he gave me the entrance into the industry that I had been longing for.  John schooled me on repairs, especially fine-tuning derailleurs.  One of the tidbits of advice that John told me, that sticks with me is, “Tune every bike like MY kids are going to be riding them.”
  • Merlyn Townley – As the back of his business card says, Merlyn “gets things done.”  One of the most experienced mechanics I’ve ever met, Merlyn has been around the world and back, wrenching on bikes all along the way.  Merlyn was one of my instructors at the Bill Woodul Mechanics’ Clinic in 2005.  He instructed classes on cyclocross race support and wheel changes.  His tips and advice in that clinic stayed with me, especially his compliments on my attempts at pushing riders back into a race.  I pride myself in a good push… and Merlyn taught me that.  He is one of only a handful of Category 1 mechanics in the United States, something I still aspire to be.  We’ve become friends over the years, and chat often regarding work we’re doing.  Good to have him on my side.  Visit Merlyn’s business here.
  • TJ Grove – TJ is a rock-star mechanic, and also one of my former instructors at the USAC Mechanic’s Clinic.  His resume is a mile long, including work at several Olympics, World Championships, and multiple WorldTour teams, just to scratch the surface.  It’s always good to see him at the races, because of his amazing demeanor, even under pressure.  He’s one of the hardest working mechanics in the business, and I observe him in action, every chance I get, in order to soak up a new tip, trick, or shortcut that I can use in my own work.
  • Calvin Jones – Anyone who has used a blue, Park tool in the past 20 years, can most likely thank Calvin for the development of it.  Calvin is the head mechanic/tool guru at Park Tool, and also an instructor at the Bill Woodul Clinic.  He’s a very likable character, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of everything that has to do with bicycles.  To obtain some of Calvin’s knowledge for yourself, visit his blog.

Like I said, these are just a few of the great mechanics that have helped me along in my career.  They’ve given a little bit of themselves and their vast knowledge and experience to mechanics who want to follow in their footsteps.  Now that I’ve got over a dozen years in the industry, including several years as a race mechanic, I feel indebted to these men, and many others, for their help along the way.  It’s my pleasure to offer advice, help, or any input to those who are looking to get a start in the business.

Thanks, to those who I’ve been speaking with about the business.  Feel free to contact me any time.  You keep me motivated to wrench, write, and create.

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