Professionalism in the Workplace

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Building a Friendship

Several years ago, I was road cycling regularly, participating at and leading most of our shop’s group rides, doing some solo training, and doing some other casual rides with friends.  I stayed fairly fit, but at this point in time, I was pretty close to my mid-season prime, and had some legs about me.  I started seeing an older gentleman show up for our group rides on occasion.  I had seen him before, riding on his own, but he started tagging along on our Wednesday night “hammerfest.”

I gave him the obligatory once-over, the look that all roadies give to new members of their cycling group, not to belittle or offend, but to size up our new riding companion and his equipment.  He was kitted out in Italian-made cycling garb, and his steed was a custom titanium and carbon Seven, with a full Campagnolo Record 10 gruppo.  Upon this first glance, I could tell that he and I shared the same appreciation for very nice things.  He straddled the bike, one foot clipped in, and was ready to ride… and was grinning from ear to ear.  Interesting.

budsbike

We didn’t make verbal pleasantries at first, we just introduced ourselves by exchanging pedal strokes and paceline duties.  This interesting character, who was obviously a few decades older than I, was able to suffer with the best of us.  Upon returning to the parking lot to complete the ride, I gave the obligatory, “Good ride,” and continued home.  The entire way home, I wondered, “Who was that guy?”, like I was trying to find out the identity of the Lone Ranger, or another masked superhero from a black-and-white television series.  I didn’t anticipate someone his age having the ability to ride that hard and hang with us twenty-somethings.  I was impressed… and respected that greatly.

Over the course of a few years, the guy kept coming back to our rides.  He always rode at a very-high level, and we forged a friendship.  His style never changed, and his smile never went away. He began coming into the shop more often, and I had the privilege of working on his Seven.  I glued his tubulars, installed his Campy Super Record 11-speed gruppo, and did other maintenance on the bike, from time to time.  One day, he brought a lady-friend into the shop, to help her purchase some cycling gear.  He introduced us, but he didn’t tell me she was his new flame… he didn’t have to.  He had a glow about him that I hadn’t seen before, and it was obvious that he was really into this lady.  We outfitted her with cycling shoes, clipless pedals, and some proper cycling attire… keeping it perfectly fashionable, of course.

A while after that, I received word that my friend had been hit by a car, knocked off the bike, and had broken his hip.  He was hurt pretty bad, but I knew he’d make a comeback.  It was a long recovery, but he was a resilient old bugger, and I was sure he’d ride again.  I didn’t see much of him for a while, after all… if he wasn’t riding his bike, he didn’t really need any maintenance or anything that I could provide at the shop.  Just recently, he stopped by the new shop I work at, and we exchanged pleasantries.  I knew he had visited that shop in the past, so I wasn’t shocked to see him, but I was happy that he found me.  He greeted me with that same big smile on his face, same gentle attitude, and he seemed extremely happy that we had the chance to talk, even for just a few minutes.  I was glad that I would be able to work on his bikes again, and to be able to ride with him again soon.

Little did I know, that was the last time I would speak with him.   Bud Phillips, my friend, was hit by a truck while riding his bike in our town.  He was air-lifted to a local hospital, and is currently on life support, with little to no brain activity, and has been that way since Saturday.  Barring a miracle, Bud will pass away soon after the machines are unplugged from his body, which will be any day now.  Since Saturday, I’ve been waiting for word of my friend’s impending passing.  Needless to say, it’s been a rough week.

Just last week, I wrote about the death of champion mountain biker Burry Stander (“Death and Fear in Cycling”), and how much of a tragedy it was, not knowing that the same tragic situation would darken the roads of our town, just a few days later.  Cyclist versus vehicle incidents seem to be increasing at a staggering rate.  I don’t know the exact situation surrounding Bud’s incident, so I can’t blame anyone for the accident.  I will say that motorists today are more distracted, less patient, and seemingly less sympathetic to individuals who choose to exercise their right to take a more healthy, two-wheeled approach to travel.  Bud is not the first friend of mine that has been on the wrong side of this equation, and I can say, without a doubt, that he probably won’t be the last.

But it needs to stop.  I’m tired of losing friends.

Death and Fear in Cycling

Photo: http://mtbs.cz
Photo: http://mtbs.cz

Today, the cycling community lost a very dear friend, South African XC mountain biker, Burry Stander.  He was tragically killed by a taxi while training in his hometown.  The entire MTB racing family, and most friends that follow competitive cycling, are mourning greatly.

Burry was riding his bike, just like you or I ride our bikes every day.  If we take to the roads, we are putting ourselves in danger.  Cyclists cannot predict what auto drivers are going to do while driving.  We can take all the precautions possible, but we are still no match for a 2,000 pound vehicle heading our way.  Mountain biking carries its own inherent dangers, even if we choose not to ride insane stunts like riders in our favorite MTB videos.  Rocks, roots, trees, and even crazed animals are all hazards that could be encountered on a trip in the woods.

Should we stop cycling, all together?  Should we take all risk out of our lives to ensure that we survive our day-to-day lives?  Absolutely not, I say.  Regardless of how we try to shelter ourselves from potential threats to our livelihood, ceasing our activities and living under an umbrella of fear is no way to live life.

“A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.” — Spanish proverb, in Baz Luhrmann’s movie Strictly Ballroom

Remember Burry Stander’s family and friends in your prayers, as well as those family and friends of other cyclists that have been killed while cycling.  Take time to mourn, but do not allow sadness and fear to encompass your life.   Do not live in fear, but in action.   Join a cycling advocacy group, and do your best to encourage positive and progressive cycling legislation in your local cycling community.  Obey the rules of the road.  Wear your helmet.  Teach a beginner road cyclist how to properly ride in traffic.  Lead a group ride.  Go live.

My friend, VeloNews journalist Dan Wuori, echoed the sentiments of many cycling fans tonight in a Tweet:

“@dwuori: A Cyclist’s Prayer: Watch over those who ride and bring comfort to all who mourn. #RIPBurry”

“Parts Hangers” vs. “Bike Mechanics”

Working on Nice Stuff is Easy.
Working on Nice Stuff is Easy.

There is a difference between “Parts Hangers” and “Bike Mechanics.”

A Parts Hanger can resemble a Bike Mechanic, and knows their way around a bike, but doesn’t like working on bikes unless they’re installing new, high-end parts.  You can tell a Parts Hanger by the way they check in a repair.  If, when checking in a repair for service, the “mechanic” (and I use that term loosely in this situation) starts tallying up a list of new parts without properly checking over the bike, you may have a Parts Hanger on your hands.  Inside the bike shop, a Parts Hanger “cherry-picks” the repairs they work on, leaving less expensive bikes or repairs that require actual work, for another mechanic to handle.

A real Bike Mechanic can actually fix bikes.  It doesn’t matter what brand or style of bike, or what shape it is in… the real Bike Mechanic can make the bike function properly.  Sure, there are instances where bikes are too far gone to repair, but in most cases, the real Bike Mechanic will do their best to repair the bike to the best functioning order it is capable of.  Real Bike Mechanics are fluent in all bicycle styles, and you do not usually see them turn up their nose at a challenging repair.

Don’t get me wrong… real Bike Mechanics like working on nice things.  It is extremely fun to piece together a custom build for a good customer, but that is not the only part of a Bike Mechanic’s job.  It’s easy to work on nice stuff… it’s engineered to work flawlessly.  The mark of a true Bike Mechanic is whether or not they can make the crappy stuff work.  Real Bike Mechanics do not cut corners, and they get the job done right – the first time.

And Bicycle Race Mechanics take it exponentially farther…

Tour of Utah Recap – Stages 4-6

Back to the story…  

Stage 4 – Lehi to Salt Lake City (134.3 miles)

We started about 25 miles into Stage 4.  Because it was a 134 mile stage, and it had a “lollipop” in it, we had to push forward to get as far into the stage as we could before getting held up by the pros coming through.  Our start point was in the middle of the Utah desert.  Seriously… it was the desert.  The stage profile was very flat, so the riders made pretty good time.  Unfortunately, because it was the desert, there was very little scenery.  I did snap a few shots of the flat landscape and some Pony Express landmarks, though.

We did get caught by the pros on the lollipop, but we made it almost to the “end of the stick” before heading north, towards Salt Lake City.  It was a very long day, and I blame it mostly on the lack of scenery for the first several hours of the ride.  The week, so far, had been uneventful, as far as mechanical or rider support issues, which was good.

Stage 5 – Newpark Town Center to Snowbird (101.1 miles)

This stage was the queen stage of the Tour of Utah, with around 10,000 feet of climbing.  There were some serious climbs ahead of the guys, but we were more concerned about the start of the ride.  We were scheduled to have a ceremonial start at Newpark Town Center in the midst of a gran fondo that rode the entire race course.  Instead of the “ceremonial start” we were supposed to get, we ended up getting thrown in amongst the fondo riders.  In case you weren’t aware of it, support for an event like ours gets a lot harder when you add an extra 700 RIDERS to the road…

The extra riders added to the confusion, for sure.  At our first rest stop, I tried to speed up to get going and beat a group of fondo riders back onto the road, and forgot to shut the tailgate of the truck.  Looking in the rear-view mirror, I saw my big cooler come out of the truck and go spinning into the highway, rocketing bottles all over the place…  I cleaned up the mess, drove to a grocery store to replenish my ice and water, and continued on.  Everything was good in the end, but for about 45 minutes, I was pretty panic-stricken.

As we continued on, I had to fight my way through the fondo traffic up and down the intermediate KOM climbs to keep up with my group.  The climbs were tight and twisty, and it was very difficult with two-way bike traffic and auto traffic.  We managed to make it through the KOM’s, through the small towns where sprints were located, then approached the climb to Snowbird.  I had visited Snowbird before for a Specialized dealer event, about 3 years ago, so I knew the climb up to the resort.  It was a long, somewhat steep climb, and coming at the end of a 100-mile day, it was going to be no easy feat for our guys.

I made the decision to give the guys bottle hand-ups from the roadside on the way up the hill.  They would ditch their empty bottles, I’d give them a fresh bottle, then I’d give them a spray of water on their back or head and give them a push up the road.  This made a huge difference to them.  They were able to shed a bottle, get a little reprieve from the heat, and get a friendly boost up the road.  Helped for a second, at least…

All the guys made it up the climb, except one coach, Colin Izzard.  He had the legs to go up the climb, but one of the riders suffered a broken spoke, so he sacrificed his rear wheel and helped me sag the guys up the hill.  I definitely needed the help that day.  It was hot, and we did a lot of work on that last climb, making sure all the guys were okay.

Stage 6 – Park City to Park City (77 miles)

This was the final day of the Tour of Utah, and had some of the steepest climbing I had ever seen.  The ride was pretty chill for a long while, except for scrambling around for some odd course markings on some smaller, sketchier roads.  A lot of times, we headed out earlier than the course marking crews, so sometimes we miss turns if the numbers in the race bible get jumbled.  We had two or three odd turns that weren’t marked well, so we had to figure that out before moving forward.  Once we got back on the main road, we found our way.

There were a few major climbs in this stage.  The first was through a gated neighborhood, Wolf Creek Ranch, usually closed to the public.  Once we turned on the climb, we one of the steepest pitches I had ever seen.  After 5 days of riding, I know the guys were begging for it to stop, but the climbing continued…  The boys started “paperboy-ing” (weaving side to side to take the edge off the climb), so I got out of the truck to give them little pushes through some of the turns.  Unfortunately, this was only the first major climb of the day…

The guys continued on, rolling comfortably until we approached Empire Pass.  Empire Pass was hand-selected by Levi Leipheimer for this race, due to it’s length and difficulty, and probably because Levi knew the climb inside and out (Levi won Stage 6 on this day, after our athletes finished).  Needless to say, this climb was a huge obstacle for the athletes, regardless of their fitness.  Less than 500 meters into the climb, the “paperboy-ing” started again…  I knew we were in for it.

Strangely, one of our athletes, Shannon Lawrence from Bermuda, started stretching his legs a bit.  He was very nervous going into the day, and said for the first 40 miles of the ride that his legs were feeling very heavy.  On Empire Pass, he had evidently worked all the kinks out, because he steadily motored away from the rest of the group.  I don’t know what got into him, but he changed from flatlander to climbing machine that day.  It made things a bit difficult for me, though… he was so far up the road, I would have to zoom ahead in the truck to take care of him, then wait or drive back down the mountain to feed and push the other riders.  It was definitely a test of my abilities, not as a mechanic, but as a sag driver (NOTE:  My legs were sore the next day from running and pushing riders up 20% grade hills for two days… just sayin’…).

Shannon made it to the top first, and the rest of the group followed shortly thereafter.  There was a nice, long, windy descent with one minor little kick in it before the finish in Park City.  All the group descended into town together and finished the CTS Tour of Utah Race Experience together.  All the guys made it, and like most of the CTS events I’ve been to, they seem to have forged a bond and developed a sense of team accomplishment that I have only seen in my days in the Marines.  All the guys are friends, and seem to have gained a brotherly bond over the course of the week.

After we returned back down to Salt Lake City, I began packing bikes for the riders’ journeys home.  Once completed, we organized the trucks to travel to their respective destinations, then got ready for our team dinner and departure.  Another race week in the books.  Next up, four days off, then back out west for the Tour of Colorado… STAY TUNED!

%d bloggers like this: