the bicycle toolbox I took to the Worlds. Its a plastic Plano multi-drawer
unit quite unlike the suitcase-style
boxes favored by the other wrenches (and nowhere near as durable, but
it’s what I had, so I took it). Its only about the size of
a small television and it worked great aside from the difficulty of carrying
it around (fully loaded, it weighs about 45 pounds; I should carry one
of those folding dollies you see in airports). See the colored tape on
the drawer fronts? I wrap matching tape around the tools that go in each
drawer to simplify packing the toolbox. You can read more about being
a pro race bicycle mechanic on the Park
Tool website, where veteran pro Calvin
Jones shares his insights and tips.
Galloway called in the summer of 94, I was a little nervous about
accepting his offer. You see, Bruce was rounding up bicycle mechanics
to work for Shimanos Neutral Support Service at the Mountain Bike
World Championships in Vail, Colorado. He wanted to include a journalist
with mechanical experiencesomeone to sample the action and hype
his companys commitment to the sport.
said Shimano would supply everything needed on-site, plus the airfare
to get there. All I had to do was bring my bicycle
tools. Further, Bruce assured me I wouldnt have to work any
more than I wanted, hinting I could take the VIP approach: knock out a
few simple derailleur adjustments then hang
out the rest of the week, scribbling notes, snapping pics, watching the
races. But I told Bruce that if I was coming, I was coming to wrench.
Thats why I was nervous. Ive been doing this editor gig since
1983, but before that I was a pro bicycle mechanic for 17 years, with
the filthy wardrobe and fingernails to prove it. Im still a
Cycling mechanic and work on friends bikes. Fact is, Ive
probably forgotten more about fixing two-wheelers than many modern mechanics
know. But things have changed considerably since I wore an apron from
9 to 5. (Yeah, right; make that 8 to 7.)
Besides, were talking about the Worlds, mountain bikings Super
Bowl. Mess up a cables tension, forget to check one
spoke nipple, overlook a bad chain link and the result could be a
race-ending mechanicalpossibly derailing someones career.
Its not your reputation on the line, either. Its
the teams. These were real concerns, enough to make any conscientious
And excited. I signed on. Devin Walton, who ran Shimanos rolling
workshop (12 events and 25,000 miles in 1994), and Christophe Esayian,
his right-hand man that year, scoured shops across the U.S. to assemble
a crack team of experts. These were mechanics with know-how and integrity,
so thorough that theyd grease the pump washer when tuning a bike.
Like me, these guys received room and board, a workstand and bench, the
bragging rights of working the Worlds, and no pay. Unlike me, they had
to get to Vail on their own. So most drove, sleeping in their cars to
cut costs. Some risked losing their regular jobs by leaving for a week.
We were like the gunslingers in The
Magnificent Sevenhired desperados (although we were brought
in not to kill bandits, but to rid the Worlds of mechanical
gremlins). Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Yul Brynner,
and Robert Vaughn (nobody remembers the other guys) were pros, but they
didnt have anything on our gang. Devin, who studied mechanical
engineering in college, dazzled us with his Shimano knowledge.
Christophe, who hadnt been home to Seattle in six months, spoke
several languages. New Englander Merlyn Townly, bald and sophisticated
like Brynner, had troubleshooting down to a science. Mercenary Eric Wolfe
from Colorado, all 6-foot-4 of him, was willing to take on any dirty job
that came along. Lean Chris McGrew from Seattle was quiet but efficient,
listening intently to riders before deftly tuning a rig. Meanwhile,
Texan Sean Thomson tirelessly cranked out repair after repair. Pitching
in were two technicians from Shimanos California headquarters, Kent
Wright and Greg Chalberg, who provided years of factory service experience
and were ready to jump in anytime someone got in over his head (usually
In a week, strangers became friends. Even if you arent mechanically
inclined, I think youd have had fun, so come along.
Poised for action
We set up in the bustling pit
area between the Diamond Back and Cannondale teams. Looking to the right,
past the other rigsSpecialized, Yeti, Grip Shift, RockShoxwe
have a glorious view of the snow-tipped Vail Pass peaks. Its
cold the first day, in the low 40s. The metal parts and tools amplify
the temperature, and I wish for gloves.
We work outside, next to Shimanos box van, in a fenced-off area
just large enough for our workstands, benches and bikes, at about 8,000
feet elevation, which explains Seans altitude sickness the first
day. Were fortunate to have a tarp roof to ward off weather,
which ranges from Run for cover, its hailing! to Wheres
Shimano supplies us with team-issue aprons as well as to-die-for pile
jackets, sweatshirts, hats and shirts, all emblazoned with Saved
by Shimano Multi Service. We wear this stuff everywhere. Piling
into the Hubcap Brewing Co. for dinner, we fit right in with the similarly
resplendent Swiss, German, Japanese, and U.S. teams. But not having
to worry about racing, we hoist a few and overeat.
Each morning around eight, we open the van, assemble benches, set out
stands and small-parts cases, and await problems. Its first come,
first served. Racers line up, usually those practicing days before their
events. We rack the bikes and ask whats the matter, sometimes
with amusing results.
Even Christophes language skills cant help when a fit-looking
Slovak tries to explain a skipping problem. My sign language seems
to work, but I think I unknowingly insult him, judging by his expression
as I disassemble the wheel. Some teams travel with interpreters, and
Kozo Shimano is around to speak with the Japanese racers, so we manage
Occasionally we go to elaborate lengths to solve problems. Even though
the van is full of small and large tools (even a bench vise, compressor;
refrigerator, and electricity) we dont have everything.
Embarrassingly, I fumble around for an hour, hand-machining a plastic
part for an XTR lever while our waiting line grows. Fortunately, Devin
has saved worn and broken components from past events, which we can strip
and recycle. This doesnt always please racers, who expect even
exchanges. (Cmon, guythis steel Alivio derailleur
will never break the way your old XTR did.) We give the damaged
parts back, though, in case they can he replaced under warranty at a shop.
Good news. A section of the cross-country
course is only a few feet behind us, so we get to watch some of the stars,
albeit briefly. No trouble knowing when theyre comingjust
wait for the ESPN helicopter to swing overhead. We follow lead changes
via the blaring PA.
The racers are great. They come in totally energized, amped to get to
the starting line on time, or just after a trial run. But, theyre
never abusive, demanding, or out of control (unlike customers on a showroom
floor on a busy Saturday). No, theyre downright nice.
the British downhiller who mangles her derailleurs in a crash, then patiently
waits, sweat-soaked and bloody, while I slowly install new mechs.
Or the French guy who, after Devin painstakingly overhauls his XTR Rapidfire
lever (I told you he was good), says Merci! Now I will win!
Or Grant McKelvie from Scotland, who insists on tipping us (we refuse)
after we replace his Grip Shift with help from company ace Ted Kennedy
who comes over from his tent.
Its tougher satisfying the team managers, who are trying to keep
their squads spinning and often need a bunch of partsyesterday.
Jeannie Longo wants XTR derailleurs. Hans Rey is looking for something,
anything, were willing to give away. Toby Henderson has to have
a rear axle, but hes willing to install it. GTs Doug Martin
greasy types gawk at the legends while Devin hears them out with motherly
patience and solves their problems one way or another. He seems to know
everyone on the NORBA circuit. When parts arent in stock, he orders
from the factory and has them shipped to Vail. Example: a box of new riveted
XTR cassettes to replace the bolted ones that are coming apart for many
Were amazed to see what some racers pedal. Naturally, top Americans
ride only the best frames and components. But other countries make do
with whatever’s available. Would you enter the Worlds with bolt-on
wheels and steel rims? No way. But it doesnt seem to faze the
Mexicans or Bolivians. I take a break one day to watch some of the downhill
and spot them descending wildly (how else could you descend on those slick
rims?). They have miniature flags stuck in their helmets and are obviously
so proud to be participating that any bike would do.
The same euphoria about being part of a major event is felt by us mechanics.
Because we might not get a chance like this again, we try to savor
every moment. Walking through the wonderful car-free village of Vail
to try another fine restaurant; hanging at the condo and swapping shop
tales; rating the bands at the bars; dialing in bikes for the worlds
bestwe relish our good luck. On the final night, the U.S. Mechanics,
Park Tool and Finish Line throw a mechanics-only party. Theres a
slew of usyoung and old, men and womenfrom various nations,
all members of a noble fraternity.