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Pro Bike Express gives amateurs the professional treatment

BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — Getting your bike(s) to far-flung races can be a major hassle, and dealing with mechanical issues when you’re there can multiply it. Pro Bike Express offers bike transport to races all across the country, and it has stepped up its service to include taking care of riders’ mechanical and personal needs like a professional team would.

Pro Bike Express proprietor Wesley Smith loves to drive as well as to wash bikes, and he has endless patience, a cheery willingness to deal with any weather conditions, and a knack for and a desire to take really good care of people. All of those things make for a dependable combination when you’re a rider wanting to do your best at a race far from home.

When he purchased the company from Wheat Ridge Cyclery owner (and former Tour de France rider) Ron Kiefel, riders in the Boulder/Denver area viewed Pro Bike Express almost exclusively as a bike-transportation service. However, Smith has staffed up for 2013 and offers “concierge service” as well as transportation of bikes, spare wheels, and gear bags. His primary business is offering bike transport and services to triathletes down to the point of hanging up dripping wetsuits dumped in transition zones. Cyclocross also is a natural choice, due to its requirement for multiple bikes and wheel/tire choices, as well as the high amount of maintenance required to deal with fickle environmental conditions. But Smith, if requested by enough paying customers, will travel to and from anywhere in the U.S. for any bike event, and he will be willing to take care of those customers like they are professional athletes.

Emphasizing that he does much more than just transport bikes, Smith brought his truck and trailer to numerous Colorado cyclocross races this year and set up his enclosed, heated tents with trainers lined up inside for riders to use. In a hurry to get to your start, and your number’s not pinned on yet? Your shifter suddenly has stopped working? Need a last-minute change in tire pressure? Smith and, often, his assistant Chandler Snyder of Snyder Cycling Services (http://www.snydercyclingservices.com/), were there to assist any rider with any need they might have. Smith tripled his crew for cyclocross nationals and worlds this year, bringing along bike mechanics Snyder and Chris Fuller, who were always willing to do whatever was needed, from changing out gummed-up cables and fried brake pads, to being the actual pit crew for riders without one.

While at most events, including the 2012 cyclocross nationals in Madison, Wisc., Smith sets up interconnected tents with propane heaters inside. At the 2013 cyclocross nationals — at the same Verona venue outside Madison — the accommodations were considerably more plush. Planning well ahead for the 22 Colorado riders and their 46 bikes he would be delivering and taking care of, Smith rented a large barn immediately adjacent the race site. So while even riders on well-sponsored teams were slopping around in the cold mire in tents set up in a muddy field used as a parking lot, those who had employed Pro Bike Express’s services were indoors in a large, heated building.

Inside, Smith and his crew had set up a small, full-service bike shop staffed by Snyder. They had also set up bike parking for dozens of bikes, and even separate women’s and men’s heated, enclosed changing rooms!

As well as a place to warm up on trainers, the Pro Bike Express barn was a place to hang out on folding chairs around a heater and discuss the day’s events.

When disc brakes failed in thin, soupy mud, or when cantilevers froze and clogged in sticky, freezing mud, or if cables stopped sliding freely, Snyder quickly came to the rescue, replacing parts as needed and relieving a rider’s anxiety by giving him or her a fully-functioning bike in a jiffy. And when one female rider’s pit crew went home early, Snyder and Smith were in the pit for the elite women’s race, taking care of her as if she were Katie Compton or Georgia Gould.

For the masters cyclocross world championships in Louisville, Ky., a few weeks later, Pro Bike Express took care of 68 bikes and their owners. That was “a lot of cats to herd,” Smith said. Of those 68 bikes, he transported 59 from Colorado and needed to employ an additional truck to do so. Smith also had four bikes from South Dakota, three from Hollywood, and two from Quebec. The riders from outside of Colorado didn’t use the transportation service; rather, they were just paying to use Pro Bike Express’s other services, like tents, trainers, heaters, bike repair and pit service, “and the only coffee that was available” at the venue, according to Smith.

Smith also took care of details that riders might not even think of, and since he arrived at the venue before many riders in his care had even left home, he could provide the occasional advance heads-up. For instance, he warned his riders ahead of time about the cost of credentials required to work in the pit area during the masters races, a detail that turned out to be a surprise for many other competitors and their friends who had offered to pit for them.

The conditions during the week of masters worlds were challenging in Louisville, which featured hurricane-force winds wreaking havoc on tents and course tape, and torrential rains creating a mudfest and stuck vehicles, to frozen power washers that had become as useful as enormous paper weights in the flooded pits, to freezing mud adhering so strongly that it turned bikes into brown ice sculptures, stopped derailleurs from working, and had to be chipped off of frames, components and deep-section carbon wheels. And of course, a rising river forced organizers to compress the elite events into a single day. All in all, Smith said, “Worlds was great, with a four-season week of weather going from warm to rain to snow and cold. It was exhausting, but I had so much fun in supporting and pitting that I would do it again for sure.”

Where the emphasis for consumers of Pro Bike Express used to be almost exclusively on the “bike express” part, now it has also swung toward the “pro” part. Being taken care of like an elite rider is something that age-group competitors can definitely get used to. A group of Colorado riders is already starting to assemble to go with Smith to the Providence Cyclo-cross Festival from Oct. 4-6. Smith had nothing going on that month, and when riders approached him about it, he “thought it would be a good excuse for a road trip to the east coast.” Driving across the country, especially in a big rig, is not my idea of a good time, but it’s fortunate for weekend racers with jobs that it is for Wesley Smith.

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