Ask Nick: Handlebar tilt, resting your cables, and DON’T TOUCH MY TOOLS

Handlebar tilt, resting your cables, and don't touch my tools!

handlebarEditor’s Note: VeloNews tech editor Nick Legan is a former ProTour mechanic who most recently wrenched for Team RadioShack at the 2010 Tour de France and elsewhere. You can submit questions to Nick at, and be sure to check out Nick’s previous columns.
This may be more of a coaching question, but why do so many pros tilt their road bars forward instead of having them level to the ground? Is it to make the round-curved bars more ergonomic? Most books I have read say to have the bottoms of the bars level to the ground.
— John Troy

The books you’re reading sound a bit outdated. Very few bars are designed to be ridden with perfectly flat drops now. Many riders are setting up their bars and shifters to get the largest flat area they can. This often means rotating the bars up, so the bar points at the ground behind the crank. Shifters are then moved down the drop to create a longer flat area behind the shifter.

Other rides rotate the bar to get the hood higher and the drops farther away. This makes the changes between positions greater. They could also look into a deeper drop, but it seems to work well for pros.

My advice is to do what works for you. There is very little right or wrong when it comes to handlebar preferences. Spend some time experimenting with different bar positions and different brake lever positions. Sometimes increased comfort on your bike won’t cost you anything except a little time.

Is there a preferred position to leave your drivetrain in at the conclusion of a ride?
— John Thompson

Many mechanics like to leave a bike shifted into the small chainring and smallest cog when they leave it for the night. This takes almost all the tension off of the cables. Some claim that this lengthens the life of the cable set. Personally I’m not convinced, but it can’t hurt.

CJ Sutton, who rides for Team Sky, always shifts into this gear before handing his bike to the mechanics. He is a traditionally trained professional. His father and his uncle were both pros. I’m not sure who taught him this morsel of cycling etiquette. But I personally always liked it as a sign of respect to the men working on his bike. Pure class.

I am curious if the tools that team mechanics use are their personal tools or the team’s? My brother-in-law is an auto mechanic and every place he has worked he had to haul his personal toolbox with him. When the tool truck came to the shop, if he bought a tool it was with his own money. The shop only supplied the big stuff like wheel balancing machines or brake resurfacing machines. Do the pro bike mechanics have to come with their own tools, or do the ones they use belong to the team?
— Trace Nabors

Like your brother-in-law, we use our personal tools. A toolbox is a mechanic’s bag of tricks. They are highly personalized. I’m so habituated to my box and its layout that I can grab tools without looking. The case I use is custom; a Pelican case that I modified to hold tool pallets. If I had to work out of a different toolbox I’d be much slower.

I purchase most of my tools. Many teams have tool sponsors though and through them the mechanics are often given tools and boxes. But if you look in any pro mechanic’s kit, you’ll see tools from outside the realm of typical bicycle-specific tools. Dental picks, files, folding hacksaws, diagonal cutters, etc.

Also like your brother-in-law, teams provide the big tools for the trucks: power tools, truing stands, repair stands and the like.

At the end of each season though, my toolbox is mine. I would never want to use someone else’s tools. Ownership is important. And for that exact reason, each and every pro should respect the sanctity of a mechanic’s toolbox. NEVER TAKE A TOOL FROM A MECHANIC’S TOOLBOX. Ask for help and the person PAID to work on your bike will do it. If you want a tool to constantly adjust your saddle, bring your own. Otherwise, have the patience to let the mechanic help you.

Do you have any tips for quickly getting road brake levers on level on the bars, in particular bars with no position scale markings? I have found even using a spirit level, when the levers are tightened up, they are still “slightly” off!!

Simon Phillips

It’s not a perfect solution but here’s how I do it. Get one lever where you want it and tighten it. Take a good metric tape measure (I like the Zippo tapes, they are flexible enough for this purpose) and measure along the underside of the drop from the bar end to the bottom of your brake lever body. Use this measurement to replicate your position on the other side. Again, it may not be perfect, but it’s good enough for the Kloden and many, many others.

Another good way is to use a rigid straight edge. Run it along the flat section (if there is one) of the underside of your drop and then measure up to the tip of your brake lever.

Take your time and you’ll get there. Best of luck, Simon.

Do the mechanics put the rider decals, with their name and country flag, on the bikes? Who makes those and is it on both sides of the top tube?
— Kevin O’Grattan

We sure do. Once the roster is finalized, we’ll order them in. I’ve always used Victory Graphix whenever possible. AJ Eschwig, the owner, is a fantastic guy who’s worked with teams for years. He and his crew also produce radical vehicle graphics for team cars, trucks, buses and trailers. AJ’s background is in motorized two-wheeled racing. He has road, dirt and flat-track racing motorcycles in his shop. That’s a huge vote of confidence in my book.

Race bikes usually get a sticker on the drive side top tube. No need on the other side. Many teams are starting to put rider stickers on the underside of the down tube of spare bikes. This makes them easier to pick out when bikes are mounted on the roof of the team car.

Sometimes the bike manufacturer does the job for us though. Felt always produced amazing paint jobs to honor national champions. I especially liked Dan Martin’s Irish national champion bikes; classy bikes for a classy rider.

The only embarrassing part is when the national flag doesn’t match up with the rider’s nationality. But that’s usually the fault of the mechanic, not the sticker maker. Nobody’s perfect …