Old School: ProTour wrench Nick Legan revisits USAC’s mechanic’s clinic
VeloNews' Nick Legan returns to the Bill Woodul mechanics clinic to see what's changed in the eight years since he first took the class.
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (VN) _ Making the leap from shop rat to pro team mechanic is not easy. Nine years ago I attended the Bill Woodul Mechanic’s Clinic at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in my attempt to do just that. I had years’ of shop experience and had even dabbled as a race mechanic at collegiate nationals on two occasions. I had a sense of what it meant to be a race mechanic.
After the clinic, the business end of pro mechanics was much clearer to me. I went on to work for teams over an eight-year career. I was curious to go back and see what I thought of the clinic after all this time.
Timeliness is everything in any technical field and the instructors have done a fantastic job of updating the clinic to keep pace. USA Cycling has lengthened the clinic since I attended to make room for additional content. It now begins on a Wednesday evening and finishes on Sunday around 10 a.m.
That extra time is needed to cover support for BMX (now an Olympic discipline), suspension fundamentals, gran fondo support and inventory control.
It’s not every day that you get access to the quality of mechanics who teach at the clinic. Seasoned mechanics in every discipline shared their knowledge. Industry leaders in bicycle, wheel, tool and lubricant design taught as well.
Calvin Jones, Park Tool genius and many-time world championships mechanic, covered modern concerns in bike washing. Ric Hjertberg, founder of Wheelsmith Spokes and president of Mad Fiber Wheels, discussed the latest in composite technologies. Chip Howat, who literally wrote the book on tubular gluing, passed along his expertise.
Each student must already have two years’ of shop experience. Repairing bicycles is not the primary concern of the clinic. It focuses on the expectations of a race mechanic, whether neutral or team-affiliated.
The curriculum is not only practical (tubular gluing, wheel changes and bike washes), but also theoretical (materials and wheel theory, biomechanics and ethics). Road, mountain, track, BMX and cyclocross are all discussed.
All in all, the course is just like I remember it, challenging and crammed full of valuable information. Most important though are the contacts you make at the clinic. You spend four days learning from experts who want to see you succeed. They are happy to help after the camp if they can. After all, you’ve joined the brotherhood of race mechanics (Note: there was one female attendee, bravo!).
For those interested in attending next year’s class (which is limited to 60 attendees), check out the Mechanics Program tab at usacycling.org. The $475 cost includes housing, meals, course materials and your first mechanic’s license.
A view from the other side, by Caley Fretz
Unlike Nick, I didn’t come to VeloNews fresh off of mechanic stints with ProTour teams. I’ve mostly experienced race mechanics from the other side, racing as an “elite” (to use the term extremely loosely) amateur on the road and dirt. Like anyone doing such races, I’ve had my share of wheel changes and post-crash adjustments from the very people this camp pumps out, those men and women sporting bright Mavic yellow, Shimano blue, or SRAM red shirts, always professional and happy to help.
Tips from the clinic:
When it comes to washing your bike don’t blast your bottom bracket, headset or hubs. A light rinse or shower is all they need. Be extra careful when washing mountain bikes — don’t get degreaser anywhere near disk brake pads, it can ruin them.
Cracked or delaminated composite frames:
Cracks and de-laminations are case-specific. If you have experience with one manufacturer and their response to a specific problem on a frame, that information only applies to that bike. The next manufacturer may have used a different layup, different modulus of carbon fiber, etc. So for each bike you encounter take the time to reach out to its manufacturer. You may end up saving a frame from the dumpster.
Building a velodrome:
Remember to include a tunnel for infield access in the plans from the beginning. The 7-Eleven Velodrome in Colorado Springs was originally built without a tunnel. When one was eventually added, it cost $170,000. If they had built it when the track was constructed it would have only cost $70,000.
Indeed, the level of professionalism at the Mechanic’s Clinic is what struck a chord with me. The clinic isn’t about fixing bikes — everyone there can already do that. It clearly aims higher, focused on preparing attendees for the rigors and stresses of the race circuit, either as neutral support or with a specific team. In addition to passing along an overwhelming volume of tips and tricks, the clinic tries to instill a mindset in attendees; teach them to think like mechanics, and the little stuff will fall into place.
The teaching is situational and directly applicable, using anecdotes and a wealth of real-world experience to illustrate proper methodologies across a wide range of topics. How does one deal with delirious, bleeding crit crash victims who insist on getting back in the race? (Answer: Get an official and don’t let them in) What about order of operations when there are 12 bikes to be washed and tuned in the next two hours? (Answer: Think of yourself as a one-person assembly line — all the washing first, then all the tuning) The clinic covers both, and explains how the lessons learned apply to any number of other issues that can crop up.
Watching our sport’s greasier side go through such training is heartening, and further increased the already substantial level of respect I have for them. Anyone interested in taking a similar path shouldn’t miss out on an opportunity to attend.
Editor’s note: After graduating from Indiana University with honors and a degree in French and journalism, Legan jumped straight into wrenching at Pro Peloton bike shop in Boulder for a few years. Then, he began a seven-year stint in the professional ranks, most recently serving for RadioShack at the Tour de France and the Amgen Tour of California. He also worked for Garmin-Slipstream, CSC, Toyota-United, Health Net and Ofoto.
Editor’s note: Caley Fretz joined VeloNews as an editorial intern in May 2010 and has stuck around ever since. Beyond his journalistic pursuits, Caley is a Cat. 1 road and cross racer, pro mountain biker, Cat. 2 track racer, and former President of the Colorado State University cycling team.