November 30, 2015
Ever wonder about the mechanics in bike racing? The ones who hang out vehicle windows to adjust derailleurs, jump into the center of pileups, sorting bikes and riders, leap from moving cars to get a replacement wheel to a punctured competitor? Do they live in those glamorous team buses? Are they all ex-special forces repurposed to sport? None of their scene and role is owed to chance.
One of the longest lasting but least known cycling programs is USA Cycling’s Race Mechanics Clinic. 2015 marked the 28th year and I’m proud to have been along since day one.
Back in the ’80’s, the colorful and resourceful USAC equipment director was Bill Woodul. He founded the clinic and after an untimely demise (cancer struck during relief work for Hurricane Mitch), the clinic was named after him.
In 1986, he gathered some of us together to propose we teach race mechanics so career paths of future mechanics would be freer of the obstacles we had faced. More trained race mechanics = more quality races = more cycling, so our incentive was clear.
28 years later, over 800 mechanics have graduated and several hundred, maintaining current licenses, do the heavy lifting in all categories of public rides and races. Unlike other sports, bike race mechanics play a key but often invisible role. Much in racing depends on the experience and speed of mechanics, their training and resources must be tops.
If you want a glimpse of mechanic action at a major criterium support pit, check SRAM’s in Athens, GA.
The Clinic is held in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center, watched over by the grand profile of Pikes Peak. This years 64 students hailed from 25 states and 4 countries.
Our Handbooks 260 pages from dozens of contributors, forms the core of the Clinic’s teaching and serves as a reference for every graduate.
Editing and curating this vital tome is our resident Emeritus Professor, Chip Howat.
Matt Bracken (ex Merlin, Mavic, and Independent Fab; president of Pedro’s) teaches fitting.
Calvin teaches Local Planning, Travel & Venue Support.
A group session led by Marc Gullickson, USAC Director of Mountain Bike and Cyclocross Programs.
The outdoor (day and night) wheel change drills are the most animated.
I have two topics. One is wheel theory and practice. As the Clinic admitted 64 mechanics this year, they were divided into 4 groups of 16. I asked how many in each group built wheels regularly. At least 80% said yes. 10 years ago, that number would be 25%. An impossible to miss trend.
My other session addressed carbon fiber. In the rare time between classes, students gather in informal study sessions.
Tire gluing is a mandatory skill since the vast majority of pro road and CX racing is done on tubulars.
A significant change at the OTC this year is an all weather dome over the velodrome. At last, serious track training is not required to migrate to Southern California each winter.
This year, other sessions were taught by Than White (IndustryNine), Steve Donavan (Turin Shop and USAC ParaOlympics), Jeff Rowe (Focus Bikes), Beth Winder (world class athlete), Bernard Condevaux (soigneur extraordinaire), Marc Gullickson (USAC Mtn & CX), Randy Schafer (USAC Tech Commission), James Stanfill (ex USAC, Specialized, now Azonic Support), Butch Bolzano (SRAM neutral support), and Chip.
A 100 question test concludes four hectic days. All passed this year, woo hoo. We paused for a group and individual photo’s.
Plan to attend soon. Graduates learn skills and make connections unavailable anywhere else. Women are especially needed. This year we had only two, one speaker: Ruth Winder, Pro with UnitedHealthCare, and one student: Mary Randall from Chicago. Not a representative showing considering so many women in the sport and industry.
Thanks to staff, teachers, students, and sunny Colorado weather for another memorable Clinic.
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