Saturday, November 15, 2014

On the Road: Becoming a USAC Race Mechanic

A week ago I mentioned an upcoming trip that I was to embark upon. Now, that trip has reached its end and I am waxing nostalgic. At the moment however, I am just trying to get back into the swing of things. At this point, I am still tired as hell. Mostly because driving across the country twice in 10 days with your wife and kids will drive (pun intended) a person INSANE! Plus, aside from some wheel changes in the parking lot, I didn't get to ride a bike in over a week! It wasn't all bad though, as I spent the week at the foot of Pike's Peak...

Yes, my view from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs was of the sort that you just can't get here in the Midwest. Every morning, this was the view from our dormitory. 

The trip was not all fun and games though. I did have a reason for being there that was not just sight seeing. 

Once I was handed my ID, it started to seem a little surreal,

as it is not every day one finds themselves checking in to a place that is storied in so much history.
 I showed up to the complex a few hours early so naturally, I did a little sight-seeing. But the honeymoon soon ended and it was time for dinner and then the beginning of a jam-packed, 5 day schedule.

That first night began with introductions, and was really more of a "what to expect" session. After a good two and a half hours, it was time for bed. That particular night, for me personally, is remembered as the only night that I would get a full night's sleep. 

-Thursday, November 6-


The food at the OTC is really pretty great. You can have pasta every day, or something different every day, there was always a variety of food. Breakfast was always a treat. 
The chocolate milk (I am told) is the best damn milk you can find anywhere.
Bacon, eggs, pancakes, sausage... just about anything you could ask for was readily available with all the free coffee that a bladder could handle.
The coffee, we would learn, was a necessary evil. With a non-stop schedule, caffeine was key. As soon as breakfast was over, it was on to our first classes. Everyone's schedules differed as we were broken into groups the night before, but mine looked like this...

8-9 am : Electronic Fundamentals and Diagnosis
"Is it Plugged In?" 
In a nutshell, electronic diagnosis is largely based on two factors: 
Are the batteries charged?
Is it (battery or component) plugged in?
9:15-10:15 am : Neutral Road and Peleton Support
  Basically, how to "jump" with two wheels in your hand and NOT get killed by the onslaught of approaching cyclists.

10:30-11:30 am : Bike Wash and Inspection If you are wondering what a "bike wash" class looks like, it goes something
like this:

Calvin likes to use his students as repair stands ;)

Eventually Calvin did get "down to business" and showed us how it's done.

Calvin is the Director of Education at Park Tool. On top of that, he is about as funny a guy as you will ever meet from an educational standpoint. At one point though, he did remind us that it is easy to become so consumed by taking care of riders and teams that it becomes easy to forget about taking care of ourselves. With that, he made sure that our tool box was stocked with the appropriate Park Tool...

You can always choke down a cold can of Spaghetti O's with this baby.

Speaking of food... It is at this time in the day that we break for lunch.
Fat with carbs and coffee, it was time for

1:00 - 2:30 pm : Positioning, Theory and Practice

Yet another Calvin Jones Joint, this class was far more technical than washing a bike. It began with a formula

P=T/Dia. x CoF 

...which of course had nothing to do with a class on positioning, but was an instant look in to the mind that was about to drop knowledge bombs on us all. It wasn't all numbers and theory however. Eventually, I got to lay my hands on this magnificent mofo and take and duplicate some measurements.

I also got to ride it, but that was the next day...

*Side Note
Before moving on here, I think I should address the elephant in the room, which is the sexiest seat post you will ever see in your life.

yeah, that's the one.

After a quick lesson on Planning, Travel, and Venue Support, it was time for a field trip.

That's right, the OTC has its own Velodrome. I did end up dorking out a bit as this was my first trip to any velodrome, but on top of that, it was the first one I have went to that had the Olympic rings all over it!

Currently an outside venue, it is soon slated to be covered in order to offer training at altitude year-round. We got to take a look "under the 'drome."

Where it was row after row of track bikes

And the nook in which they came into being...

(thanks to Dave Vance for the bitchin' pictures)

Yeah, the velodrome was quite the experience, something that I will no doubt remember for a long time.
With that, it was time for dinner, which was amazeballs (yeah, I said it)
and then off to more classes:
Suspension Fundamentals and finally, Track support.
Bed time came pretty late as we had to study for our test and then start over again in the morning...

-Friday, November 7-
-My Birthday-

That's right, I celebrated my 32nd birthday in Colorado. 
The day started much the same...

...After that, the day was kind of a blur. Not because it went by fast or anything, but because most of my short term memory was wiped out later that night when my roommates took me out for my birthday. 
But thanks to the syllabus and a book full of notes I held on to from the trip, I can tell you that we learned some stuff like:

Cross Country and Gravity Support,
Where I learned what the word "clapped" means

 So I have that going for me...

No, really, Scott Kelly held a great class that day and the one thing that I took away from it was a quote in relation to showing up to support a race or team which was,
"If you are on time, you are LATE"

Fucking poetic, right? 
I swear this is exactly the same as what I always say which is,
"If you cannot be on time, you did not leave early enough"
Applied to racing or life in general, those are words to live by. No one likes a person they cannot count on, and no one can count on a person who is late all the time. 

Next, we moved on to another thrilling lecture by Dave Vance wherein we discussed Hydraulic Brake Fundamentals. Sounds heavy right? Well, much like his Electronics clinic, it just ended up being another hour long advertisement for Dawn soap.
(kidding Dave. You are a gentleman and a scholar)
(...and hopefully a good sport ;)

Other stand out performances included 
a demonstration on tubular fundamentals by "Chip" Howat
which was more information than you could shake a (Ma)stik at.

Neutral Criterium Support and Wheel Change,
both given by Mark Niemiec where, thankfully, I finally got to ride a bike!
...Then, the most fun filled two hours of my life (he said with heavy sarcasm) 
DOT Rules and Regulations: 
Legal Considerations for Moving Equipment in the USA  
and... wait for it... UCI Bicycle Jig Uses and Dis-Uses:
Evaluating Whether a Bicycle is Legal From the UCI Perspective
...managed to stay awake long enough to get a picture of that one

That night, my roomies took me out to the now infamous Finish Line Lounge for some "beverage tasting." After a few pitchers worth of "beverages" It dawned on me that one of my room mates was immortalized on the cover of the most recent Bicycle Times magazine.

Yeah, that guy.

Hell of a nice dude too. 
Fresh off his epic honeymoon, he made the trip to Colorado as well.
He certainly treated me well though.
  ...that's all I am at liberty to say.
...mostly because I don't remember much after that ;)

- Saturday, November 8 -

The early hours of Saturday are still a bit blurry to me so I may have fabricated this next part, but I am pretty sure that when I sat down with Matty B (formerly of Merlin, Independent Fabrication, and now Pedro's), James Stanfill (comic relief), and the infamous Ric Hjertberg (formerly of Wheel Smith and Mad Fiber) I was sucked into an epic debate wherein Ric was trying to convince us something along the lines of "Sasquatch may or may not exist." Meaning, he was not so much trying to argue to us the point that Sasquatch does or does not exist, but that the arguments for and against his existence may or may not be valid. i.e. Like God, people have different reasons for believing in Bigfoot, be it based of their belief that they have "seen" him, or simply on Faith alone, neither party is wrong per se, because in the end, they still believe or don't. So the chances that they are correct is equal to the chances that they are incorrect. Perception is reality...

... Pretty heavy shit for a dude who could barely keep his eyes open.    
After having a fucking mind grenade like that dropped on me, I slammed as much coffee as I could in an effort to stay awake through what was sure to be just as epic a debate:

Materials: Carbon Fiber
With, you guessed it, Ric Hjertberg  

As you all know, I think that Carbon fiber is the devil. Not even Ric can convince me otherwise, though he tried with his various charts and pictographic representations... In the end however, it is the industry I have chosen where steel is real, but so is carbon. I am just going to have to live with that. True it has its place, it's just not under my ass that is for sure.

 Para-Athlete support with Steve Donovan as it turns out was really a pretty bad ass lesson in bicycle modification. With so many different disabilities that people face, there is no wrong way to build them a machine that can help them overcome the challenges they face.

After meeting such a talented person like Allison, I can confidently say this:
Try telling this girl that she is any different from the rest of you, and you might just get your ass kicked.
It was at this point that I awoke from my fog and started to look forward to the rest of my day. Then It was back to Ric's World to learn about Wheel Fundamentals. Cool, right? I mean, something that I am pretty good at... this should be fun, right? Let me say this: much like the "argument for and against the existence or non-existence of Sasquatch" debate, the take away for me was that everything we know about wheel building may or may not be correct. Meaning, in theory, a wheel doesn't have to be a "3 cross" or have 32 or more spokes to be useful. Hell, you could build a radial rear wheel if you wanted. Would the wheel be less efficient? Maybe. Depends on the application. Is there a potential for it to fail? Sure. But there is an equal chance that it will not fail. 

It was with that that my mind exploded once again. 
This was exhausting.
Thankfully it was time for lunch.
Later, James taught us how to follow the UCI rules, and Marty Caivano
of IMBA taught us some of the finer points of Cyclocross support, including, but not limited to:

Bike hand-offs
To the rider's credit, this was about the 26th time he had done this exact move and It was a little late in the excersize for getting a better video, 
So pardon him if you think that you can do it any better.

The next presentation, given by Matt Bracken, included a look into the journey from steel to carbon as a frame material. Pretty informative and well thought out presentation that came with a very poignant ending. 
A short food break later and it was back to business with Matty. 
If you have never met Mathew Bracken let me tell you first; you may never meet a person so passionate about his craft or his customers. So much so, that he once gave up controlling interest in a company he helped create, just to keep the doors open and his friends employed. In my short time with Matt, I realized how fortunate I was to be surrounded by such awesome and often selfless people. When he was with Merlin Metal Works, he got this as a going away present...

While working for Independent Fabrication, they created beautiful mixed media frames like this...

Now he is making killer tools at Pedro's. This was the last class of the last full day, and all that was left was going over the 100 question test the next morning. But we will talk about that in the next blog. With nothing important left to do, we gathered at the tried-and-trued Finish Line Lounge.
Hilarity no doubt ensued, as did some karaoke,

  and copious amounts of "beverage" consumption.
The guy in the middle, well, let's just call him "Lee."
Lee was enjoying himself thoroughly as this was his first time in the United States. We of course made sure that it would be a trip he would not soon forget...
(being extra thorough)
Now widely (as wide as our circle goes anyway) considered to be a legend, the next morning he was greeted to the sound of a standing ovation in a room full of his constituents.
I only hope that as he re-tells this story to his countrymen, that he says "it was a blast" and not, "those bastards are as crazy as we thought."
Though I have a feeling that it will be a mix of the two.

Nearing the end of the trip was rather bittersweet. Just as you started to make friends, it was time to say good bye. Sad really, as far as a random group of people assembled in a strange place, you could not ask for a better experience.
In closing (finally), I could go on forever about the hilarious out takes but it is important to remember that this trip was about more than fun. If you really feel like you want to wrench for a living, outside of a bike shop, you should consider attending a clinic such as this. Sure, I make jokes, but it is important to remember that the schedule is about 40 hours jam-packed into about 4 days time. You will be tired, but it will be worth it. Being surrounded by so many talented people is eye-opening for sure. They shared their experiences both good and bad and were more than ready to share a beer or a meal to answer questions on their own time. I am grateful for the opportunity to have met so many awesome people, and I will surely remember it for all of my days.

Thanks for being patient during my absence, I hope you enjoyed this.
I look forward to seeing you at the races.