HOW TO BECOME A PRO MECHANIC
For this month’s “Ask MBA,” we decided to shake things up a bit by leaning on the advice of industry experts to answer our readers’ questions. We honed in on one specific letter looking for tips to becoming a pro-level mechanic. The MBA crew reached out to some of the best mechanics in the business to help guide our reader through his journey.
HOW TO BECOME A PRO MECHANIC
Q: I’m extremely interested in how someone becomes a bike mechanic at the top level of the sport. I have always enjoyed racing and think racers are great to promote the sport. But, as a bike mechanic, I’m wanting to learn more about the people behind the racers who keep their race rigs in top shape and how they became elite mechanics.
Blakely Larson (wannabe racer!)
The mechanic behind Aaron Gwin’s race machine:
A: Over the years I’ve realized that every single mechanic at the elite level has his own unique way of how he got there. I could tell you how I personally got there, but it would only be my story, not a roadmap. The truth is, there is no roadmap to becoming an elite anything. But for mechanics, the best advice I can offer is to put yourself in every position possible that is going to get you to the next step of wherever you’d like to go. Whether you want to be a track mechanic, mountain bike mechanic (DH, XC, enduro) or road mechanic (domestic or world pro team), it takes a lot of volunteering, working for free and offering your services to as many people, racers and companies as you can. Provide local support for either companies or local races/race promoters—the bigger the race the better. Just prove yourself each time.
Becoming a demo driver is always a great way to travel, network and gain experience as well. And, as always, networking is a massive part of it. The only thing second to that is just being in the right place at the right time in front of the right people who just so happen to be looking for a guy like you. It’s hard but not impossible!
Intense Factory Racing
Mechanic for the CLIF Pro Team:
A: Most of the people I know on this side of the sport were in the right place at the right time, fell into it or simply knew someone already staffing events and got their “in.” One route I’ve seen work well is to follow the USAC workshops to become a registered national team mechanic. As a national team mechanic, there are several opportunities to meet top pro team mechanics. If the USAC takes any of its mechanics to world-class events, the pro teams will be right there and communication can happen naturally.
More than anything, it’s a personality-driven profession. If there is ever an opportunity to volunteer time as a helper to some pro team, then big things can happen. There is always a need for more mechanics and helpers, but the fit is important. We are always looking for someone who is responsible, hard working, flexible and reliable. These people are harder to find than one would think.
CLIF Pro team
Kate Courtney’s trusted mechanic:
A: I have worked in bike shops in a part- or full-time capacity since the age of 12, refining and perfecting the skills necessary to work on bikes of all types while maintaining my own bikes and supporting myself in my capacity as a young XC (and, later, road) racer; however, what I didn’t realize I was also learning was how to deal with all types of people and personalities. This is one of the most useful skills, because you are constantly interacting with different people, in foreign countries, amid stress and anxiety, with little room for error. Learning how to navigate the people side of business is critical, and I owe a debt to the bike shops where I began developing that skill in my early days.
In my late 20s, an opportunity presented itself to move to Northern California, close to some big brands in the industry. I set my sights on moving into the industry in some mechanical capacity and away from the bike shops for the first time. I began looking for opportunities. Through some industry contacts I had leaned on for help (former brand sales reps, for example) and friends of friends, I managed to land some part-time work doing demo events and preparing bikes for PR and media reviews. After some months scraping by in these types of roles, I had evidently impressed the right people who recognized I’d spent about 20 years thinking of nothing else but bikes and bike racing.
For me, there was a lot of luck involved—being in the right place at an opportune time—and, at their recommendation, I was approached about working for the cross-country program at Specialized. What began as a domestic-only support role for races in the USA quickly transformed into something all-consuming. And, as my relationships with riders developed, along with their trust, I began traveling full-time with the athletes I supported. Of course, traveling full-time has its share of stress and is not for everyone. The days can be long and the conditions aren’t always spectacular, so it does take a unique individual willing to undertake that lifestyle; however, there is a fair amount of pride when you contribute to the success of someone performing at the highest level of a sport that you intrinsically love. I think this particular nuance has led to my personal success as a mechanic to some of the top riders over the years. Having ridden competitively myself, and with the refined understanding of how bikes can be tuned to suit the tastes and preferences of their riders, I was able to apply the knowledge I’d developed over two decades in ways that improved their relationship with their own bikes and helped them get the best from them.
Of course, the mechanical side of the job is only a small part. Managing logistics, equipment, inventory and athletes’ nerves are also all part of the gig. You really have to be up for anything, flexible with your own schedule and personal life, and intensely focused on details and the technical aspects of the role, ensuring familiarity with the equipment and products used and tools necessary to perform the job.
At a pro level, you are functioning as part of a team whose existence is fundamentally to serve a marketing purpose for the sponsors that finance the operation, so it’s critical to keep that in mind and to behave in a way that serves their interests as well as those of the athletes.
At the end of the day, the role of a pro race mechanic varies somewhat by discipline and context, as each team has a unique structure; however, I find that it challenges me to draw on all of my skills and to adapt to circumstances in real time, and that’s what keeps it exciting year after year. Playing a role in the success of the athletes and the team is meaningful as well, of course, and when common goals are understood between the rider and the mechanic and we work together (sometimes over many years) to finally crack the code and achieve those goals, those successes become even more meaningful because they are a success for everyone involved.
Scott-SRAM MTB Racing
“Ask MBA” peeve of the month:
Mechanics who make a hard task look easy.
Have a question for the MBA crew? You can send your brain busters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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