YT Mob Log: Entry Four
A Mechanic’s Message
Words by John Hall // Photos by Isac Paddock/YT Mob
The life of a World Cup mechanic is a double-edged sword. It’s the most rewarding and satisfying job I could dream of. At the same time, it can be the most nerve wracking, stress inducing position for people in our industry.
Our work cycle begins in the fall season for the Northern Hemisphere, usually around October or November. Not that long after our last race of the year, the World Championships. After a short break, usually interrupted by a trip to Interbike, we’re back at it. Parts orders need to be placed for the following season so our sponsors have ample time to produce and deliver the quantities needed for a well-equipped team. Once all the pieces of the puzzle arrive, which is in the early pre-season timeframe, we build all the bikes. After that we usually have a team camp and photo shoots to produce content. It is important get this content and to distribute it before the season starts. Getting to show off the new kits, new bikes and gear is a special part of each pre-season.
Prep Turns Practice
Then the real fun begins. We start to get down and dirty with testing and breaking in all the new bikes and equipment. The thing about testing though is that it never really stops. There’s no limits, which means we’re always testing and trying new things. The riders are always putting in time on the bike to stay comfortable and fast. It’s a busy time of the year for everyone on the team but it’s essential to product development and making sure everyone is comfortable and confident.
The last thing to do after breaking in the race bikes and finding a good suspension base setting is to hit a few local pre-season races. These races serve a couple purposes. Personally as a race mechanic, it helps me get into the mental state of what needs to be done while at a race. Remembering my process and going through the motions needed to keep my rider safe in a relatively low risk environment is a great thing to do before kicking off the World Cup season. It really helps to get my head in the game. For the rider, these races also help to sort out any kinks with the bike setup and really put the equipment through a race pace beating. For the rider, just getting into a start gate helps their mental game out tremendously. It exposes them to those race day feelings and the excitement of waiting to drop in for a race run. You don’t want to be in a start gate for the first time of the year at a World Cup. Another important thing these races provide the riders with is a glimpse into their fitness. These local races let them push hard and gauge their power and stamina for the upcoming season. If things aren’t where they need to be, they still have time to adjust their training to make sure they are ready to perform when the time comes.
Before long it’s time to go racing with the big dogs. My personal favorite place to be is at the races. When you’re there, all the work is done and it’s time to focus on supporting your team. I love everything from building the pit, to the bike-work, practice days and especially race day. No matter how ready you are however, there is one element that doesn’t care how much work you’ve put in during the offseason, how much testing you’ve done or how many pre-season races you’ve done. That element my friends, is Mother Nature. If there is a World Cup, inevitably it’s going to rain more often than not. I used to worry about the rain, but not anymore. These guys are the best at what they do for a reason so there’s no need to stress if rain or mud is going to effect them. I’ve always said that if you want to end the drought in California, just host a World Cup there.
Photo: Ale Di Lullo / YT Mob
Rain and Racing
Inclement weather, specifically rain, brings challenges. There are always circumstances and conditions that determine just how much the rain is going to effect your weekend. Things like how well the track absorbs the moisture, soil type, and rate of rainfall all have an influence. So far this season, the first two of three races were effected by rain. At the first race in Lourdes, the rain changed the entire course. Littered with slippery rocks and steep sections, the rain, wind and dense fog wreaked havoc for the top 15-20 qualifiers with each rider dropping into a progressively harder track to negotiate. The top 10 were no longer in the race and just wanted to survive. With that, the final results weren’t what people expected. The shake up at Lourdes set the season up to be an interesting battle as the top contenders would have to claw their way back to the top and fight for that number one plate.
Round two in Fort William proved to be another track beaten down by Mother Nature. Fort William tends to handle wet conditions and rain really well, so rain in the forecast there doesn’t usually concern the teams much. But, with a new section in the woods that was flat and full of the boggy style mud that turned into bomb holes, the rain ended up having a hand in the outcome of many riders’ end result that day too. As a mechanic, there’s not much you can control or do about weather and track conditions. The only thing you can do is provide your rider with the best equipment possible so they can race at their full potential. After muddy races like the first two rounds, it’s extremely crucial to make sure their bikes are running optimally as mud and rain love to degrade equipment.
Sometimes things we’re presented with seem odd or we’re convinced that they won’t work, but that doesn’t mean we don’t test it.
Speaking of best equipment, the latest debate in downhill racing is 27.5” vs. 29” wheels. This is quite possibly one of the most talked about subjects in the bike world. Yes, the same debate we had roughly five years ago is back, with different numbers. Everyone certainly has an opinion on this, and I think most would encourage that, myself included. But there’s one thing I’ve learned about being a World Cup mechanic for one of the best riders in the world. Aaron (Gwin) tests a lot of stuff and is typically at the forefront of technology, some of which never sees the light of day. With that being said, you have to always stay open to change. As racers and mechanics, we’re often at the forefront of progression. Sometimes things we’re presented with seem odd or we’re convinced that they won’t work, but that doesn’t mean we don’t test it. Sometimes we are surprised that something we thought wasn’t going to work improves the rider’s experience. As of right now, I can’t elaborate on which wheel size is better for us, simply because we haven’t completed testing yet.
At the end of the day, I try to remember that as long as we keep in mind that we’re riding, racing and working on bikes while traveling the world with our friends, then I think everything will work out just the way it’s supposed to!
9 Questions with John Hall
1. What brand of tools do you use?
I use an array of tools. Abbey Bike Tools, Wera, Knipex, Beta as well as an assortment of generic tools that I find at random hardware shops.
2. What is your favorite tool?
It’s not one that I use often but my favorite tool to use is my HAG Tool (Hangar Alignment Gauge) from Abbey Bike Tools. It’s the kind of tool that makes you realize that this is how all tools should be made to feel and work.
3. Do you have any custom-made tools that you’ve developed for a specific application?
I do. I have one in particular that Jason Quaide (Abbey Tools) made for me. There’s actually a couple but I can’t quite elaborate on those just yet. You’ll see them soon!
4. Is there any competitiveness amongst the mechanics? Since you don’t have a race to settle who’s the best, how do you resolve the tension?
I would say that there’s a certain level of competitiveness between a few of us but there’s zero tension. We’re all great friends so it’s all in good fun and it’s just another way for us to push each other to be better. Anything that needs resolved is usually settled over a nice cold bee…beverage at the end of a work day.
5. Do you listen to music while you work on bikes? What’s your playlist like?
Absolutely! Music is an essential tool a lot of mechanics use. My playlist depends on if the music is being played in the pits or in my headphones. If it’s in the pits then lately it’s been a lot of rock classics like Bob Seger, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Dire Straits and a little Motörhead, and Metallica mixed in for good measure. But in my headphones it’s like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. Could be pop music, dance music, punk, reggae, rock and definitely some country in there for sure.
6. If someone walked up to you (or your racer’s) bike, what is the most annoying thing they could do? (Touch the brake rotors. Shift. Turn Knobs.)
Oh man. All of those things are a massive NO, unless you ask politely. Then we’re almost more than willing to let ya touch the bike, maybe even ride it around! It may seem innocent but as mechanics our ultimate responsibility is our rider’s safety. Everything we do to the bike, we have that on our mind. So if you touch the brake and possibly get some sort of oil on the rotors or anything from your hands on them then they could become contaminated or not work at their optimal level. Which can mess with a rider’s head during a run. Or if someone accidentally breaks a part or does something they’re not supposed to and is too scared to say anything and we don’t catch it, that’s our fault even though we didn’t do it. So don’t be upset if we tell you not to touch the bike. We have a massive responsibility and it’s for our rider’s safety.
7. Who would win in an arm wrestling match, you or Aaron?
Me for sure.
8. What tips would you give an aspiring mechanic who wants to learn more?
Just take every opportunity to learn from everyone you meet and make yourself available to work any local support races. You learn a lot under race pressures. But the biggest thing is never think you can’t learn any more. I learn something every weekend all year long from riders and other mechanics. Knowledge is never ending.
9. Something most people don’t know about you?
I spend too much time looking at memes on Instagram. @doggosdoingthings is worth checking out.