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Calvin's Corner

Race Mechanic Clinic at the Olympic Training Center

NOTE: The 2007 Bill Woodul Race Mechanic Clinic, will be January 11-14. For more information visit http://www.usacycling.org/mechanics/ Click on "Mechanics Clinic" at that link.

I just returned from a trip to Colorado. Each year, I am a guest speaker at the Bill Woodul Race Mechanic Clinic, presented by USA Cycling. The clinic is named to honor the late Mr. Woodul, a former US Team head mechanic. Beginning in 1987, Bill would gather together experts in the field to teach the next generation of mechanics and who, as he liked to say, "...are big enough to get beyond their egos"


Another dirty bike ready for a bath.

There is no other clinic like this in the world. It a great way to learn what being a race mechanic is all about. Since teaching at that first clinic in '87, I really enjoy seeing new mechanics get fired up to go and serve the racing community.

The Clinic is held at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. It is a very cool place to be. You see athletes and body types from every sport. My first visit here was as a volunteer in 1982. Built on what was once an abandoned Air Force Base, the OTC is now a state of the art facility where our USA athletes can become world-class athletes. This place is about developing and supporting our top athletes.

The cafeteria at the OTC is below the resident athlete dorms. Women's volleyball had a camp at the same time as our clinic.


Quick wheel changes and a good push are part of the job. Damion Shanks practices his push to get Chip "Big Ring" Howat back into to race after installing a new rear wheel.

The race mechanic role differs from the store mechanic. The work conditions vary from a spacious hotel ballroom, to a dingy cramped motel, to an awning of a trailer during a rainy night. You tend to spend a lot of time alone, but seeing the athletes roll along on bikes you know are dialed makes it worth while. This job, it turns out, is about making people happy through the service on the bikes. As someone once said, "It's not about the bike." Indeed, I would agree, because it is actually about the fixing of the bike.


The shop at USA Cycling is fully stocked.

The mechanics at the clinic are given an idea about what the racing work is all about. There is actually very little about "working" on bikes, such as limit screw adjustments, brake caliper work, etc. That knowledge best comes from the shop, and it must be assumed in this class. The emphasis here is on rules, organization, working relationships, and the things you need to survive on the circuit. The mechanics rotate in groups and get presentations on topics such as:

  • Caravan and motorcycle support
  • Pit setup for road and mountain bike races
  • Tool, equipment and supply needs
  • Race equipment preparation
  • Track, Road, MTB & Cross support
  • Wheel components and building theory
  • Wheel changes in competitive races
  • Bike wash techniques
  • Bike inspection and tuning
  • Working and professional relationships between the mechanic and the athlete, coach, and soigneur.

Winter is the time for rule changes in the sport of cycling, and the 2006 Mechanic's Clinic was all abuzz concerning the new UCI regulations regarding technical assistance. Last year, for the first time, the cross-country mountain bike racing included technical pits where a rider could stop to fix the bike. Wheels, parts and all sorts of equipment could be kept in the pits. The rider was to perform the service without physical help. Mechanics could talk to the athlete, but could not do the work, or even hand them a tool. That has all changed:


"Article 4.2.046 related to technical assistance has been updated: Spare equipment and tools for repair must be kept in the zones. Repairs and equipment changes can be carried out by the rider himself or with the help of a team-mate, team mechanic or neutral technical assistance."

Effectively, this means the mechanics will now fully service the bikes in the technical areas. The riders will "help" by getting off the bike. No doubt this will change tactics of the race, and mechanics will be more important then ever. For more on how the technical pits worked in 2005, see 2005 MTB World Championships.

Ken Whelpdale (on the right in glasses) discusses what to bring with you in the follow car.

The rules of a sport determine the strategy and hence the parameters of the equipment. Trials demand handling, triathalons demand speed, road racing demands durability, and downhill racing demands speed. The race mechanic must first learn the rules and strategy of the discipline. The mechanic then applies their knowledge and skill to help the athlete achieve their goals. Using my talents to help the athlete do his/her best is what appeals to me about this kind of service.

In the evenings, there is time to discuss and argue over the exam. It is open book and discussion groups are encouraged.

The Bill Woodul Race Mechanic Clinic is instructed by experienced mechanics. This year we had: John Berlinger of Mavic, Dave Arnauckas, Andy Stone and Mike Quileza all from Shimano, Matt Brakken of Independent Fabrication, Ric Hjertberg of FSA, USA U-23 mechanic TJ Grove, and Chris Clinton of promechanics.com were there to share their knowledge and experience. USA Cycling Equipment Manager Ken Whelpdale is the MC and also teaches some of the sessions. Behind the scene keeping us organized Chip Howat, the Clinic Manager.

For more information, see the Bill Woodul Race Mechanic Clinic.