Stef van Zummeren
- Frame Size: 58cm
- Favorite Music: Electronic (Commercial)
- Frame Size: 56cm
- Favorite Music: Electro, Techno, R&B
The topic of this Calvin’s Corner will be the technical support for the 3M Cycling Team. The 3M Corporation is based in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. It is, after all, “Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing”. The team is here to race the North Star Gran Prix. This is a stage race for road bikes, and as always it is the preparation that make all smooth and nice for the team. Team 3M is a registered UCI Pro Continental Team based in Belgium. Getting their entire program across the Atlantic to the Midwest of the USA is simply not possible. I will be working as Equipment Manager for this trip. Here in this article, I will attempt to post as the week progresses, beginning June 7th, Saturday at the MSP airport.
There is more background at the bottom. New posts as the week progresses will be here at the top.
This has been a great week of learning. I remember something Andy Hampsten once said, “I learn something every time I ride the bike,” and that is a great attitude about one’s profession. I try to learn on each bike I work on. I learned, or was reminded, that to make progress possible with just two staff for six riders is completely exhausting.
However, as a bonus for this event, I got to ride a carbon fiber Cannondale® bike more than ever before, if only from the POD to the hotel, or from the Park Tool truck to the Shimano® Tech Pit. Sometimes it was a 48, sometimes a 56. However, I prefer something over 60, and a long top tube. I will say the Synapse was nice, it is light, and it really is enticing. However, I will not yield to this siren call of carbon. I will stay the course with my Tanguy, steel 531. It features clamp-on down tube friction shifters, and a mix of parts from years past. I think of my friend who built it every time I ride it, and all the history it has seen. However, I did yield on the wheels. Carbon fiber tubular rims and tubular tires. You just gotta have those, yes?
I learned it is good to be humble, and not over extend yourself. You know you have when you make a mistake, yet if you are not pushing, the work will remain undone. We were understaffed, the bikes arrived in less than ideal shape, I tried my best. Excuses? No matter, all problems must be laid at the sliding entrance of my POD in the parking lot.
I have found two areas I must especially work on:
#1—write more stuff down. I use a note pad around my neck. When I have a thought that is worth anything, it should be put on paper. Parts, supplies, time schedules, all need the paperwork.
#2—I spend too much time looking for a part or tool I know I just had. Far too much time wasted there, when there is only so much daylight. A simple help here is a something for all mechanics.
Mechanic’s Tip: Put the tools back when you are finished. It seems like you will remember that the AWS-7 is on the chair, but take the time put out it back in the BX-2.
Beside the Haiku written by my mentor, I have been using music as my driver. It is a good palliative for the Euro Techno Beat that dominates the team. For this race I went back to basics, using Pete Shelley, who scribed and strummed the following:
Oh, operators manual
I’d just fall apart without you
If only I had a mechanic
Then somehow I know I’d pull through
At the end of the day, the mechanic is alone. You still better love the work even then. The team slaps you on the back, shakes your hand, and leaves for the airport. You are fogotten until they need you again. It is now your roll to mop up after the party.
Happy Father’s Day to all. I will be thinking of my father, a mechanic in the true sense on the word. Did I get him a card? No, I have disappeared into this black hole that is racing, but today I will be thinking of him with every clockwise turn of the wrench, unless of course it is a CCW thread.
Today, I will be wet and miserable. Maybe I should take the day off? In fact, CALLING ALL RACE MECHANICS AT THE NORTH STAR. Let’s meet at the Chilkoot Cafe and Cyclery , drink coffee and watch the live streaming of the Tour de Suisse. Mountain bike racer Nino Schurter is racing on the road in the Tour de Suisse, and I just love that guy. He rides tubulars on a mountain bike, how cool is that? Well, I would guess he gets them free and doesn’t do the work himself, but you gotta love it! All right, maybe not, but someday we really should. See you all soon.
It is not just the race that will be horrible, but all the work before the start and of course the work after. Plus I am very tired. How did I get in this mess? Maybe I should rethink the Father’s Day paragraph. Wait a minute, this is fun,the team needs me, let’s race! We have had a week to develop our system, our rhythm, to make this all work and today will test all that. Time for a new motto just for today, from the Finnish: SISU! Look it up. Now, say it short, with meaning, and look me in the eye when you do.
UPDATE: Okay, turns out I was wrong. It was actually a really nice day. Sunny and breeze, the storm past us. I guess the paragraphs above are what you get for writing at 04:30 when it was pouring rain. Dramatic? Perhaps, but I will let it stand, especially the part about drinking coffee. I am not even sure how everything turned out on the race, so if you want to know results see North Star Gran Prix.
The day went pretty well, but there were also some issues. A bar moved when a rider hit a hole. A rider dropped a chain, some missed shifts. I will remember these and strive to do better, at least not making the same mistake twice.
Our machines have to have good rubber, and Team 3M uses Challenge Tires. But these must be installed with care. Do this wrong and the lateral forces at work will bring down your ride. Do it right, take your time, don’t screw up. Time for another tip.
Mechanic’s Tip: This ain’t rocket science, friends. Wait, actually it is. The same Newtonian forces at work that got us to the moon work all through our life. Now, do it right.
Wheels are especially important. We ride tubulars bonded to our carbon fiber Vision rims. When washing, I like very much indeed our new brush from the BCB-4.2. It is a wide brush with gentle bristles. Perfect for the rims. Use a light soap and then rinse. No hard scrubbing, and KEEP ALL DEGREASERS AWAY FROM THAT TUBIE.
The ES-1 is a must-have item for us. The Cannondales don’t come with kickstands. I, personally, like a kickstand, but I guess they don’t agree. When setting up the Event Stand, connect the two horizontal tubes, and lay it on the ground where you want the stand. Take note of the slope of the land. Now put one blue upright at the end of each tube, and you are perfect for width. If the ground is sloping, adjust the height of each upright accordingly to make the horizontal tube level.
I feel that if I can survive the next 15 hours, I will have done all right. Later, I will let you know where it was a close run thing. I appreciate the support of Team 3M, the riders, and Bernard Moerman. In fact, let’s give him his own Manager’s Tip.
Manager’s Tip: When you are washing out or emptying the post ride bottles, look at the ground. Now, look at the mechanic work area. Don’t go and pour old sticky drink to drain through the mechanic’s work area. It attracts ants and insects, and make us look at you funny.
Road race today, 162 kilometers. You should know what that is, mechanics, without much thinking. In fact, let’s make that another tip.
Mechanic’s Tip: You need to be bi-dimensional. Metric and English. Don’t say “standard,” it only shows arrogance. You need not only to be able to convert, you need to feel it in your bones. Extra points if you know your weight in stones.
The field is going to be pounding through Wisconsin today. Possible some rain, but certainly some pain. Bring it.
We won the stage. Tom de Vriendt, in a sprint. He had a wheel change from Shimano Multi Services in the pouring rain. How did the sprint come down? I wouldn’t know, but I can tell you all the equipment was safe at team parking, and the cars were warming up for some cold and wet Team 3M riders.
Good morning. You might be thinking this next just another picture about the SPK-1. It is not. It is about surviving this nut house. Mechanics need to eat. You should eat in the restaurants when you can, but sometimes that just causes more work. I am alone, so to close the shop (Park-Tool-in-a-Parking-Lot) is no small matter, just to reopen it after a breakfast. Then I must re-open to keep working. That is still not the point. I don’t find eating off of Styrofoam to be pleasant. A regular dish goes along way to make you feel good. This hotel will not permit plates to go out to the parking lot. I live maybe 30 kilometers from this pod, so when I arrive from home, I brought my own camping steel plate with me just to drive home the point.
Hotel Tip: I know bike teams can be difficult customers at times, but you will find the mechanics to be professional and as hard working as any of your own staff. Give them some leeway when you can and it will be repaid in kind.
Mechanic’s Tip: Mechanics, don’t leave me hanging here. Treat the hotel and their other guests with respect.
If you must know, the race tonight (Friday) that gets in the way of the bike work is a criterium. Flat as a pancake, in Uptown Minneapolis. Last time I was down here for a talk by David Byrne on urban planning.
Fellow mechanics, this is show time, look good, dress up. Americans like these criteriums, probably because they are often close to bars. You know, it is the same in Europe. It is a show, for everyone, even mechanics. No sloppy t-shirts. If a polo, then collars up.
Racing is its own world, and it is easy to start thinking that you are doing something really important. You are, but it is probably just important to this racing world. Sometimes you are grounded by simple things. Unloading the bike bags, I am asked by the desk clerk, “Are those bikes, like bikes you ride?” You can ony smile sometimes and nod. The next day I am working of what amounts to probably $56,000 worth of racing bikes lined up on the ES-1. A woman stops and rolls down her window. “Do you take donations of old bikes?” Turns out I know something about bike donations, and I explain in the Twin Cites is Free Bikes for Kids, and she should contact them. She thanks me and drives away, and I think I have satisfied her. Unless you think she was commenting on my work?
A public apology. Driving to the first race on Wednesday, I passed a gentleman on his bike who was off the road and was fixing his bike. Mister, I am so sorry I drove right past you. The issue was something on the rear wheel, yes? Not a flat I think. I was carrying my full kit inside the BX-2, pumps, lubes, and I drove right past you on Ford Parkway, about 07:20. That is normally not like me, but that is what this strange world of racing does to you. Calvin Jones, leaving a distressed cyclist with mechanical issues. You think I could have at least loaned you a Vision Metron 55. The boys preferred the Metro 81 for the TT.
There is no good reason for the rest of these images under Friday other than this. Anytime bikes gather together in one place, I enjoy checking them out. This race also acts as a gathering of the tribe. The downtown criterium (where we placed third) was such an event.
Road race today, but first a morning of work. You know our motto at Park Tool: “It’s a great 05:00 morning to fix a bike.” Well, that’s when work starts here.
Mountain Bike racing offers a different flavor of grinding work, but there I can keep a spreadsheet on the laptop. I can determine which of my staff puts out the most work, which riders need the most care, what repairs are the most common, and what issues were not resolved by which mechanic. Here, I’m alone for most of the time, and I am reduced to this. A wheel sheet with happy faces or sad faces. It feels like all that I am capable of now.
I find I have a high regard for the Team 3M general manager, Bernard Moerman. He has a mixed role of what we Americans call coach and GM. I have worked for many different managers in my time, and in my opinion, not all have the riders’ best interest at heart. This man does, and it shows. He has yet to yell at me, but you know it is coming. I will give him a pass when this occurs. He consults often with his mechanic and gives you lots of rope to work with. I am watching how I handle this rope so that I do not make the metaphorical noose.
The number plates are a thin papery material. These riders have brackets for their number plate, but it doesn’t seem like a good match. But we have some clear strong tape here that makes progress possible. Applied to both sides it gives body to the plate, and is then trimmed.
Team Manager Tip: Ask your mechanic if there is anything you can do to help. Ask on a regular basis. If your mechanic is always accepting your help, you have a systems problem. The mechanic may be overworked, disorganized, stressed. Maybe you need two mechanics, or maybe a new mechanic.
Team Mechanic Tip: Be careful of offers of help. They can be a small test, managers are sneaky, watch ‘em. You are organized. You are rested. You can do this. Remember: well-trained. Accept the occasional snack, and use your SPK-1, that makes you different. You are not an athlete, so use your tools to eat when in your office.
Another Manager Tip: If you find you are always going through staff and mechanics, it is likely you that has the system problem.
Another Mechanic Tip: Don’t forget salads and greens, you need them as well. Hamburgers and fries does not make a healthy long term staffer. Why the extra SPK-1’s? Glad you asked. Sometimes you get company over, and you can set the PB-1 table.
Turns out, this is hard work. Some of you may know that, otherwise you may take my word for it. Stuff gets moved around, things are washed, trash is taken out. Domestics is part of the duties. On the technical side, I feel we are just above water. Tires are all right, bearings turn but more need replacing. Chains are now replaced. We are short staff, but between myself and manager, we have no excuses. Time today for the third stanza: Bikes work, well-trained. Ride.
It is a time trial, and thankfully the Race Promoter David La Porte has determined there will be NO time trial bikes allowed. YEA DAVID! Oh, I mean too bad, so sad. Nothing more fun than twice the number of bikes to haul around. We run Vision wheels and the Metro 81 has a huge profile.
Team 3M did well in the crit. How did we finish? Heck, I don’t know, ask Bernard Moerman. Tom flatted, but Shimano got him a front and he had a free lap.
This is a big day, the last prep day before racing begins. Other big days to come, but my vision seems to shortening. Funny how that happens.
Here’s a tip for the racing team. (Let’s do these in bold, all right?). Support one another. It raises everyone’s game. It makes you not want to mess up, to do good work. This does not mean you do one another’s job. I would just as soon my riders not fix the bikes, and in return I will not lead out their sprint train. Seem fair? Example: they bring me a huge pancake. Not the coach, but the riders, and that was sweet. No fork, no maple syrup, nothing to drink, but none the less, it was sweet. No matter, why do you think we offer the SPK-1?
Riders, here’s something that is always appreciated. Offer to take the garbage sack to the dumpster. Oh, one more. Your ride is over? Dropped off your bike? Take your bottles with you. We are simple people, race mechanics, and these small things mean the world to us.
Okay, now I cannot stop. Here’s another rider tip you won’t find in a book. Watch the coffee. Bring it small and strong: espresso, small latte, etc. Big cups mean needing to take a natural break. Working alone, in the middle of a public parking lots, 200 meters from the toilet, no one to guard the equipment, what were you thinking? Now re-read the paragraph above.
I admit that having the race in my backyard, so to speak, makes it different. You get spoiled being able to stop at the Park Tool factory each morning. To you other team mechanics out there, if you need a band saw or cutting torch, let me know and we will see what damage we can do.
The team has a presentation at 3M, and is it crazy. Long lines for autographs and photographs. 3M is truly a global company, and there are engineers here from all over.
Did not get to take many pictures today, but we are settling into a rhythm. Each race has its own feeling and each is different. The hotel pattern, the rides, the personalities of the athletes and staff all blend together, and we still have one day to go before racing begins. We better have our act together by then. It is not uncommon at a MTB race or road race to find one bike that will be a challenge, and for this race I have met this beast. It is a 49cm and I will not let this bike get the better of me.
You do what you can to be ready ahead of time. Today is base coating tubular tires. Note the nice drying rack. This is sticky stuff, so these tires will not touch anything else until meeting a carbon fiber wheel and are mounted.
Today was a spin in the country, if pros riding for three and half hours can be called a spin. We go east to beautiful Wisconsin and they train on part of the road race course in Menomonie. 6 bright yellow 3M Team jerseys flying on scenic rural roads makes for a lovely sight.
Some local knowledge is important. Training rides are nearly four hours long, and a lot can go wrong besides getting lost. We meet up with Truman, Service Manager at Art Doyles’s Pedal and Spokes. He will guide us through the back roads of western Wisconsin. It is a good thing, because immediately I get myself and the coach Bernard lost. No matter, they are in good hands with Truman. We finally find them, and I get to keep my job.
During work at a World Mountain Bike Championship I insist on written work tickets for each repair. I need to know who did what and why. As a manager, I owe accountability to the riders and to my boss(es). Here, it is different. They know who is accountable for anything not working. This aspect, combined with a huge pile of work in front of me, leads me to a different work ticket. I am put piece of blue Scotch® brand painter tape on items I need to address.
It is now over 40 years I have been working on bikes for pay. What this has done for me I cannot really say. I have gotten both thick skinned and thin skinned. Thick skinned in that you just need to let some stuff not bother you. The work will not be less, and you are distracted. I used be mean about taking tools out of my box. No longer, although I do watch where they go and who has them. Thin skinned, literally. I cut easier as I have aged, and that was something my father (car mechanic, hot rod head) told me years ago. Guess I should listen, but not sure what good it does. Solvents, I suspect working with solvents, and soaps, might have contributed to this.
Here is a short video tour on my little world for the next few nights. A pod in a parking lot.
Team 3M arrived at the airport. Here’s the game plan; I bring the Park Tool pick up for bike boxes and equipment. If riders stop to snack on the way to the hotel, I’ve got my work with me. I am going with the “Hoi” for the first greeting, and will have a cooler with bottled water to hand them. But, really, providing water, is that a mechanic’s job? No, but gaining their trust is. I want them to know they are well served, to be relaxed, and then they can leave me alone with the bikes.
There is usually a short window of pre-race calm, sometimes of just a few hours. Tools all arranged, things are clean, you are rested. The table is all set and tidy for our guests. Then the storm begins.
Okay, enough of the tranquil blue skies, sun warm wind. part. It is now raining and cool, and tonight it will be cold. No matter, this needs to be done and done right.
Cannondale is the bike of choice for Team 3M. Two spare bikes were shipped in as back up. Their packing could not have been better. If all bikes were shipped this way, life would easy.
There are six athletes coming, plus two staff. Below are my customers once they land here in Minnesota. The Team 3M site gives me some useful background and insight. I want to know their names, their frames sizes, their faces and something about them. I will have literally hours to establish trust with these pro’s. It’s been a long time since I’ve used my Flemish, and I am unsure if I should greet them with the familiar “Hoi,” or perhaps be more formal with “Hallo.” The bios give a sense of the person, but I am not sure what to think of the “scream.” I’m sure it’s great stuff and is probably really popular in The Nederlands.
Stef van Zummeren
Tom de Vriendt
In some race support work, my role is to manage other mechanics, such during the MTB World Championships. But for this race, it is just me for all the bikes. Road stage races develop their own rhythm and flow, with team staff fulfilling supporting roles for the cyclists and for one another. It is truly a team, at least when we are all in harmony and clicking along. However, any mistakes on the bikes will point only one direction. I will need to keep that in mind. 24/7.
To prevent any issues, proper preparation will prevent Calvin from going crazy. That’s not the official way to say that, but I intend to walk through each and every bike, ticking off the items as I go. Below is my terse page to be stuck to the wall as a visual reminder. What do I consider the most important part of working this race? Proper assembly, right out of the box/bag, just like at a good bike shop.
It is common to hear people ask what are the “tricks” to doing this work. Race mechanics hear a lot of, “Oh, you just know the tricks and short cuts.” We do, and it begins with years of repetitious, tedious, and boring work of turning screws, truing wheels, mounting tire after tire after tire, all of it. Cheap bikes, modest bikes, all kinds of bikes, they are the same and follow the same principals. Musical scales, you play scales for what seems like forever before you are asked to join the band. You think you want this work? Wait till the end of the blog next week and we will see.
Readers of my blogs, especially the article regarding race support, know that I like to have a motto or even logo for the race work. It can help focus the work and it is just fun. But for this race I took something written for me by my mentor. You may recoginize this as Haiku. He’s a very eccentric mentor, but he captures what goes on behind the scenes in the three lines.
Control slips away
Tranquil blue skies, sun warm wind.
Bikes work, well-trained. Ride.
Don’t ask me to explain it. Somehow it feels right, especially that first part.