The Life of a Pro Mechanic When His Team Is Not Racing

Eric Jellum on back of trailer working on bike mounted on Park Tool repair stand

It’s hard to imagine that the bike racing season will ever end, especially when you roll up to a hotel in the team rig after driving for the past 3 days straight, at which this evening could easily be the 200th night sleeping in a hotel for the year.

Generally I’ll spend between 200 and 275 days on the road traveling with the team throughout a calendar year. This past season I visited 29 States and 8 Countries over the span of 242 days. I lost track of road miles and airline miles, but I assure you that it’s over 100,000 total travel miles. Over the span of those 242 days this year, I rarely spent more then a few days in the same location.

Long before the end of the season, teams usually already have serious plans for the following year. As cycling becomes more popular in the US, the racing season is ever expanding. Years ago “The Redlands Classic” at the beginning of April was the first big race of the year. Now, by the time we get to Redlands, the team has already done at least 15 days of racing plus a week and half long training camp. With training camp being the first of February and the last race usually being sometime in October, it makes for a long travel season. Over in Europe, the season is even longer than what we deal with here in the States. With most large Pro-Tour teams, there are just about 6 weeks from the last race of the year to when the team has already planned it’s first preparation camp for the riders.

It’s a little surreal once the last race of the year is over. After months and months of either constant movement or making plans to travel somewhere, it is hard to wrap your head around the fact that there is really no where to go for a while. It can feel a little exhausting trying to make personal plans in the off season after having team management take care of almost all details of your lifestyle for months at a time.

It’s a full time job being the head mechanic for the Kelly Benefits Pro Cycling Team. With such long stretches on the road it’s nice to look forward to a little down time once the racing is officially over. Even though the team is not racing, I can’t quite disappear off the face of the earth. But, for a few weeks I try to stay low on the radar where I can ride my own bike, ride the motorbike, cook elaborate meals for my girlfriend (during the season my diet mostly consist of Subway, Starbucks and beef jerky) in general I just try to relax. It doesn’t take long for me to get into a groove of what I’d call a “normal lifestyle.” This down time is crucial for any team support staff. What the staff does for the team is more than a job, I like to refer to it as a “lifestyle” as our time is heavily invested in the team. So being able to step back from the bike racing scene for a few weeks to put things in perspective and stay motivated is very important.

After a few weeks though things start to heat up and I must crack open my laptop computer to start getting in touch with new riders and new sponsors. It’s a few hours a day of computer work where I catalog all the riders’ technical request and stay in touch with industry sponsors to inform them on the teams needs for the up coming season. During these next few months I will cover any issues from the riders shoes all the way to what will be done with any of the team’s fleet of vehicles.

For 2011 The Kelly Benefits team will be aboard Orbea bikes. This will be the second year the team has raced on Orbea’s, but one big difference is that Orbea has updated their top of the line race machine. Along with a new frame design, the Orbea Orca will be offered in more frame sizes, to better fit the large range of rider’s personal geometry. So not only will the new guys need to be fitted properly for a new bike, but also all the returning riders have to be fitted as well.

Along with Orbea, the team will be using Mavic wheels and Sram RED components. Both companies are always pushing the limits of the current bicycle technology. We stay in close contact with all of our product sponsors to ensure we know of any new components that will need special servicing for next season. One example is how cartridge bearing technology has advanced to the point where almost every moving piece on a bicycle is being assisted by a cartridge bearing. That being said, we also communicate with the guys at Park Tool to make sure we have the proper tools to service or replace the cartridge bearings or any other new bike parts that need to be fixed.

To take care of the full 15 rider squad of Kelly Benefit riders takes a lot of support, I’m very lucky to have a good number of mechanics on hand to help assist the team. For many years and many teams I was the only mechanic available to the team. The work load can be very heavy and overwhelming. For 2011 along with myself, we will have Bob Gregorio (Smooth Operator). Bob has been working for pro cycling teams longer then I have been alive. He is just as comfortable working a race half way around the world as he would be wrenching at USPRO Nationals. Along with Bob, we have Kolyn Kirkham (Super K) and Nick Matecki. They take care of everything and anything at the teams service course in Minneapolis, MN. Kolyn and Nick take care of servicing vehicles, collecting equipment at the end of the season and also keeping inventory of all the new equipment that is coming into the office.

Training camp starts the first of February in California. So for about 2 weeks before we head out to California, we hold pre season prep in Minneapolis. For those two weeks we have a laundry list of stuff to do. We will build a good majority of the bikes that are needed for the season, rack vehicles, take all the vehicles in to get new decals and just overall preparation. That time of the year is by far the busiest time all season. For those 2 weeks, my day will generally start at 6 a.m. and I won’t quit till 10:30 or 11 p.m. A majority of the time spent in the frigid cold of Minnesota, is spent building bikes.

Bikes don’t come to us as semi pre-builds as many of the large manufacturer’s ship bicycles to bike shops. We get pretty much every piece of the bicycle sent to us separately, so putting a complete bike together will take between 2-3 hours. Each mechanic does not focus on building 1 bike at a time, we will complete the bikes in 3 phases. The first step is to install the fork, stem, h/ bar and seat post then label the frame with the corresponding rider’s name. Once all the frames have those items, we move onto the next step of installing the B/B, cranks, derailleurs, brakes and shifters.

Now, most the Orbea frames resemble a complete bike, but the longest step is next. This is where we “string up” the bikes with cables and housing then make all the proper adjustments to make the bike rideable. Some of the bicycles will be immediately packed up into boxes and shipped to the riders to be used as home bikes. The rest will be loaded into the truck along with enough spare equipment to get us through the season and driven out to California for training camp.

Right now all my energy is being focused on those 2 weeks of work in Minneapolis. With a few more days till Christmas, most of my computer work is complete and things are coming together smoothly. I have a feeling it’s going to be a great season.

Thanks for reading,
Eric Jellum