Imagine a fancy hotel where you return from a ride or race to hand your bike over to mechanic. You could mention a creaking bottom bracket or you maybe you want a different cassette on the back for tomorrow. It’s done, not only that but the bike gets cleaned and even the bar tape looks new. Well that’s exactly what a pro rider gets. Obviously they have a duty to ride the bike to exhaustion and beyond but they can always count on getting the bike fixed.
Only I wouldn’t give my bike to a pro team mechanic for an overnight service. Just as a pro rider can be tough on a bike, the same is often true of a pro mechanic. Their job is to get the bike race ready and make sure it’s looking good enough to buy.
The first thing that happens when a rider gives a bike to the mechanic is that it gets cleaned. Prior to that the mechanics will have opened up their service truck and then gone in search of water. Now you might have many tools at home and your local bike shop has a proper workshop with more specialist tools. But every pro mechanic has something special: water keys and hose attachments. Water is essential and locating the local supply is essential, each team has a box of pipe connectors, hoses and rusty keys so they can connect their hoses to any kind of tap, valve or even a fire hydrant regardless of the country they’re in. They’ll also hook up the team bus to the water so the soigneurs can get the kit into the washing machines.
Once the bike is with the mechanic, the first job is cleaning the bike. Most mechanics “paint” the chain and drivetrain with a solvent, even petrol, although many teams these days are sponsored by companies providing more eco-friendly solvents. Either way, the solvent loosens and dissolves anything hanging around. One trick used is old water bottle with the top cut off, this is then put in the bottle cage on the seat tube to provide a ready source of solvent, the mechanic can just dip a brush back and forth between the drivetrain and solvent.
Don’t try this at home
With the dirt under chemical attack, it’s time for a jet wash and the powerful spray of water blasts everything off. It’s possible to clean the chain by this means alone, high pressure can blast the chain clean. If it makes the bike look good, it also lets water infiltrate the wrong places, including inside bearings and on spoke nipples. Obviously the mechanics don’t aim direct at the bearings but the daily process and high pressure means water often gets in. But in the short term the bike is shining. It then gets wiped down with a cloth to remove excess water and stop drying water drops leaving marks.
Depending on whether there’s a problem or not the mechanic will then go about checking the bike. Any crash damage gets fixed, a scuffed saddle gets binned, torn bar tape is removed and replaced. Tubs and tyres should be inspected for cuts and any embedded items picked out. On a hot day any melted tar stuck to the bike will be rubbed off with a solvent.
All this fundamentally changes the way a rider looks at their bike. They can abuse it, smashing the wheels into a hole is ok because they’ve got spares and the mechanics have to get a bike shining for show within no time. It’s now how you should look after your own bike, care needs to be taken to avoid water ingression.
You’ve paid for your equipment and it has to last, many pro bikes get used for three months on the road and then become spares or get used for training. It’s not uncommon to change the chain every couple of weeks, perhaps more if the weather’s been bad.
One detail from Garmin-Cervélo is the mechanics are given responsibility for specific bikes. They “own” the machine and rider is tasked with riding it. But it subtly encourages the mechanic to take more care and to link up with the rider.
Riding is hard but the life of a mechanic is not easy. Early starts and late nights are guaranteed when at races and the conditions are not always easy. Whilst everyone is fussing over the riders, the mécanos are outside cleaning bikes and making repairs. During a race day they might be cramped in the back of the car, spare wheels digging into their ribs; or they are driving the truck to the finish, using side roads to avoid the race. Outside of the races, there are hundreds of tubs to glue, TT bikes to set up and more.
At the end of the season it’s common to find some teams selling their bikes. You might find a bargain but be careful as the bike will have been ridden hard and worked on even harder.
Pros just have to ride their bikes. But a pro mechanic works differently from a shop mechanic, treating the bikes in a way that suggests they are more disposable. This is not to say they are careless, a mechanic cannot afford to make a mistake as their job can depend on a functioning bike. Rather the lifetime of the bikes they work on are different to those a shop mechanic would work on. That’s only reasonable, the equipment usually comes free from sponsors and the job is hard enough already.