Interview: Luna Chix Team Mechanic Chris Mathis

Wrenching for one of the biggest mountain bike and cyclocross teams ain’t easy. Yet Luna Chix mechanic, Chris Mathis has a knack for making it seem that way. Chris is a regular here at Art’s Cyclery where he frequently stops in for odds and ends that he needs for the team’s bikes. Art’s is proud to help out Chris and the most successful women’s cycling squad in the world, The Luna Chix. We thought our customers would like to get an inside look at what it’s like to work with these outstanding athletes and the challenges faced by a pro race mechanic. Find out the answers to these questions in this brief interview with Chris Mathis.

2013 Luna Chix Team photo credit: Rich Adams

Q: What are some of the best results the team has seen while you have worked with the Luna Chix?

• World’s #1 ranked women’s professional mountain bike team the past six years

• Three Olympians in 2012… Georgia Gould, Catharine Pendrel, Katerina Nash

• MTB Bronze Medal in London Games

• 2012 World Cup Individual and Team Champions

• Seven World Cup titles since 2002

• 2011 UCI World Champions

• 2010 XTERRA World Champions

• Four time U.S. National XTERRA Champions

• Over 40 National Championships

• Over 500 Individual Race Wins

Q: Can you walk us through what a typical race day and the day before are like for you?

A: Day before race day – Most of the training, tuning, and equipment is dialed in earlier in the week.  That consists mainly of trying different Maxxis tire treads and tweaking the bikes that have been trained on all week.  This allows me to hand over a race bike on the day before the event for final approval by the athlete. The rider will take it for a spin to confirm that it’s race ready has the proper tire pressure tread for the course. This will avoid most surprises on race morning providing the weather cooperates.  From there I spend time triple checking and detailing the entire bike.  Cleaning the bike is the perfect time to make certain everything is in order.

Race Day – There is always training on the course race day morning.  It usually rains and our athletes look for the deepest section of mud to drag their bikes through before bringing them to me a half hour before start time.  Not really, but the rain clouds follow us more often than not in Europe and many times we spend the last few minutes before a race start madly cleaning grime off the Orbeas that we spent so much time detailing the night before.  It’s totally normal at this point.

There is always a juggle between the start line and the tech zone that happens at the race start.  We standby at the start line until about 2 minutes to go just in case there are any very last minute issues we could attend to while the athletes are standing at the start line.  If nothing else, it puts our athletes’ mind at ease with us standing there for the “just in case” factor.  At the 2 minute mark we begin trekking to the tech zone where we make ourselves available to our athletes if they want any trackside service during the event.  The juggle is that the tech zone can be a few strides away from the start line or a full on run-hike 15 minutes uphill carrying spare wheels, shoes, chains, and tools.  The hardest part is getting there before the racers arrive for the first lap.

During the race we are available to service anything on our riders’ bikes and can change any part other than the frame. Luckily we have the best sponsors on the planet and I am usually able to simply cheer everyone on rather than make any adjustments in the pits.

After the race is over we will wash and attend to any issues the athletes had on course.  Then its time to pack it up and celebrate victories!

Q: What is the biggest challenge you deal with as a race mechanic? 

A: It seems to be making it all “look easy” and “everything is cool.” The easy part is the mechanical part. Bikes are easy to maintain, especially an Orbea built with Shimano and Fox components.  These companies make it easy on us through their built-in durability and consistency.  The work that is most time consuming is at events setting up the tech area and packing it back up again.  Most people only arrive during an event and miss the circus of set up and tear down.  The rest of my days and nights are filled will placing orders with sponsors, building bikes from scratch, and maintaining all our team vans and trailers.

The “everything is cool” part refers to the environment the athletes are placed in when at any team event.  The bikes could be lost, broken or a tornado could be on its way to the race course but it’s the staffs’ top priority to reassure the athletes that everything is cool and all they need to think about is what it takes for them to succeed on the race course.  Any dramas of staff disagreements or troubles are hidden from the team racers.  They need to see that everything is focused on them and their success on the race course.  The whole goal is to present a LUNA Pro Team at any given event that looks like all the work is complete and the LUNA Tech area is a permanent fixture.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?

A: Being a part of the Clif Bar Experience and working from home.  Clif Bar is a model company to work for and they allow me to live and set up our service course anywhere I like.  I’ve been lucky to create an environment where I have everything I need at home including a workshop, trailer storage, equipment storage, family, and peacefulness.  I travel so much of the year that every single bit of time I have at home with family is valuable to me even if I am building bikes and shipping parts out to athletes.

Q: Any favorite experiences from your time with the Luna Chix?

A: The Olympics in London was a blast.  It’s hard to beat that combined with the week prior to the Olympics training with the Canadian Team in France near Alpe d’Huez.

Q: Do you have any special tips for home mechanics out there? 

A: Water is the enemy. Grease is your friend.  Lube and wipe clean chains every single time the bike is ridden.

Q: What was your career path that led to your job as a mechanic with the Luna Chix? 

A: When I was fourteen I got my first job at a bike shop cleaning and selling bikes.  I had aspirations of racing bikes for a living but the training took all the fun out of riding for me.  I worked at a bike shop in college and had a friend that asked if I would be interested in helping out a pro team for the summer as they traveled around the USA.  This was a no brainer and I jumped at the opportunity.  It took me twice as long to finish college attending only two quarters a year, but I was able work myself into a position to travel the world managing a race team and working on bikes for champion athletes. Once I finished college, I had not planned to continue my “summer job with bike teams.”  Then along came the LUNA Chix Team and Clif Bar.  I was invited into the team during the end of their first season.  I’ve been here ever since.

Q: For people looking into a career as a race mechanic, do you have any suggestions on preparation for that goal? 

A: This job is more about personality and how you handle yourself under pressure.  Anyone can learn to work on a bike and teach themselves to be proficient.  But then add in the travel, different staff personalities, race day stresses, athlete expectations, and time away from home. It’s a lot to handle.  The best thing to do is gain some industry contacts and let them know you are interested.  The team mechanic positions seem to fill in by word of mouth only on factory teams.  However, starting as a factory tech for a company such as Shimano or Fox is huge.  Working on the road traveling for a company such as these or their competitors is a big foot in the door to simply meeting the close knit family of race teams out there.

Q: Do you get much riding in as you travel with the team? 

A: Never enough, but it’s always spectacular.  If it were an option I would ride five days a week when working.  But the travel, set up, clean up, racing, and tuning seems never ending.  Simply getting the opportunity to ride up Alpe d’Huez  in France last summer made my whole season.

Q: How does Art’s Cyclery help get what you need for the Luna Chix? 

A: As I said before, we have the best sponsors on the planet with Orbea, Shimano, Fox, Maxxis, and Mavic.  But the sponsors do not always have the exact part in stock when we are in desperate need.  Eric, Scott and the gang are always there for us to help fill in temporary gaps in stock.  It’s also great to get the opinions of some of the Art’s staff mechanics when I’m in need of some mechanical assistance myself. Many times Art’s gets their hands on new equipment before we do.  They have become a great resource for me to learn what’s working and what’s not before I place orders.  Art’s is also our unofficial cardboard bike box sponsor.  They have created the most perfect cardboard box to ship bikes and travel the world with.