For this week’s Ask a Mechanic I have a special treat for you: an interview with HTC Highroad race mechanic Greg O’Keeffe. Greg has worked for Art’s Cyclery as a mechanic for the last two and a half years splitting his time between us and Team HTC Columbia Highroad where he worked as a race mechanic during the road racing season. With team HTC now defunct Greg is currently working for us full time and is our road race and TT bike specialist. If you have any questions for Greg just post them to our facebook wall.
Question: How long have you worked for Highroad Sports and what was your role there?
GO: I worked for Highroad the last 5 years. I was mainly a mechanic, but did everything from helping run our webstore in the early days of the team, to driving and towing team vehicles around the country. I primarily worked races here in America and managed things at our service course in SLO (San Luis Obispo, California).
Question: What is the biggest challenge faced by race mechanics?
GO: The schedule during a long stage race. You typically get up first and go to bed last. Most people assume a race mechanics’ responsibilities just include building and fixing bikes, that’s the easy part. After a stage the mechanics not only have to wash and dry each bike including spare bikes, 18 total for a big race, they have to re-glue any tubulars that were flatted during a stage, fix any broken bits on bikes involved in crashes, wash all the team vehicles, typically 5 vehicles, and a mix of other small duties. Did I mention that that was just what takes place directly after the stage. We are also responsible for getting the team cars refueled for the next stage and having all the bikes and vehicles ready to go in the morning before the stage begins. Basically, we load team cars with spare wheels, spare bikes, our toolbox, a bunch of nutrition supplies, and a cooler of bottles and other beverages for the riders. The racing itself is almost a relief if you are in the team car during the race. You get to sit and take in the scenery for the most part. The occasional wheel change and or bike change may occur but those aren’t bad. The worst part about being in the car is if you have to hang out the window to make an adjustment on a rider’s bike at 30 mph, not too much fun. If your not in a team car, then you’re taking the mechanics truck or towing a trailer to the finish hotel and fighting for a spot so you can start setting up to repeat the whole process again.
Question: Can you give us a few highlights from your time there? Any exciting stories?
GO: I would have to say my favorite highlight was in 2009 at the TD Bank Philadelphia International Championship when Ina Teutenberg and Andre Greipel both won the race. It was just a really fun race and a very cool city. The women’s field actually caught and passed the men’s field during the race. They race on the same course but they stagger the starts to avoid that from happening. It was the first time that had happened in the history of the race, which was pretty awesome because I did a lot of work for the women’s team and was in the team car when it happened. I also witnessed the worst crash I’ve seen during that race but I don’t care to talk about that. Other than that, when Michael Rogers won the Tour of California, that was really cool. Of course watching the team dominate the sprints in the tour as consistently and as long as we did was something special knowing that I was a part of that in a small way. I was at the tour the year that the team was holding 3 of the 4 jerseys. We had the yellow, green, and white jersey all at one time! Another major highlight would have to be getting the opportunity to work with such a big, diverse group of people, not only people within the team, but people you have to work with on other teams to accomplish things. Highroad had an amazing group of people not only to work with, but to work for as well.
GO: Working on Bob’s bikes is not as bad as people think it would be. His bikes definitely got a little extra love though during races and team camps. He has an incredible fleet of bikes that are usually fun to work on so it’s almost a treat to work on them. I also personally built quite a few of his bikes which was a little nerve racking at first, you don’t want to be the one to mess up one of the boss’s bikes, that’s for sure.
Question: Any tips for home mechanics?
GO: Take your time, use the right tools, and keep things organized. The right tools make all the difference and if you take your time while trying to accomplish something new, you’ll be more successful. Speed comes with repetition so keep doing the things you wish to learn. Staying organized while working on anything will help a ton, especially when dealing with small parts. It is important to keep parts laid out and organized in a way that you can easily remember how they go back together. Don’t be afraid to ask for help at your local bike shop either. It’s better to swallow your pride a little and ask for help or just leave the hard jobs for a professional.
Question: What does it take to be a successful race mechanic?
GO: You need to be able to work long hours, be willing to work with a wide variety of people, and have tons of confidence in your work. If you aren’t confident about your work then how is one of the world’s best cyclists supposed to get on that bike and race with total confidence? You have to work with people not only within your team, but other teams as well. It takes quite a bit of patience sometimes because a lot of race mechanics are European and sometimes have thick accents that can be tough to understand. It gets frustrating pretty quick. The long hours may be the biggest challenge so you have to be a hard worker that can stay focused all day.
Question: What is the best part about working in the Art’s service department?
GO: The people. I think we have a great group of guys and gals working throughout the entire company. The best part about coming to work and being in the service department for me is that it doesn’t really feel too much like work. We have a lot of fun while we work so it feels more like a group of guys just hanging out in a garage working on bikes together. That is what makes Art’s special. It is a fun, friendly shop that is also passionate about racing. It’s not often that you find a shop that has that kind of balance. Plus, we get so many opportunities to work on world-class level bikes that I still get plenty of chances to geek out on all the new bikes and components that are constantly coming through.
Daniel Slusser is a professional bicycle mechanic with over ten years of experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from HSU and a master’s degree in history from Cal Poly University. When he is not riding, wrenching, or writing he enjoys spending time with his wife and two children.