Who are you?
I go by Chris Clinton. When I am in trouble I am usually called Christopher. Mostly by my daughter. On the circuit, a few call me Bubba.
Where do you work?
I recently joined Hwa Fong Rubber dba Duro Tire, as in this week.
What is it you do?
Everything! Sort of… I’m the new Product Marketing Manager responsible for fostering the three businesses we offer: the Duro brand, our private label programs and contract work. I’ll be fine tuning the product line for Duro’s cycling category, improving brand cohesiveness across all our categories including passenger car, light truck, motorcycle, recreational vehicles and more, and providing tools for our sales staff to both improve their productivity and communication with clients. So it feel like everything. I just stepped into this role and am super stoked to get a few of these projects under way. Yes, I said stoked, must be my Southern California roots.
How did you get started in the cycling industry?
Growing up I used my bicycle, and skateboard, as a means of transportation. I used them to get to work and school, to visit friends and family and to explore. As one would expect I wore out a lot of tires and components and thus was spending more time at the local bicycle retailer. With the help of their staff and some friends I was constantly tinkering with my bikes. This eventually led to a position at the shop where I quickly learned the ins and outs of the bicycle.
This was a ‘seasoned’ shop who prided themselves on the ability to repair items. While there I learned a lot about wheels being able to repair most damaged steel and aluminum rims and could even build offset hub patterns for local clown bikes. I can explain that later for those who want to know more.
While there I attended the Schwinn school, a few tech clinics from various brands and spent a lot of time learning what was and was not compatible due to the number of ‘standards’ at the time. I also continued to ride, a lot, as I could not yet afford a car, let alone the corresponding insurance.
During this time I began racing and was pretty good. As I progressed my desire to go faster and build lighter bicycles led to even more tinkering and product testing. While racing I met Calvin Jones and Bill Woodul who both nurtured my inquisitive mind and led to more tinkering. The retailer where I worked was constantly receiving special orders for new aero equipment or lighter components as I continued to ‘improve’ my bicycles.
I was enrolled at Cal State Long Beach in the Engineering program with a focus on materials engineering. The carbon age was just kicking off and I really wanted to push that envelope. I took an internship with Aerosports (later Advanced Racing Research) who was one of the first companies using Kevlar and carbon to produce bicycle component like wheels, bars and posts. We even worked on a few carbon tubbed bike frames. It was the early days and techniques and materials were not as finely tuned as today. I still have some glass and carbon fragments in one of my legs if someone ever feels the need to compare stories from back in the day.
I was constantly reaching out to bicycle components companies to learn how their products worked, what they were compatible with and how they might improve my riding experience. I had also expanding my riding. At one point I was riding 45 miles each way to work while still putting in two evening crit races per week and putting in a century, brevet and maybe more racing over the weekend. Thus I was getting in over 700 miles per wheel and blowing thru lots of bike parts.
The excessive riding, constant tinkering and communication with people in the industry eventually led to a position with Sachs Bicycle Components. They were looking for someone with an analytical mind who could test products while helping them drive the brand State-side. It’s been a fun ride thru the industry ever since.
You have a tenured background in race support, what makes it different to turning wrenches in a shop?
For most, life in the shop is pretty simple. (waiting for the flying wrench after that statement). For instance, when a customer breaks a part, the mechanic goes back to the shelf, grabs a new part and installs it for the customer. And these days most parts are plug-n-play as long as you stay within a family. Plus the equipment is so clean and precise now. Brakes actually stop the rider, drive trains are so wide and shift so well, frames are stiff in the right places and they tend to be much stronger. However, just because a mechanic can program an electronic drivetrain, remove the squeal from a disc brake and properly service suspension does not mean they will be quality race mechanic.
In the service center, time is less of an issue. On the race circuit you don’t have time to look for a part and schedule the bike for later once you finish the units currently lined up. The rider has an issue and it needs to be rectified now if they are to continue on. Thus being a race mechanic is heavily geared toward those who can make quick decisions (cut the cable!). With that in mind, I find mechanics who work on the least maintained bikes, the low cost models that are being held together by paperclips, bunji cords and a prayer, are the ones who are best able to work in a pit, out of car or at the race site. Working with customers who can’t afford to replace parts, let alone much labor, and still get that rider out on a rolling bike while the customer waits, those are the mechanics who are best able to handle the stress of a race. One must be flexible, think quickly and handle stress.
Personalities play a big part, too, but I will leave that for another conversation.
Do you have any cartoon heroes?
So, this question threw me for a loop. I don’t remember considering any cartoon characters as heroes. When I was a kid, maybe more so the live action shows like Shazam and Ultraman. I so wanted to be able to turn into a super hero and save the day and then switch back to myself. Even the women could do that back then if you consider Wonder Woman and Isis. Alas, I never found any magical amulets and was never taken over by the spirits of good.
If I had to choose a cartoon character, maybe it would be Spritle from Speed Racer. That kid was constantly getting into trouble. However, his constant tinkering tended to get Speed out of trouble.
Other past favorites were Captain Caveman and Plasticman who were both ditzy and still saved able to perform what was needed of them.
Is wider faster?
Ugh, wider. This was one of my biggest concerns while working with my previous employer and I bet it will continue to be an issue until the industry learns to better play well with each other.
One can prove that wider is faster when the appropriate rim and tire are used and when the right shape is used. Also, wider can be more comfortable allowing you to ride faster and offer more traction while reducing rolling resistance. So, yes, the industry is doing a good job proving that wider is faster.
However, wider doesn’t guarantee compatibility or that you will finish your ride. Some of today’s wheel companies are putting out revised rim shapes without fulling vetting the effect on the tire. Most tires were designed with beads intended to be run on what had been the industry standard shape for rim beads and for rim widths. If you followed ETRTO standards, certain width rims should be run with certain width tires. Failure to use the right combination can be dangerous for the rider.
Some may argue that these standards are old and need to be updated, which is reasonable as long as new standards are created as a group, not by each manufacturer haphazardly. Luckily a group of tire companies joined together during last year’s Taichung Bike Week to discuss the myriad of standards and growing incompatibilities. That effort is now part of the current ISO project and hopefully will lead to improved standards and reduce the number of burped and cut tires we experience. Until that time, consider looking up ETRTO charts in your Southerland’s Manual and speaking with the various brands about compatibility. Heck, just Google “ETRTO chart”.
What else should our followers know about Chris Clinton?
Is this where I let out all my secrets, like that one time in Georgia when I met airport security, local police, FAA administrators and the FBI? (clean your tool boxes, folks)
I have been married for 26 years (to the same person), have two married children (not to each other), and two grandkids. I used to compete in high hurdles and actually like to run. Though I don’t spend as much time on the race circuit I still enjoy working a few events and spend time at local bike shops to keep my mechanical skills primed. On the side I also run service clinics and still build most of my own wheels. I am a trail steward with my local IMBA chapter working on a new trail system. I still like to ride and I don’t drink alcohol. (Gasp! How can a person last this long on the circuit without drinking?) So next time you overdo it at the Falconer, the Crown and Anchor, the hotel bar or some other activity, I might be there to pick you up off the floor and dust you off.
And, if you happen to see a drop of blood on the bottom of the Olympic Superbike at the Smithsonian, that’s mine. (Medic!)
A note from Chris:
For the mechanics reading this interview, please note that I didn’t have aspirations in my youth of being a professional athlete or traveling outside Southern California. I just wanted to ride and make bikes better. This initiative is what led me from a customer, to a shop mechanic and to various other positions and activities in the industry. This drive, the need to learn what makes things tick, led to two Olympic games, numerous Tour’s de France, time in cars and on motos at Paris Roubaix, hundreds of World Cups and National Championships, and thousands of road, mountain, track, bmx and other races while traveling the world. It also led to great relationships that I truly cherish.
If you are currently working as a mechanic at a retail store, don’t discount your time there. Use it as a backboard for learning. Make sure you meet your tech reps, attend clinics when available, attend trade schools if possible. Expand your experience and your mind and opportunities will fall into place. And don’t be afraid to volunteer some of your time once in a while. I’m not saying work for free, just remember that giving to the community can come back positively.
Surely by now you have heard our messages about Interbike. Nothing there has changed, we encourage you to be there. If you are going please register for the Mechanics Challenge we'd love to watch you have some fun, get a free membership (yes, if you're registered you get a free PBMA membership for the first year) and win some cool prizes from Park Tool, Finishline, Hutchinson and others. We will be speaking during the NBDA Super Seminars on Thursday morning at 8:30, and of course we will be at our booth to answer questions and meet many of you. Besides all the things we are doing there is free technical training available from Bosch, Campagnolo, Shimano, Sram and others. It's a great opportunity to take in a ton of tech knowledge in a brief period of time.
What else is happening? To list it all would take a while so let's highlight the big features. Membership is coming, more on that below. Those in attendance at Interbike will have some unique offers, those who can't make it will too. As you can may have noticed we've made some changes to the website and though much is still under lock and key you can see where things are headed. There is a Forum and it is live - feel free to start using it. There is a public side which anyone can register and use, so please start using it. Once we launch membership there are more features such as dedicated and secure discussion areas, special groups for those who have completed and or attended various training programs around the country and a classifieds area to buy, sell, trade and barter for bikes, tools, fixtures and more. It is still in process of being built and your feedback and use of it will help us dial in all those pieces.
Membership - we can't say much here but more details will be available soon. As we continue to develop and grow our organization and our member base so to will the benefits to our members. Do you have an idea or thought? Please don't be shy and share it with us. Have a critique - we want to hear it. We aren't a giant organization. We are 9 volunteer board members working day in and day out in our full time jobs while also ticking away the free hours to make all of this happen. We want to find success in our mission of promotion, advocacy and development for bicycle mechanics. We want this to become a professionally recognized trade. Technical knowledge isn't getting any less complicated.
Again we hope to see in Vegas... if not perhaps in North Carolina. Needless to say we will be around and look forward to showing you what we are all about.
- PBMA Board of Directors
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Mechanic of the week has been a little quiet as of late. That's because we were working with a partner and outlining the program to become an annual competition from September 1st 2016 through July 31st 2017. The PBMA will soon announce the partnership as well as how the competition will work. Meanwhile start nominating your favorite mechanic so they have a chance to win!
Who are you?
Where do you work?
DT Swiss USA (Grand Junction, Colorado)
I spend my time helping with OEM sales and aftermarket product support, among many other things.
Tell us what it is you do on a daily basis.
Anything from working with OEM customers to help determine next year’s spec to helping answer questions from shops/mechanics. Despite DT Swiss being a big company, our US crew is relatively small and we all do a bit of everything. On the OEM side, I help specifically with the customers who take delivery from our Colorado office, and a couple bigger guys. Determining specs, obtaining forecasts, helping with customization, etc. are all under my umbrella.
Other than that, I help our customer service and sales teams ensure we are giving out the right information in addition to working with our distributors to make sure they have the right parts on hand. Our product mix is both simple and complex, and coming from a mechanic’s viewpoint helps me every day.
Can you tell us a bit about your history as a bicycle mechanic (like where you began, what you’ve done along the way)?
I got my first job in a bike shop (Bicycle Warehouse in San Diego, thanks Mike and Debbe!) because I had destroyed my rear wheel and couldn’t afford a new one. In the end, I got much more than just a good deal on a wheel, I found an industry I love which I expect to be a part of for life. I worked in many service departments, at some great retailers (Bicycle Warehouse, Family Cycling Center, Another Bike Shop, Summit Bicycles, Trek San Diego), eventually managing a large service department.
Along the way I was racing a bit and going to school. In 2008 I jumped into the race mechanic world head first, spending two years each with Team TIBCO and UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling as a mechanic. My mixed experience in retail and racing landed me a job testing wheels at Specialized before my wife’s career took us to Colorado. I was lucky to find that DT Swiss was in Grand Junction, and my experience and contacts from Specialized and elsewhere helped me get my foot in the door here.
How important in your opinion are wheels when it comes to bicycles?
Wheels, and the components they are made of, are the best and quickest way to change the way a bike performs. When I was in retail, wheels (custom or pre-built) were always my favorite thing to sell as you can make a direct improvement to a rider’s experience very easily. A great pair of wheels can make a mediocre bike work quite well, but a poor wheel choice does quite the opposite. Luckily there are a ton of great options in the wheel world these days, both pre-built and custom built.
From a mechanic’s point of view, it is crucial to know and understand all the details related to wheels in order to support your customers (be that retail, racers, whomever). Wheels are no longer something that your average rider (or sales person) can easily wrap their head around. So, learn the standards, learn the various options, and help guide your customers to the right product for them. And always use a tensiometer.
What is your favorite experience as a bicycle mechanic that you’ve had thus far in life?
Obviously a tough question to answer given I’ve had so many great experiences specifically tied to wrenching on bikes. My years in retail were formative, but I’d have to say that working for professional teams allowed me to see places in the world I would never have been to otherwise. The requirements of running the mechanic’s side of a pro team while you have zero chance of buying what you need on site requires some good planning. I made some mistakes and learned some lessons from that world which have served me well to this day. One key lesson, always have some cool stuff to give away when you need to bribe a security guard to open the fire hydrant so you can wash your rider’s bikes.
What is professionalism to you?
Professionalism is a bit of a “dog in a hat”. We all know it when we see it, but it is hard to describe. For me, following through on what you commit to, admitting when you are wrong, and listening are key elements of professionalism. Don’t forget to say please and thank you!
What is your favorite tool and why?
I’m not much of a tool geek, but I absolutely love my T handle allen keys I picked up in Italy while on the road (Facom brand I think). The quality is second to none, and I’ve yet to find a US company making anything similar. Plus they remind me of some fun travel.
Motors in bike or wheels? What’s the better place to hide something like that?
I’ve been working really closely with some key OEM customers to find solutions for this question. Wheels are clearly the place to hide a motor. Otherwise, why would us wheel guys keep selling this silly idea of “wider is better” to the masses? Gotta gain some space for the motor somehow.
What else should we know about Steven Sperling?
Safety Third is my motto.
A lot of buzz happening around this yeasr Interbike and we hope to see a lot of you there.
What's happening and where can you find PBMA representatives?
Missing Interbike this year? We'll be out at some other events so we will be sure to see you out there on the road!
PBMA is pleased to introduce our newest Mechanic of the Week, Daimeon Shanks, founder and owner of The Service Course in Boulder, Colorado.
For those of you just tuning into #mechanicmonday, this is where we feature one mechanic each week, chosen at random from nominations submitted the week before. It’s all about mechanics supporting fellow mechanics!
Daimeon has been a race mechanic for the USA Track Team, 5 years of Slipstream Sports under various sponsors, BMC Mountain Bike Team, Cannondale Cyclocross, Team Rapha-Focus, Noosa Professional CX, and is now Stephen Ettinger’s mechanic on the RideBiker Alliance team.
The Service Course opened in 2010 and will shutter soon as Shanks begins Law School. It was a space for Daimo and a series of high-potential “apprentices” to work on bikes while they were at home, largely for regular personal clients.
Daimeon brought calm and levity to intense race situations, where travel, language, and resources were sometimes a challenge – a valuable skill.
Advice from Daimo for race mechanics? “Never put off for tomorrow what you can do today.” For shop mechanics, “Buy a great torque wrench.”
For all of us, Daimeon Shanks advises, “Be kind, grow from adversity, don’t fuck up your credit rating, and brush and floss regularly.”
(Daimeon Shanks did this interview from the pit at Boston Rebellion, where his athlete Stephen Ettinger secured the overall win in The US Cup with a 4th place.)
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