Deborah Xu is a shop owner, race mechanic, shop mechanic and engineer. Learn about what she does and why she does it.
What is the name of your shop and how did it come into being? (elaborate as much as you wish!)
My shop's name is Tender Loving Cycle.
I started out my career at an Elite Specialized dealership that deals both Specialized and Cannonade I worked in a service centre with 5 other full-time male mechanics. I started out as an amateur mechanic and was only allowed to build cheap new bikes. I then could do tune ups on non carbon bikes. That lasted for a long time until one day I just grabbed a carbon bike and started working on it, there were some oppositions, but I just firmly told them that I was ready. Slowly, I started gluing tires, having regular customers that only trusted me, and doing pro builds on high-end road bikes.
I then was trained for bike fit and became a licensed USA Cycling race mechanic.
As race support opportunities started to present themselves to me and the fact that I found out that I was being paid lower than all of my male colleagues (some with less experience, biggest difference was 33%), I left the shop.
Besides going to various of races as technical support, I started my own mobile repair services. I would go pick up customers' bikes, repair them at home, and return them back to the customers. I also did my own version of bike fit for people at their own homes. This bike business went on for three years. As I gained a group of loyal customers, in October 2014, Tender Loving Cycle was opened.
Many old and new friends reached out to help, the sales reps from Blackburn and Cannonade backed me up as much as they can, and a lot of my old customers from mobile repair business started coming in as well. For a year, I was working and living in the shop. Then, as things got so busy that I had to work from 7am to 4am daily, I hired my first employee and vowed to always treat my guys and gals right.
TLC has been opened for almost three years now and known for its service and bike fit. I have a trusted friend and coworker, Harold, who works with me, we have a group of freakishly awesome customers, I finally moved into an awesome apartment, and the shop is turning a profit.
What is your favorite thing to do as a mechanic?
As cliche as this sounds, my favorite thing to do as a mechanic is problem solving when resource is extremely limited. I particularly enjoy providing technical support for ultra distance rides. There will always be times when something fails completely, there is no replacement part for it, the next decent bike shop is at least 100 miles away, and the whole crew is looking at you because you were the only mechanic on this 3000+ miles adventure. It's like a survival game but for mechanics. Thank God for toe straps, gorilla tapes, and, sometimes, drills and dremels.
Do you find much push back, side-eye, or suffer odd interactions with your customers because of your gender? If so, how do you navigate those situations? Do you have any particularly humorous stories to share with those?
When I am in the shop alone, I find myself in a lot of conversations that are almost identical to this:
"Hi do you guys fix bikes?"
"Yes, we do."
"Cool, is the mechanic in?"
"I am the mechanic."
(after watching me work) "Are you single?"
or, when my coworker is in, I will be mostly working on things on computers (because paperwork for a business owner never ends)
"Hi I need help with this and that."
(my coworker gets to work we started chatting)
"Oh you bring your girlfriend to work?"
"No, that's my boss."
This kind of interaction can happen anywhere with any profession, gender, race, or sexual orientation. I have had the wife of a demo truck driver telling me that "the bikes on this rack are easier", I have had a gay man telling me "honey, you need to move", and I have had pro racers who took their bikes to another male mechanic after I was finish with them only to have that mechanic came around and asked me "hey what did you need for those bikes? They were perfectly fine." (I swear those were the original sentences).
Maybe because I have been at this male predominant industry for more than 10 years. I have learned to stand up for myself. Sometimes you gotta stand up and speak your mind, sometimes you passive aggressively put people in place sarcastically, and sometimes you get help from friends who believe in you and would back you up (I have to say, there are a lot of these great people, and I am very grateful for them). Eventually, in my case, people will learn to respect this little Asian lady that, most of the time, acts like a 16 year old.
What technological advances with bicycles gets you excited?
There are two things I like seeing in the evolution of bicycles.
One is the material engineering and mechanical engineering companies invested into their products. You can see the materials, be it metal or carbon, becoming lighter, stronger, and more forgiving, and the way they come together or formed becoming more and more clever. It makes me happy when I do pro builds on the same model frames from different years, you can tell it's better (or worse, sadly, sometimes) than its predecessors.
I also like seeing components getting simpler, aka, more serviceable. Regardless how well it works or how long it lasts, I like how simply constructed Sram shifters are compared to Shimano ones. Or how easy it is to service a Mavic freehub body -- it comes together so simple and rolls so well for so many miles -- then it starts to squeal, but, hey, servicing it takes 5 minutes, so who cares! It makes me happy to see the general trend of engineering on components and tools heading to the same direction -- simpler in assembly and more efficient in function.
Do you have any favorite tools you like to use?
I am going to play the girl card here and say my favorite tool is my Grease Monkey Gorilla Grip gloves. They fit on and feel as thin as latex gloves, and they last way longer than other similar lines of gloves.
If I have to pick one tool, like, an actual tool. It's a simple one. It's the Park AWS-50 3-Way Hex 50th Anniversary Set. I really can't explain it. I have been using it daily for four years now. It weighs and fits in your hand just right. This and the SW-7 Multi-wrench are the only two tools that no one in the shop is allowed to touched except me.
Others worth mentioning are the Abbey Crombie set, the dead blow hammer I bought long ago and forgot its brand, and any bearing tools from Wheels Manufacturing.
What kinds of things would you like to see for women in the industry, generally or specifically? What are you doing to make those things happen?
I feel like I am a little off topic here, but I find it very exciting to see that, at UCI and USAC races, the winning prize for the women's teams are getting bigger (even though there is still a big gap between the men's and women's teams, but you can see the gap is getting smaller and smaller ever so slowly).
I would like to see more women in the industry, regardless of job title, so I would like to see more women riding. I would like to see companies creating the right commercial contents for their female consumers. For example, we would like the chamois to fit our entertainment center better, and we would like our jerseys to show our curves.
I would also like to see more local shops hiring women. A lot of my female customer told me that they don't feel intimidated when they walk in the shop and see another female working. Just as a male customer wouldn't want to tell me that they are peeing blood, a female customer wouldn't want to express to your grumpy male mechanics that their no-no-square is numb after a ride.
I have been working with a few local female oriented businesses to provide a local cycling culture for women. TLC's shop kits and bottles are designed with female cyclists in mind and are loved by many female riders. I have had female cyclists in Colorado calling hoping to get our bottles. I have also been working with Aids LifeCycle on hosting regular maintenance clinics for female cyclist to help boost their confidence. I would always love to do more, so if anyone has any good idea, let me know!
What do you see for the future of Tender Loving Cycles?
I am changing the direction for TLC to better adapt to this globalized retail world. What won't change is that TLC will always be a cozy local bike shop that prides itself in fair (non-internet-matching) pricing, great service, and awesome customers.
My days presently are split up three ways really. The PBMA is a huge priority so I spend a great deal of time fielding phone calls, firing off emails, building the website and working towards driving the organization into the future. Just to top all that off you can find me working at races throughout the year as a team mechanic or driving and jumping out of cars providing neutral service.
I got into cycling when I was 15. I haven't really looked back since then. I've raced competitively on and off-road. I've been in and out of shops since 1991. I've spent time working for Cannondale, USA Cycling and Specialized. I've done contract work for SRAM, Mavic and others. I've spent plenty of time on the road working for teams like Liquigas, Twenty16, Elita Pro, Webcor, Drapac the US and Canadian National teams as well as world neutral support at more races than I can actually remember. I spent about 6 years working outside the cycling industry with a fortune 500 company, I gained and entire new set of skills outside our industry.
The PBMA began as a conversation between myself and a handful of others, some of whom are on the Board of Directors and some who were simply interested in professionalizing our craft. Having been in the trenches (of all varieties) for many years I feel very strongly about mechanics and service. I know there are challenges ahead and I am personally prepared to fight them on behalf of the PBMA. For service the future is very bright. We as technicians have the opportunity to help the future of the cycling industry by bolstering our personal skills tool box.
Some of our readers, let's say those who don't use the internet regularly don't know that in 2016 you were the champion at the Mechanics Challenge held at Interbike. It wasn't a clear victory, you won on a technicality. So will you be back in 2017 to defend the title?
Yes, I will be back to defend my title! The industry has needed an event like this and I intend to give it my full support!
How did you cycling industry career begin?
Like a lot of people in the industry, I fell in love with the bicycle at a young age, about 5 years old, and never looked back. By the time I was 11, I was racing on the road continuing straight through until I was 21. I quickly found myself more interested in the bike than my ability to be a good bike racer so, when I was 12, I started working at a shop across town in the service department learning how to build bicycles. I spent two years at that shop, then moved to a shop that was just down the street from my home (Westlake Cyclery) where I spent the next ten years really learning the trade. 5 years later, I had worked my way up to be the Service Manager.
In 1990 I went to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO where I earned my USCF Race Mechanic License at the age of 17. After working at Westlake Cyclery I moved to Newbury Park Bicycle Shop as the Service Manager for the next ten years. I thought I'd try my hand at being a sales and technical representative for Cannondale Bicycles in Southern California. That only lasted a year - not my cup of tea.
In January 2007, I opened Win's Wheels. This year we are celebrating 10 years of professional bicycle service and still going strong.
You own a service only shop, can you talk a little on how that got started and where it is today?
Yes, I own a service only shop. While I was a representative for Cannondale my phone never stopped ringing; former clients from Westlake Cyclery and Newbury Park Bicycle shop had tracked me down asking me to service their bicycles. I was repping during the day and repairing bikes at night and on the weekend, and it became apparent there was a large need for high quality, fast turnaround bicycle repair in my area.
The tipping point came when I was making more money doing bicycle service, and enjoying it far more than repping. So, I decided to open Win's Wheels, a Bicycle Service Center. I took the leap of faith and went against what EVERY other shop owner said: it will never work because their service departments "never made any money". I started out with 1500 sq. ft. and went for it. I was the only one working in the shop, working 6 days a week, doing 70-80 hours a week. I had to do it all myself. I didn't hire my first employee until I had been in business for a year. In the second year I hired my next employee.
We were busting at the seams with work; when service bikes were being stored in my office, I knew we had to do something. The rental space next to us became available and we jumped on it; the addition of the new space doubled the size of the shop. We had some growing pains with the staff in 2012-2013 - I had to "clean house". It was the BEST decision I've made since I opened the shop. Currently I have one of the best group of employees I have ever had. I have 3 full time and one part time employees, my daughter, plus myself.
It is hard to believe that Win's wheels is celebrating our 10 year anniversary. Now that I have created a well-oiled machine, Win's Wheels, I can leave the shop and do my other love, being a race team mechanic.
You're a team mechanic too?
Yes, I have been a race team mechanic and neutral support mechanic since I earned my Race Mechanic License in 1990. I have done both road and mountain bike race wrenching. I've worked for Shimano, Mavic, and Sachs on the neural mechanic side of the industry. As a team mechanic I have worked for the AC Factory Team, Timari Pruis (12&24 Solo MTB Racer and my wife), Greg Robinson (Ultra Endurance Road Racer), the Liquigas/Cannondale Pro Cycling Team, Cannondale Pro Cycling, the Cannondale/Garmin Pro Cycling Team, and the Cylance Pro Cycling men's and women's team.
Do you have a favorite tool? Ok, Ok, Ok... top 3 and why...
My three favorite tools come from Abbey Bike Tools; the HAG, the Crombie Tool and Whip-It Chain Whip. I travel a lot, and I need tools that with immaculate precision, exceptional durability, and are very compact. The Pedro's Master Tool Case handles all of the abuse the airline can throw at it plus, it has just the right amount of room for the wrenches I take to the races.
From simply being a mechanic to being a business owner with staff. What are some of the greatest challenges along that pathway?
One of the greatest challenges I've faced during my transition from a mechanic (employee) to becoming a shop owner has been finding qualified mechanics with good people skills. It has also been a challenge helping people understand the concept of a service only shop in the bicycle business.
What advice do you have for a mechanic who wants to make a career and be a true professional in this trade?
Here are some things anyone needs to know before getting into this line of work: you must have a passion for the bicycle; if you want to make this your career and become a professional, you need to be teachable, humble, thankful, and willing to continually educate yourself. It’s important to understand that there will always be someone out there with more knowledge than you. You have two ears and one mouth, listen twice as much as you speak.
You can register for this years Interbike Mechanics Challenge by clicking here. Can you win over Win?
Well this is my my story.
I have a new roll in the industry!
I just recently stepped down from the service manager position at Turin to accept the position of head mechanic with US Paracycling. I will continue to work at Turin when I'm in town and available, primarily to take care of 20 years worth of regular customers who come in specifically to see me.
My main focus will be the national team, and development work with new athletes. I'll be on the road a bit (a lot), working at training camps, world cup races, and world championships. Standard race team mechanic stuff.
I got into cycling young, riding bmx until I was about 12, then discovering road riding and racing through some friends in the neighborhood. I raced road bikes as a junior and a cat 3 until college, when the college lifestyle got in the way. I started at the bike shop when I was 15 to support my cycling habit, and slowly realized that I was a better mechanic than racer.
I'm a part of the PBMA because I believe that it's time for bike mechanics to be considered true professionals, and because after 20-odd years of hiring bike mechanics I really want a way to filter out the bad and highlight those who are committed to the profession and are up to date with their knowledge and skills.
My vision of the industry's future is very much like the automobile industry, where large dealerships dominate the sales side of things with high volumes and low margins, and smaller shops are only successful if they excel at providing quality service.
Come say hi to Steve at the PBMA booth 3271 at Interbike this year.
It’s our last Monday of the 2016-2017 Mechanic of the Week season, and we’re excited to introduce you to Cassandra Faustini, of The Devil’s Gear in New Haven, Connecticut! Cassandra is an up-and-coming mechanic extraordinaire, and she was one of QBP’s “Women’s Bicycle Mechanic Scholarship” recipients for 2017.
We were fortunate enough to chat with Cassandra recently about her experiences in cycling and her work at Devil’s Gear. On behalf of the PBMA and Abbey Bike tools, we hope you enjoy our conversation with her as much as we did!
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How did you become involved in cycling and/or cycling mechanics?
I became involved in cycling in as a student in New York City. I lived in the Bronx, worked in Brooklyn, and went to school in Queens. It became clear that I would never be on time if I relied on the subway, and I began cycle commuting. After a few years of getting around the city by bike, I began working as a bike messenger. While working as a messenger, I learned how to fix a flat and adjust a brake--basic maintenance that helped me get back on the road more quickly and keep wear-and-tear from completely eating up my paycheck.
After working as a messenger for a while, I got a job at an NYC bike shop. While I had worked in bike shops for several years, I was always in sales. In NYC bike shops, there is a big divide between the sales and service departments; I always wanted to learn more about working on bikes, it was not until I moved to CT and began working at the Devil's Gear that I was given the opportunity to do so.
It was not until I received the QBP Women's Scholarship to attend UBI in Ashland, OR, that I learned more advanced repair skills. I was definitely one of the least experienced mechanics there, but the opportunity to learn from the instructors as well as some of the more experienced female mechanics was incredible. I'm still building up my skillset, but the Women's Scholarship definitely gave me a solid foundation to build on that I would not have had otherwise.
What motivates you to excel as one of the few female mechanics in our industry?
I'm motivated because I want to show other women that you CAN work on your own bikes. Learning how to do basic maintenance on your own bike is empowering. Not only are you able to make your bikes last longer, you gain the confidence to ride longer and further when you know you won't get stuck in the middle of nowhere with a broken bike.
I'm not naturally a technically-minded person. My brain does not naturally bend like this. You don't need to be a STEM major to do bike mechanics--you just need practice. I'm not a good mechanic--not yet. I'm just determined and like learning new things. That's really all you need if you want to start fixing bikes!
Do you have any advice for women or girls who aspire to become professional bicycle mechanics?
Keep asking questions! Don't be afraid to make mistakes. If you try a few times to do something and can't get it right, ask for help--but not until you've exhausted the limits of your own knowledge. In general, I think society doesn't encourage girls and women to get out of their comfort zones enough; many women I've spoke to about either riding a bike or wrenching on a bike are too intimidated to take the first step because they're afraid of failure. Mistakes are a part of learning; if you give yourself permission to fail, you can learn more quickly.
Follow a few bike blogs or join a bike mechanic's group on Facebook that you trust for updates and information about new product, as well as reviews of products. This is a great way to learn about new tech so you're prepared to work on it when it arrives in your shop, beyond all the marketing buzzwords. You can also learn about common failures, warranty issues, and the "quirks" of certain components from the Facebook groups, as well as connect with other mechanics.
I also watch a lot of service videos from component manufacturers to learn about their product. Sometimes it takes a few views to make sense of what I'm seeing, but it's very helpful for learning about specific components or generations of a gruppo.
What was your favorite moment or experience from your QBP scholarship, or your favorite from Devil’s Gear?
Just one moment? Impossible! There were so many amazing moments in Ashland. Probably the thing that has stuck with me most the QBP scholarship was the sense of solidarity and inspiration I got from being around other women who were passionate about cycling from all over the country. Everyone had a different experience within the industry and had different approaches to growing women's cycling. It definitely gave me a lot of perspective about how to make a small city like New Haven bike-friendly.
We have a lot of opportunities to do repair events in less-privileged parts of the city, and I'm looking forward to building up my skillset enough to represent the shop at these events. I love working here; we have a really great team and share so many inside jokes. I think I like it best when someone drops ball bearings, and we refer to it as the barbarians getting out. It never fails to make me laugh.
Okay, so we always ask this, but… what’s your favorite tool?
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One final note: Mechanic of the Week will be taking a break from now until after Interbike 2017, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone forever! Check out our website and vote for your favorite MOTW to be our Mechanic of the Year! The MOTW who receives the most individual votes (yes, we can tell if you vote more than once) will win a trip to Interbike courtesy of the PBMA, and a special prize package from Abbey Bike Tools!
A new featured interview with Amos Brumble from Westerly Rhode Island
Tell us, what is it you do?
I own my very own bike shop Brumble Bikes, I have an advisory role with Velotooler, coach local cyclists and I still actively ride and race my bike.
How did I get started in cycling?
I first became at least aware that cycling existed as a sport when I saw the pursuit in the 1984 Olympics on television. I also saw clips of RAAM and the Tour de France. I thought to myself "I would like to do that".
There was a local shop King's Cyclery on my paper route. I saved my money and bought a basic Centurion Signet 10 speed. I started to ride most days and wanted to go fast. I picked up a better model that was a 12 spd and had indexed down tube shifters. I had the luck to see the return of the shop group ride-everyone seemed excited and talkative so I really wanted to be able to do that.
The shop owner Steve King brought me out for an early morning ride to teach me how to draft and make me at least sort of safe to ride with anther rider. A few days later I did that group ride and I got dropped. I had crashed when I overlapped wheels and since I was last in the group when I went off the road no one knew it.
I was stuck in my toe clips(I had sneakers). Once I got myself out of the toe-clips and started to ride Steve had come looking for me. We rode in and I was hooked!
How did I become a mechanic?
At first I just had the one bike and it was the most expensive thing I had ever bought so I cleaned it all the time. My parents bought me a book on working on bikes and the shop was hugely helpful. I did things like buy a set of used pedals, bearings and over hauled them. I did the same with hubs, built wheels (I paid the shop mechanic to help me learn) and generally read and took things apart and then tried to put them back together on my own.
I kept going and branched out into working on bikes for people I rode with for free. Eventually the other local shop in town Ray Willis asked me if I wanted a job as a mechanic when I was 18. I've been in the business ever since.
What keeps you going as a mechanic?
I could talk about specific instances but the what keeps me going with it is the whole process of learning, being rewarded by the results of my work from my customers success and the constant changes in products that drive me forward.
Tell us about your involvement with Velotooler.
I have known Yahor Buben (co-founder of Velotooler) for more than twelve years. We raced together on CCB Racing. We had lots of long car drives to events and plenty of time to talk. As both of our times racing at a top amateur level wound down we had many conversations about things we would like to change in cycling this ranged from racing to retail.
Yahor approached me in late 2015 with his idea for Velotooler. They needed some input from someone with bike shop experience to assist in developing the mechanical job codes.
My official title is "Director of operations" sounds cool right? Since I actively work in the industry on a daily basis I assist in interviewing mechanics, answering technical questions related to repairs and even being hired through the app to work events for Velotooler.
How will Velotooler affect service in the future?
Well anyone who has been in the industry and reads a bit will notice that there is a staggering loss of retail locations across the country. Combine that with a change in consumers being more comfortable purchasing their bicycle related equipment through other channels than shops and a real conundrum comes up; where will people who want their bike serviced go?
My opinion is that there will not be a reversal in these trends and one solution will be that the skilled mechanic will travel to the customers location. One goal with Velotooler is to enable skilled mechanics to connect with riders who need those skills. I could expand on this for hours...
What is my favorite hex wrench?
Okay I am really torn here, 5mm is SO practical but the 4mm has really picked up steam in the last few years as stem bolts, seat binder bolts etc. have gotten smaller but my secret favorite is the one for Campy Delta brake cable anchor bolt, the 3.5mm just because it is so odd!
Any advice for a new mechanic?
I waffle between the practical "find additional income" to the more passionate "Do it for the love of the work".
Here is my plan for a mechanic to make a career out of it. See yourself as being a professional. Do your best work, learn constantly whether that is about new techniques or improving your communication skills with customers. Be patient, an endless supply of patience is SO useful. Learn to be in your customers shoes; I continue to ride for many reasons but this is one of them. Seeing the experience through their perspective, it's easy to get wrapped up in our own everyday stuff but there is more going on out there in the cycling world. Get involved, mentor new people; this can be customers or other new mechanics who want to learn.
Do you have a favorite bike?
Again a really hard question-Do I say my fat bike? Always brings a smile to me, my road bike because I love speed and competition? My cross bike because of it's race back ground and versatility? My fixed gear bike because of my memories of spinning away for hours alone on the roads in the winter looking to improve my stroke? It's a real toss up and I still really want an eBike...
After taking a week off to celebrate all of the active and former military members of our cycling mechanics community, the PBMA is once again ready to feature another outstanding Mechanic of the Week. This week, we are excited to introduce you to the one and only Josh Boggs , of Greenville, South Carolina.
Josh has been working in the cycling industry for nearly twenty years, and he is currently the Sales Manager at Trek Store South Carolina. He’s also a tour/camp mechanic with Carmichael Training Systems, an experienced race mechanic, and (in all of his free time!) a U.S. Marine.
We hope you enjoy our conversation with Josh as much as we did!
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How did you become involved in cycling and/or cycling mechanics?
I started mountain biking in 1994, when my cousin and a few other friends decided to get into the sport. I bought a cheap mountain bike and started tinkering with the bikes a bit (because that's what curious teenagers do...), and begged the owner of my LBS for a job. He suggested I get a lawn care gig, because it would pay better. I didn't stop trying to get in. I got my first shop job in 2001. After that shop closed in 2003, I went back to the original shop and stepped into the store manager role for a few years. During that time, I did race support with the Clemson University Cycling Team and with the short-lived Cane Creek neutral race support program for some races in the Southeastern US. In 2005, I saved up to go to the Bill Woodul Race Mechanics' Clinic, and through a series of connections, I got my first gig with Mavic SSC at the 2005 Tour de Georgia (RIP). I finished out my work that year with the Jittery Joe's/Kalahari Pro Cycling Team. Fast forward to now... I'm not doing a lot of wrenching right now at the shop, but I do some contract work every now and again. Just finished up my third Tour of California camp with CTS, and I'll be in Knoxville with the Amy D. Foundation Team at Nationals in a few weeks.
What motivates you to excel as a professional mechanic?
I like to consider myself a hard worker. If I touch something, and it isn't done to perfection, I get upset at myself. I suppose that drive to excel is what motivates me. I'm the Sales Manager at an LBS now, so I don't get to work on bikes as much as I'd like to, but when I do I hold myself to the highest standards of workmanship and quality. I love getting back out to the races, more because of the familiar faces and the people I get to deal with on the road, but also to keep myself sharp. Early on, I found a few folks in the race mechanic community that I looked up to, and I tried my best to emulate their work ethic and aspire to get to that level. TJ Grove is one of those people that I look up to. He lived in the same area as me, and I would catch him at local races hanging out, from time to time. I hoped to someday get to his level. A few years ago, TJ called me up to pick up the SRAM NRS car and drive it to work the Charlotte race, and I thought, "I've finally made it!" The problem is, TJ won't slow down, so he unknowingly keeps pushing me to level up...
What was your most memorable moment or experience while working as a mechanic?
I've got a few really memorable moments, both race-related. The first was my first USPRO race in Philly, circa 2005. The whole experience was surreal; getting beer and burger hand-ups on Manayunk Wall, the crowds, tearing around town in our team's Mini Cooper. It was great. Our best finisher that day was Geoff Kabush, in like 22nd position or something. That wasn't the memorable part. I got back to where the team was staged after the race and told the team's soigneur that I did my first out-the-window repair! One of our riders got a plastic bag from a spectator caught in his rear derailleur, and I had to go out the window over his bike to fix it. The fun part was the physical feat of making that happen in the Mini Cooper. Ken Mills, our team director, had one foot on the clutch, one on the gas, one hand on the wheel, the other on my belt to keep me from falling out the window while I got the bag out of the drivetrain. The spectacle of he and I, the largest DS/Mechanic duo in the race, in that tiny Mini, was a sight to behold.
The second most memorable moment was also in Philly, back in 2013. After working the race many times with no major results from any of my riders, I landed a one-race gig with the Specialized/Lululemon women's team (Thanks, James!). It was such a crazy race. We had a crash on lap one, which two of our riders got tangled up in, then at the start/finish line at the top of Manayunk Wall, the race officials pulled us because our van was taller than the height allowed in the caravan. Luckily, Kristy Scrymgeour (DS) had a friend at the race who had a smaller car. Over the course of the next few minutes, we loaded all our gear from the van into the tiny sedan (something about tiny cars and Philly...), and continued on. We caught back up to the caravan over the course of the next lap. The girls blew themselves apart, worked so hard, and Evie Stevens launched on Manayunk Wall and got the win! It was the first time one of my bikes had won at Philly, and I was ecstatic!
You help us moderate a lot of Facebook discussions about “professionalism.” What have you taken away from these, and what do you think it means (or what do you think its impact will be) for the greater cycling industry?
I love the discussions about professionalism surrounding our chosen line of work. If we want our careers as professional bicycle mechanics to be taken seriously, we have to maintain a higher standard for ourselves. There are so many different styles/genres of cycling, it's hard to make a "cookie cutter" template that works for everyone's market. In the shop I work in (a Trek Concept Store), it's tucked in shirts, salespeople greeting you at the door (or in the parking lot, if we see you have a bike that needs attention), and a very customer-friendly environment. If we were a BMX-specific shop, you would probably lose all street cred if you were as well-kept and tucked in as we are. Professionalism can take on many different faces. The thing that ties them all together is consistency with customer service and quality of the work coming out of the shop. If we take a look at mechanics on the race circuit, it's the same. It's all about putting in the hard work, taking your work seriously, not cutting corners, and being religious about busting your butt and putting out the best work you can. I think, as a whole, what the PBMA is doing a fantastic job of raising the bar for mechanics and helping the cause. Better exposure of our profession and leveling everyone up to a new standard is awesome. I'm grateful for the work of the PBMA and look forward to helping promote the organization and our profession in any way possible.
And finally (because we always ask this), what is your favorite tool?
My favorite tool is my Abbey Bike Works Crombie/Whip-It combo. I got one a few years back and had my name/personal branding etched onto it. Those tools are an awesome addition to any toolbox. Got rid of a few heavier tools in my box, which helped a lot when it was time to fly.
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#MOTW is all about mechanics supporting fellow mechanics, and Josh is a perfect example of this in action. We encourage everyone reading this at home to follow Josh’s example, connect with and mentor up-and-coming mechanics, and join the conversation by nominating YOUR favorite mechanic today!
Ric Hjertberg is a founding member of the PBMA and a current Board Member.
On what he does now:
After trying most categories of bicycle industry work, I’m back near where I began: a small, independent company focused on wheel building. All is summarized by my web site, wheelfanatyk.com. I live in a dream location, discuss my favorite subject with enthusiastic builders, and sell cool tools from companies as small as mine. Every year I’ve spent in the industry contributes to the satisfaction I enjoy these days. It doesn’t get better.
On why he loves bicycles:
A childhood in suburban California combined with an independent streak, met times of social change and environmentalism. No other work lets me live as fully, a scene of enlightened, generous folk who aim to have fun while changing the world. The longer I live, the more I learn this is very rare. For me, there’s no where else.
Why he's part of the PBMA:
From year one it was obvious mechanics have a huge, under appreciated role. We need to collaborate and advance this profession. The surprise is how long it’s taken, the good news how fast it is advancing.
On the future of bicycles:
2 wheel vehicles with minimal, or exclusively human, power are one of our greatest opportunities. The possibilities are unlimited. We seem evolved to utilize and enjoy this mobility. It’s here to stay but our landscape, technology, and customer is changing incredibly fast. The one constant, besides Newtonian physics, is the role of mechanics. On this we can depend!
Jude Gerace is the owner of Sugar Wheel Works in Portland Oregon.
"We hand build bicycle wheels to the highest standards allowable."
How did you get started in the world of bicycles?
I got started in cycling because I was intrigued by getting from place to place by my own power--this was when I was 19. I loved being active. I also wanted to go on grand adventures off the beaten path--to be "in the middle of nowhere" and to get there on my own. That risk was really appealing to me. The next natural step was to learn how to work on my bike. I remember the first time a mechanic took me behind the counter to show me how my bike worked--it sparked my imagination of what I could do!
What challenges did you see when forming Epic Wheel Works?
I don't really like to talk about the Epic>Sugar transition. It really sucked. Imagine emptying all your pockets to start a small closet shop and then you learn you accidentally chose a name that is loosely affiliated with a bike. It was a really hard lesson to learn and the first time I realized that to be a business owner, wheel builder, or anything meaningful in this world that I would have to learn to be resilient. The biggest lesson I learned, however, was the responsibility that comes along with signing my name to something.
Beyond that, ignorance of how hard it would be was incredibly valuable. If I had to start it all over again at this age, I don't know that I could work 80-90 hour work weeks on end. It's exhausting--and it made me super grumpy. But I think that's true of anyone starting any shop or small business. But with wheel building, I've always known that there's a burden of education associated with it. What I mean is that if I told people I own a bike shop, people wouldn't raise their eyebrows. Nearly every week a tourist comes into the shop and asks "Can you survive doing this?" So I guess I get to question my sanity every week. But I like being a little insane--I think it makes me interesting. In high school I wasn't voted "Best athlete" or anything flattering. I was voted "Quirkiest". But I live a really interesting life and because I'm willing to work hard for what I believe in and what my highest ideals are, I get to do something I love and something that keeps me interested and present in life.
Speaking simply from your perspective what makes for a good wheel builder? Is it a skill, a personality, a mindset or perhaps its something on a different philosophical plane?
That's a great question. In my opinion, to be a good wheel builder you have to be willing to want each and every wheel to be "Perfect" every. single. time. To build a business off of wheel building you have to be willing to get curious about everything--even aspects of wheel building that aren't interesting. Then you have to find a way to relate that tech information to each rider. Then for bonus points, you have to be willing to guide the vision that someone brings you even if you wouldn't necessarily do it that way. So yeah, you have to be a perfectionist who can relate to world around you.
Who / how did you learn to be one of the foremost current generation wheel builders?
Am I? I still think of myself as hustling to make it all work and look good! I care so much about what I do--I take it personally when I've failed a customer (which doesn't happen often but it still happens). I learn from those failures so that we as a shop are better. I really love what I do and I'm still so thirsty to learn more, to innovate, and to make sustainability a foremost goal of our industry. I'm just getting started. I've only been doing this for 8 years...can you imagine what I might be able to do with 8 more years?!!
You’ve got a small staff at Sugar… what makes a good co-worker in your shop environment?
Someone who has a healthy amount of respect for what they're doing and who holds themselves to a high standard. I also appreciate someone who can, at the end of the day, leave their work at work. I carry my work with me 24/7 and I really thrive off the fresh energy that my co-workers bring to the shop. I also love that they ride.
We want to inspire people to be involved in cycling and mechanics. What words would you give someone looking from the outside in?
I don't have anything inspiring to say. I don't know how to inspire people with words. I just think you have to believe, even just a little, that you can do it. I hope that my work, my team, and the integrity of the company I've built are more inspiring than inspirational pithy sayings. I hope that when people hear the story of Sugar or come and visit my shop they leave thinking they are capable of so much more than they thought they were. And as much as I despise pithy sayings, don't think I don't have an entire catalogue of them to cheer me up on the really hard days.
Everyone has that one drawer with their special tools in it. What’s in yours?
Scribes of different sizes, a small screwdriver, a measuring tape, banjo picks (for sound amplification), rubber bands, four bottle openers, keys (to i don't know what), pens, scrap paper, and a collection of stickers. Oh I just remembered what the keys are--mail box and spare keys for the shop (which isn't helpful since they're inside the shop).
What does the word Professional mean to you?
It means showing up every day and offering consistent, high quality work that strives for being the best in one's industry. It is a belief that one (I) embody the highest standard possible. And that one is humble so as not to let their ego get in the way of doing good work and connecting people to that work.
You can checkout Sugar Wheel Works on the web, or Instagram and on Twitter @Sugarwheelworks
Interview by Jenny Kallista
With so many great women in this industry, it's not too hard to find someone who inspires with their passion, wit, and charm. I had the great fortune to work with Sara Jarrell at a shop in Asheville for a couple years around 2010-2012, and we've become great friends since. Sara and I always manage to make some time for each other over the years and continue building our friendship with plenty of laughter and stead-fast support for one another. Sara has plenty of passion for cycling and is one of those people who makes things happen. I was able to catch up with her to get a little formal interview on where she's at in the industry and some of her takes on what we're seeing with women on bikes.
What is your title now at SRAM, and how did it come about?
I am the Women's Program Coordinator, and it came about due to the fact that I've been involved with women like Lindsey Richter, Rebecca Rusch, and Leigh Donovan in various cycling camps, clinics, and events over the last few years. It was a natural progression to bring some of these events in-house to better support the programs for women that were already going on. It's all about promoting women on bikes!
How many women-specific events have you participated in in the last few years, and what is the single most important thing you take away from them?
Wow, well, a lot! I'd say about 6 or 7 events every year for the last several, with quite a few international events.
I'd say the most important thing I get from these events is the community-building that I feel happens each time. I see all these women get so excited to be around other women at various levels of experience and skill, and everyone is so helpful, encouraging one another, and just having a really great time. I get super inspired when I see a newer rider work out some daunting parts of a trail and see how thrilling it is for them.
Do you see the market for women's cycling growing significantly around you?
I do. There's still a lot of room for growth to be made. There are all these new women's specific manufacturers, programs, and clinics that are addressing the long overlooked segment of the market. When you think about it, this means 50% of the market is basically available for growth!
Is the future of women's cycling looking especially bright in any particular field?
It all seems bright from my perspective!
How long have you been working on bicycles? How long professionally?
I guess 14 years, now professionally.
How did you learn?
A friend I had growing up started to show me how to work on stuff, including building wheels… this was after a childhood of being on bikes all the time. From what I learned from my friend, I had the confidence to apply at a bike shop in California sight unseen, I had never even visited California at that point. I started on the sales floor, but then started to work my way towards the service department. After that, I returned back to my home state of North Carolina and got a job at the shop I got my first bike from as a kid in my home town of Sylva. The shop opened a second location in Asheville, and I moved there to help open the shop and was the service manager for several years. I was offered a gig with the Paralympic Cycling team as the team mechanic, putting me in Colorado Springs, which then led to a job at SRAM.
Did you have a female mechanic ever mentor you?
YOU, Jenny! (laughter). Well, as you know I worked with Jenny Skorcz (formerly head instructor at BBI) with the Giant women's council many years ago, and I learned a lot from her.
Have you found there to be much in the way of negative reactions to your position?
Yes, but I have been able to work through them… it was mostly from customers, but nothing too bad.
If so, how do you overcome these types of occurrences?
Having the support of my co-workers has always been helpful when working through any negative reactions I have faced by being a woman in the cycling industry. Lots of patients and treating people with respect no matter what kind of attitude or negativity they showed me was also a strategy I used and it generally worked out.
Do you have the opportunity to help other women learn how to work on bikes?
Yes! I've been able to do that in shops, at our SRAM Technical University, and at many of the women’s specific clinic I have attended.
Do you hope to stay in the bicycle industry? If not, what do you plan on doing?
I do, as long as I can make a positive difference!
This page is a collective of articles relavant to consumers, enthusiasts and the whole of the cycling industry in general.