#mechanicmonday honors CHip Howat
It’s Mechanic Monday again, and we are excited to introduce you to this week’s honoree, Chip Howat of Lawrence, Kansas!
For those of you who are unfamiliar with PBMA’s Mechanic Monday series, this is where we feature one mechanic each week who is chosen randomly from the pool of nominations that we receive. Mechanic Monday is all about mechanics supporting fellow mechanics, and we are proud to partner with Abbey Bike Tools, Cycling Industry News, and People for Bikes to share these great features with you.
Chip Howat is not only a Professional Bicycle Mechanic, but also a Professional Engineer (like, he actually has a license and a PhD to prove it). Over the 25+ years, Chip has become a fixture in the world of mountain bike race mechanics; he’s helped his riders win Gold at the World Championships, collaborated with some of the biggest names in the industry on product design and testing, and helped write many of the curricula that are used to teach the next generation of bicycle mechanics.
Chip was one of the first nominations we received for this year’s Mechanic Monday series, but he’s such a busy guy that we’ve only just had time to catch up with him. So without further ado, we are proud to share some of Chip’s story with you here in his own words!
PBMA: How did you become involved in cycling and/or cycling mechanics?
CH: I began cycling at age six with a Schwinn 20-inch, cycled through college, commuted to work, and ultimately traded my Enduro/Hare Scramble motorcycles for mountain bikes. I continue to cycle over 4,000 miles per year.
I had been a motorcycle mechanic to support my racing. In my other life, I studied industrial plant performance, process safety, and manufacturing reliability. I was asked to evaluate a death attributed to bicycle part specification and assembly errors. When that case was approaching trial, I enrolled in John Barnett’s Comprehensive Bicycle Mechanics course in 1991. That same year, I went to the USCF (now USAC) Mechanics Clinic held at the Olympic Training Center. From there, bicycle mechanics, reliability, and safety began to take up more and more of my professional and personal life. It led to eight world championships, personal and professional associations with the Bill Woodul Race Mechanics Clinic for 25 years, development of the Race Mechanics Handbook, and the establishment of my repair-only shop.
PBMA: Do you have a favorite moment or story from your time in the cycling industry?
CH: When you are as ancient as I am, there are so many! Perhaps the most memorable was supporting the USA Team at the 1996 World Mountain Bike Championships – my third. At that time, the Masters were included in the event. About 20 minutes before staging, a Masters racer comes to the USA Team tent with her chain stuck between her middle and granny – everyone was riding three rings then. Using the team doctors’ cooler as a work bench, I re-spaced the rings and altered the front derailleur. I ran with her to staging, asking her to shift repeatedly to convince her that the bike was ready to race. She won Gold.
On a personal level, meeting Calvin Jones at the BBI in 1991 is my most cherished moment. This meeting led to working with him on so many projects, including tubular tire gluing, quick-release retention, falling-ball viscometer development for fork tuning and oil evaluation, TM-1 calibration development, Park Tool WTA development, disc brake performance, and various clinics, workshops, and races, and on and on. That moment led to a lifetime friendship.
PBMA: What motivation or advice would you give to an aspiring professional bicycle mechanic?
CH: In one sentence – “There is so much more to being a professional bicycle mechanic than knowing how to turn a wrench.”
In many ways, turning the wrench is the easiest part to learn and to refresh with initial and continuing education. The most difficult parts are personal characteristics. As a professional, a mechanic must truly listen to the rider and show – through presentation, actions, and words – that nothing is more important than the rider, his or her bike, and his or her safety. The professional mechanic must adopt the culture that the rider’s safety is by far the greatest importance in any professional mechanic activity. The professional must learn to evaluate how they appear to others at all times, to ensure that observers develop confidence in all of [the professional’s] diagnoses, recommendations, and repairs.
PBMA: Okay, we know this one’s going to be hard for you, but we have to ask. What is your favorite tool?
CH: It is so important to know why something must be done, not just what and how. My brain/hand is my most favorite and most valued. With that tool, I can make even the most mediocre tool adjust the most sophisticated bike. Okay, that [could just be] my hippy heritage from the 60s talking…
My favorite tool was always a folding Allen wrench set with metal backing plates. The heft, grip, and well-worn metal from 20+ years of use made it a favorite, an example of Ric’s wabi-sabi. I took it to all races, rode with it on all rides, and it was the go-to hex wrench set when I could use a folding tool. Unfortunately, it went on a walkabout from my race kit after the last race at the Champrey Worlds; I hope that it is enjoying its tour.
That’s all for this week! Thank you for following along with our series and sharing our support for our fellow mechanics. We’ll be back next week with a new feature. In the meantime, we are still in need of nominations!! You don’t need to be a PBMA Member to nominate or be featured! (All that we ask is for no self-nominations, please.) Click here to learn more about our 2018 Mechanic Monday series, and here to learn more about how to nominate your favorite mechanic!
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