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.
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