For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
Let’s face it: Triathletes can be a gross bunch. From peeing in our wetsuits to slurping down any number of gooey concoctions on the bike, we aren’t exactly a prim and proper group.
Guess who knows this all too well? Your bike mechanic.
Each time you bring in your gel-encrusted, still-damp-with-sweat bike, your mechanic takes it with a smile and a nod and then, as soon as you leave, rolls their eyes at the literal mess they need to sort through (or tries to hand it off to the new guy)..
It doesn’t have to be like this, though. We take you behind the counter to hear from veteran wrenches about their biggest gripes and how to make sure your mechanic greets you with a smile rather than a groan.
Mechanic Gripe #1: Corroded headset bolts
With all the ways to make training indoors more palatable – interactive riding software, smart trainers, etc. – our bikes are seeing more mileage year-round than ever before, even if that mileage involves never leaving your pain cave.
With that extra time on the bike comes extra sweat, especially when toiling away indoors. Sweat may seem harmless enough, but when it pools, then dries, it can have nasty side effects for the health of your bike.
One such side effect is corroding your cockpit bolts. Over time, the salt in sweat (even if you aren’t an overly-salty sweater) can cause metal bolts to become weakened and eventually, corrode. This can cause aerobars to become loose, shifting to become difficult, steering to become unpredictable or stiff, and a whole host of other problems you’d probably rather not deal with.
“We have riders come into the shop all the time who say, ‘I was doing a trainer workout and suddenly my handlebars became dislodged,’” says Adam Ray, owner of Connecticut-based Ridgefield Bicycle Company. “It’s one thing if that happens while you’re on a trainer, but a whole other safety issue if that were to happen while riding on the road.”
Fortunately, corroded headset bolts are easily avoidable with a bit of extra care pre- and post-ride.
Ray suggests always placing a towel over your stem and handlebars and aero bars while riding indoors. If you sweat a lot, you might want a couple towels next to you to swap out during a long or hard trainer session.
Secondly, taking a few minutes to wipe down your top tube and headset area post-ride (either indoors or outdoors) can save you the headache of loose bolts later on. On triathlon bikes, most arm cups have removable pads, as well. Be sure to remove those pads (most are attached via velcro) and dry off the bolts beneath the pads, too. This is an easyt one to forget, but it can cause dangerous damage.
And, of course, if you feel any wiggling or loose parts in your headset while riding, get it checked out by a bike tech immediately. Handlebar failure can be catastrophic and is not an issue to delay looking into.
RELATED: How To Clean Your Bike
Mechanic Gripe #2: Asking for a tuneup the day before a race
It is good practice to get your bike tuned up before any major race. As part of a tuneup, a mechanic will make sure your brake and shifting cables are healthy and not frayed, stretched, or corroded, adjust your derailleur if needed, and also look for any issues with the bike.
However, a tuneup can take anywhere from a day to a week to complete, depending on how busy the bike shop is—especially nowadays. Even though most tuneups take at most a few hours to complete, shops generally service bikes in a queue; when you bring your bike in, it gets added to the line of bikes waiting for service.
“Coming into a shop a day or two before a big race or workout does not mean we’ll be able to work on it right then and there,” says Fiona Beltram, a mechanic at BFF Bikes in Chicago. “Especially now given supply chain issues for bike parts, you run a real risk of mechanics not being able to service your ride in a short time frame.”
Planning ahead is your friend in this situation. While there is no “one size fits all” for bike service intervals, you should plan as far in advance as you possibly can to schedule both regular tuneups for your bike and pre-race service, too.
Ray recommends scheduling your pre-race tuneup as much as a month in advance, if your shop books appointments. He also noted that spring is usually a bike shop’s busiest time. If you want quicker service, book your spring tuneup in the winter.
“We’ll send out emails to customers encouraging them to get tuneups in December through February because that’s typically a slower time of year,” Ray says. “I always laugh come spring, though, because we’re inundated with service requests. I’m always like, ‘Where were all of you a few months ago?’”
Be an active participant in your bike’s care. If you notice that your mechanic puts on a new chain once a year, take note. If you seem to continually have derailleur problems when putting on race wheels, budget extra time for your mechanic to prep your bike for the big day. And you know the old saying, “nothing new on race week,” the same should go for maintenance.
A little planning goes a long way in keeping you, your mechanic, and your bike happy.
Mechanic Gripe #3: Fussing with hydraulic disc brakes yourself
A few years ago, hydraulic disc brakes became more commonplace in triathlon. Disc brakes use hydraulics and a rotor to slow a bike’s momentum whereas rim brakes leverage the friction of a brake pad against the rim of a wheel.
Disc brakes, while heavier and technically less aero than rim brakes, provide greater stopping accuracy and power and are excellent for use on hilly courses or wet terrain. A drawback of disc brakes, though, is that for the untrained layman, they are much more difficult to adjust and fuss with than rim brakes.
In a nutshell, disc brakes operate via hydraulic fluid. When the brake lever is compressed, a small internal plunger forces hydraulic fluid through connector hoses and into the brake caliper, closing the brake pads onto the disc rotor and thus slowing your speed.
“It’s pretty easy to accidentally drain out your hydraulic fluid or clamp your calipers shut – adjusting disc brakes can be tricky,” Ray says. “If you aren’t sure what you’re doing when it comes to disc brakes, don’t even try to mess with them, just bring them straight to a mechanic.”
As Ray suggested, if you aren’t sure what you are doing when it comes to disc brakes (or any part of your bike), bring your bike to the shop. You may save yourself countless hours and dollars by not messing with unknown territory yourself. Either clamping the calipers shut or draining the fluid can effectively make your brakes useless, so it’s a pretty high risk-to-reward-scenario for DIYers.
If you do want to learn how to adjust disc brakes, you can either check out some YouTube tutorials or, if your mechanic is willing, ask them to give you an overview of how they bled the brakes (i.e., adjusted) so you can replicate it next time.
Remember – disc brakes are an entirely different beast than rim brakes. Just because you know how to adjust caliper-based rim brakes does not mean you’ll be able to guess your way through fussing with disc brakes. Worse yet, many disc brakes require very specialized tools that you won’t have in your regular bike toolkit.
Bonus: Courtesies to Extend to Your Mechanic
There are some basic courtesies you should extend to your bike shop outside of the three listed above. If your bike is caked with hardened gel or smells a little bit like urine (we won’t tell), give the steed a scrub with some warm water and dish soap before bringing it to the shop.
Your mechanic is on your side. If they can’t source a part, or it takes longer than expected to work on the bike, it’s generally not the mechanic’s fault. They want to return a safe, functional bike to you – not one with shoddy work or mismatched parts. Work with your mechanic, not against them.
Bike mechanics are often the people who make our longest days in the saddle or most rewarding race results happen. Without them, a lot of us would be riding unsafe, janky bike setups. Put these tips into play to earn a spot on your mechanic’s good side – and save money and precious time in your schedule.
RELATED: 3 Things to Check Before Every Ride