By James Stanfill, Head Mechanic for the Cycling Canada Para-cycling Team, President of the Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association, owner of Kyle Cyclery in Texas and curator at Pedaling Tools
I own a bicycle shop, a tool resale company and run a non-profit focused on improving the lives of bicycle mechanics around the world. How did my love of bicycles start? I used to race. In 1991, I was 15 years old and a guy my mom was dating was going to do this ride called El Tour de Tucson. I was immediately hooked. I have medals, trophies and memories from races and non-races alike from all over the Southwest United States. I raced regularly until I was 25 years old.
I was lucky; growing up in Tucson, cycling was mainstream and a hotbed in the winter months. Folks like Canadian Gord Fraser, Neil Stewart and Any Gilmour helped bring big names to Tucson for solid winter training. I was able to ride with and learn from some of the best riders in the world. I started racing with the adults when I was 17, and every now and then I could double down at a crit. By the time I was 25 and even before I knew I’d never be a pro, I enjoyed the competitive elements of racing and training.
However, you probably know that cycling is an expensive sport and I had to work in order to be able to afford to travel to races, buy equipment and pay race entry fees. That’s how I first started working at a bicycle shop. I worked at a shop in Tucson for a long time, a shop in Scottsdale, St. Louis, and Austin, Texas. I’ve worked outside the industry and at one time was in charge of 10 stores and 100 people. Sad day for them, I’m a hardcore manager!
I have been to some 35 or 36 countries, I’ve worked in race support for riders who have won the Tour de France and I’ve worked at every race in North America worth thinking about. I spent time on the back of a moto carrying wheels for Mavic, have had such bad hypothermia I couldn’t change a wheel or undo my zippers at the end of the stage. I’ve done hero level wheel changes in breakaways on TV. I’ve done the same work for Shimano and for SRAM. I’ve worked for USA Cycling and been credentialed at all the races, World Cups and World Championships you can imagine. I was in Toronto for the Pan-Am Games, Alberta for the Tour of Alberta and crossed the border enough times now to get questioned nearly every time.
For the most part, the work I do as a team mechanic is done in the background. To me a great day is nobody even knowing I was there. It means there were no errors, no mistakes and the athletes’ machine was an example of near perfection. Some think the job is easy, to them I say, it isn’t easy but it can be easier.
“Work Smarter Not Harder” and “Smooth is Fast” are two of my favorite phrases. A mechanic running around stressed is bad news for everyone around; it doesn’t exude confidence to the riders, the staff or other teams that may be watching. Panicking in the heat of the moment is much slower than remaining calm and being smooth. When the UCI changed its rules for time-trial positions I can’t tell you how many handlebars I cut on a start line without an athlete noticing. I can tell you how many mechanics I saw completely break down and cost their athlete time.
The team around me is made up of coaches and other assorted staff but the person I depend on most is the soigneur. Without people like Delphine Leray, I probably would not have lunch, or a person to vent to and have a beer with. Working with people like her makes life easy, as we can anticipate the needs of others and together ensure the athletes have less on their minds. So I’m the mechanic and if you never see me, never know I was there, you can consider it was probably a good day.
This has been a strange year and I imagine that the first months of the new season will also be strange. Whatever the new normal is for being at races and working with the amazing athletes and staff I’ve come to known surely can’t come soon enough!