Motorcycle Support: Some Advice & Tips
One of the most exciting jobs in neutral support is that of the motor mechanic. Working off a motorcycle allows the mechanic to interact with the riders very easily. and allows support to be provided that is less likely to disrupt the race itself. I’ve worked as a neutral support mechanic at a variety of races over the last ten years, and have spent almost forty days working from a motorcycle. I hope that the advice and tips I’ve put together here will give the novice motor-mechanic some idea about what they can expect when working from a motorcycle.
What to bring…
This is a list of the typical tools I carry in my fanny pack during a race. Fanny Pack ‘hand’ tools:
- front pocket- spoke wrench, small standard/metric tape measure, chainring bolt wrench (optional: cable end caps, valve extender for deep dish wheels, seatpost bolt)
- Main pocket- hozan ‘spinny’ alien wrench, park folding alien wrench, park alien ‘Y’ wrench, Phillips screwdriver (for derailleur adj.), Leatherman-type multi-tool (w/ pliers)
- Back pocket- Band-Aids, pen, superspit oil ‘pen’, tire irons, money, aspirin, business card
- I also carry a small waterbottle fanny pack with water, cycling gloves in side pocket, energy bar, shop rag. Be careful not to under-dress on the motorcycle-windbreaker, fleece vest, or other jackets are recommended on all but the hottest of days.
- I also use my own wheel straps attached to this fanny pack so I do not have to hold the wheels all day long.
Tech motor tips:
Before the race…
Double tie shoes, use wheel straps, bring along water and food (be self-sufficient), good sunglasses, wear bike shorts under jeans, and enough warm clothing, know how radio works (check radio battery, and channel) and get radio wires taped out of way before race starts.
When following the race, the neutral support motor is usually placed on the right rear, or front bumper of Com 1. Make sure to introduce yourself to the Com 1 official. As in all support situations you will need to ask for permission from the official before moving up to a breakaway. This can often be accomplished with the official simply looking at you on the motor, and simply pointing up the road or nodding their heads.
During the race…
I always hold the front wheel in my left hand, with the quick release skewer handle facing toward the motor. This allows the wheel to be ready for me to put onto a bike, and it is also less likely to scratch a motor should it accidentally touch the motor. (NOTE: always be very careful not to scratch the motorcycle. It is always a good idea to use duct tape and rags or washcloths on the turn signals or any other protruding motor parts that may be easily scratched.) Although most riders are now on 9 speed, I carry both an 8 and 9 speed rear wheels with me on the motor. These I carry on my right side, with the 8 speed closest to my body, since it is used less often.
Often on climbs, especially on narrow roads, the motor will need to leapfrog through the field, staying in large gaps between riders, so that the lead riders are supported. Moving up through the peleton such as this is one of the best advantages of motorcycle support, but it comes with its own risks. Don’t allow the driver to put the motor into gaps that are too small. It’s also best to ride on the outside of the corners, especially switchbacks. This allows the riders to take the shortest line up the hill; the motor is out of the way while the riders are still supported. If the field regroups, give Com 1 room so that (s)he can assume the same position behind the field. Com 1 needs a clear view of the riders, so make sure your motor isn’t ever riding directly in front of Com 1, especially during the last 10K or so of a race. Riders in breakaways also like to have a view of the field, so if breakaway riders begin to look back, have the driver stay out of their field of view so they can try to gauge their advantage on the field. The riders always appreciate this small courtesy, and it is one way to show the riders you are a professional and know how to behave when working a race.
During a service…
During a wheel change get into the habit of knowing where you lay your wheels. Do not lean them against the motorcycle, or drop them into the roadway where they can be run over. If they are in your way, the side of the road is the best place to put them. I have gotten into the habit of picking up all three of my wheels before I push off a rider, so that the motor can drive up to me, instead of my running back to the motor after pushing off a rider. Occasionally I will leave the wheels on the ground, if I’m pushing a rider up a steep hill, or if a wheel has rolled away from me after I set them down.
Because many services from the motor occur right at the start of the race (rear wheels slipping in dropouts, chains dropping, etc.) don’t strap wheels for the first few miles. Make sure the motor driver stops directly BEHIND the rider during a service. I usually get off the motor on the left (the road side) so as to not drop into a ditch or slip on grass. When dismounting make sure there are no passing riders. It is important to be aware of riders around you so they don’t buzz you as they pass by, or heaven forbid- have you knock them down when you are dismounting. It’s especially important that you are always aware of riders behind you that may be moving up a caravan trying to rejoin the peleton (this is where having another pair of eyes in your support car to warn you of riders overtaking you via the radio is very helpful). Part of you job as a motor mechanic is to alert your driver of riders approaching from the rear.
After the service…
The best (i.e. quickest way) to give a rider a push off after a service is to have him or her get onto the seat (cyclocross style) while you begin pushing, he/she can put there feet into the pedals. If you have to stand there waiting for a rider to clip into one of their pedals, you are wasting valuable time. I’ve done great wheel changes before, then stood by while the rider takes what seems like an eternity to clip their foot into their pedal.
When pushing off the rider it is also your chance to make sure the brake pads aren’t rubbing, and checking to see that the chain has not slipped off. Just quickly give the bike a once over glance as you’re pushing- cause it’s no fun to have a rider stop a hundred yards down the road with a problem you could of just fixed when you had them in front of you just moments ago. The last thing to remember is to get the riders number as you are pushing them. The number will allow you to keep track of who you have given wheels to- so that retrieving them is less of a problem. If you forget, as I often do, get their number as you drive past them.
After each service, when we overtake the rider, I always try to check my work and make sure the rider has found nothing else wrong with the bike once they started riding. Watch for riders looking down at their chain or wheel as they ride; they may be looking for another problem. If you are unsure if the rider is okay, ask them as you pass.
Pacing riders back to the field always seems to be a nice touch, but don’t. If riders ask for you to motorpace them, just say sorry, and keep going. When you arrive back at the race caravan, find your support car. The motor driver will have to approach the car on its right side so that you can get a fresh wheel from the in-car mechanic. This process goes smoother if you have already called ahead on the radio, alerting the in-car mechanic what type of wheel you are needing, and the rider number. This is the drive-thru/ wheel-to-go method that works very smoothly with just a little practice. Once you have a set of fresh wheels, your driver should position the motor back into its place in the caravan.
Driver & Mechanic Relationship
Due to the fact that the motor is often closer to the race and racers than a car it is even more important that the driver and mechanic communicate than it is in the typical support car situation. An experienced driver will have a feel for the race and just seems to keep the motor positioned so it is where it needs to be without ever getting in the way of the race caravan or racers.
Though the mechanic may seem to be simply the passenger on the motor, he is in fact responsible to be the eyes of the driver, especially concerning riders or cars overtaking the motor. The mechanic is also responsible for the motor’s positioning. As the mechanic, you need to tell your driver where you need to be. With that advice comes this caveat- before the race even begins talk to the driver and make sure that your driver understands that he should never take a risk with the motorcycle that he is not comfortable making. Accidents can and do happen, and no race is worth risking life and limb over. If the driver is not comfortable moving past a bunched up pack, wait for the road to widen, honk the horn, or find another way around the pack. By predicting what will happen in the race, it is often possible to be in the right place at the right time without taking any unnecessary risks.
Lastly, you should feel confident in the driver’s ability to handle the motorcycle. Races are not the place to learn to ride a motorcycle, or a place to show off one’s motorcycle driving skill. The ‘show’ is the bicycle race; not the support motors; stay out of the way and be ready to do your job when you are needed.
Every service made during a race, from the typical wheel change, to the dropped chain on a climb, to the biggest crash involves the mechanic doing the best he or she can do to help the rider as quickly as possible. Every wheel change won’t take 10 seconds, but by staying calm during the service, talking to the rider and telling them what you need them to do, things will become smoother and more routine. Every service is a small lesson, and by learning from each one of those services, you will become and better race mechanic and more confident in your ability to deal with the strange situations that seem to occur during bicycle races. If you ever get the opportunity to work a race from a motorcycle don’t pass it up. It is sometimes hot, sometimes wet and cold, but it’s always interesting and it’s always the best seat in the house.
(recent change: carry 9sp and 10 speed instead of 8sp and 9 sp)