“I’ve never worn out a cassette.” Mechanic “Brownie” has my undivided attention as he scrubs down one of Katusha’s gorgeous Canyon bikes, its rider Tiago Machado hovers nearby.
You’ve never worn out a cassette Brownie?
“Nope. I have 3 chains. Every Friday I change the chain. I take it off, clean it, and put on one of the others, and I’ve never worn out a cassette.”
Brownie’s making a big claim, but if there’s no friction, it could last a long time. Could it last forever?
I wander down the line of mechanics, past hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pro bikes. I stop and chat to “Nashy,” who’s cleaning some strikingly green Cannondales, to get his thoughts on Brownie’s bold claim.
“Ahhhh Brownie!” he shouts down the line, “you don’t wear out your gears because you don’t do enough kays (kilometres) mate!”
I love the service course.
Mechanics furiously scrubbing, de-greasing, spinning frames on their service stands, standing in soapy mud, and always shouting jovially to each other.
The rapid clicking of gears, clanging of freewheel ratchets as they engage, and the explosive noise of air compressors drying the bikes inside the tents.
You see things here you won’t see anywhere else.
Earlier I saw riders stream back in from the end of today’s stage, a hot and dusty outing in the South Australian sun. They’re wearing backpacks, gilets in the summer heat, some have torn kits from crashing. They shove each other playfully, pretend to run into their mechanics, pick up the hoses and spray their team assistants, and dive into tubs of pasta covered with grated cheese.
Because teams usually bring one or two mechanics from home and then draft in locals to save some costs there is a melting pot of accents and languages.
I carefully pick my way through the carbon jungle to John, Lotto-Soudal’s Adelaide-born mechanic and ask for his pro tip
“Baby wipes,” he says. Baby wipes? “Yep, baby wipes.”
John points to his immaculate Cipollini RB1K sitting nearby, as Adam Hansen’s Ridley sits on his service stand.
“I use baby wipes on everything, frame, drivetrain, wheels. After every ride I hold a baby wipe over the chain and just turn the cranks.”
What’s John’s preferred baby wipe?
“Johnson & Johnson” he answers quickly, “I dunno, I think it’s the oils in it.”
I wander over and inspect his bike. Story checks out: gleaming. I make a note for next time I go shopping.
Alex at Giant-Alpecin ponders my request for a pro tip carefully, surprised that a journalist is even in the filthy service course.
“Just the regular stuff, really” he shrugs. Behind him I spot the scoop I’ve been looking for: Fairy dishwashing liquid.
There has been an explosion in bike cleaning products over recent years, but the pro peloton runs on ordinary dishwashing detergent. Bottles of green and yellow Fairy are at every cleaning station. I wander back to Alex. Surely dishwashing detergent isn’t good for bikes?
“It’s fine. We just wash it down with water afterwards. No worries.”
The answer was in our kitchens all along.
Nick has a hard job, FDJ have that most oh-so-pro touch on their bikes: white bar tape. How does he keep them looking new every day?
“Morgan blue chain cleaner in a bit of water. Then you just use a sponge. A clean sponge obviously!”
Great tip. I’m sticking with black tape though, ain’t no-one got time for that.
I run Brownie’s claim by Nick. He coughs into his hand with a clearly audible “bullshit!”
If you are ever lucky enough to go behind the scenes at a bike race, spend some time in the service course. Have a chat to the mechanics too. Those clean, shiny bikes, gleaming kits, and silent drivetrains are all thanks to their hard work. As they say, a clean bike is a fast bike.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to stock up on Fairy and baby wipes.