The relationship between a rider and their mechanic can make or break on track success. Shaun Hughes has been the mechanic at the center of the Yeti EWS Team since the start and has seen championship success from two of his riders in Jared Graves and Richie Rude. Race mechanics are usually the unsung heroes of the race circuits, working long hours into the night prepping their rider's bikes for battle, but an EWS mechanic's job description stretches just a little further than fettling with bikes. We went on the road with Richie and Shaun at the concluding day of practice for the 2017 season to find out more:
First off can you give us a rough overview of your day?
First thing I do before we head out for a day shuttling is I double check everything that I’ve done the previous night, I’m usually doing a bit of bike work the night before, so I double check suspension pressures, tire pressures, a few bolts and bits and pieces. Then talk to Richie to see what else he wants changed before loading up the van whilst making sure he’s got food, water, and all the things he needs for the day like goggles, gloves, and back protector, before heading out into the stages.
On the way from the stages I’ll talk to Richie and it’ll be “change this, change that” or we’ll talk about bits on the bike that need to be replaced and whether he wants them replaced or not, if he feels comfortable with having a certain part replaced on the bike the day before a race. But the general procedure when we get home is make sure he’s all good, check if he needs anything changed, send him off to do whatever he wants to do—in this case he went to the beach.
Then I clean the bikes and do an initial condition report to make sure that I don’t have to go and see our sponsors to go and get any replacement parts, and then set off to do a bit of a strip down. This weekend I probably won’t have to do a full bearing replacement and rebuild because the bike was brand new a week ago. I’ll still be doing a good few hours work, I just won’t be having to pop bearings in and out of things.
What sort of time would you normally finish working on the bikes in the evening?
With just the one bike and depending on how prepared I’ve been, since I’ve already got wheels built for racing, but if I don’t that adds about an hour for a couple of wheels—I’ll hopefully be finished by 6pm (in three hours), putting new tires on with the Cushcore takes a little time. With Cody involved as well it’s basically double. So I can be anywhere from 2–3 hours each bike to 4–5 hours each bike depending on the level of strip and rebuilds and the conditions we’ve got. For example, it’s nice here, we’ve just got to deal with some dust, sometimes dust is bad but the mud is always bad—it’s always double the amount of work, not just for me but them as well because they’ve got to clean all their gear. But I’d like to be sitting with a beer around 6.30pm tonight!
At an EWS you have limited time in the pits, a lot of the work you do on the bikes will be on the road in practice/at tech zones. How much of a challenge is that?
After doing this for a few years I’ve got a pretty good system down. I normally don’t need to go and visit my sponsors apart from Fox as we work very closely with them. Even though I do know everything about the suspension and how to work on it, that’s their thing and there are a few parts in Richie’s fork and shock that they are working on at the moment. So I’ll spend a little bit of time on most days talking to Jordi and Kolja down at Fox but I’m generally pretty self-sufficient, I carry all my spares as we’re travelling along or I’ll have worked out that we are spinning past the pits or our base at some point so I don’t have to carry everything.
As you saw in the back of the van I had a spare wheel, in that bag I had tires, bars, stem, the lot. I could rebuild the bike if I had to and then I have my entire toolkit there. A few times there’s been a trashed wheel or something like that and honestly, the best situation is that I’m riding with them so I can just replace the part on the bike and make my way to the pits or something, that’s good when we’re based somewhere and we can’t shuttle. When we can shuttle I’ll carry everything in there. If there’s ever a problem he’ll get to the bottom of the stage and worst case we’ll work from there.
You worked in downhill in the past, what are the major difference and biggest challenges when it comes to enduro?
This is more exciting! We get to go a lot more places here. In downhill you know they’re going to practice from say 9 till 12, then you’ve got from 12 to whenever to fix the bike and get it ready. You’ve always got a couple of different wheels ready or different bikes to swap over. We’ve kinda got to work with one bike in this game, so it’s all about maintaining the bike and keeping that one bike running, or working with my rider to know he has to keep that one bike running. So the challenges I guess between EWS and downhill is there’s a bit more time management stuff, we need to make sure we’ve got enough time in the day to do the runs and shuttles but also make sure the bike is going to be fixed as well.
Sometimes we can be shuttling until 5pm, I haven’t touched the bike all day and it has to be ready for racing the next day so I'm working until midnight on it. So I’d say the main difference is the time management stuff, the bike work is well… it’s a bike. It's got gears, brakes, everything has to work the same as a downhill, I guess. But it’s easier when I can just slap new wheels on like at a downhill race, or if we break a frame or anything else we can just slap it on, but here, with the restrictions of racing I can’t just do that.
Would you say one of your riders is more dependant on you than the other?
Let's say when I had Jared on the team, Jared was definitely more dependent on getting the setup. I think Richie learned a lot of that and has made some mistakes along the way, but has learned from those mistakes. I’ve got a little black book out here with every setting I need to know and we’ll very rarely deviate off those settings by more than 1 or 2 clicks or a couple of psi. I know his setup but he can be pretty particular with his stuff, he knows exactly how he wants it to roll.
Cody is pretty similar, they both bounce off each other when it comes to that stuff. Cody is probably a bit more picky when it comes to things like the position of his brake levers, he knows if I accidentally slip a 170mm crank on his bike rather than 175mm—he just knows that stuff straight away. Richie is pretty good with it all, he’s done it long enough and I’ve worked with him long enough to know how his stuff goes. It’s only really when he’s looking for those seconds in a race run that he’ll get a little more picky with his suspension and we’ll have to work on that.
When it comes to race day the riders are pretty much on their own, what do they usually take with them in the way of spares?
It’s funny you mention that. This is the first race in Finale in about four years that my riders haven’t gone for the overall. Say Jared the first year then Richie the following two years. They were going for the overall and needed to finish a certain position if a particular rider won. So previously they’ve had derailleurs, rotors, chains, I’ve had them with a lot of parts they can replace–either one of them or both of them had that stuff. Generally speaking their spare kit is pretty minimal, but it’s got a derailleur hanger, cable, chainlinks, plenty of plugs for their tires, patches, enough stuff to work on their bike if they have to. Especially a gear cable, that’s a must for these boys as that can snap at any time.
You do get to check up with the guys in tech zones during race day though?
Not tomorrow. (Saturday race day in Finale). They’ll be out there for six or seven hours without seeing us. Set them off in the morning and come back at the end of the day, hoping everything is okay. On Sunday they do 4 and 5 before coming back for a time check where they are allowed to come into the pits and get mechanical support before heading out to stages 6 and 7. This is one tech stop which is probably the least we’ve had all year.
What can you actually change on the bike without incurring a penalty?
So the stickered parts are the front and rear frame triangles, the fork, and both of the rims. I can change tires, I can change spokes, swap out hub bearings if I have to, change seats, bars, and stem. If they snap a derailleur I can change that and not incur a penalty but the main structural items of the bike we can’t just swap out.
Have you ever had to change any of the stickered parts and take a penalty?
I haven’t had to change any of those parts, we haven’t got any time penalties from that stuff. The best part of having alloy rims on our bikes, the DT Swiss 511s, is that I can beat them into shape pretty well. There have been a few races when he’s essentially wrecked a rim but I’ve been able to re-tubeless it after a good bit of massaging with a hammer. Forks, it’s pretty rare that you’re going to blow them up. Front and rear triangles, if they break—we’ve seen it this year—but good on them, if they aren’t injured after that then they can afford to take the day off I think! We can change a lot of stuff but there’s those main five that we’ll be stickering up later that we can't change.
Has Richie made any specific setup changes for Finale Ligure this weekend?
He’s gone higher in the front end, as in his bar height that he runs. We’re still running 30mm bars, we did actually drop his stem length a little. He has been running 60mm the entire previous seasons, he’s changed to 50mm this week. We are also running a slightly different fork cartridge this week. I think he’s really liking that as it’s keeping him in the position he wants to be on the bike. Depending on the terrain we’ll normally run an 11–42 cassette, sometimes I’ll put a bigger 11–46 on there but the rest of it remains the same.
How hard a challenge is Finale Ligure as a mechanic compared to other rounds? There are some big liasons and a maze of country roads to negotiate...
It’s pretty hard to work at, but it’s fun. Where we were driving today, I really like driving cars. I find it funny when I see people freaking out when they are coming towards you and driving through. It’s a hard race to be a mechanic at, apart from the physical work, I do worry about him and when Cody is here I’m always worrying about the guys, worrying about their bikes. I’ve walked the trails and ridden some of them in the past and know what they’re like, so I do worry that they’re going to break something but there’s nothing I can do. Once they leave for those time checks it’s their race to run!