Grant Sides is 24 years young and headed into his third year on the World Cup circuit as American Charlie Harrison's mechanic on Trek Factory Racing's DH team. This is going to be his second year with Trek after working with Giant's factory team the year before.
With every mechanic come the tools of the trade. In addition to managing getting bikes and parts from race to race, most mechanics bring their own kit of tools with them as well. Having the proper tool where you need it when you need it is as critical for a mechanic, especially when changes need to be quickly made and fractions of a second can make the difference between a spot on the podium...or not.
As one of the youngest mechanics on the World Cup circuit, Grant has proven that he has the talent and composed demeanor required to work with the top racers in the world. We had the chance to catch up and chat about racing, life, and his latest competition toolbox build out. Check it out below.
Where are you from?
My hometown is Austin, Texas, but currently I live in Northern California. I travel with and work for Trek Factory Racing DH as Charlie Harrison's mechanic.
When did you start working on bikes?
I started working at Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop when I was 14 years old. It was part of a school project when I started "interning" there. I was on the sales floor for a year, then my mentor in the bike world decided to start teaching me how to build bikes properly. After that, I never looked back to the sales side. Once I graduated high school and had a short cycling industry hiatus in LA, I moved to Moab, Utah, where I really learned how to work on true mountain bikes at Poison Spider Bike Shop.
How long have you been on the World Cup circuit?
I have two full years solely on the World Cup circuit. I was previously with Giant Bicycles for five years doing Global and US events and race support. I worked my first World Cup in 2016!
So, how many weeks a year do you spend on the road? How much travel does a World Cup mechanic end up doing?
I have trimmed down my travel a fair bit by just working World Cup and domestic races with Trek. Last year, I was on the road for just over 21 full weeks. I have been on the road/away from home for as many as 35 weeks....that was a bit gnarly. I flew to and from Europe five times last year...all from California, all with at least another connection in Europe. I ended up with around 30 flights for 2019 - not the worst I have heard of by any means!
As a mechanic, you travel and fly with your tools. What's the hardest part about traveling with a massive tool kit?
It has to be the stress of potentially losing some or seeing my tools come across baggage claim one by one. Travel securities won't always search the box, but when they often do, its a gamble as to whether they'll put it all back together correctly. That's where simplicity is key.
Why is it so important for a World Cup mechanic to have their own set up dialed in?
A World Cup mechanic has to be so dialed in because of the great influence we can have on the performance of our riders. The bike has to be dialed, that's a given. But the confidence you need to portray to your rider is massive. With so many guys out there having the ability to be one of the top riders of the day, a rider must have a strong mental state. Being dialed in with your workspace, with the organization for the top of the hill, and just with having a calm demeanor can help your rider tremendously. It's when they feel comfortable with all the preparation that both they and their mechanic have done, that they're truly able to race no holds barred.
Let's talk about your setup here and what's going on with your toolbox. What series Pelican case is this?
It's a Pelican Protector series 1700 rifle case. It has wheels, good handles, and everything you need to make it an easy process at the airport.
Everything seems to have a very specific place and it's obviously completely custom. How do you cut the foam and make the layout for the tools?
The foam cutting is extremely tedious. I started with two pieces of customizable foam from Case Club - a 2" and a 1". I looked at what tools I frequently use throughout the season and decided to have those ready to go in the lid, always accessible. That left me with a slew of heavier tools that I don't use as often that went in the bottom. I just laid the tools on top of the foam in an orientation that I liked, got out my trusty X-acto knife, and made a perforated trace around each individual tool. Once I had a rough outline, I put the tool to the side and went deeper with the blade and finally carved out the foam by hand. I did the bottom one day and then the lid the next.
The finished product is amazing. What's your favorite part about the whole toolbox?
My favorite part of my toolbox is just the gaudiness of the faceplates. The western Tolex material (it's what they use on musical instrument amplifiers) is a nod to my youth in Texas and playing bass guitar, and then the G$ letters are just so over the top. Love them! I also have to give a massive shoutout to the @toolboxwars
Instagram account. They took a pro mechanic's silly joke and gave some legitimacy to it. The account pushes mechanics to have their best foot forward and I think that translates to the real world. If a rider sees a box that their mechanic built and is proud of it, then they know the same amount of attention to detail and respect will be put into their race bike. Every year, people get more and more creative with their toolboxes and I know I always want to have a good one for a few reasons, the main reason being that it is a great source of pride for me. To be able to display that is fantastic.
What is your favorite tool? The tool you wouldn't want to be without?
My favorite tool would have to be my pressure gauge from Kappius Components. The thing is hyper-accurate and tire pressure is one of the things that is constantly being checked. Tires are the first source of contact with the trail for a rider, so having that setup dialed is key. It is also the tool I couldn't live without.
Do you have any pre-race rituals?
I don't have a ton of pre-race rituals. After practice, Charlie brings me a fresh set of gloves, 2 pairs of goggles, and maybe a jersey to take with me in my pack to the top. Otherwise, it's just bolt and pressure checks at the bottom, getting my game face on.
Do you have any bike set-up tricks or tips?
For the vast majority of riders, a pro's bike setup will turn you off of racing. I would say to make sure and take some time to get your suspension pressures dialed, and then tire pressures. Everyone has their own preferences, and it is just finding what works for you in order to have the most enjoyable time out there. The internet is a great source of knowledge and most setup tricks and tips are on it. I would recommend investing in a gold or silver sharpie (dealers' choice on color) and mark where things are. Brake lever angles, shifter distances, which rotor is the front and which is the rear. This tip is mostly for traveling with a bike, but it's a foolproof way to get your bike dialed in just how it was at home should you go anywhere else.
What's your favorite venue?
My favorite venue would have to be Fort William. The weather is always bad and the midges are insane, but it's such a good time. The fans come out in droves, there's almost a festival-like atmosphere and the racing is top-notch every year.
Who do you look up to?
Idols in this world are interesting. Often times they can become your peers. I think on the World Cup circuit I most look up to Loic's mechanic Jack, and Aaron's mechanic John. Both Jack and John have great charisma and calmness around them that I hope to one day have as well. Not to mention their mechanical skill and bike setup skill is unreal. Outside of the cycling world I really respect and look up to Henry Rollins, just for life wisdom.
When you're not working on other bikes, what do you ride most of the time?
The bike I ride most of the time is the Trek Slash - that thing is a beast and handles anything you throw at it! I'm looking forward to getting my hands on that new Trek Fuel EX soon though.
What's a fond or interesting memory or happening from the road?
In the travel between MSA and Snowshoe this year, Trek Factory DH's head mechanic Joe Krejbich and I stopped at Bass Pro Shops in Pennsylvania. We were there for the store open, as were the boys from Intense Factory Racing. That moment just reminded me that we're all just big kids with toys and we know how to have fun together, as well as be professional. It almost seems like a fraternal bond sometimes.
Favorite sport other than DH mountain biking?
My other favorite sports are still racing related. MotoGP and Formula 1. The athleticism of the athletes and the ultra-preparedness/knowledge of the pit crew are amazing to me.
What other hobbies do you have that are unrelated to mountain bikes?
Mostly when I am at home I ride motorcycles and go to the gym. At the start of this off season, I splurged and got a Ducati Streetfighter 848 that I am absolutely in love with.
If you weren't doing what you're doing now, what would you be doing?
If I wasn't a World Cup mechanic right now I would actually love to be a UPS Driver. Some offseasons I work the holiday help for fun, I always have a blast.
Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Looking to my future I have no clue. To be honest, I came on the World Cup scene earlier than I expected and I'm just loving where I am now. An office job life isn't for me, and my competitive spirit will always keep me close to some form of racing I am sure.