On most days in sunny Palo Alto, California, you’ll find J.D. Clement working on bikes behind the service counter at the largest, most storied bike shop in town. I met J.D. almost 10 years ago in Lake Tahoe where he was running the mountain bike program at a summer camp. I quickly noticed that he was building up mountain bikes from scratch at the rate of 5 or so an hour. I immediately thought, “This guy knows bikes!” We rode a lot that summer around Donner Lake and Tahoe and I got to hear about his history of racing and wrenching. We kept in touch over the years but it was a surprise when I ran into him at the ’06 Tour of California wearing a BMC team mechanics apron. As the new pro team based in the San Francisco area was just shaping up, team management tapped some of the brightest, quickest mechanics in the Bay Area to keep their Pros rolling. Fast forward, we’re now living in the same town as J.D. is holding down the service center at Palo Alto Bicycles. Recently, I had a chance to talk with J.D. about his cycling experience, time in the industry, and glean some Group Ride tips.
Tell us a bit about yourself & how you got into cycling.
I have grown up in the bay area all my life. There has only been three years I have lived outside of this area. I am a bike geek, a husband, and a father. I have loved riding my bike as long as I can remember. The first time I rode a bicycle I rode straight into the bushes because I could not turn. My Dad helped build a lot of trails for the park service when he was growing up so as a kid, when I learned to turn on my bike, he would take me on the mountain biking trails and we would have a blast. My first real mountain bike ride with friends ended up with one of them in the hospital. Bike shops, bike races, and college teams provided me with a wonderful community of people. Best of all as long as you ride a bike people are always friendly. Every time I have gotten a flat on the road, people have always asked if I need help and even offered me rides to my house without knowing where I live. That community is built on the simple fact that I ride a bike. That is something pretty unique and special.
How did you get started wrenching & where/what teams have you worked for?
I got into the bike industry how a lot of people have. One summer my dad said those famous words every son hears at one point and that is “well I think it is time to get a job this summer.” At 15 years old I got my first summer gig at Garner’s Pro Bike Shop in Palo Alto. From there, things took off. I would forever be known a guy who knew how to work on bikes. In the early years that was probably a bad thing. The concepts of taking apart a bike seem pretty easy, but actually doing it right is a very hard thing to learn. After many years of questions, great people around me, and failure I started working at Bicycle Outfitter in 1994. There I met Rich Sangalli who taught me a lot and got me involved in working for a few teams as a mechanic. I was fortunate to wrench for California Giant and also BMC pro cycling team.
What was it like wrenching for a pro team?
Wrenching for a pro team can be one of the most amazing things in the bike industry as well as one of the most exhausting. When wrenching for a team you are able to stand right next to the celebrities of the sport we love and the people who have built up bicycle racing over the years. The days during a race were some of the longest I have worked. Wrenching for a team is an experiment to see how little sleep you need to work on bikes. And it is a blast. The riders have so many people to support them so as much of their focus can be devoted to just one thing. Riding a bike. The last thing they want to think about is if my bike will shift, will I get a flat, or will something break? Bikes get checked over before each ride and after each ride. That job falls on team mechanics and because of that there is a lot of pressure. The first time I had to change a flat during a race brought a huge rush of adrenaline. I was able to hear a rider on my team over the radio so I had a few seconds to grab the right wheel, but once I opened the car door and started running everything became a blur. It happened so fast, which the rider told me afterwards he loved, but all I was thinking was I hope I got the wheel on tight enough. After a few more moments like that I was able to slow things down quite a bit. But the rush is still there.
Part 2 is posted HERE - Thanks J.D.!