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Aaron Fairley has only had one job—bike mechanic. It was his first job while still at high school in California, and it remains his job today as team mechanic at BMC Racing. Fairley talks to Peloton about how he worked his way up from sweeping floors to wrenching for one of the world’s top cycling teams.
[Words and Image: James Startt]
Peloton Magazine: Aaron, I’ve been seeing you at the races for a good while now. How long have you been wrenching in Europe?
Aaron Fairley: Well, I’m starting my fifth year with BMC and before that I came over and worked for two years with USA Cycling. So I’ve been here almost seven years.
Peloton: How did you get into wrenching? Did you race bikes?
Fairley: Ah, no. I tried racing once and that didn’t go so well. But I was already working in a bike shop and just decided that I’d better stick to wrenching.
Peloton: Haha! Well, what does that actually mean: “It didn’t go so well?” Did you crash hard or something?
Fairley: No, just being dropped after a couple of laps in a Cat. 5 crit. But of course I didn’t do any training, just went in cold and gave it a go. But that was enough.
Peloton: Well, if you were already working in a bike shop, obviously the interest in bikes was there.
Fairley: Oh yeah. Actually, my very first job was working in a bike shop. It was back when I was still in high school and I went out looking for a part-time job. I applied at a music shop and a bike shop and the bike shop hired me.
Peloton: Wow! Just think how different your life might have been if you had been hired by the music shop instead. I mean you might be a roadie for a touring band today!
Fairley: Haha. Yeah, exactly. But, no, it was the bike shop. I got a job at Livermore Cyclery in Livermore, California, where I was living. I started out sweeping floors and just moved my way up and learned some of the tricks. It was a classic story in some ways. From that, I started working with some small club teams and then I made some contacts with USA Cycling and was invited to Colorado for their Bill Woodul mechanics program, a three-day workshop. There, you can focus on mountain bikes, track bikes or road bikes. I was always interested in road bikes. And from there I got hired by USA Cycling to come to Belgium and support their U-23 team. At the world championships one year I met Kevin Groove, another American mechanic at BMC. And in 2012, when Philippe Gilbert won the world championships, I was offered a job with BMC. That was an exciting moment!
Peloton: What’s it like working in the heart of one of the world’s biggest bike teams?
Fairley: Well, I’d have to say that it is a dream come true! I mean for so many guys working in a bike shop, the chance to work with such a big team with such a caliber of staff and riders is just inspiring! It’s almost a privilege. And I can say that even in the days when you are out there working in the cold and rain, I still love the job! And most of the days it is just a pleasure to be able to go out to all of these great races.
Peloton: So, driving a team truck around Europe is still a pretty romantic idea for you?
Fairley: Exactly! Another thing I really like are the traveling races. For example, I was in Australia for the entire month of January. That was a nice break from the northern European winter.
Peloton: Obviously you have a lot of great riders on the team. Some teams like Quick-Step, assign mechanics to certain riders. Do you have anybody in particular that you follow?
Fairley: We try to have a situation where the mechanics are more interchangeable. That said, if certain riders ask for one mechanic to follow their program, that can happen, as long as the directors and manager feel as though it is in everyone’s best interest. This year, for example, I am pretty much doing Richie [Porte]’s program.
Peloton: Oh yeah? What’s it like working with Richie?
Fairley: He’s a good guy, very professional. He reminds me a bit of Cadel Evans in the way that he really knows what he is looking for in terms of bike position. He has a high level of expectations, but as long as that level is met, he is real easy to get on with. He’s easy to work with I must say. But, in all fairness, we have 28 riders on the team and they are all easy to work with really!
Peloton: What are some of the aspects about the bike that Richie really pays attention to?
Aaron Fairley: Well, saddle position is really important for him. What we do at the beginning of the year is, set up his bikes with a couple of extra saddles. Richie likes to ride the fi’zi:k Arione, so in the off-season he will ride one for a week and then switch to another for a week and then another. Each saddle breaks in differently, but this way he already has a bunch of saddles broken in for the season.
Peloton: What was your absolutely greatest day as a bike mechanic?
Fairley: Well, any day a bike that you’ve worked on wins is a great day. But the single best day…hmm…I’m not sure. I’d have to say it was the second stage that Philippe Gilbert won back in the 2015 Giro d’Italia [stage 18 to Verbania]. That day. Philippe attacked like 30 kilometers or more from the finish for a great solo victory and I was in the car behind him all the way to the finish. Yeah, that was pretty special!
Peloton: What was your worst day as a mechanic?
Fairley: Well, anytime there are a lot of flats and crashes. I remember one stage in the 2011 Tour de l’Avenir back when I was with USA Cycling and there were like six flats and three crashes on our team all in one day. That was a busy day!