Feature: Tony Barry (Brother UK Neutral Service)

Everyone will suffer a puncture some time so we talk to Tony Barry from the Brother UK Neutral Service cars with over 20 years experience to get some inside tips

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Feature: Tony Barry (Brother UK Neutral Service)

For as long as I can remember, neutral service vehicles in cycle races have been part of the fabric of the sport. Going back many many years, I remember the yellow car of Tony Asplin being a regular at races along with others.

Two of the Brother UK Neutral Service cars

Having experienced drivers and mechanics providing neutral service is crucial for riders and these days, none are more experienced than those in the Brother UK/Canyon UK sponsored vehicles headed up by Tony Barry with over 20 years experience. With the motto of the Brother UK company being “At Your Side” it is perhaps one of the most fitting descriptions for the service that Tony and his team provide for riders in major British races and sportives.

For those of you who have experienced having a tyre go flat in a race, having the Brother UK neutral service cars with their volunteer drivers and mechanics there to help out is quite simply key to keeping a rider in the race. These vehicles, with Canyon Ultimate SL bikes on the roof, cover over 20 events a year and when asked what is the busiest race of the season for them, unsurprisingly it was the CiCLE Classic.

Joey Walker, wheel in hand, waiting for service at the CiCLE Classic

“In that race this year we did 35 wheel changes” says Tony. These days, especially with some riders racing on disc brake bikes, making a bike change is also more common place. “What we have been doing this year” explained Tony, “is because we can’t change disc brake wheels because there are so many different types of discs, we provide them with a bike instead.”

The service they provide is more than just putting a wheel in a rider’s bike or in some cases, putting them on a Canyon Ultimate race bike. At the Stockton GP road race this year, there was more required of the neutral service crews.

“In the Stockton race, there were two crashes this year and luckily for us, we have a first aider in each car and when we came to the second crash, one of the riders was really in a mess there and it was more shock. A week later when I phoned him, he was okay and riding his bike but at the time in the race, he thought he had a broken leg and all sorts. Thankfully there were no major injuries that day”.

Another race they were busy at was at Leicester Castle where they had 12 punctures to deal with. “I don’t know why there were so many that day” says Tony, adding it’s never been like that before and because it is a barriered circuit, that also presents challenges for them.

The man responsible for British cycle racing having such excellent neutral service, Phil Jones, MD of Brother UK

Dos and Don’ts
To help those who perhaps have not had to use neutral service before, we asked Tony for some tips and hints:

Side of the Road: So what side of the road should a rider stand on when they puncture? “The left hand side always in this country” says Tony. “This is because the mechanic goes out the left side of the car. If he was going out the other side, he’d be stepping into the race convoy. The driver in a race convoy should not get out of the car because race vehicles will be coming up that side of you”.
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Riders and their bikes when they have a mechanical: “Ideally”, says Tony, “for a rear wheel puncture, they should get into the 11 or 12 sprocket and drop the chain onto the inside ring. Not everyone does that. If it’s a front wheel, it’s great if they can start winding out the quick release so the wheel clears the little divets on the fork end. We have spacers for our own wheels so that all our wheels go in and it should be at one worst one turn before the wheel is locked in.”

Not just Wheels and Bikes: The cars also carry the Brother UK branded bottles to keep riders hydrated. “Brother UK have sorted the bottles out for us this year which has been a god send because in previous years, we would have to speak to team managers and ask for half a dozen or so bottles. This year though Brother UK provided them and quite a few riders have been keeping them!”

The Brother UK Neutral Service car at the Leicester Castle Classic

Pacing Back to a peloton: “We will try and help a rider but if they are not making meaningful progress, we will have to leave them. Top riders will go onto the back of the car and we’ll have them back in the race in no time. But not everyone is a top rider and also we’ll have the commissiares on to us wanting us back to where we should be and that is in the convoy.”

“In race conditions, our most important word is safety,” says Tony, a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. “I always say to my crews, ‘I’m not worried about how long it takes you to get back, but I don’t want a rider on the floor.”

“The more you do it, the more you learn,” Tony says. “All the guys with me are ex-bike riders, and Wendy [Cull] grew up with the sport, so they have a strong feeling for what goes on in a race.”
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Neutral Service Wheels: “We run with 11 speed. None of them are disc brakes and we also have a few wheels with Junior gearing cassettes (14 up). The worst thing for us would be for us to put a 12 up into a Junior’s bike and then for them to be DQ’d.

Canyon Ultimate Bikes: “They are very good bikes” says Tony. “We have got two with electric groupsets and the rest have normal gears and they are so good, I wouldn’t mind one myself. We charge up our electric groupsets all the time” says Tony, adding that “they reckon you can go through the Tour de France with one charge but I would not want to take that chance which is why we keep ours charged up.”

On Phil Jones and James Golding’s Day Ahead Tour of Britain charity ride they had the comfort of knowing they had Brother UK’s Neutral service car behind them

Tyres on Neutral Service Wheels: Tony says they are using 25mm tyres these days. Over the years I have seen riders on 19mm tyres and most common has been 23mm but now you rarely see that as they are generally all on 25mm and I have seen some on 28mm.

Tracking Wheels: A simple, but effective sticker system ensures that the punctured wheels swapped with the riders are returned to their rightful owners, post-race. More importantly, from Tony’s perspective, it allows him to keep track of those who have received a wheel from Brother Cycling. We carry two front wheels and two rear wheels in the car, and the rear wheels have a Shimano and a Campagnolo cassette.”

To find out more on the Brother UK Neutral Service cars, there is a very in-depth article here on the Brother Cycling page.


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