Lockdown Feature: Josh Hand (Vitus Pro Cycling Mechanic)

Great insight into being the mechanic for the Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK team as we quiz Josh Hand about his job looking after the Vitus bikes …

Lockdown Feature: Josh Hand (Vitus Pro Cycling Mechanic)
Credit: Gee Milner Dream Build

Q: Do you race ride yourself?
Josh: I certainly used to race with cyclo-cross as my preferred discipline, and thoroughly enjoyed every muddy moment of it. I now still ride as much as possible, but on a much more relaxed scale. One day I might pop up on a NDCXL (Notts & Derby CX League) start line, but possibly in disguise!

Q: Are you riding much during the lockdown period?
Josh: Yes, I’ve actually found myself cycling more than expected. I live on my own, so it’s a great way to pass the time, and try to find some fitness. I’m really enjoying Zwift at the moment, especially the Vitus group rides the guys put on once a week. But a nice solo spin out in the fresh air is a great use of my one a day exercises.

Q: Is there a lot to do at the moment with no racing but riders doing their training?
Josh: Surprisingly yes. Keeping the guys bikes fully working so they can keep riding and training during this period is actually proving to be pretty full on. Especially considering everything needs to be sorted remotely, trips to the post office are quite regular. Luckily, we have some fantastic sponsors whose kit makes light work of this task. With regards to the race bikes, they are ready to race the second we get a green light.

Q: When did you start building the 2020 Vitus bikes?
Josh: This happened over two separate dates. This year we had the fantastic chance to get the guys riding the new 2020 bikes at the beginning of December 2019, so the home bikes got built just prior to our team meetup in Derby. The race and roof bikes got built towards the end of January, ready for our first race in Belgium in February.

Q: What are the key differences between the 2020 team bikes and the 2019 ZX1 ones?
Josh: Both Vitus frames are still rolling on Prime wheels, SRAM Gearing and Prime components. However, the frame is a completely new design for 2020. Initial thoughts may be it is a less aero bike, however its actually slightly more so than the ZX-1, and the weight has dropped down slightly by going to a more traditional tube profile. Both the years bikes built up fantastically, with this year’s bikes getting an amazing thumbs up from the first ride out.

Gee Milner Dream Build Road Bike

In a recent interview with Chris McGlinchey, the Brand Marketing Manager for Vitus & Prime, and also one of the team’s riders, gave us a rider’s view of the bike. Chris explained “we learnt in 2019 what we liked and what else we wanted for our race bikes and the Vitesse Disc is the perfect bike for British racing.”

“It’s light weight, has disc brakes and is the perfect fit for the team. The colours (candy red) look stunning too so it was awesome to see them in the bunch before racing was stopped”.

“The style of the racing in the UK will suit this new bike too. The prems and the big UCI races like the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of Britain have quite a lot of climbing, and fairly steep climbs as well, and I think that influenced the decision to go for the Vitesse over the ZX1 for 2020.”

The bikes are equipped with SRAM again which Chris is pleased about. “SRAM Red AXS, for me, is incredible. The gear ratios are super impressive with a higher top end and bottom end so it’s better for the climbs going up and the descents.”

“So I’m super happy we are running SRAM again this year as it’s great for us as riders and it is so easy to set up which helps Josh and Pete, the mechanics. Two less wires to have to route, you can get the bikes built super easily, transfer rear mechs from one bike to another super easy and it just makes logistics super simple. It’s the perfect groupset in my opinion.”

Other slight changes include new Prime carbon wheels which are 100 gms lighter than last years and on them, new tyres from Schwalbe; a 25mm TT tyre for use on smooth roads and crits or the Pro One normal tyre for the grippier, rougher roads like they raced on in Belgium and France in March. They also get a choice of handlebars in 2020, the aero ones or now, a lighter climber’s handlebar too.

… continued after advert


Back to Josh the mechanic …

Q: Are the roof & training bikes different to the race bikes?
Josh: The whole idea is to make each of the three bikes ride identically, so each rider can jump on any bike and it fit perfectly and feel great. All three bikes are built up with the SRAM AXS 12 speed system, and Prime components. There are a few differences however. The race bikes are equipped with a carbon stem and handlebar bringing the weight down slightly. The home/training bikes use the Prime Baroudeur Alloy wheelset instead of a carbon pair, still set up with Schwalbe’s great tubeless system.

Q: For a race like GP Samyn or Lillers, what Schwalbe tyres would be on the Prime wheels?
Josh: With these races being early in the year, we opted for the 2020 Schwalbe Pro One TLE tyre, this was due to the adverse weather and poor road surface. Our other tyre choice is the Pro One TT tyre, which is slightly lighter and faster rolling, however the TLE tyre utilises Schwalbe’s V-Guard protection layer that gives us slightly more protection. This really showed its worth during GP Samyn, as the team suffered zero punctures throughout the entire race.

Q: Do tyre pressures differ for crits to road races or are they down to rider personal preference?
Josh: This is completely up to the rider’s personal preference. I will always offer an opinion on what pressures to ride depending on the type of course and weather, but the final decision will always be theirs. ‘What pressures are you wanting?’ is the most common question heard around the team van.

Tyre pressures on the Schwalbe tyres can be anything from 60 PSI up to 120 PSI. A slightly lower pressure would provide more grip, especially in wet races where as a higher pressure would provide a lower rolling resistance. It’s all about finding the perfect kid point for each rider.

Q: Are the riders on tubeless or tubular?
Josh: We use tubeless on every single wheel, and we have done this for two years now. The Schwalbe tubeless system, and the Prime tubeless compatible wheels make such a great combination and give both me and the riders such confidence while riding. The amount of punctures that have been avoided due to going tubeless has been incredible, and I’d openly recommend it to anybody riding any bike, anywhere.

Q: What would you say is the most common size of tyre now – 23/25/28?
Josh: This is a mix between 25 and 28mm tyres, with 23mm almost becoming redundant. All the home bikes are running on 28mm tyres, which gives a little more comfort for those long training rides. For racing, it will come down to the course features. The riders will always have a choice of what tyres, and I’ll always make sure we have both options available in the team truck.

Q: Do the riders get a choice in the size of deep section carbon wheels they use?
Josh: Yes, most definitely. We run the Prime Black Edition 50mm and 28mm wheelsets and depending on the course profile and features, they can choose whichever they would like. The 28mm wheels are usually reserved for more hilly courses, due to the lighter weight. But this again is down to the individual rider’s preference.

Q: How long does a bike take to build from bare frame to complete machine?
Josh: The most time-consuming process is actually un-packing everything! But from a pile of components and parts, it would take me about an hour to have a fully built and ready to ride bike. The sizing up process after this can take a further couple of hours, but this is so key and important to get spot on, it’s worth taking as much time as needed.

Q: Do the riders all use the same length cranks?
Josh: We have a choice of 170, 172.5 and 175mm cranks which the riders can choose at the start of the season. Usually, once a rider gets comfortable with a crank arm length, they will rarely change. But we always carry the options if needed. This year most riders are on 172.5mm cranks, which has always been the most popular. Shorter cranks like the 170mm versions are starting to make a comeback though, so this may all change in the years to come.

Q: Does the SRAM AXS have power meters in them?
Josh: All the training bikes and the race bikes have the SRAM AXS power meters built into them, with the roof bikes being equipped with the non-power variant.

Q: How often do the hydraulic brakes need bleeding on the bikes?
Josh: This is tricky to put a time scale on as it all depends on the performance and the necessity. After, and prior to every race, I will make sure the brakes are working as they should. And if needed, will then re-bleed.

Q: What type of computer to the riders have on their bike?
Josh: The riders have a choice of what computers they can use, we currently have a mix of Wahoo and Garmin computers.

Q: Do the riders use the same type of pedals? If so, what ones do the team use?
Josh: Yes, all bikes are built with Shimano SPD-SL pedals, this means all riders if needed can ride any bike. This is a very rare occurrence, but it means as a last resort a bike swap can be performed.

Q: After a race like GP Samyn in the wet, how much is required to return the race bike ready for action?
Josh: It’s a fairly easy process for all the bikes. A good wash down using our Silkolene products, and a thorough check over for any issues that might have arisen over hours’ worth of racing. Once a bike is hung back up in the service course, it is ready to ride/race again. This is my way of knowing each bike has been checked over.

The wheels and tyres will all get checked over separately, looking for any issues that may have arisen. Most notably punctures or slices in the tyres, which will then be replaced immediately. No matter how much care and attention I give the bikes after a race, they will always be checked over again before loading the bikes ready for the next use.

Q: If a rider punctures, is it a wheel change still or a bike change with the disc brakes?
Josh: This all depends on the race situation, and it’s down to Chez (team owner/DS) to decide what will work best for each separate occasion.

Q: Is changing a wheel something a mechanic needs to practice for a race or do you get plenty of that in the workshop?
Josh: I get plenty of practise in the workshop so the actual process of removing and installing a wheel doesn’t need much thought. What matters is the way myself, Chez and the rider deal with the situation, and this can make all the difference.

Asked whether he uses a power tool to make the wheel change, Josh says “I choose not to use power tools. After testing out a small powered driver, it just didn’t seem any quicker, and I have much more control doing it by hand. A long 6mm Allen key is all I need, and it’s a fairly simple process.

Q: How often would you change a chain on a race bike during a normal season? Does it vary from rider to rider?
Josh: This all comes down to the state of the chain, which will always be checked and looked over at the end of every race. But it really does vary massively, depending on the rider, the conditions and the length of races.

You can use chain checkers, which I always have in the tool box. This tests the length of the chain, and sees if it has stretched from the ideal length. After checking so many times, I can now tell just by looking and ‘bending’ the chain.

Q: How long do a set of brake pads last for a disc brake?
Josh: Again this varies massively on the conditions as wet weather will cause brake pads to need changing sooner. At the same time as checking the function of the brakes for bleeding, I will always check the pads life and change if needed.

Q: Are there different compounds (soft/hard etc) of disc brake pads for bikes?
Josh: You can buy different compound brake pads however we use the SRAM specific organic compound pads in all of our brakes. Organic pads are softer, and therefore do wear out quicker, but the braking performance is much higher than the harder sintered compounds.

Q: In a race, what jobs does a mechanic in the team car have to do?
Josh: Providing endless entertainment is pretty high on the list! But actually, the bike/wheel changes are a pretty rare occurrence. The most important job is keeping track of the racing, who’s in the break, who’s out the back. But not just our riders, this is for the entire race field, so I can help Chez make decisions based on how the race unfolds. Then also providing food, drink and clothing for the riders when needed is also really important as the race goes on.

Q: How many wheels do you have in the car with you in any given race?
Josh: I will always have two pairs in the back of the car with me, within touching distance and ready to go. Then I will have a further three pairs mounted on the roof which can be swapped out if needed. Depending on the race, I could also have wheels around the course with the team’s helpers which can be swapped into the car if needed.

Q: Finally, what products do you use when working (cleaning/assembling) on bikes?
Josh: Silkolene provide some great cleaning and maintenance products to use, this is everything from bike wash, to polishing, to greasing and lubricating. The most impressive product we get to use on the bikes for me, is the Schwalbe tyres and tubeless system, it is just so easy to set up and maintain. And I’m sure has had a helping hand in many great rides.

Thank you to Josh for that fascinating insight!

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