Ask Nick: ProTeam BB30 adapters, bilingual mechanics, clean helmets and yellow bikes

Nick Legan answers reader questions about neutral Mavic bikes, keeping helmets clean, elegantly clipping in and bilingual WorldTour mechanics

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Editor’s Note: VeloNews tech editor Nick Legan is a former ProTour mechanic who most recently wrenched for Team RadioShack at the 2010 Tour de France and elsewhere. His column appears here every Thursday. You can submit questions to Nick at, and be sure to check out Nick’s previous columns.

My question concerns WorldTour teams that have BB30 framesets and run Shimano groups (BMC Racing, for example). From what I know, Shimano isn’t selling a BB30 crankset, and it pains me to think they are running BB30 adapters, thus losing much of the benefit of the BB30 bottom bracket and crankset. I guess it does add weight in the best possible place, helping it meet UCI standards.

You’re right that Shimano doesn’t offer a BB30 crank or bottom bracket. For now at least, the Japanese firm is sticking with 24mm crank spindles. That means that many Shimano-sponsored teams are using adapters of some sort. BMC however, uses a BB86 in its latest teammachine bicycles. Previously, a BB30 was offered and teams used adapters to run Shimano cranks.

I would love to see whether or not riders are losing any efficiency when using adapters. A test has been simmering in the back of my brain on just this subject. While BB30 bottom brackets and cranks are very stiff, so too are Shimano cranks. One thing to consider is that the tube structures of the frame are larger regardless of the cranks used. So the frame is still plenty stiff.

In the end, I’m doubtful that there are big losses when using adapters. But they can sometimes be tricky to use. Creaking is an issue I’ve encountered.

I know that you speak French and was curious if most of the Euro mechanics/riders are bilingual. If so, do new riders to Europe usually take a class? Rosetta Stone? My English is pretty good, but I’m thinking that it might be worth spending some time picking up another language, especially if it helps me as I’m moving up through the ranks.

Absolutely learn another language! I don’t think I would have gotten the opportunities that I did without speaking French. It makes the job easier and once you learn how to learn a language, a third or fourth language becomes a possibility. I wouldn’t say that I speak Spanish or Italian, but I understand a lot of it and can make myself understood.

Learning another language also gives you insight into a foreign culture. Understanding that is a huge asset. Remember that as an American mechanic working in Europe that you are the foreigner. It’s your job to adapt, not everyone else’s. I’ve seen mechanics that spent entire seasons essentially swimming upstream by fighting the cultural differences within their team.

There is no shortage of good bicycle mechanics, but qualified race mechanics are rare. Speaking a foreign language can help put you on the map if that’s something you want to pursue.

As someone who lives in a place where I have to clip in and out of my road pedal semi-frequently (having not mastered track stands at red lights), I grew tired of slipping off the pedals in a most inelegant fashion when on the wrong side of my SPD-SLs, so I stuck some “never slip” grip tape on the underbelly, and I swear by it. It even works great for short distances where you want to pedal without clipping in.
— Robin from Canada

I like it! I’ve posted it here for others to see. Another option would be mountain bike pedals, as they’re double-sided. The downside is that they don’t offer the same large interface that your SPD-SL pedals do. Very clever. Thanks for sharing.

Knowing very well how quickly my helmet and straps get really nasty and caked with sweat and grime, and how difficult it is to keep up with it, how do the pro teams do it? They must have a technique to make sure the helmets look brand new, stage after stage.
— Cam

You know, I’ve never thought about it really. As a mechanic I was gratefully kept from washing riders’ clothes, though I sometimes brushed down shoes. I would guess that some riders rinse their helmets in hotel sinks, the straps and pads at least. Then let them dry in their hotel room overnight. Of course, they might not dry completely overnight in humid areas, but it’ll still keep them in better condition.

Personally, I soak my helmet in the sink with a mild soap, putting something heavy in my upturned lid to keep it submerged (a bottle of shampoo can do the trick). Then I’ll rinse it and hang it to dry. Thankfully, in Colorado that happens pretty quickly.

We all know Mavic does a great support job with wheels and tires. Well, what about the yellow bikes on the support car? I have been a fan for years (since the LeMond era) and have yet to see a rider use one of these spare bikes. Do they ever get used? Are riders instructed to use/not use them? I am sure there would be a potential fit problem and also the pedal scenario. But… they are there every race so I guess it’s always a possibility for someone to grab one? Maybe they are fitted and sized for the leader and/or GC favorites?
— Kai Dussling

I have seen one used before, at Philadelphia some years ago. I can’t remember the specific year, but a rider had crashed and his team car was ahead with the break (teams are only allowed one follow car for one-day races). So Mavic went to work and got him rolling. The bike, a yellow Cannondale, had pedals with toe clips and straps and that’s what the rider used until his team car dropped back and handed off his spare bike.

There are other instances of the use of Mavic spare bikes I’m sure. But they are infrequent, mostly because when a bike is crashed beyond repair, the rider is often seriously injured. And in the cases where the rider is able to continue, his/her team car is usually nearby.

In most cases, the yellow Mavic bikes are mostly ridden by Mavic staffers on the days before races. They usually carry a size run from 52cm to 60cm. In some cases, the bikes are actually quite old. I saw one at the Tour last year that had nine-speed Campagnolo on it. But then, it’s a spare bike. It doesn’t have to be cutting edge, just functional.

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