Normally, I bang on a keyboard all day helping create content for the retailers who use our Web site service. So it was a treat to attend Park Tool's Tech Summit for a little hands-on and face-time. Held February 1-2 at the spacious Doubletree Hotel in downtown San Jose, California, it brought together technical gurus from Campagnolo, Fox, Hayes, Mavic, Park, RockShox, Shimano and SRAM to teach the latest tech tips and tricks to mechanics, some from as far away as Alaska, Hawaii, Taipei and Argentina.
This was the second year of the Tech Summit, and the final one of three held this year. The first two took place in Philadelphia and Chicago, respectively, and both filled to capacity. San Jose didn't, probably, according to Park Tool's marketing guy and summit coordinator Bill Armas, because the Bay Area's season is already in full swing—as evidenced by the pleasant temperature. 178 mechanics paid $195 to attend the San Jose Summit (in total there were 650 mechanics at all three events), which entitled them to attend any six of the eight 3-hour seminars offered, and included class materials plus a continental breakfast, lunch and tasty treats in the afternoons.
The scene reminded me of college, albeit, a very cool college, where you actually roll up your sleeves, put on nitrile gloves and dive into STI and Ergopower lever rebuilding, disc brake bleeding, shock overhauls, advanced wheelbuilding and soak up tech tips you'd never learn on your own - even some from fellow head mechanics and service managers happy and proud to share their expertise. Plus, at the end, you even got your own certificate of completion to hang over your workbench.
And unlike those boring lectures from old Professor Snograss, the energy was high at Park's Summit. We burst out of the seminars lugging our new manuals, eager to get to the next classroom and trying not to run into each other. Adding to the excitement, Park Tool had provided all the tools for the eight classes and was selling them all, at huge discounts. But you had to place your order early or miss out due to limited quantities. Their TS-2.2 Truing Stand and TM-1 Spoke Tension meters went fast because of Park main wrench Calvin Jones's popular Wheel Theory and Practice seminar.
It was here that I met Brian Backus, the owner of Trailside Cyclery in Orting, Washington and owner Duane Strawser of Tour of Nevada City Bike Shop in Nevada City, California. We teamed up to true and tension a wheel as Jones taught us how to balance tension to maximize wheel strength. And also how to draw a tension chart to document your work to your customer and profit more from your wheelbuilding.
Like everyone I met, these guys were in mechanics' heaven and praised the Summit. "I'm impressed with this whole thing," said Backus, who drove his motorcycle down the coast to attend. "I worked for Boeing as a mechanic and I've been to plenty of events that were a waste of time. This is the knowledge that everybody needs to know to get 'er done. Every shop mechanic needs this." Agreed, Strawser, "It's so nice to have in-person training with the people you previously only had access to online."
New for this year there was also a Monday-night seminar by John Barnett of Barnett's Bicycle Institute covering the profitability, efficiency and effectiveness of your service department. Interesting to this former shop service manager, one of the things Barnett covered was how many retailers make the mistake of ignoring the free service they do, from new bike assemblies to free accessory installation to time spent educating customers about basic maintenance. Just one of his tips was that you have to put a number on this in order to find a way to make it turn a profit, yet many stores ignore or don't recognize this pitfall and actually believe their service department is losing money as a result.
Back at the seminars on Tuesday, I met Sports Chalet of Mira Loma, California's Jim Hernandez at lunch, and then again at the Campagnolo seminar. Campy's service center manager Daniel Large let us know we were in good hands, telling us that he and the other instructor, customer service manager Martin Kozicki, represented 50 percent of Campy North America. This was perfect for Jim, who had told me over lunch that the Tech Summit "was a fun little vacation for himself. The information I'm here to learn is more for myself than for the family-oriented clientele we cater to. I especially want to know how to work on Campagnolo 11-speed for when I build my next bike, and if someone custom orders one." He'll be good to go now, having taken apart and reassembled 11-speed shifters, chains and hubs.
Then, with the three of us sharing a repair stand and bleeding Avid Elixir discs and RockShox dampers in the SRAM seminar, Jason Tureau, the head wrench at Freewheeling Bicycles in Austin, Texas, commented that he was sure "getting his shop's money's worth." While obviously skilled, Fred Rebollido, service manager of Sugar Cycles in Missouri City, Texas, said the seminars had been really good and even he had learned a lot.
At the end of the seminar, SRAM instructors Chuck Perryman and Nate Newton pointed out how, often the difference between being able to make good money servicing advanced components is just a small amount of knowledge that's easily obtained with a little hands-on. Which is exactly why Brian Backus had attended the clinic. He confided to me that he had been turning away people coming into his shop for disc brake service, sending them down the street to another shop. But, when he found out that his competitor was making almost $100 bleeding disc brakes he decided he had to attend the Tech Summit so he could get some of that action.
Park Tool’s Bill Armas and John Krawczyk signed everyone in.
Wheelbuilder extraordinaire Calvin Jones of Park Tool taught truing and tensioning.
Mechanics got to do some advanced shock therapy in the RockShox seminar.
Mavic’s Bill Douglas taught the finer points of hub and freehub tuning.
Hayes’ Andy Paradowski schooled us in dialing-in discs.