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Welcome Taylah McLennan to The Pedaler. Who is he, and why did we want him as our head mechanic?

Taylah joined our team recently to assume the role of chief mechanic for 'The Pedaler' and as team mechanic for Cobra9 Intebuild Racing.  One year on from his move from Launceston, his skills as a mechanic and attention to detail are already widely known.  Journalism student and Cobra9 Intebuild Racing team rider Tim Lofthouse sat down with Tay and got the back story on what brought him across Bass Straight.

 

photo @cyclebro

photo @cyclebro

Gaining Momentum
  
At 22 years of age, Taylah McLennan has devoted half his life to the colourful but cut-throat world that is professional road cycling. And he has no plans of changing course. 
Surrounded by an abundance of rolling hills, winding countryside lanes, and a strong cycling community before most would consider giving their children training wheels, McLennan’s fascination with bikes began on the trails, away from the dangers of Launceston’s bustling and impatient traffic. Of course, he was unaware at the time, that he was laying the foundations for an enduring relationship with cycling, which he would later find out could take away life, as quickly as it could shape it.


Transitioning to the road, Taylah rode competitively through the junior ranks, but as he neared the sharp end of the sport, and after witnessing the death of a close friend whilst on a training camp in Tasmania’s Mersey Valley, he made the decision to pursue a career as a cycling mechanic. 


“I was only 15 at the time, it was a huge reality check for me. It changed my perspective on the sport permanently. I didn’t touch the bike for 3 months.”


On the cusp of cycling’s elite, McLennan thoroughly understands how important the working condition of a bike is to its rider’s safety. Professional cyclists rely on six kilograms of carbon fibre between their legs to carry them across thousands of kilometres, often at speeds exceeding 100km per hour. Indeed, the preservation and function of that 6kg is a matter of life and death. After the incident in Tasmania, McLennan felt the onus was on him to ensure that no-one else close to him ever had to experience such a tragedy.


Although he had been working at a bike shop in Launceston for several years full-time before hand, it wasn’t until his first year riding in Under 23’s that he decided he wanted to turn the job into his profession. With the death of a close friend painfully present in his mind, and the remnants of a fire competitive cycling had left burning within him, McLennan was determined to be the best in his trade. Determined to make a difference. 


 His breakthrough opportunity came in the form of a travelling mechanic position with New Zealand professional team, Pure Black. After catching word of his talent, New Zealand bike manufacturer ‘Avanti’- which his store in Launceston sold – Tracked down McLennan for the position. “It was the first team I ever worked with…They needed a second mechanic for the Herald Sun Tour (Melbourne)… and because they were on Avanti’s’, someone put my name forward”. 


After thriving in his role with the Pure Black Team, and with the excitement that came from working alongside professional athletes, McLennan set out in pursuit of other teams who could make use of his fast-developing skills. 


Over the next six years, McLennan became an integral part of many highly-regarded cycling teams, and kept a countless number of riders safely on the road. His work has also taken him as far abroad as the Middle East, where he supported Australian team Search 2 Retain in the Tour of Iran. A typical day on tour for McLennan seems just as exhausting as riding the break-away all day – with a constant need to be attentive and focused on efficiency, no time for a lapse in concentration.


 “We would start work before the stages at about 5:30am, and then usually finish up at about 9 in the evening,” “The stages in Iran were pretty hectic… rough roads, so there were a lot of punctures, broken wheels, crashes. A lot of very hard racing.” He recalled sitting in the team car with the race directors’ muffled Arabic voices shouting race updates through the race radio, “it was an experience, not knowing what anyone was saying” “he laughs. 


Having just spent his first months away from teams in six years, McLennan is now living in Brisbane, working in Milton’s The Pedaler Cyclery. The shop also serves as a base for emerging NRS and Continental cycling team Cobra 9 Intebuild racing.  This link was a big drawcard for McLennan, who is eager to be working with a team again after a year away from tours. 
This will also add to his experience as he works towards his ultimate goal of working full-time on a European Pro Tour Team. 


Former professional cyclist and manager at The Pedaler Cyclery, Josh Prete, has first-hand experience with McLennan’s ability, and says that his expertise working in the tours brings new strength to the workshop and their growing team as well.  “His constant determination to learn and develop new skills is his biggest asset” Prete says. The two’s relationship highlights the unwavering level of respect pro and ex-pro riders like Prete have for their mechanics. 
It’s difficult not to admire Taylah’s character and dedication. All too familiar with the difficulties which pursuing such a demanding and unpredictable career entail, the way that McLennan turned such devastation into life-long motivation, not only affirms his resilience, but proves he is a compassionate young man who takes immense pride in his work. 

“If you don’t love what you do, you’re not going to stick around long, you’ve just gotta’ love it”. 

Author: Tim Lofthouse

 

Wheels aren't Wheels and the thirst for G2I - Johnson Bikes Part 2.

Cont. from Part 1.

NW: So then Featherlight Wheels came along?

BJ: Yeah yeah.  It was just an offside to the Johnson bikes.  The wheel market had become quite flooded, and I guess last year, it was a case of continue to do it and do it well or don't do it all.

NW: Because there was an earlier incarnation of Featherlight Wheels which has since been usurped?

BJ:  Yeah for sure.  We were just using basic moulds and that kind of thing.  Now as part of the learning process with Johnson Bikes, and applying the ideas and technology that has come through from building and manufacturing carbon fibre bikes we have brought the same quality into the wheelsets.  I was contacted by a small exclusive factory over there, and have been working with them for the past 12 months. What we are doing with our wheels now, I am very proud of.

Now as part of the learning process with Johnson Bikes, and applying the ideas and technology that has come through from building and manufacturing carbon fibre bikes we have brought the same quality into the wheelsets

NW: I know the components are incredibly high quality. The Sapim CX Ray spokes are top shelf. The T11 White Industry hubs, everyone knows they are incredible.  They roll beautifully and are very stiff.  I've been riding these wheels now for the last 6 to 8 weeks and they are amazing wheels.  There is no two ways about it.  They just roll fast.  You've described the 280 degree resin you use in the rims to me previously but to your average punter who hasn't got the same level of wheel knowledge as yourself, what does this mean and how is this different to other carbon wheels?

 

BJ: We have a 280 degree patented resin which we use throughout the entirety of the rim.   A lot of wheel manufactures will build there wheels in parts or sections and you will see cuts or joins in the surface where they glue it all together.  So they are using different glues and resins which can make the ride quality a little dull and can create weaknesses within the rim as well.

We've done all ours in EPS moulding which is one piece monocoque moulding and we use the same high quality resin through the entirety of the whole rim.  So it is all one piece rather then gluing a few pieces together.  There is no differentiation between the braking surface and the deeper section of the rim because we are using that higher quality fibre throughout the entirety of the rim.

We've done all ours in EPS moulding which is one piece monocoque moulding and we use the same high quality resin through the entirety of the whole rim.

NW:  The torsional stiffness of the wheels are incredible especially when you get out of the saddle.  Is that down to the design of the rim shape or from the use of the patented carbon fibre?

BJ: Yeah it's a few things.  The rim shape incorporated features like which tyres you are using on your bike blending that into the aerodynamics.  That and the carbon fibre that we are using, which is all being manufactured 'in house' adds to the stiffness of the whole rim.  Absolutely.

NW: You have a couple of new frames now, so starting with just the Esquire initially then what came along next?

BJ: The Cavalier came along next.  I wanted something a little stiffer in the rear end.  Something to sprint on. I was working with Benny Kersten (Australian Track Sprinter and Road racer) a lot during that time.  The Esquire is a great bike but someone like Ben who can put out 1800 Watts...

NW:  Just like The Pedaler's Josh (Prete)?

BJ: Yeah, (laughs) just like Josh. Yeah, I got a lot of feedback from Ben. He wanted a stiffer bike for the sprinters.  We use the same angles and geometry as the Esquire but we have stiffened that whole rear end by creating almost like a triple triangle.  We also use more carbon fibre in the rear end which makes it a racier stiffer bike.  The down tube is semi aero and the bike generally feels a bit stiffer so it's a racier version of the Esquire but it lacks the vertical compliance of the Esquire.

We also use more carbon fibre in the rear end which makes it a racier stiffer bike.

NW:  Then along came the Riddler?

BJ: The Riddler came along again while Benny K was here we had our first version of the Riddler which we tried to set up as a road bike as we saw the whole aero movement coming.  Obvously all the angles were incorrect and we couldnt set it up as a road bike.  So from that, came the Riddler road bike.

 

NW: Which looks pretty incredible doesn't it.  I mean, damm it is a good looking bike.

BJ:  Yeah, you compare the two, the road bike and the time trial bike, it just feels like a downsized version of that.  We use all the same traditional angles so it handles very traditionally, but yeah, very quick in a straight line.

NW: So, now you have this stable of bikes and a couple of wheelsets, and also a disc version of the Esquire which has just come out to rave reviews, what comes next? Consolidation?

BJ: Yeah it's good now, we've got retailers like you (The Pedaler) selling them and it is getting a lot more exposure.  The more people riding them mean they are being noticed a lot more.  I have been growing the whole business organically up till now and hopefully with more people riding them the word gets outs that they're great bikes.  Things like the article in Bicycling Australia was awesome because it's one thing me telling you they're fantastic. I'm always going to tell you they are fantastic, but to get the credibility of an independent review like that saying they're great bikes as well was fantastic.

NW:  I guess the big question everyone wants to know is, when do you think you are going to come back and win Grafton to Inverell mate? (2nd in 2013 to Jack Anderson)

BJ: (laughs)  When is it May? (Laughs).

NW: Yeah mate.  12 months away. (Laughs)

BJ: We'll see.  I know these guys at The Pedaler are always hounding me to do it.  I'd like to race again so never say never. The comeback could be on.

NW:  I know that loss to Jack Anderson still burns pretty deep mate (laughs).

BJ: Yeah it burns deep (laughs). I can never sleep at night before Grafton to Inverell rolls around.  It still haunts me.

 

NW:  And locally, I guess you see an expansion of the iconic Noosa Bike Shop as well?

BJ: Absolutely.  There is a great culture in Noosa for cycling.  There is a big government and council push to make Noosa a real sports hub of Queensland.  I think the Noosa bike Shop has the potential to be a big part of that.  So moving forward we want to create a nice culture here for cycling and I think the Noosa Bike Shop can play a big part in that.

NW:  Cheers mate

BJ: No worries.  Sorry I'm a bit shit at interviews.  

NW: You go OK mate.

 

 

 

Why Ben built a bike? - Johnson Bikes Part 1.

The Pedaler chats to Ben Johnson from Johnson Bikes about frames, carbon and his unfulfilled Grafton ambitions. 

Nathan White (The Pedaler):  When did you start up Johnson mate?

Benny Johnson (Johnson Bikes):  Ahh, would have been 2012/2013.  When I finished up with Uni in Queensland, I came back up to work in the shop (Noosa), and being around bikes and seeing what was happening in the store, I wanted a bike for myself.  Between the brands, I just couldn't find something that was exactly what I wanted.  I guess it stemmed from that.  Looking at the stores and across the brands, they were all making very similar bikes. a so it all started with the development of the Esquire frameset.

Across other brands you would either get bikes that were very long in the head tube, with a longer wheel base that were sort of more a comfort bike.  Or from that, going to a very aggressive race road bike. I guess I wanted something that was a balance in between, and I just couldn't find that on the market.  They were either going for that comfort option or going too racey.  

The Esquire Frameset is a good balance between.  You are still very low in the head tube, because I'm not a big believer in going higher for comfort.  I think getting the balance between the back and the front of the bike and getting into a better position is the best way to go.  I think you can achieve that with the Esquire Frameset and that's where the Johnson stemmed from.

 

NW:  How long did it take to go from idea to fruition?

BJ:  It was an arduous task.  It took a few trips to Asia.  I went to the Taiwan bike show which was a real eye opener.  From that, going to different manufacturers, it was hard, pleading my case and trying to get things in such small quantities.  It made getting things get off the ground very difficult.  Then trying to find a company you could be quite hands on with, and be involved with the R and D and the development of the bike as much as I could.  I was learning a lot about carbon fibre, and how to manufacture a bike, and the differences between carbon fibres and resins.  I was quite particular with what I wanted to achieve and with the outcome of the bike.

Then trying to find a company you could be quite hands on with, and be involved with the R and D and the development of the bike as much as I could.

NW: I guess in a era now with so many people talking about Carbon frames, and getting Carbon Framesets from Taiwan, it really important to separate yourself from that market.  I guess you do this through your own input and your own design features around the bike rather then relying upon stock framesets landing then getting them painted up yourself and calling it a bike company.

BJ: Yeah exactly.  There is a huge difference.  Just because it is carbon, doesn't make it good. The whole manufacturing process and how carbon fibre is laid and the whole moulding process is incredibly important regarding stiffness and how you can manipulate the carbon fibre to suit your desired design outcomes.  Yeah there is a big difference between just your basic carbon frame and we have tried to demonstrate that.  The carbon we have used is the most expensive carbon that you can buy, whereas a lot of other company's to reduce costs have used different carbon fibre, but I wanted to produce the best bike we possibly could.

NW:  Where did all your graphic inspiration come from.  They're amazing bikes to ride but they look just, for want of a better word, pretty.  Where did that come from?

BJ: (Laughs) When I was growing up, I was a mad keen cycling fan from Jacques Anquetil and Merckx and all those old bike racers. I loved the look of old steel bikes and wanted to create a unique looking bike and I don't think there was anything else on the market at the time like that.  I wanted the vintage aesthetic and have the bike branding as well look like it had been around for fifty years.

I loved the look of old steel bikes and wanted to create a unique looking bike and I don't think there was anything else on the market at the time like that.

Benny J's Dad Chimes in: He was obviously watching bike racing on Black and White Television then. 

BJ: (Laughs) I was obviously born in the wrong generation.  So trying to balance the vintage aesthetic but still utilising all the modern building techniques and technology that we could.

NW: Do you still get a buzz seeing your own name on the bikes all the time?

 

BJ: Yeah I still get a buzz.  It's great seeing your own bikes on the road and it is really satisfying seeing people looking good on them.  I've become quite passionate about bike fitting and making sure your bike fits you well so I get a great buzz from that too.  

NW:  So if we wanted to gain access to some quick cash, we could just use that same signature (on the top tube on every Johnson Bike) on a bunch of blank cheques and go to town?  That's the same autograph on the company cheque book?

BJ: (Laughs) Yeah it is mate.  I might have to change that now. (Laughs)

Part 2.  Tomorrow.   

Wheels aren't wheels and the thirst for G2I.

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