There and Back Again – A TriBike Tale – Day One Part 1

First of all, I want it known I love your bike. Maybe not as much as you do, but statistically speaking, I’m a lot less likely to pee on it than you are (given basic triathlete behavior and the fact that it’s in the back of a truck).

The basic description of what I do is that I drive the truck, but to anyone that has ever relied on me for the success of their race, I do a lot more. I am a facilitator. I am an enabler. I am a caretaker. But, above all else, I am the guy you trust with your bike.

Now, I know you are asking yourself, “how does it all happen?”

From an outside perspective, it seems like a simple process.

Step 1.) You drop your bike off at your local bike shop

Step 2.) It is magically there at your race

Step 3.) You have the transcendental experience that is an Ironman, and you hand me back your baby

Step 4.) You go home, and a bit later you get an email that says your bike is back home as well.

Over the next few weeks, I will share a few blogs that blow away the smoke and mirrors and let you know everything that goes into transporting your bike.

Before I start, you need to know that I am an Ironman as well. I first got to know TriBike Transport (TBT) as a customer. Prior to stepping behind the curtain, I used TBT to ship my bike several times to Puerto Rico to compete in IRONMAN® 70.3® Puerto Rico.

When I first started, Taylor (TBT’s SVP), told me, the process is not as easy as it looks from the outside. I nodded in agreement thinking, “how hard could it be?”. I quickly found out just what goes into getting your bike from your local bike shop to your race and back again.

This is me, James Mango.

I launched my TBT career and began with some short routes and day-labor work before I got truly sucked into the machine. This past fall was a crazy time that ended up seeing me working a 21- day stretch away from home visiting cities all over the country. The overall plan for my trip was to return the ITU Grand Final bikes from Lausanne, Switzerland, collect the bikes for the next round of races, work one of those races, and then return the bikes from that weekend.

On September 18, 2019, I was flown to Asheville, NC, from my home in Cleveland, Ohio, to start the loop. The first task was to unpack, sort, and load the trucks from the ITU Grand Final in Lausanne, Switzerland. That would be Day One, and let me tell you, Day One would have been enough for most folks for a couple of weeks.

The day started at 6:30 am when I left the hotel to pick up a rental truck and headed to the warehouse for the first time. I got the truck to the warehouse early and got ready for a 17 hour day of unpacking, sorting, and loading bikes.

Coming back from Switzerland there were 534 bikes that needed to be uncrated and sorted based on their return destinations. Two areas inside the warehouse and four other areas outside were prepped with bike racks – exactly like you’d see in transition at a race. Each rack was labeled with a notecard for different shops, and each area was designated for specific regions of the country that would later be loaded into trucks heading to every corner of this great land.

One of the trailers with the crated bikes.

The most important thing to know about this work: It. Is. Hard. Stupidly hard. That day I heard the statement, “We work harder than the triathletes.” Now, I don’t know if this is universally the case, but I can certainly vouch for the fact that a 17-hour day of moving bikes ain’t no joke.

Lining up and sorting the bikes.

While the work is hard, the process is simple: Unpack the bikes which are strategically packed like a jigsaw puzzle into wooden crates, each wrapped in a blanket with its front wheel in between that bike and the next. It was like an impressive game of Tetris: alternating positions to fit the bikes so tightly together.

Triathlete Handy Tip: If you receive your bike back from TBT and discover brake rub, it’s probably a loose front wheel. Loosen your front wheel, adjust it, and retighten it.

We opened each palette and unloaded the bikes, accumulating huge piles of blue packing blankets. Each bike was carried to the appropriate shop location with wheels that are also labeled by shop. A couple of guys just work re-attaching wheels as other folks run bikes…. 4 semi-trailers worth of pallets, each semi having 4 or 5 pallets of bikes. It’s a really long process.

Side Note: TBT owns more blue packing blankets than you. In fact, TBT owns more blue packing blankets then anybody.  Don’t bet me on this.  You will lose.

Blue blankets as far as the eye can see.

To get through so many bikes, TBT brought in every employee to work. A true ‘all hands on deck’ workday. People cycled through depending on commitments or availability, but we usually had between 6 and 10 people working at all times.  And when I say everyone worked, I mean everyone.  Jason, the HR/accountant guy, Emily, the woman who keeps the office moving…. Everyone. Job titles or listed job duties didn’t matter one iota. Today, you were carrying bikes and piling blankets.

Un-crating 500+ bikes was Phase 1 of Day One, which got us to about 3 or 4 pm. I will save the rest of day one for my next post.

James