KATE COURTNEY DOESN’T ALWAYS CARRY WATER BOTTLES WHILE RACING MOUNTAIN BIKES, and she is one of the few who doesn’t. But it’s for good reason – it makes her bike lighter, which means she can ride faster. “Any time we can make the bike lighter, we do,” says Brad Copeland, Courtney’s mechanic. “Water weighs a lot.”
At the Sea Otter Classic, Courtney, 23, is racing twice in pro women’s mountain bike races. It’s a challenging course that is technical in nature, which has Copeland focused on her bicycle.
“Especially for a small rider like Kate, a light bike is key,” he says. “We then find a strategy for (food and water) during the race. Many other riders don’t do that.”
Courtney has the credentials to do what she wants, whether or not others are doing it. Last year she won the title for Elite U.S. National Champion and Elite World Champion, becoming the youngest person to win the latter title and the first American to do it in nearly 20 years.
This year sees Courtney racing for Scott SRAM. In past years she raced for Specialized, a powerhouse team where she met Copeland.
Copeland, 33, started working at Specialized, headquartered in Morgan Hill, in 2015, after a lifetime of tinkering with bikes and racing, both of which he started at age 11. Through a network of friends in the industry, Copeland landed a coveted gig as a team mechanic for U.S. races, then got called to help fill in on two World Cup races in 2015 as a mechanic.
“I did a good enough job they asked me to come back,” he says.
Copeland has worked with some of the top riders in the sport including Todd Wells and Lea Davison.
He says there’s more than adjusting bike parts when it comes to a mechanic’s work behind the scenes. “I try to keep Kate smiling,” he says. “When Kate is in a good mood, she performs well.
“We train together. It’s a bit unconventional, because not all mechanics ride themselves,” he adds. “We sort out a lot of elements during training. I get to see how the bike performs in various riding situations.”
And that advanced planning and training helps Copeland anticipate bike performance during races.
“I put a lot of thought into what could go wrong,” he says. “Races like Sea Otter are stressful, because it’s busy and fans want photos and you don’t always have time to have those conversations before the races.”
It’s also about having fun, Courtney adds: “While you might see us cracking jokes and eating tacos between races, beneath the surface, we are a well-oiled machine and can only be so relaxed and positive because we trust our preparation and know we are dialed for race day.”
Race set-up includes clean parts, like brakes, which are often replaced new. Other components, like the chain, run smoother when they’re worn in a bit. Copeland doesn’t ever compromise safety during a race, so it’s a balance of getting Courtney’s bike as light as possible, but sometimes favoring beefier components that are less likely to break. “We run tires a bit more reinforced, because of the time it takes to replace if we lose them,” he says.
“A good mechanic is someone who appreciates that success is in the details,” Courtney says. “Very small changes can add up to big progress over the course of a season.”
Once the race starts, Copeland stays in the tech zone while other team members are spread throughout the course. They communicate via walkie-talkie or cell phone.
“We have enough parts to rebuild the bike during the race,” he says. “Most common are flat tires, but if you can keep riding the bike, it’s faster than replacing something. Sometimes you lose air in the tires, but even then, it’s up to her discretion when to stop.”
That’s not wholly different than the guidance Copeland offers for casual bikers. (And he’ll offer up some of that advice at a meet-and-greet from 5-7pm Friday, April 12 at Captain + Stoker in Monterey.) “For every bike that goes past me, I have suggestions,” he says. “It’s often small things, like lubricating the chain. (Bike tech) is just how my brain works now.”