Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Park Tool Tech Summit

This past Monday and Tuesday I attended the first Park Tool Summit (http://www.parktool.com/techsummit/index.HTML) in Philadelphia, PA. As you can see from the website, this was a series of seminars offered by manufacturers of bicycle parts and tools. The idea was to give professional mechanics some hands on training with the folks who make the stuff. All in all, a really good experience, although there were some highs and lows, as with everything.

The highs? Well, the seminars with RockShox (makers of suspension components) and Hayes (hydraulic disc brakes) were both excellent. I got a chance to tear into some parts that I either had never worked on or had only limited experience with, with a company technician guiding the way. Given that each seminar had 30 participants and 1 guide, there were some moments, even in the best of the seminars, when I felt a little lost, but overall, these two seminars were the most helpful to me. Of course, some of that is because suspension and hydraulics are two areas where I have the most to learn, I suspect.

Park Tools (the dominant manufacturer of bicycle tools for the US market) also had an excellent seminar, lead by Calvin Jones, their Director of Education. Calvin, along with knowing an enormous amount about bicycle repair, is a bit of a character... and I mean that in a good way. He has a sense of humor that lends itself well to an industry that seems to delight in introducing new "standards" about every five minutes... the sort of thing that drives you crazy, unless you can chuckle about it. Anyway, the Park session mostly covered frame preparation and machining, which I have plenty of experience in, so it didn't really provide too much new knowledge for me. I did get a chance to use a disc brake tab facing tool, which I hadn't done before, and it never hurts to see or hear another person's approach to something, so simply hearing Calvin speak was good. And heck, I won a prize... for answering a question incorrectly! Calvin asked me "Do you torque every nut and bolt on a bike when you build it up?" Well, I made the same assumption I bet everyone in the room made... I figured he was asking if I used a torque wrench on every fastener, so I said "no". Well, duh... he pointed out that every time I tighten a fastener, I'm torquing it. Groan. Anyway, for being a good sport, I got a free set of digital calipers, which was thinking of buying soon anyway.

I also attended seminars with two of the bigger component makers, SRAM and Shimano. Shimano has been sort of the 800 lb gorilla in bike parts for years now, and their presentation, like their equipment, is polished and slick. My only complaint is that it felt a little to much like marketing to me. They spent a chunk of time covering the technical service regime for their Nexus and Alfine (which I now finally know is pronounced Al-FEEN-ay) internally geared hubs, but the rest of the time was spent in a sort of "geez whiz, look how cool new Dura-Ace and Di2 are" pitch. Sure, it was fun to see the stuff, but nothing in the way of service was discussed in any detail. SRAM did a better job of covering the tech side, but there were times I really got a feeling that the subtext was "we do it this way, and it's the best way, unlike those OTHER guys (Shimano)". It wasn't really too heavy-handed though, and we did get a lot of useful information in the process.

The only real disappointment, and it was a relatively minor one, was the Avid session. The guy leading it needs to work on his teaching skills I think. For one thing, he really only covered two procedures on one system... bleeding and then pulling apart the lever on a Juicy hydraulic disc brake system. He clearly knew what he was doing, but communicating it to us wasn't as successful, and he ended up not even coming close to using the three hours he had. Kind of unfortunate, and as my first seminar, it wasn't a great start to the event. On the other hand, it was all better after that!

About the only other disappointment with the event itself was the location... it was hosted at a hotel out near the airport in Philly. Like most airports, it puts you way outside of town, in a pretty dreary area. In this case, it probably once was a lovely wetland... now just a vaguely damp and industrial looking swampy area. Ah well, if I had really ached to get into town, there were options, but honestly on Monday night, after spending the day on my feet, I just went back to my room and ordered room service and vegged out.

Park seems to intend to offer this again next year. Depending on timing and what companies participate, I will very likely go again. If nothing else, it's fun to meet and talk to people from shops all over the place. Every bike shop has something unique about it, and it's interesting to see how we all do things.

1 comment:

beth h said...

I remember Calvin. He was one of the instructors at the USCF Race Mechanics Clinic in Co. Springs in 1996. I blew some of my inheritance from Mom going to that event, the only female mechanic out of 50 in attendance (of course); and his was one of the few seminars I actually still use any info from. He's brilliant and VERY funny.