Mountain bike racing requires a helluva lot more than just a bike and a rider, and Joe Binatena, who has been our friend (and dealer) for a long time here at Alchemy, may know that more than anyone. This guy is the staple that holds our bikes (and riders) together. He’s first to the scene when our riders have a mishap with their bike during a race – and knows how to fix equipment oftentimes under the gun of a pit stop. A maven in the industry, we sat down with Joe to discuss his crucial role at Alchemy – and beyond. As he puts it:
“I want to be the person to catch failure before it happens.”
For the audience, Joe, what is your primary involvement with Alchemy?
Well, I have a few layers of involvement with Alchemy. I sponsor Alchemy’s Factory Racing EWS team by providing mechanical support at events. My role is to ensure the bikes are in prime shape before Anneke and Cody take to the courses. As a team, we work with the small setup and tune details that can make huge differences in results in the tight EWS races. I also sell Alchemy at my shop, BikeCo, in Lake Forest, CA. It’s great to work with a cutting edge company like Alchemy. Custom colors, US built options, 27.5 & 29” - Alchemy has a unique business plan that fits well with what BikeCo has been about since 1999, which is to bring the best in MTB to our clients. Working with the team ensures that each Alchemy bike that goes through our shop is dialed in to the highest standards.
What’s a race day like? How do you prepare?
Race days tend to be a bundle of energy for everyone involved. I plan meticulously to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible. My primary goal is to facilitate riders getting down the hill as reliably, and fast as possible. Preparation begins well before the events. We test setups and tunes across a variety of terrain so that when we show up at an event we aren’t caught off guard. I work with Anneke and Cody in the offseason to learn about the race bike’s personality and dial in suspension specifics, cockpit spec, as well as tire pressures. The riders’ feedback is critical to take a bike from “close” to the “ah-ha, that’s it!” moment.
Before we get on a plane we figure out what kind of equipment needs we might face –particularly when it comes to tires. Tires are a big factor in getting down these courses smoothly. Maxxis provides our team with an awesome selection of tread patterns, rubber compounds, and sidewall technologies. This season we have been running Double Down sidewalls on the EWS circuits because the terrain is just insane. Riding at the speeds that Cody and Anneke race – our tires take a beating and the Maxxis tires continue to do their job well. On a weekend race, the first day or two we walk the courses. Athletes are typically looking for race lines but, in my case, I review the trail in terms of equipment requirements. How tight or open is it? Are there chunky rocks? Deep soft dirt? After that, we set bikes up for practice and training. Each rider’s input and riding style is reviewed to fine tune a setup. When I talk to an athlete, I listen for two things: what they’re actually saying and how they tell me the bike is doing. But, I also listen for things they aren’t expressing that will require me to look at certain areas of the equipment to ensure it rides well. As a team mechanic it’s important to keep laser sharp focus and attention to detail because EWS pros are top level athletes who ride fast. This, in turn, stresses equipment to extremes consumers just won’t see and EWS courses are inherently hard on the equipment. It really comes down to this: I want to be the person to catch failure before it happens. Failures can come in bizarre and abstract ways so we fine-tune our bikes and go through all the details. From checking frames, linkage, rims, wheel tension, hubs, suspension, brakes – all the way down to cables/housing conditions. No one wants to shut down a race stage over a frayed cable or cracked ferrule.
Any crazy stories during a race?
Every time we go out! In Chile, a rider clipped their axle on a rock. The rock spun the axle enough that the vibration over the rest of the course and ended up unscrewing the axle from frame. Ultimately, our rider got the bike back to the pits but it required petty extensive work. The most interesting part was how I found out about it the issue. Other riders that entered the pits found me and immediately told me what to expect once our rider came in. Even photographers came up and told me about the situation. It was good to know that the rider was fine. Once I understood where the bike had its issue, I was able to prepare parts and tools I would need prior to the bike being in the pit. You get one 15 minute pit stop in a race. In many cases you have to do a lot of service to keep an EWS bike riding at its top level – and each movement is critical as a mechanic checks over a bike and fixes issues. In this case the heads up that came from other riders made the series of repairs very doable. It’s cool to experience the camaraderie that is so real and intense between these riders through racing. Camaraderie on a race course doesn’t always translate to the general public, but racers truly look out for each other. They really want to make sure that they have safe, clean, and fair races.
In the beginning, was it hard to hyper-focus when you only had 15 minutes to fix or repair a bike in a race?
I’ve been a mechanic since the 80’s, and I’ve worked with athletes at this level since the early 2000’s, so I consider myself well prepared. There’s always pressure to keep a bike dialed in and a racer on time. At some point you become old guy that knows what to do and gets it done. I’m happy to take that on.
What do you enjoy most about working with Alchemy?
Truthfully, it’s the hyper focus that comes from being involved with their racing team. At the end of the day, racing is part promotion but the other part is observing bikes and getting feedback so they can make a better product. It’s a great feeling to be part of this. It’s awesome to be on the cutting edge working with Alchemy, Fox, Enve, Maxxis, and all the other stellar companies involved. Not every company has the capacity to go out, test, and develop at a world level with top athletes like Alchemy does. Frankly – there a lot of “enduro” bikes that would never survive an EWS weekend. Other competitors are onsite simply to survive. Alchemy is out to push the limits and hold themselves accountable while additionally developing product that holds its own with the best out there. I look forward to a strong remainder of the race season with the 2018 Alchemy Factory Racing team!