How To Make Your Bike Faster With World Cup Mechanic JP Jacobs

by | Jan 9, 2024 | Bike Setup, Bike, Featured, Skills & Setup, Sports

World Cup bike mechanic JP Jacobs shares insights on how to make a race bike, and indeed your bike, as fast as possible.

You may know of JP as the mechanic to Alan Hatherly and Co. on the Cannondale Factory Racing MTB World Cup team. It isn’t a position he slipped into overnight of course, he started his career during high school working in bike shops as a wash boy and unpacking new bikes that arrived in the workshop.

JP’s first major event as a mechanic was the Cape Epic in 2007. In 2009 he completed a course through UBI (United Bicycle Institute) in Portland USA on Shop Operations, and qualified as a DT Swiss Advanced Wheel Builder and Advance Suspension Technician. In 2014 he wrenched at his first MTB World Cup for Jill Kitner and Bryn Atkinson in PMB and then spent some time on the road scene with Team DiData before stepping into full time MTB World Cup mechanic work.

World Cup Mechanic Jp Jacobs On How To Make Your Bike Faster
A pro mechanic’s toolbox is a sacred thing.

While there are some special things going on with the World Cup race bikes we see on TV, there are many lessons to be learned from guys like JP on how to properly care for our own bikes and also how to make them go as fast as possible! We quizzed JP on a few of his secrets and processes to find out what it is that we normal humans can do to our bikes to get some extra speed out of them as well as what his world as a top level mechanic looks like. 

What are some of the key characteristics of a good World Cup mechanic that sets them apart from the rest?

This is a good one! Yes we wrench on bikes and understand them inside out and left to right but our responsibilities are not just on the spanners. You need to be cool and calm and show very little stress in a high pressure environment. Because the riders have enough stress and pressure to deal with already, I find that the mechanics area should be light and have a good energy for the riders to unwind and just be themselves.

World Cup Mechanic Jp Jacobs On How To Make Your Bike Faster
Warning: Content under pressure!

As an example, at the Lenzerheide World Cup in 2017 one of my riders was on the rollers warming up for his Elite race. It was sunny and very hot and the SRAM Guide brakes at that time had an issue where the one seal in the lever would swell up, leaving the pads running up against the rotor of his front brake. I told him to just finish the warm up session and I would meet him at the start line. I had my feed-zone bag with me (containing everything apart from a frame) and as they were calling the riders up I managed to sneak over the barrier with the umbrella. With 2 minutes to go I swapped in the front brake lever of a new unit and set pads just right on the rotor. As I crawled out from the start chute, the gun went off! It’s in these moments where you really need to think clearly and calmly and not add any more stress to the rider’s plate.

One also needs to be forward thinking. I like to have everything and anything ready for when the riders ask. You’re always looking at track conditions and looking at the weather so when something changes you are ready for that situation.

What are some of the unique tweaks that get made to World Cup XC race bikes in search of speed? 

The World Cup bike belongs to me. I only loan it to the rider for the races, haha!

Each rider on the Cannondale Factory Racing team has two bikes. Their Home and Race bikes’ setups are the same and the colours are the same. The only difference is that the race bike is tweaked out a bit extra and kept pristine with all its parts being extra fresh and clean.

World Cup Mechanic Jp Jacobs On How To Make Your Bike Faster
Ultra clean. There is no other option for the World’s best.

In a typical race week, Monday and Tuesday are travel days and truck setup time, building the circus. The Race bike will be pulled apart on Wednesday before course training on Thursday. Bottom bracket, wheels, and suspension all get freshened up, making sure that they are in the best possible state for racing. We’ll even remove factory grease and re-apply race day grease on new parts. These bikes get pulled apart often so we apply just the minimum for a 1h30 race!

The wheels need to be so low on friction that they should stop spinning and then just pendulum on the weight of the valve stem and sealant. The rotor will be straighter than an iron board and suspension so smooth it feels like melted butter. Yes, each mechanic has his own tweaks he will add and at this point, mine will remain confidential, haha 😉

What are 3 relatively simple things that the average rider can do to their bike to make it faster to ride?

1. Clean bike is a happy bike. I’m not saying you should wash it after every ride but moving parts should be free from dust build up. I always say that our job as mechanics is 80% cleaning and 20% fixing. Invest in a good cleaning kit from bike soaps to chain cleaners and then the key apart is the lubing of these parts. RSP does a Hyper Wiper oil for your fork or shock that you drop onto stanchion and cycle the fork or shock, re-lubing the dust wiper. Wiping the lube away afterwards is the key so dust doesn’t get stuck there on the next ride.

Chain lube should be applied the night before riding, a waxed based lube like Ceramic Speed Drip, Smoove, or Squirt is really good for keeping things cleaner but the key is to lube it the night before so the wax can dry and the lube remains between the chain rollers. I like to lube the chain, massage the lube into the rollers and then let it dry. I’ll often then do a second application.

How To Make Your Bike Faster With World Cup Mechanic Jp Jacobs

2. Checking Suspension pressures before every third ride or so will keep the feeling the same and you’ll also then notice when your fork or shock needs a service. A good pre-ride ritual of making sure your tires are set to your riding pressures is great, and same for suspension as mentioned.

You have made the investment to buy the bike of your dreams. If you take the time to look after these bits on your bike they will last longer and you will also notice even the smallest change in your ride, then knowing to get it looked at before it’s too late or super expensive to fix.

World Cup Mechanic Jp Jacobs On How To Make Your Bike Faster
It is all about attention to detail for these guys.

3. Checking the wheels after each ride with a quick spin front and rear, you would easily see if the rotors are bent or dragging. These are quite easy to strike on a rock in the trail or accidentally knock at the coffee shop without noticing. Even though the calliper bolts are torqued to spec, they do move from time to time so making sure they continue to run free is key. The same goes for any other moving part on the bike such as the BB and headset pivots. These small checks before riding will not only make you faster but also safer on the trails!

What do you find most rewarding and most difficult about working as a World Cup Mechanic?

Most rewarding: Getting the result that your rider and you, along with the team, have worked so hard for. The hours on the bike, the time away from family, the lifestyle we lead is not for everyone but on the day that it all comes together ( they don’t come often as there is a lot that needs to fall into place), it feels unreal.

I still get goosebumps thinking back to the day Alan won in Lenzerheide at the 2018 World Champs. From the get go, he and Christopher Blevins made it clear they wanted it and applied pressure early on. The two of them got well away from the rest of the field and stayed together till the very last lap. On the back side of the track, Alan knew he needed to break free from Chris or it would be a line sprint which is a big gamble so he applied the pressure at the right moment and Chris could not respond.

He came through the 2nd feed zone for the last time solo, still needing to do a technical trail cross-eyed before a long right hand turn on the tarmac to seal the deal. No high fives or fist bumps were shared in the feed as we needed to bring it home before we celebrated. I remember falling to my knees with utter joy and pride (and watery eyes) as he crossed the line and lifted his bike as the U23 World Champion. Tim was there to help me up and we got to the podium to celebrate the moment with Alan.

This was a big moment and they don’t come by often but we also celebrate the smaller wins like coming back from injuries or a time where things just don’t click, seeing the riders give it their all every time is worth it alone.

Most difficult: Being away from family and loved ones is no easy task for anyone on the team. The riders and staff all miss home. Yes, it is the lifestyle we have chosen but it doesn’t mean it comes with no sacrifices. We travel a lot and live out our bags for weeks at a time. In between trips I get to come home and when we’re home the team needs us to rest and reset before we go again so I’m very present in the moment and get to spend all my time with my family in between trips, which can make it worth it in the end.

If you could give one bike setup tip to an average joe rider, what would it be?

Understanding your suspension and general maintenance on it. Just as you’ll bleed your brakes from time to time as oil gets hot and the brake starts to feel spongy, the same goes for suspension oil. It will get air in it or break down over time and wont work the same as day one.

I think there are a lot of riders out there that can benefit from a proper suspension set up to keep your tires to the ground and also just knowing how it works. I have several little black books were I keep the setups of all my riders that I have worked with, noting what worked well and what didn’t. By having a record like this you can always go back to base and try again, as long as you have it written down.

In terms of doing your own setup, start with the owners manual BUT use it as a guideline. Do a lap of your trail with those settings and take some notes. Then, change the settings (air pressure, rebound, or compression) by a few clicks one lap at a time and see what feels best.

You can also go to the extremes to see what effect that has, as a bit of a learning experiment. This process is how we get to the base setting for the season and then we’ll go plus or minus on air pressure or rebound clicks depending on the track we’re at. It’s a fun piece of kit and once you have the basic understanding of how to tune it, it will bring so much joy to the trail.

World Cup Mechanic Jp Jacobs On How To Make Your Bike Faster
One well oiled machine, the CFR team.

So those are JP’s words of wisdom. He is a man who has worked hard to get to where is now and known for being one of the best in the business! It’s awesome to be able to get inside his head a little bit and get a few take-home nuggets for ourselves.

JP certainly gives a lot of attention to keeping bikes clean and then staying on top of suspension pressure and tire pressures. Something many of us would do well to follow suit on! One of the most common setup issues we see at the trailhead or local races is suspension that has either been setup poorly or left too long without a re-set and service. It just takes a few attempts to get the hang of it and find the rhythm of maintenance and then you’re on your way with a longer lasting bike and better performance to boot!
For more insights and how-to guides on bike setup, head over here

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