How To Break Into the Cycling Industry-Santa Cruz Syndicate Head Mechanic Doug Hatfield
As the lead mechanic of one of the most successful World Cup downhill mountain bike teams, the Santa Cruz Syndicate, Doug Hatfield is an incredibly accomplished mechanic. He’s wrenched for world champions in both cross country and downhill racing while traveling all over the world. How does a normal guy go from being a mechanic at the LBS to working on some of the most lust worthy bicycles in the industry? Read on to find out.
BIKERUMOR: Who are you and what are you doing here?
My name is Doug Hatfield, and I have worked for Santa Cruz Bicycles for almost 10 years now, and have been in charge of team support for the Santa Cruz Syndicate race program going on 6 seasons now. For the past 5 seasons I have done the team equipment orders, helped with planning and worked as a mechanic for the riders. We do a lot of races during a season and our main focus is on DH World Cup racing. Sounds simple, but a huge amount of time and effort goes into this job.
BIKERUMOR: What was your first job or experience in the cycling industry? How did you “break” in?
I guess the experience came before the job…….When I was younger back in the 1960’s the bikes we had to choose from were a little more limited than now a days. Mountain bikes that we know now didn’t exist, we rode trails in the hills on the bikes that we had. Bicycles weighed quite a bit more back then as well. I was lucky to have access to my neighbor’s lot with piles of old bikes, most that didn’t run. My friends and I created a lot of cool and different bicycles out of that lot which resembled the mountain bikes we ride today.
This led to my first bicycle shop job in the 1970’s where I worked for a family owned business with two shops, Beach Park Bicycles in Foster City and the other was Taraval Cyclery in San Francisco, California. Then I was hired at another shop in my home town of San Mateo California called Talbots and we introduced custom built off road bicycles with gears. The word “mountain bike” hadn’t arrived yet. These bikes we called “cruiser bikes” and some people called them “clunkers”. I got to grow up with the evolution and technology of bicycles that we now know today.
BIKERUMOR: What’s your educational background?
Graduated from high school and did a couple years of college thinking I would major in geology, and oceanography. During this time I also took welding and woodworking classes at night and with my college courses.
BIKERUMOR: After that first experience/job, what was the path to your current position?
Well I didn’t go for the degree in college after all. I got a good paying job up in the mountains of Colorado at a cabinet shop. This was in the late 1970’s and a bicycle race called the Red Zinger was happening at the time. I met a lot of people and the race then became the Coors Classic. I quit the cabinet shop job and got back into working in a bicycle shop called Pierre’s Bicycle and Ski Chalet in Dillon, Colorado.
This happened to be the area where Jonathan “Jock” Boyer trained for the Coors Classic and his first Tour de France. He became friends with the shop and we did quite a lot of service for him when he was in town. We built his race wheels and tuned his bikes, and then he won the Coors Classic in 1980. It was an honor to be able to help him out. At Pierre’s Bicycle and Ski Chalet we also offered custom built off road bicycles for our customers and people started calling them “mountain bikes”. We then started selling major brand mountain bikes and it became a big business for the shop. During this time mountain bike racing became popular and I enjoyed racing the sport as well. I was already racing as a Cat 2 road racer and then started racing pro in mountain bike cross country events.
Fast forward a bit, and in 1991 I took part in the USCF race mechanic clinic at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Now it is USA Cycling’s Bill Woodul race mechanic clinic. This was really the big step in the path that I have taken. I had never been out of the U.S. and now I would become a world traveler. I was asked to work at the Olympic Training Center as a race mechanic and then became the manager of team support for the US National Cycling Team. After that I took a job with GT Bicycles and was in charge of support and mechanics for the “Team GT” mountain bike team. This job lasted until GT went bankrupt in 2001, then I switched to Team Mongoose doing team support and also worked as the mechanic. All this has led me to where I am at now.
BIKERUMOR: What is a normal day for you?
I almost always ride my bicycle to and from work when working at Santa Cruz Bicycles. The beauty of my job is things never really stay the same and are always evolving. When not gathering up equipment for the team, there are always projects that need to be done. When its time to travel I am usually the “Sherpa” who travels with equipment, and we hardly ever pack light. Airport check-ins can be pretty hectic in this day of age with bikes and equipment. We do try to ship things in advance as well. The hardest part about the job is getting everything ready so we can be organized when we get to the races. Finally, when I’m at the races, and we have our pit set up, things usually fall into place if all the homework has been done.
BIKERUMOR: What are the highlights of your job?
Working with different people whether they are top pros or just casual riders and setting up their bikes so they are comfortable and most efficient to ride, this is a highlight for me. Everyone has a different position and getting it right for them is satisfying. Helping our riders achieve success at the races is always very rewarding. Working with all the new products that are available is great. Sometimes people will ask for my ideas to help product development. Getting to ride bikes and explore different places in the world is pretty cool. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years now. I still like to travel; it’s always an adventure for me.
BIKERUMOR: What could you do without?
I try not to think about negative things but sometimes they do pop up along the way and we have to be ready when they do. Injuries, crime, disrespect – these are things we can do without. I don’t think we need to go too far into this subject.
BIKERUMOR: What advice would you give to someone looking to follow your path today?
I believe the job is truly unique and a good start would be getting shop experience, learning to help people and to be a problem solver. Go to some bicycle races; watch the rider’s race and the people who work at the races. It takes lots of planning and a lot of work to put on a successful event. Also attending the USA Cycling Bill Woodul Mechanics Clinic would be a good direction. This clinic does not teach people how to be bicycle mechanics, but how to apply their mechanic skills to the world of bicycle racing. There is so much to learn that doesn’t just include being a good mechanic. Have fun and ride your bicycle whenever you can.