For the love of the sport
Wrenching with EF Education-EasyPost mechanic JJ Steyn
Every morning when he is on the road, Jac-Johann Steyn is up at dawn and ready to work long into the night, cleaning, checking, and adjusting every component on our riders’ bikes.
Prologo saddles are set to the micro-millimetre. Brake pads need to be fresh, shifting crisp, bearings smooth. The pull on each rider’s brake levers has to be exactly how he wants it—whether JJ is working past midnight or not. Gear ratios are optimised for each race. The pressures in the racers' Vittoria tyres are dialled in to the decimal point. Bar tape must look brand new.
For JJ and his fellow mechanics, those are points of pride.
“You have to have a passion for it,” JJ says. “That is what gives you the drive to keep doing the work and stay focused, because you don’t know; maybe this bike you’re working on is going to win tomorrow. That is something that always means a lot to us mechanics, because then we know the job was well done, and the rider will be happy.”
JJ was a rider himself, so he knows how important it is to race on a well-running machine. He started when he was ten in his native South Africa, first on mountain bikes, before moving over to the track and the road. He and his dad would tinker on his bicycles in their garage. Having his bike in order gave JJ the confidence he needed to get the best out of himself.
“I always wanted to know what was going on with my bike,” he says, “so if something would happen to my bike I could fix it. I’ve always been someone who works with his hands.”
I’ve always been someone who works with his hands.”
As a young racer, JJ progressed through the ranks in Africa. To keep going, he would have had to try in Europe, a move which was too expensive for his family at the time. Still, he wanted to stay in the sport he loved, so he got a job wrenching for the World Cycling Centre Africa. That’s how he first came into contact with professional teams. He did some work for a local Continental squad. Then, Team Drapac asked him to work a few races for them in South Africa. In 2017, JJ got the email from EF Education-EasyPost’s head mechanic that changed his life.
I still remember the subject,” he says, “It was, ‘“Update. Where are you at? What are you doing?’” It was a big chance. That’s how I started.”
JJ has since got to see the big professional races up close and personal. He works them from the team car. It’s his job to relay crucial information to the director. Who is in the break? Who is chasing? What is the time gap? If any of our riders run into mechanical troubles, JJ has to jump out of the car and fix their bike in a few seconds while television cameras watch.
“The adrenaline rush is just so good,” he says, “and you are out in nature with the spectators. I think that is the big thing I love about cycling.”
When he does have time off, and gets to spend a few days in his new hometown of Girona, JJ still likes to get out and ride his bike himself. That makes him better at his work.
“It helps you understand the bike better,” he says, “And if a rider says something about this or that, you can almost puzzle it together and see what solution you can come up with to fix the problem, which helps a lot.”
But soon, he is ready to hit the road. JJ’s job involves long, hard days—weeks spent away from friends and family—but he loves it. He’ll work past midnight to make sure every detail of a rider’s bike is just right, because the next day the rider might just win on it.
“Each race is a different story,” JJ says. “If I think back to the Vuelta last year with Magnus. That was quite special. Bettiol’s Flanders win was one of the best moments of my career so far. And my first Tour was extraordinary. You get to go to the biggest races in the world and work for champions.”
For JJ, that makes it all worth it.