Shaun Hughes Interview
Posted : 20/06/2017
The job of a modern race mechanic is much more than just cleaning and repairing. A great deal of skill and knowledge is need to get the most out of each rider’s race bike. Shaun Hughes has been a mechanic on the World scene for nine years now. He’s been the man responsible for the bikes of a string of World champions, across many disciplines. We wanted to find out more about the man behind so many successful athlete’s bikes.
First off, some people out there may know you by your most famous nickname – Polar Bear. Can you tell us where that originated and have you got any other nicknames you’d like to share with us?!
The Nickname was something that a buddy of mine gave me a long time ago. In Australia, we have a Rum branded “Bundaberg Rum”, that has a Polar Bear as its Mascot, and we all used to be a big fan of this drink. After a few, my buddy just said “You look like the Bundy Bear! You’re Big, white, and look like a Polar Bear” and the name has just stuck since. I also used to be known as “Clown Shoes” due to my size 14 feet. I’m sure there are a few others buried deeeeeep down there somewhere…
You’re currently working the EWS circuit with the YetI Fox team. But you’ve been a top level mechanic across a number of disciplines. Which discipline do you think presents the most challenges and why?
I have wrenched for Road, XC, DH and Enduro teams over the years, and I would have to say the challenges as a Mechanic in Enduro would be the most frequent and interesting. I think it has to do with the structure of the way Enduro races work. Sometimes there is a tech zone in a pit, sometimes it is remote (Rotorua this year was very interesting,…) and sometimes during the race there is no tech zone and I just have to stress it out and hope that the racers are looking after their gear. DH racing comes a close 2nd, simply due to the amount of gear that gets wrecked on at a DH race, but there is always a pit, or common spot, where the riders finish the track. Sometimes with an Enduro practice day, I can be driving or shuttling for 8hrs, and have to carry every spare to keep the team rolling so they can keep up with practice. Also with Enduro, we are out for an entire day or 2 in the lead to race day, and then the bikes have to be worked on after practice, and before the next day, so it can build up some long hours working in a tech zone, or log cabin, or bathroom of a hotel room, we never really know the exact setup of the next venue.
You’re known as a mechanic who likes to think outside the box and find your own solutions, when there is nothing available in the market place. What would you say is your most original and insightful invention and can you explain it to us?
Well… I can’t really claim anything as my invention, because I’m sure there is someone out there ready to light me up and say they thought of it 1st, and also because I can’t remember every little trinket I’ve made or thought up for a race bike. There was the LH XTR shifter to actuate the dropper post, but I’m sure I wasn’t the 1st for that. Also there are some secrets that just have to stay hidden away for a rainy day…
You’re currently looking after Yeti’s headline rider, Richie Rude. Now Richie’s not the smallest guy and has a hard charging riding style. What are your tricks to ensure Richie’s bike gets to the end of the day in one piece, with air in the tyres?
It's all about attention to detail with any of the team bikes. With Richie, its about that and knowing how he rides and thinking ahead to how the bike is going to react to that. I don’t try and shave any weight off any parts, I make sure the tire and suspension pressure is exactly where it needs to be before he rolls off, and double checking all the bolt torques before a days racing. Things can and will come loose if never checked other than the day you bolt it on. Most good race mechanics have a very keen eye for detail, and a VERY routine set of things they do each and overtime that bike is in the work stand.
Coffee seems to be a very important ingredient for the YetI team. What is the Holy Grail of coffee for you and where do you get it/how do you make it?
Coffee is almost as important to me as my tools. I’m lucky enough to have Loam Coffee supporting my habit. They are a company from Oregon, USA, and make some pretty amazing tasting coffee. I’m a pretty simple Flat White kinda guy, or an espresso if always good. At home I have a pretty Dialled Stovetop coffee maker called the Atomic, which is made in Italy, and strangely enough is only sold out of Sydney Australia. Expensive, but it makes the best coffee.
To mechanic at a high level, it helps to ride at a high level. You’re no slouch on a bike, so tell us what and where is your perfect ride?
I’d love to say I could ride and race with the fast guys, but I’m happy going the speed I’m comfortable with for now. A great part of riding with Richie and Cody a lot is that I get to see what works without having to risk it for myself, and then I can kinda make it up from there. I’m yet to find a ride around the Rocky Mountains in Colorado that I didn’t like. Crested Butte would have to be one of the best places to ride! Also right up there is Derby in Tasmania, Australia, I got to ride a bunch there at the EWS this year and it is seriously fun. Cannot forget to mention Finale Ligure in Italy. That place is amazing. My favourite bike recent is my YetI SB5.5 long travel 29er really suits my height, it just seems to fit me perfectly!
And have you ever dabbled in racing yourself?
Ha, I used to race 4X actually. I had a few big crashes and had some shoulder and knee injuries that stopped me from doing that, and I dabble in the local Enduro’s and have a bit of fun.
You spend a large proportion of the year away from home. What do you like to do in your own time, away from the race scene?
Away from team duties, I still have to pay the bills! I work as a Suspension tech in a Suspension service centre Called Cyclinic in Brisbane Australia. I really love the suspension side of Mountain bikes, so I can get that fix while I’m not travelling. I also have just bought a house with my Girlfriend, and have a dialled workshop to do any repair on our fleet of bikes. My girl rides too, and has more bikes than me! We have 2 Labrador puppies due in December, so I’m sure that will take up a bunch of time too.
The Yeti team have been on Renthal products for five years now. From a mechanic’s perspective, what’s your favourite Renthal product and why?
Even before the team was on Renthal, I’ve always admired the brand. My favourite product is the 35mm clamp, Fatbar Lite Bar, 30mm rise. It looks tough, it’s the perfect width and rise, and it feels just right on my bikes. Other than that, the grip protectors… Keeping my greasy mitts off the clean grips.
And finally, what would be your best tip to improve bike performance, that people may have not thought about?
As a suspension guy, I would have to bring up suspension. I see sooo many badly setup bikes, and it almost always comes down to lack of performance from a poorly maintained fork or shock. They need love, so give it to them. And just because the suspension came with the bike, it doesn’t mean it is well tuned for you personally. Custom tuning suspension is becoming very popular and it makes a big difference!