A rider needs a good mechanic to work with, we all know that. I believe a rider needs to feel their mechanic and team are 100% behind them, through good times and bad. Just like in any relationship, knowing this makes you stronger. All the very top teams I rode for made me feel like this (No matter what they really thought of me, lol).
In the early stages of most careers riders don’t get to choose the mechanics they work with. I don’t think it’s a bad thing because until a rider has worked with different types of people and gathered their own experiences, it’s difficult to know what attributes in a crew chief will bring out the best performances in them. By chance, in my first two years in Europe I got to work with Guy Coulon at Tech 3 (1993) and Merlyn Plumlee at Rumi Honda (1994). Being new to world championship racing I didn’t realise these guys were legends. They had worked with many of the world’s very best riders through the 80’s and 90’s. Apart from being two of the most knowledgeable guys in racing, Guy and Merlin had something else in common . They answered all my questions with enthusiasm, care and generosity. This had a huge effect on me and helped me build up my knowledge about racing, the technology we used and etiquette.
One day in spring of 1994 while hanging around the Rumi team workshop near Bergamo- Italy, helping myself to Merlyn’s stunning collection of expensive tools while maintaining my mountain bike and car, and in doing so pushing the “mechanic – rider bond’ to the absolute limit without knowing it, Merlyn patiently answered another of my question’s about racing or engines or chassis in his American accent, while adding his own antidotes and personal experiences to show me why he believed what he did about that subject. When he’d finished talking I asked him “why do you answer my questions so openly and give me everything?” His reply went something like “Simon, the guys that don’t know very much like to protect what little they know. The guys that have experience and are passionate about what they do, enjoy discussing and sharing everything they’ve learnt”.
What Merlyn told me that day has proved right ever since.
I finished 5th in the WSBK championship that year in my first attempt. First non-factory bike. There’s no way we’d have achieved that without Merlyn.
Sadly Merlyn died of lung cancer some years later, but not before I’d replaced his beautiful Snap-on Copper hammer that I damaged while bashing out my car’s ball-joint that spring day in Italy.
RIP Merlyn, and thank you.
Guy Coulon is still working with the same Tech 3 team at the very top of our sport, currently as crew chief for Bradley Smith. Next time you see him and his huge mop of blonde, wooly hair, please give the great man a big thumbs up.. even if it’s on TV.
Lets hope the next generation of mechanic’s are passing on their knowledge to the young riders of today.