Brandon Hirokawa is no stranger to bicycles
Brandon Hirokawa is the Owner / CEO / President of Hirobel Cycling Solutions. You may of seen or heard of the Hirobel Frame Clamp.
We wanted to know a bit more about Brandon so here we go!
How did you get started in the cycling industry?
I hung out a Pauli's Bicycle and Lawn almost everyday for a year trying to learn what I could from the head mechanic. I was one of the few kids during the late 80's that was interested in bicycles rather than skateboards. Finally the owners wife gave me a job. Then I spend the next year cutting my teeth on Schwinn Sprnts and Aerodynes... the sight of that gold exercise bike makes me sick to this day!
What exactly is Hirobel?
Hirobel is a company with the mindset of innovation. Marc Bellet and I started the company with six solid products. We started off with the Frame Clamp because it would make the biggest immediate impact on how mechanics work today.
We ask everyone, because inquiring minds want to know. What is your favorite tool?
Using the Craftsman Portable Inflator with a Silca Hero Pump Head has been great for the last couple years... it's a time and arm saver at large events.
We understand that you get to visit a fair share of bicycle shops, what are you seeing that's good and what are you seeing that's bad?
I am seeing more space opening up for service or multi-use space being used for trainer events, fitting and even in-shop clinics. I have been more mobile service platforms or shop owners thinking about adding a mobile aspect to their brick and mortar shop.
On the flip side I'm seeing too many shops searching for the magic bullet to optimize their business. They aren't seeing that an optimized store layout, skilled mechanics and a functional service department are a golden goose. I have seen several shops spending a lot money in the service department to make it look amazing with new benches, tools, flooring and equipment, but pay the mechanics minimum wage and expect an instant return on investment.
Invest in people (mechanics) first! The IBD's that don't get it may soon have the best looking showroom floor at the local commercial auction!
How important do you think service will be in the future?
As direct sales become more popular with industry brands and big-box / e-retailers are growing... service will eventually become the cornerstone of the bicycle retail industry. Once those companies offering direct sales have time to realize thee is no amount of pre-box assembly that will replace a skilled mechanic, they will need points of service they can count on.
I do think both direct sales companies and "Service Oriented" IBD's will eventually be more integrated to the delivery of safe bicycles to the end users.
We heard you were back to riding again, What's your bike of choice?
I powder coated by Cannondale CAAD8 and put Shimano Ultegra Di2 on it. It's one fo the frames that I will never get rid of because it was built with a longer top tube back when Cannondale could whip out custom frames pretty fast!
When talking to mechanics, what are you hearing about the challenges they are facing?
I think being taken seriously as a skilled workforce is a big challenge. As bicycle service becomes more complicated the need for skilled labor will increase.
Unfortunately I see a lot of the really talented mechanics go to different industries so they can make a living wage.
What are the characteristics of a great mechanic?
Being able to communicate effectively would be first on my list. Be open to new ideas or products. Being able to see past the fad and recognize true innovation. Pay attention to the details. Details are very important to getting customers back in the door!
The Hand Dyno is essential to awesome suspension
Anthony Trujillo is no stranger to the wrench, working for major suspension manufacturers since the late 90's he's been in the trenches and now produces tools for mechanics with an emphasis on suspension.
How did you get started in the cycling industry?
I obtained my BS in Mechanical Engineering from California State University (Chico) in 1997 and focused most of my efforts for an entry level position in outdoor sports from golf to bike racks. I lucked out having a friend who was doing a summer internship at FOX in the Powersports Division which he had no interest in pursuing. He gave my info to the Engineering Managers for Off-Road/Bike and Powersports and I went on two-bike ride interviews at the end of '97 and was hired in early '98. I spent the first year and a half in the Powersports division and then transferred to the bike department after a managerial shakeup.
Bikes on dirt have always been my #1! Thanks to older brothers, I was thrown on the BMX track when I was like 5, in 1977. Growing up with older cousins and uncles who liked 4x4 camping trips, I grew up happily getting dirty, wheelin', and riding dirt bikes. I think it was 1986 when I got my first mountain bike. I focused in on suspension while I was getting my degree because it seemed the hardest and best use of the degree in the cycling industry. Despite some serious downs, I've been grateful and stoked for most all of my cycling industry experiences.
You have worked (or done work) for some major brands, tell us about the various roles and how they build upon one another.
Yeah, I've seen and done a bit too much to cover it all! It's been a blessing and a curse what I've seen and done. Starting my career as an entry level mechanical engineer with close to nine years at FOX allowed me to grow and learn in an environment that required me to wear many hats supporting multiple departments. I took care of BOM's (a complete build list for a product consisting of all the individual parts, SKU's sourcing...), generated 2-D drawings for all the departments, and was the resident IT guy during the first few years, then adding on circuit and chassis design once in the bike department.
I remember well when FOX bicycle rear shocks were only OEM and still have the internal document communicating to the company that hiring Mike McAndrews (you can read "Mick's" interview by clicking his name) did not mean fox was going into the fork business... HAHA Right!
The direct hands-on experience I had with manufacturing and production departments under the same roof was invaluable. Working directly with Bob Fox, Mick and John Marking wasn't so bad either. For most of my time at FOX, there were only two of us engineers for shocks and two for forks. I learned a lot from those others guys!
Specialized (SBC) had been working on their integrated suspension department for just a couple years before I was brought over to that amazing team. Mick at the lead with Brian Lampman working solely on SBC forks and Fernando Hernandez as in-house machining and suspension technician. I came in to essentially fix the SBC brand shocks and design/develop new ones. It was an amazing opportunity to work with a completely new clean slate and with frame engineers. The micro brain chassis and circuit layout for the Epic is something I'm quite proud of and which SBC still uses today.
SBC was my full court press experience working with Taiwan for manufacturing and production. It was great to be on the OEM side of the fence to understand that perspective from one of the major bike companies. These experiences helped me later wearing a sales hat for X Fusion (XF) and Marzocchi.
X Fusion is another suspension name that many readers will recognize. Tell us about your time there.
My time at X Fusion was a result of a long history with them as a supplier for parts to FOX and being the sole supplier to the SBC brand of shocks. Their products had slowly improved over a decade and after raising their quality level while at SBC, I was happy to work with them and help move their product to a higher level. It was great to provide them with a new look and line of shocks and improve their forks so they could compete in the higher end market. I am most proud of designing the Vector Air DH shock while at XF.
Tell us about OSO, how did this come about?
I started Off Street Only (OSO) in ’11 as a sole proprietor in an attempt to take what I learned from FOX, SBC, and XF to support anyone who would hire me. It did work out for the most part quite well for six years! It was the last four years contracting for FOX, while super grateful, I was banging my head against the wall seeing what products were coming out from all the companies in the mtb industry. The marketing seemed to be above the engineering in many cases and, along with other factors, I had that building energy of ‘WTF, do your own products already!’ and I just couldn’t ignore it any longer. That, plus the timing of my long-time friend and ex-coworker, Vincent Chen, asking me to get in the bike biz with him. He’s the owner/founder of Racing Bros out of Taiwan and they are doing quite well on the Powersports side of things. Together I expect we can produce what we know can be achieved with our coupled experience. I decided to take the leap and go all in and incorporated OSO in ’17.
OSO is still new with much more to come. Currently the Global Headquarters are happily my garage! Right now we have a range of fork and shock dyno's that are designed to make suspension work easier at the manufacturer, service and shop levels.
What's so special about a shock dyno? Why would a shop want to invest in one?
This is something I took for granted, a shock hand dyno is pretty much a must have for every suspension company's R&D lab and production line. With a trained arm, you can quickly and easily diagnose a shock for errors and or check that it was built correctly. You will see every service center and suspension race trailer with one too. I understand if a shop doesn't do air sleeve maintenance, they might not be interested in one for the service area.
If they do, and want to do a good shock review and ever get into the damper, they would need a hand dyno. Having the shock on a dyno allows you to feel any issues without it being masked by tires, linkage, drivetrain and awkward seat pushes. The shock dyno will also last a long time. My plan is to update mounts to fit new products as they become available. Having used many variations of a hand dyno for two decades, I thought it was best to offer my own designs to the masses.
What's your favorite tool... you can't say a hand dyno!?
Oh... easy. Digital caliper. I am always reaching for my calipers. Whether I'm designing parts on my computer or putting parts together in the lab. Always within reach to either measure something or gain a visual reference on a feature.
***PBMA Technical Workshops registration now includes an entry to win a Shock Hand Dyno from Anthony and OSO... click here for details***
His brass hammer is like an appendage
Mike McAndrews is a well known name in the bicycle suspension world. One of the original pioneers of a sprung fork... He now works at Specialized Bicycles as the Director of Suspension Technology and has been "kicking" bicycle tires for 25 years now.
So how did you get started in the bicycle world?
I was working in the motorcycle industry and has a lot of experience in shock absorber technology, so when the suspension boom hit the cycling industry, Paul Turner (founder of RockShox) had offered me a position to help him manage his R&D team at RockShox. I was ready for a change and jumped at the opportunity.
Motorcycle industry... what was that about? I was a Race Mechanic for the Kawasaki Factory Team for 10 years, after that I ran my own motorcycle suspension business.
We love research and the internet is amazing, we found your name associated to 7 or so patents specific to cycling and suspension. Tell us about the one related to "Fork Suspension with Variable Hydraulic Damping"... this was during your RockShox days.
Yes, in the early days of MTB suspension, a few of us came over from the Off-Road Motorcycle world and helped drive some of the early designs based on what we knew from motorcycles.
It didn't take too long to figure out that the application for a human powered vehicle has unique challenges. The Variable Damping patent was my first attempt at trying to get a damping system that would provide firm damping for good chases control (pedaling) while having a better curve for bump control, deeper in the travel. Ultimately this design lead me into the inertia valve system we call the Brain today.
So now you work at Specialized overseeing a team of folks focused on suspension. Tell us about some of the daily activities you and your team conduct.
The primary responsibility of the group I manage is to align the ride dynamics of a given bike design with the vision of the product managers. To accomplish this, we'll do whatever it takes... from designing a complete shock (as we do for the Epic) or simply working with the test engineers at a company like Fox to alter the ride dynamics of their design to align with the overall bike performance goals (and everything in between).
A lot of time is spend quantifying the ride performance using data acquisition and experienced rider feedback on a variety of controlled test sections in the field. From there we analyze the data, determine the modifications needed, measure the changes again on the shock absorber dyno... and then re-test in the field. We run this cycle anywhere from 1-2 times to 10 times, it all depends on the scope of a particular project.
Some first hand knowledge and other interview suggest that you've had some rock-star folks work for you over the years. What made these individuals stand out / what made them special?
In my experience, people who excel in a given role are the ones that have followed their passion(s). They love what they do and they love being the best at what they do. When I have people like that in my group, the best thing I can do is give them guidance when needed and get out of their way! As advice, I'd say don't be afraid to follow your passions even as they change...you'll love what you do...and the chances are, you'll be really good at it!
When looking for an employee, what are three characteristics (or qualities) you look for during the hiring process?
Assuming the person has the skills and experience needed for a specific position:
It's a toss-up, between my 3/8" drive Snap-on speed handle and my very old Proto brass hammer. In my race mechanic days, we didn't have the battery power impact guns, so the speed handle was vital to getting the work done quickly between motos and the brass hammer I've been knocking the shit out of stuff for almost 40 years with it... it's like an appendage.
A video interview with the head Friar at Abbey Bike Tools
A second installment to a series of video interview within our industry features Jason Quade. Jason is no stranger to many in our community so we encourage you to take a watch or listen and hear from the man in his own words.
Looking for other PBMA video content? Check us out here!
Development for Everyone
Mike Reisenleiter is the main man behind Winged Wheel Development. He's taking his diverse cycling industry background and applying what he's learned to help others excel.
So how do you get started in the biz?
When I was barely a teenager, I was fortunate enough to have a couple of close friends introduce me to mountain bikes. We weren't called "groms" yet, but that's exactly what we were. We would hang out at the local bike shop, ride lots and dream about bikes.
I had my first job when I was 12, then worked in my first bike shop when I was 16. When I was in college, most of my time was either spent riding, running a bike-trials focused website, or working on bikes at Johnny Sprockets in Chicago. I was working on portfolio reviews in school and realized I really enjoyed working at the shop so much more.
After a lot of thought I decided to see where my love of bikes could take me for the rest of my life!
What exactly is Winged Wheel, and how did it get started?
Winged Wheel is a business dedicated to giving bicycle retailers the same tools and techniques used by the best businesses in the world. I started Winged Wheel because I believe that the world is better when communities have a local hub for bicycles; and I believe there is no better hub than locally focused retailers.
At the same time, two important ideas converged in my mind:
I've heard countless stories about retails who felt they were working harder than ever to make the same (or less) income. But as I looked at the likely future landscape of retail, I say a very unique opportunity to bicycle retailers to thrive in a way that other retailers simply couldn't... so I founded Winged Wheel to share that vision and build a nation of successful retailer. Those who focus on the customer experience, bicycles service and community engagement.
Tell us about your background that landed you a 12 year career at SRAM.
Over 12 years, but who's counting... I started at SRAM before SRAM offered trigger shifters! When I left SRAM I held the position of Global Warranty Manager. Prior to that I worked in sales and marketing with a focus on dealer interactions.
I ran such programs at SRAM STU (SRAM Technical University) and SRAM's Ride Experience in addition to various events, programs and projects. When I first started the job was based in dealer service. I was answering technical questions for dealers and flying out to support the race truck at NORBA (pre-USA Cycling) races. This was right after SRAM had acquired RockShox in 2003. At that time, my skillset was a good base of technical and communication skills, plus a heap of ambition. Because I had been working in customer service and technical jobs, they gave me a chance despite my age (I was only 22). I had been a lead mechanic at Johnny Sprockets in Chicago and Ed Nasjleti (you can read about Ed here) walked in one day to drop off a part that we needed from SRAM. That connection got my friend Craig a job at SRAM and I joined a few months later.
When traveling you visit shops... what's going on out there?
It is wild to think about how many retailers I've visited. Over the last decade I've probably visited around a thousand retailers on five continents! Lately, the good things I've been seeing revolve around adaptation to the best parts of technological advances. Retailers capitalizing on consumer excitement around eBikes, retailers utilize online booking / scheduling for rentals, tours and services. Retailers who have worked to dial-in their inventory management through open-to-buy planning, auto re-order and so on. Additionally, I've met lots of retailers who see challenges as opportunities and that is really inspiring: one of my favorite retailers went through the hell of an IRS audit, but came out on the other side knowing more about his business than ever before!
On the other side, I've seen many retailers who don't have a bias to action...and worst of all: have engrained that into their culture. I've seen retailers that don't greet customers, that show bravado instead of humility, that don't cherish every customer they have like a family member. These are all death rattles, but can all be undone. Winged Wheel has a service on the site called "Retailer Nightmare" and we can help you right these wrongs.
What does the future bicycle shop look like through your eyes?
I see it as a community focused hub that helps customers live a cycling lifestyle. A place where the customer's name is known, their experiences honored and their needs exceeded. It is a place where consumers are happy to pay full price, feel well served by the retail team and advocate passionately by word-of-mouth. These retailers already exist today and are thriving.
Give us seven words to summarize the future of service.
How about two seven word answers:
You knew we'd ask... favorite tool?
A fresh Bondhus 5mm L-bend allen with a ball end. There is probably no other tool that is so effective on so many fasteners on so many bikes... ok and Wikipedia, the best mechanics don't know everything but they know where to find the answer and information they need.
Do your homework, vote with your dollars
B Vivit is an experienced industry veteran, she is currently an instructor at United Bicycle Institute. B wears many hats like all the instructors at UBI spending time teaching as well as helping manage their social media and marketing. How she got there is an interesting journey including her time at UBI as a student thanks to a QBP Scholarship.
So, how did you get started in the cycling industry?
I do not like driving. And believe it or not, I was so poor for a second that even bus fare sometimes seemed like a luxury[even if waiting for the bus wasn't]. I saved up the few bits I could manage and bought my first used road bike and used that to get around everywhere, and the South Bay Area was NOT bike friendly, wide roads but fast speed limits.
I was working for the footwear department at Sports Basement in the Bay Area, and instead of asking the other staff at my store to fix my bike, I asked for a transfer to the bike department to learn the industry and to start to learn for myself. After a couple years of struggle, I found a mentor that really went out of his way to help me.
Tell us about your current role and how you got there.
LOONG story short, you could say that I started as a bike commuter and then worked my way to Bicycle Mechanics Instructor and Framebuilding support at United Bicycle Institute. I asked a lot of questions, read everything I could get my hands on, and used up a lot of my breaks and days off to learn as much as possible. Eventually my experience managing other departments paid off in my ability to manage a department full of people who knew more than I did about bicycle maintenance.
I relied heavily on my mechanics but slowly gained the knowledge to do-it-myself, while helping turn a non-profitable shop into a profitable one. I went back to school for metal fabrication and with a lot of help from Jon Stynes(City and County Bicycle Shop, SF, CA) I felt comfortable enough to be a full service mechanic. I left Sports Basement and during that summer took the Paul Brodie fabrication course in British Columbia. I moved over to Huckleberry Bicycles and they supported me through the QBP Women's Bicycle Mechanic Scholarship course at UBI. 2016-2017 (read more about B's UBI Scholarship and time at UBI at the bottom of this interview) was very packed with good things. I was back to school learning metal fabrication. The fab industry is another place where women struggle for recognition.
After aaalllll of that, I got back to San Francisco, and looked around at my life. I'd accomplished some major goals that I'd set for San Francisco, my degree, moving forward in my career... I had momentum. After a few interviews with other bicycle companies and a stormy, fearful, overnight drive to Ashland for an interview with my former teachers; Matt (Eames) called to tell me that I got the job.
What challenges have you faced being a female mechanic?
My mother was actually the one who instilled a firm belief that I should learn to maintain the things that I own, by myself. As a single mom, she had been battling to make sure that my brother and I were self-sufficient, and that we had the tools and skills to handle whatever we could. Being from the first wave in the tech industry, she told me that because I was a woman most places of the mechanical or scientific sort would try to take advantage of the fact that I wasn't expected to know anything. She wasn't wrong.
My road to UBI is littered with people who assumed(and told me) that because of my gender, I didn't have the qualifications to do this job. I still do. I try to focus on the things and people that make me happy, let the rest roll off. We still have a culture that thinks women should not be treated on an equal playing field. While vocal when I feel I have a soapbox, my ethic is still to put my head down and work. I think every woman in the science, fabrication, and engineering industry has exceptionally thick skin. Some days, though, it still gets to me. I have to remember that I am thankful for the mentors that have taken their time to show me, the ones that held space for me, for the women who came before and the women who are still fighting for equality. The ones who made my journey even a little bit easier. I hope I can pass that on.
How do you feel about industry diversity? What needs to change? How do you feel the PBMA can help affect that change?
There are 2 major ways I think that the industry can change for the better.
And I think we are seeing a tiny, tiny, tiny bit of change. Mostly because companies are realizing that they are missing out on profits by excluding certain demographics(duh!). And those demographics are becoming VOCAL. They, and their allies, are asking to be included and calling out those who casually exclude or insult them. And also because there isn't any more room in this economy for shops who can't get past their own egos to help people.
Increasingly I'm calling on everyone in the industry to do your homework and vote with your dollars. For all you folk out there, keep on keepin' on, and reach out to those who show you kindness. Show it back and stay in touch. We all need each other.
I'm in the education side now, so of course I will say that I think more mechanics need to value education in their lives. But I also think that education takes many forms. Rarely in our line of work does it mean reading a book and taking a test. But sometimes it means actively looking for torque values, practicing an adjustment multiple times, or completing S-TEC modules. Sometimes it means calling your local rep for the information, or taking a vacation that includes a clinic. The test-in real time-is always, 'Can I make it work better(without breaking it the first time)?'
PBMA has created clinics for furthuring the industry and has stepped up in a big way to create the title "professional" bike mechanic and to really ask us(as an industry) what that means. We have an increasingly technical industry that the rest of the world doesn't really acknowledge as a skillset; we have to evolve with it.
If you had to hire a mechanic or two, what type of qualifications or traits are you looking for?
I have hired mechanics, and I have also fired them. Sometimes it depends on who I need. The specific skillsets and how fast I need them. Suspension mechanics were always in high demand.
Honestly though, as a manager, I was always willing to train someone who was ready to learn. Someone who 'plays well with others.' Enthusiasm for the sport, but specifically for the technical side. Someone who took initiative to find some initial information all by themselves. Seriously, take the initiative to do what you can, until you do get recognized.
You have to pick a goto snack. What is it?
Coconut rice bars(vegan if you omit bacon); based off a Filipino recipe my dad taught me but handed down from my Grandma. I make them myself because even though I use pre-packaged food, I get tired of it. I cook some rice with coconut milk and sugar in the rice cooker until sticky(until the rice is cooked) and then put it into a cake pan. Top with brown sugar, or slices of banana, or squeeze of lime, and sometimes already-cooked bacon; and set it in the oven. Let cool and wrap in foil or wax paper and they are good to go!
B Vivit talks more about her opportunity to attend UBI via the QBP Scholarship...
The QBP Women's Scholarship 2017 was an absolute dream. I'm teary-eyed even thinking about how that changed my life. I spent the first three years after the first QBP Scholarship happened (it wasn't til 2017 that I received it) building my resume and focusing on how I could give back in whatever way possible, without the knowledge to do so; throwing rides, sponsoring coed and women's teams, throwing events that benefited the WCA, etc.
UBI was a space that was dedicated to the education of everyone inside of it. And we were THERE. The Ashland instructors, Matt and Nathan(and sometimes Rich), focused on giving us as much of the material as we could handle. Every night consisted of a dozen or so blue binders, a big table, page markers, highlighters, lots of conversation, and sooo much studying. Denise, Ron, and Lynn made sure that we were taken care of outside of the classroom, making sure we knew where to eat and buy food; gluten free, vegan, and all. Kaitlin and Seth (QBP) flew all the way out to Ashland to make us all feel like rockstars. And of course all the sponsors that sent us things to start off a new leg of our careers.
The women I met were absolutely incredible. Every single person in the scholarship was driven. They had goals, and had already set about trying to implement them. There were folx who'd been in the industry for decades and a few who were fresh; non-profit, for-profit; old, young; pink, yellow, brown, olive, blue, and purple; but what we all had in common was a goal specifically to further our communities (whether by providing the best possible customer service, or by creating new opportunities through non-profits). I still talk to most of them. A few have dropped off the map, but usually in the best possible way; by keeping themselves busy with those goals and dreams that we spent each night talking about. It's truly a dream now to watch them all achieve the things they aimed at.
Over the weekend Nathan - who lives a triple/quadruple life as a local pro enduro rider, a dedicated father of two children and husband, as well as his full-time instructing role at UBI and a moonlighting product designer - took us on a mountain bike ride in the Ashland watershed (also an awesome place to mountain bike ANY time and definitely a destination). During that ride, I crashed hard and even took Kaitlin from QBP down with me![Sorry Kaitlin!] I still remember coming back from pain to see Rich bent over me, trying to tell bad jokes to get me to laugh through my bruised ribs, and Kelly Paduch (also a student of the scholarship) using her nurses training to help me turn over. Lynn, from UBI, happened to be driving by and she ferried me to the hospital. After an afternoon in the ER and a catscan, they held me for 3 days with a tear to my liver and a bruise to my pancreas. Over the rest of that weekend, a few girls came to visit, and we hatched a plan to stream the class into my hospital room, so I could at least listen to the lectures, then catch up on the hands-ons. Which Matt and Nathan were super on it about helping me complete. Nathan, Rich, and Matt called me pretty much every day to check-in; and Ripley(Nathan's son) along with Nathan, stopped by to give me a new helmet so I could keep riding when I got home. Above and beyond!
I know I just spend a few minutes of your time telling you about the extras in my experience during the scholarship. But that's because the education was everything you could expect from an institution that has made it their mission to educate an ever-evolving industry for over thirty-five years. An institute that has slowly and surely rolled along trying to create a more professional experience across the board in the industry and to make sure that as a professional bicycle mechanic, the title was one to be earned through study, practice, and effort. And just as important: your gender, your sexuality, your ethnicity, your nationality, etc. are not barriers to the information being passed down. The manual[which is created by the instructors] contains everything to educate a fairly novice mechanic on 90% of the industry; the instructors have the tips, tricks, and answers of decades in the industry, watching the evolution of bike components and companies; and the facilities and hands-on education are clean and well-thought out. It's the education that I would've felt good about paying for, and a lot of times I don't feel that way about my bachelors degree, had I been able to[again, a luxury].
I've already taken too much of your time but suffice to say that without this experience, I definitely wouldn't be where I am today, and I may not even be entertaining that there was anything beyond struggle, financial and cultural, in this industry.
Magura USA Oil Man Jude Monica
We're excited to share our first ever video interview. Jude Monica from Magura USA talks brakes, training and travel. If you've never met this "Oil Man" yourself and you see him at an event make the effort!
Ed Benjamin is what many would consider and eBike expert
Ed provides consulting services and technical training on eBikes. He also conducts studies and provides reports on the eBike industry. Ed says "the bike business is a good place to spend a lifetime. The money is poor, but the people (co-workers, customers) are great. And with electric bikes... we all face a bright future."
Ed got started in cycling like so many of us... "as a kid, I used a bike to go everywhere, and this continued into high school. I was the only nerd in my HS that rode a bike to school every day. My first job (1969), I was working at McDonalds, when a co-worker arrived on a very, very sweet bike (Raleigh Professional MK-1) and I learned that there was such a thing as bicycle racing."
This led to a State Champion title a little later, and a job in a bike shop for $1.00 per hour! That led to more shop jobs that supported me through college and beyond. Eventually my family and I owned and operated Benjamin Cyclery, a 4-store chain in SW Florida. We were at various times a Trek top 25, BDS top 100 and a Schwinn Presidents Club store.
You've owned a shop, you've hired mechanic. What qualities do you look for when you hired a mechanic?
In the decades that I operated a store there were few "trained" mechanics (Schwinn Factory Training was about the only school) and we rarely found experienced bike mechanics to employ. So we expected to train on the job and that meant we wanted good people, not so much experience. I found that the best source of good people was to listen to my existing team for ideas and referrals. Honest, reliable, friendly and genuinely interested in doing a good job.
You've worked in the eBike part of the industry for a long time. How did that come about?
I was fascinated by the idea of combining human (high torque meat machines with low endurance) with electric power (lower torque electrical machines with high endurance) on a bicycle. In 1994, this was a new idea, just gaining traction in the Japanese domestic market. Maybe only a couple of bikes offered in the USA - not very good ones.
One of my customers Dr. Frank Jamerson PhD was also interested, and kept bringing eBikes into my Naples store for assembly and repair. So when he asked me to travel to China and do some research on the eBike market for him - it was great good fortune for me. That led to me starting my consulting company in 1996.
What is LEVA and how did it get started?
In 1998, most of the existing USA eBike companies formed the Electric Cycle Association. It failed to get off the ground, largely because the first (and only) treasurer "lost" most of our funds. So the idea existed, and some of us cooperated as though we were a formal association until 2008 when Sid Kuropchak and I formalized and funded the Light Electric Vehicle Association, today we have about 300 members representing 30 countries, and we are focused on the interests of the eBike industry. A major activity for LEVA has been offering technical training. This was started in 2010 by Dr. Gerhardt, the author of the book on eBike repair and most of the syllabus.
Electric bikes are seeing strong growth. Tell us some of the numbers.
This year I believe that about 34-million eBikes will be sold in Asia, 2-million in Europe and about 300,000 in the USA. There are about 250-million eBikes in use worldwide with about 1-million of them being in the US market today.
If you could offer a forward thinking bicycle shop three pieces of advice, what would they be?
The lesson learned in Asia and Europe is that eBikes make money for shops. The margins are greater, the tickets are larger, and they need more parts and maintenance. Consumers need help selecting and keeping them running.
Consumers like them. A lot! Consumers do not share the "bike snob's" point of view on whether eBikes are "cheating" or otherwise "wrong".
Become the champion and source of eBikes in your community. This is going to the best future niche and in most cities today, it's up for grabs.
You've worked as a mechanic. Did you have any training?
I was instructed by Larry Black at Thornbury's Toys (at the time the largest Schwinn dealer in the USA). By John Battle at Spoke and Sprocket, Gil Morris at Highland Cycle and Bob Peters at Clarksville Schwinn. These men were wonderful teachers (if anyone remembers John Battle, they are lifting an eyebrow at this) and I am grateful. Later I went to Schwinn Factory Training, to programs at the New England Cycling Academy and to a workshop run by Campagnolo on the use of their classic tool kit!
Hmm... I have to say, the old bent metal tire irons given to me by Gil Morris. They had been used for a very long time when I got them, and while nothing special they were polished from long use. The bend was (is) perfect for removing clinchers. Gil started in a shop in the 30's (I think), these levers might have nearly a century of use.
What is the USA Cycling Race Mechanics Clinic all about?
Hear from insiders, promoters, team and race directors and past attendees who found success through the experience and reward in life from the outcome. Ready to learn more about what happens and register? Click here
Colin "Chip" Howat - class of 1991
Clinic Director / Tubular Tire Expert / Bike Rider
The Race Mechanics Clinic was one of the most rewarding educational opportunities for me because attending the Clinic opened doors to work with fantastic mechanics and athletes at races and workshops at home and overseas leading on to so many more professional and cultural experiences."
Michael Kubancsek - class of 2015
Director of Cycling Operations - Marian University
"I consider myself super fortunate to have attended the USAC Woodul Clinic. While I had some previous race experience, the clinic helped me really understand what it means to be a race mechanic and the intricacies and details of supporting athletes(both team and neutral). The connections made at the clinic also widened my scope in the industry and led me to some new opportunities and relationships I learned things I didn't even know that I would need to know, but I am far better at what I do because of it. The content of the clinic takes you beyond adjusting derailleurs and inflating tires and shapes you into a prepared and safe staff member for any team or riders you may ever work for. There is no in-depth, complete training for race mechanics like what the Woodul Clinic offers... there is no substitute!"
Ed Beamon - veteran team director
Team Director - Team Tibco-SVB
"As a team director being able to count on my mechanic is critical. Mechanics who've come through the USA Cycling program have been given the preparation, honed the skills and have had practical exposure to the environment that is so critical to perform in a team culture."
William McPherson - class of 1996
Lead Technician - Shimano Multi-Service
"At Shimano Multi-Service we only use licensed race mechanics. Knowing that someone has had the training and understands the process of race support is important to us and the riders we support."
Craig "Calvin" Jones - clinic instructor since day-1
Education, Training, Development - Park Tool
"It has been both a pleasure and honor to teach at these Race Mechanic Clinics. I've been an instructor since the beginning, it's ironic, I have never attended as a mechanic... I want to! This clinic is at the heart of the professionalism and passion for this kind of work. Seeing mechanics from a wide range of backgrounds and regions ask us questions, argue their points, network with one another, and gain confidence to do this, give me the knowledge that our racing athletes will have the service they need to achieve greatness. After all, this is what we are here for."
Deborah Xu - class of 2012
Owner - Tender Loving Cycle
"The clinic was jam packed. We all came out each day exhausted from learning a lot. The final exam took some problem solving skills. It was like going to a boot camp, whatever experience level you are at, you will come out leveled up with something new and useful, not to mention you would meet a lot of people, especially the instructors, who are all so willing to help you advance in your career.
I came out of the boot camp and immediately obtained the opportunity to go work at the Sea Otter Classic. I was able to join Shimano's Neutual Service program as well. Theses opportunities took me to a lot of national level races, and, at each race, you just keep on learning so much more about what it is to be a race mechanic. Going to races also helps keeping your knowledge of current technologies updated, which helps working in a shop tremendously.
It also felt like a confidence boost, not only to myself, but also to my employers. I went back to work knowing so much more. And my boss then sent me to a bike fit school and gave me more responsibilities. Everything I learned along the way, got me where I am."
Brandon Hale - Race Director
Race Director - North Star Grand Prix
"We know that the safety of the riders depends on having the most qualified mechanics working in the caravan. USA Cycling's training helps to ensure riders receive the highest quality service in the fastest manner possible without sacrificing safety. The mechanics are an important component of providing riders an exceptional experience at our race."
Gal Alon - class of 2015
Service Associate - Penn Cycle
"The best experience I recall from 2015 os the people I met and got to know, instructors and students alike. These are the people that are shaping the industry now and in the future. Many of them are the people who started the PBMA! People that share the deep passion to become a bike mechanic in a shop or in supporting races and events are what the Race Mechanics Clinic is all about. Being part of the Race Mechanic group is something special that unites us as individuals to help and support each other. I am proud to be part of that group."
Chris Kreidl - class of 2005 or 2006
Sales & Operations Manager - Unior USA
"When I got there I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, eager to start working at races. I was excited to be at the Olympic Training Center and excited to be around all these people, the instructors, that for a long time have done some version of exactly what I wanted to do.
Attending and getting my license opened the door to begin working with SRAM NRS, and my hard work with them led to the rest of my career turing out the way it did. Without having attending and getting that license I don't think they'd have taken me on in the first place"
Julian DaSilva - class of 2013
South Florida Territory Manager - Orbea, Santa Cruz Bicycle, Atomik Carbon, Ride 100%
"My experience at the Race Mechanics Clinic was that opening ones mind, I was set on my own way of thought and once I did the class and learned from some of the best in the industry, I changed my perception of the industry. One of the things that the clinic helped me do was build a network of likeminded people that I could tap into, learn from one another and bounce around ideas. Because of these ideas I was able to work along side industry people and network with them, eventually leading to a career at a higher level within the industry. Being a race mechanic has led me to starting my own Neutral Support Business in the state of Florida which is desperately needed. The clinic brought me to a higher level."
Doug Martin - friend of Bill
Cycling Industry Professional
"My work with Bill predates the Race Mechanics Clinic - we came out of the same shop together in Coconut Grove, Florida... Dade Cycle Shop. Bill was already the stuff of local lore and was doing a lot of National Team trips to South America, Europe, etc. Each time he came back we'd huddle around eager to hear of some new tech tip or trick. A better way to tie and solder wheels, linseed oil as spoke prep, a bulletproof tubular tire glue combo... you name it. Each trip and experience benefited us all. From there Bill went on to build and run the Campagnolo Neutral Support program, then onto USA Cycling (then USCF). He was an early pioneer and true champion of the bicycle mechanic as a legitimate profession, and the Race Mechanics Clinic sought to build on this. They were successful from the start and have gotten only better over time. There is no doubt that the curriculum, shared information and overall networking are highly beneficial to not just the race mechanics, but shop and industry members alike."
Zane Freebairn - class of 2014
Team Mechanic - Rally Pro Cycling
"There was some really cool tips and tricks learned from the instructors but the best thing that I came out with was the connections. I see guys and gals at races that were in the clinic in 2015 and have leaned on them for help. A great example is Gary Bavolar; he has helped out a few times while working for Shimano and SRAM. Already having a relationship with these mechanics made the race situations go smoother."
James Stanfill - class of 2000
President of the PBMA, Race Mechanic Clinic Organizer
"I attended the clinic in 2000... since then I haven't looked back. The opportunities created from the network of people in attendance is insane. Since 2000 I've worked for men's and women's World Tour Teams, worked with Olympic Champions, National Champions, World Champions and met many great friends out on the road. The skills gained at the clinic allowed me working as a mechanic to visit more than twenty countries. I come back every year to make sure that others have the same opportunities as those in the past. Now through the PBMA we are working to expand the level of learning to reach more mechanics and further build that network of people we can each rely on."
Tristan Brandt - class of 2015
Demo Coordinator - Pivot Cycles
"It was an amazing networking opportunity that has allowed me to further my career in the industry and I am now proud to working for Pivot Cycles. I think the clinic really helped us grasp the scope of what being a race mechanic really entails (late nights, early mornings, long days), through the experience of current techs and those who have been in the field for decades. I think the clinic can teach you a few new skills, but more importantly, give you opportunities to branch out to other fields in the industry besides wrenching at a shop."
This page is a collective of articles relavant to consumers, enthusiasts and the whole of the cycling industry in general.