Our ongoing series of interviews continues this month with Matt Bracken.
So I am sure that a lot of folks who will read this interview have heard your name. You’ve been around a while. How was it that Matty B arrived into the cycling world?
I fell in love with Cycling when I was young. I am the youngest of 12 children (10 survivors) and cycling was a way to get around and enjoy the freedoms that came with it. I can’t think of a time I wasn’t riding my bike in the woods or with my dog Cindy back in the 70’s. I fell in love with traditional lugged Italian road racing frames about the time the movie Breaking Away came out. I was on my b.m.x. Hanging at the pizza parlor playing pinball (yes, the Who’s Tommy had an effect on everyone at that time and pinball was king) and a few dudes rode up on these shiny 10 speeds with Italian parts that were all shiny (Campagnolo) and that was that. I saved and saved my money to buy my first road bike…
You went to the OTC way back in '88? You took a class about being a race mechanic. Would you say this was a pivotal moment in your working career as a bicycle mechanic?
I was a student back in 1988. I remember it was super cold and snowy at the OTC that year. This is long before the OTC many of the students who have attended in the past 15 years know of. It was not sexy and the facilities were not what we all have enjoyed now. The work area for cycling was small and dark. I came because I dreamed of a life on the road traveling Europe, speaking French and working on bikes.
Can you tell us a little bit about your experiences shortly after your trip to the OTC, where did you end up?
Come summer of 1988 I was called upon by Shimano USA to help at a criterium in front off the ellipse of the White House in Washington, DC. Can you imagine that? A national Calendar criterium right out in front of the White House… I volunteered and found myself on back of the motorcycle to do wheel changes if necessary off the moto. Greg Lemond and many others were racing that day. I never had the pleasure of working for the US National Team.
You also were part of a neutral support program… Mavic right?
Yes, I was part of the Mavic Neutral program from 1990-1993. It was an amazing experience that brought me around the country and world that I am grateful to this day. The French ran a great program and drilled into me that my job was to look after the safety of the riders first and everything else second. They also were sticklers in being prepared for anything and everything. They also taught the importance of family and friendship while out on the road. A big smile and can do attitude opened a lot of doors. During my time at Mavic I stayed in hotels a fraction of the time and spent a good deal of my time staying with friends or in host housing. We did not have cell phones, we carried quarters, phone cards and a little black book. It was an amazing experience.
Indy Fab… Can you tell us how your skills as a bicycle mechanic transferred to building and developing frames?
Being a good mechanic and understanding the importance of math and how it relates to the mechanical process of diagnosing then developing a plan of action to improve or fix came in daily during my time at Merlin Metalworks (1993-1999) and Indy Fab (1999-2008). Understanding materials and fit were indispensable in helping cyclists of all walks of life find happiness on a bikes I designed.
Looking back at Merlin and I.F. I can confidently say I have designed over 5,000 unique bikes. Did I screw up a few, yes, BIG TIME. But those big mistakes only fueled me to learn more and be better. It was an honor to work with so many great people within IF, it’s dealer base, magazines and others to make that brand take off during that era.
Lets jump forward to now and Pedros. The road and path to recover a brand couldn’t of been easy. Can you recall a time or two where something you learned as a mechanic really applied to real life business struggles or development?
Mechanics like to fix and make things run smoothly so with little maintenance and attention those machines run smooth and are quiet. Business is no different. Back in 2011 I lost my job with Pedro’s along with my two business partners Jay Seiter (our engineer/product manager) and Jim Hale (head of Sales). We heard all the rumors. We heard people cheering our demise and others hoping we could make it work. None of that bothered us, it only made us work for success.
Few people know of or understand the complexity of running an operation that sells to over 120 countries around the world and truly understanding good chemistry when it comes to bike care products like lubes, polish, grease, bike wash. After 8.5 years I think we’ve all earned a Master’s degree or two in business.
The # 1 secret is understanding when you work for yourself when mistakes happen you own your own problems. There is nowhere to hide and no one to blame. I own my own problems and for that matter my own successes. My motivation is to do a good job and not find myself without a job and way to support my family and the family of mechanics around the country and world who support our brand and what Pedro’s means to them individually. What have I learned? First, you have to be a great listener to succeed in business and life. Less talking and more listening….. Secondly, it is important to thank and support all the people who helped you along the way.
Give back often when possible…
When is the world going to be able to purchase a Bracken? You surely haven’t lost the passion to build frames.
You are correct. I miss the hell out of designing and making bikes. I’d love to have a Bracken signature series with some other young builder or eventually hang my own shingle and do it once my two daughters are 14 and 16. They love bikes and it is my responsibility as their papa to teach them the importance of math and design so they can be successful in life. We are surrounded by math and taking the time to understand numbers and their significance only underline the passion it brings to cycling and other experiences. I want them to continue to be outdoor people. Not stuck in some Social media black hole/time suck.
You must have a piece of advice or two for aspiring mechanics, frame builders and the industries future talent. Please share some thoughts
Volunteer if necessary and ask for nothing in return…Listen…Learn
Don’t talk SHIT about anything you work on or other peoples choices in bikes, equipment, friends, etc. Show you are professional and don’t waste time by spending it on social media waxing on about your mechanical talents.
If you are that good they will find you or hear of you without social media. Take a frame class at any of the US schools who offer that classes. Work for an established builder for years, not months and learn the skills to become a great builder. Companies don’t hire for skill, they hire for attitude. Bring a good attitude to everything you do and the skill will come with time.
Time… Take your time, be patient. I personally am inching up 30 years within the cycling industry. I am finally feeling like I am getting somewhere. Not sure where that it, but I can tell you it’s been a great time along the journey. Lastly, f**k SELFIES. Turn the camera around and take pics of the place and people you have spent your time with improving you life.
You will find out spending your time taking care others will end up being the greatest reward you will ever be granted!
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