Efficient Velo Tools' Brett Flemming makes parts for his pro bike shop tools on a series of vintage machine tools, including this circa 1942 Rivett 1020 Toolroom Lathe. Photo by Bob Huff.
Watching Brett Flemming lift a 35-pound bike to eye level with one hand then spin it effortlessly into position calls to mind the way a beefy male cheerleader might toss and twirl his female counterpart during halftime at a college football game. Unlike pom-pom boy, however, Flemming's arms fall more in the "I ride a bike, look at my legs" category. Rather than using upper body brawn to manage the heft, he relies on the mechanical advantage of E-Z Lift, a workstand from his aptly-named company, Efficient Velo Tools.
With minimal effort, the counterweight-assisted stand can raise a bike from the floor to seven feet in the air while dispensing with the awkward hoist-the-bike-with-one-hand-and-adjust-the clamp-with-the-other bit. Between the bike and stand is another EVT product-the Right Arm Repair Clamp-which rotates to any angle so mechanics can easily and comfortably get to every nook-and-cranny of a bike. Need to inspect the bottom bracket? No problem, just flick a lever, push the bike up, and walk under it. Can't see where a disc rotor is rubbing against a pad? Lift the bike up a bit, rotate to eye-level and give the wheel a spin.
The Right Arm features a leather-padded jaw that firmly clamps a bike by its seatpost without the need for a rag as shim or finish protector. At just two inches tall, the clamping interface is small enough to grab most seatposts without needing to alter seat height-a common but less-than-ideal practice. It's also designed to dissuade what Flemming says is a no-no-clamping on the frame itself which can mar the finish, or worse, crush delicate carbon and aluminum tubing.
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhVOrRaB0Fg&feature=youtu.beVideo: EVT Founder and Owner Brett Flemming demonstrates the E-Z Lift Work Stand and Right Arm Repair Clamp.
The arm's offset design also allows the bike to rotate in a smaller circle than traditional on-axis designs, helping to keep the work area tight, and the work itself, well, efficient. It also parallels Flemming's worldview.
"EVT tools are designed to make the mechanic's life better and make the shop more efficient," explains Flemming. "Even small improvements can have a big net effect on efficiency because mechanics tend to do many of the same tasks over and over."
EVT's $354 Right Arm Repair Clamp holds bikes firmly but gently and is compatible with both EVT and Park Tool PRS-series repair stands. Photo by Don Palermini.
Those improvements figure largely into Fleming's design philosophy, as does their availability-or lack thereof-from other manufacturers. All the design features of the stand combo-the offset arm, the clamp jaws, the lift mechanism-represent something distinctly better, according to Flemming.
"Anything we decide to make at EVT needs to be a significant improvement over what's currently on the market, or we don't bother," he says.
Continue reading for more with Brett Flemming and full photo gallery.
EVT strives to build a better mousetrap or, in this case, a better derailleur alignment tool. The Tru-Arc Derailleur Hanger Alignment Tool is worth every letter in its longish name, and every cent of its $585 price. Photo by Bob Huff.
Experience, know how and a couple nice plaques to boot
It's safe to say Flemming knows what he's talking about. As service manager for Bike Gallery, a much-loved chain of six shops in and around Portland, he works on thousands of bikes each year, and observes repair issues and procedures on a daily basis.
"Hiring Brett was one of the best things I ever did in my 40 years in the bike industry," said former Bike Gallery Owner Jay Graves who hired Flemming in the mid-1990's. "He took the reigns of the service department and really grew it into what it is today, and is a great leader and manager as well as mechanic."
Graves is not the only one with high praise. The Oregonian newspaper and Portland Monthly have each named Flemming the city's "best bike mechanic"-no small feat in a bike crazy town with a high concentration of shops.
"If someone has a bike problem nobody else can handle, they inevitably end up on Brett's doorstep," said pro enduro racer and Portland local Matthew Slaven. "I'd say he's forgotten more about fixing bikes than most people ever learn...except he hasn't forgotten anything."
Flemming's current boss-Bike Gallery Co-owner and COO Kelly Aicher-agrees with the technical assessment but says what really sets Flemming's apart is his ability to empathize and connect with people.
"There's a bike shop cliché that you hide your best mechanic in the back, because while he can fix anything, he's usually a jerk to customers," jokes Aicher with a laugh. "That's definitely not the case at all with Brett-we put him front-and-center. In addition to his deep knowledge and capability, he also has this sense of humility that really resounds with customers. He doesn't talk at them, he stands beside them and tries to feel what they feel."
And while like most mechanics, Flemming can wax poetic about the latest whiz-bang electronic shifting systems or new suspension designs, he's innately motivated to help people in whatever way he can, according to Aicher.
"A boy who I think had special needs and his clearly frazzled mother came into the shop one day because the boy's bike had all kinds of issues," recalled Aicher. "Brett goes over and calmly talks through it all in a reassuring way, but notices that this lady has a lawnmower blade with her. He inquires about it and she tells him she needs to get it sharpened at the lawnmower shop. Brett says to her 'I can do that for you,' and takes care of it while her son's bike is being worked on…it was like he lifted a weight off her back.
"Now part of that is Brett's a mechanic-geek and he salivates at any challenge that's different, but most of it is he's a problem solver and he likes to help people."
Flemming's well-weathered mitts hold the Knuckle Saver Pedal Wrench Adapter, a tool that lets you use a pedal wrench on hex-only spindles. If you've ever broken free such a pedal only to have your hands auger into a chainring, you'll gladly hand over $31 for this tool. Photo by Bob Huff.
A machinist as well as a mechanic, Flemming occasionally machines custom tools for a single bike repair. He's disassembled and rebuilt each of the 10 lathes and three milling machines in his shop, sometimes making his own replacement parts and gears.
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fb9fmUlEz8o&feature=youtu.beVideo: This raw footage of Flemming describing his sacred Holbrook lathe gives glimpses of the man's pure passion and enthusiasm, not to mention his point-of-view on tools of all kinds.
A consultant for industry powerhouses like Quality Bicycle Parts, Shimano and Specialized, as well as numerous shops across the country, Flemming deftly transitions from problem solver to educator to motivator. From formal speaking engagements, to impromptu drive-by chat sessions at trade shows, he's part preacher, part teacher and part PT Barnum-level pitchman-minus the bullshit.
Continue reading for more with Brett Flemming and full photo gallery.
Not a household name, sort of on purpose
Despite localized fame and industry notice, EVT flies under the radar with the bike buying public, somewhat by design. While Park Tool is widely recognized and happily sells everything it makes to consumers as well as shops, Flemming prefers to focus on the professional market. With only about 4,000 bike shops in the US, but a potential market of nearly 60 million bike riders, why would EVT intentionally limit its business?
"My tools are for professionals who are more concerned with perfect function than if the powder coating is just so," explains Flemming. "The machine tools I collect are amazing, but they're not idiot proof…likewise EVT tools require a certain level of competence and depth of capability that pro mechanics tend to possess but the average consumer may not."
The average consumer also may not be willing to pay the asking price-given the professional-grade status of EVT tools it should go without saying that they're expensive. But it's a get-what-you-pay-for proposition, and with Flemming at the controls, you get quite a bit.
Imported from Portland
EVT makes all their products in a 2,700 square-foot workshop on the north side of Portland. Though they farm out plating, anodizing and powder coating locally, all fabrication, welding, cutting and machining is done in-house. A few sub-assemblies and parts-gauges, hoses for air tools, fasteners and the like-come from elsewhere, but Flemming always selects a US manufacturer.
The one exception is his wheel dishing tool-the Trigger Dishing Gauge-which uses Italian-made Columbus fork blades for its arms. With Ferrari red powder coating and a just-right taper, it seems entirely justified. The rest of the gauge's parts mix and fabrication-including a hand-wound plunger spring-are an in-house affair.
Flemming says his tools aren't sexy on purpose but the $462 Trigger Dishing Gauge is a looker. It's also a fine, precision tool, built for years of service. Photo by Bob Huff.
Other parts and materials come from unlikely sources. The pulleys for the EZ-Lift, for example, are from military surplus stock Flemming has squirreled away. He's also inclined to repurposing "found ingredients" when he prototypes new designs.
Raising the roof on service and expectations
A recurring tenet of the Flemming cannon is elevating the bicycle and its servicing to a truly professional level. It drives both drives his designs and represents what he sees as the biggest opportunity for bike shops in an ever more competitive retail marketplace.
"The next fortune in the bike business will be made in the service department," proclaims Flemming. "But we need to change the perception of what that is and put it on the same level of quality automobile and motorcycle repair and service. A professional service organization needs to have the confidence to ask a fair price and deliver on it."
Flemming preaches the gospel of tools to onlookers at Interbike earlier this year. His talents are also in high demand from the bike industry, bike shops and the bike riding public. Photo by Don Palermini.
The theory is working out well for Bike Gallery-service accounts for annual revenue in the high six-figure range, and helps the shops acquire and retain customers along the way.
"Whether it's a high-end client, or someone on a junk bike with polybags of stuff tied to the top tube, it's my job to deliver a certain percentage of improvement to their cycling experience," says Flemming. "That's the attitude I insist upon from our employees and one that endears our customer whether they're on a bike to race, to ride to work, or just to get through the day."
Aicher, who worked for 16 years at Bike Gallery before becoming an owner, sees customer service as a big part of the equation as well.
"When we bought Bike Gallery in December it wasn't just a transaction," he explained. "Jay and his father built this business on customer service and it's something I believe in and Brett really exemplifies. It's part of who we are and why customers are loyal to us."
Flemming's hands literally touch every aspect of his business from design to delivery. Photo by Bob Huff.
It seems someone with Flemming's combination of acumen, enthusiasm and expertise could cash in substantially. But the model for doing so-cost reducing product, overseas production, and wider distribution-isn't one that sits well with his values and measures of success.
"I'm a hardcore American manufacturing enthusiast, and I'm happy to support some families here. If someone looked at the numbers in my business, they might say 'Hey, this is a dumb way to go about it,'" he says. "But the way I gauge my wealth is when I write payroll checks and when I think of the families they support, and how making things here has a positive impact on the community. I'm proud of that…very proud."
Continue reading for Five Maintenance Tips From EVT's Brett Flemming and full photo gallery.
Photo by Bob Huff.
Five Maintenance Tips From EVT's Brett Flemming
EVT's Brett Flemming fixes thousands of bikes every year and has deep discussions with bike maintenance guru John Barnett of Barnett Bicycle Institute about all things repair. Here are five quick tips from the master you can use:
1. Carry a Spare Derailleur Hangar - Insist your shop carries replacement hangars for the bike you bought and carry one with you, especially on your mountain bike. You will bend or break one eventually and this will save your ride. Also make sure your limit screws are correctly adjusted to keep the derailleur cage out of your spokes.
2. Change Your Cables and Housing Often - Most people are pretty good about changing their cables, but often neglect to change the housing which deteriorates very quickly and causes sub-par performance. Do yourself a favor and change it more often than you think you should.
3. Watch the Water - The amount of water you use to clean your bike will escalate your maintenance exponentially. Unlike, say, a motorcycle, bicycles are light and delicately sealed. Go easy with the hose and give your bike a sponge bath rather than a power washing. Try not to get water in the feehub bearings. The more water that comes in contact with your bike, the more you should expect to do to maintain it.
4. Lube Your Cables - A cable should be treated like a precious violin string-no kinks, and only gentle curves. Delicately lube cables with Shimano's SP41 cable grease-it will make your bike shift smoother and keep it that way for a long time. Just the lightest of coatings-so as not to retard the action-will reduce the effort needed to change gears and just feel beautiful.
5. Lube Your Plastic - There's no such thing as self-lubricating plastic. Bottom bracket cable guides tend to get gummed up with the dried sugar from energy drinks because it's at the lowest point of the bike. Clean it off with warm water, lift the cable up and put it down a bead of SP41 to keep shifting smooth. On a SRAM rear derailleur there's a sharp bend in cable routing which causes friction. A little grease there will keep it shifting smoothly and extend cable life.
For more information visit www.efficientvelo.com.