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 reign 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.
Video: 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.