Jeff working header
Shadowing Melamed's Mechanic

Wrenching Out a Win

Words Cam McRae
Photos Dave Smith
Date Aug 18, 2017

Jeff Bryson is alone in the pits with his truck and his bikes. Jeff's pit is the space between the lines marking a parking stall in Whistler's Lot 2. The big teams have quarter million dollar rigs with canopies, flooring and all the mod cons. Jeff has his 1978 Ford F150, a 10 x 10 tent from Rocky Mountain, and his tools. He appears to be randomly checking bolts and fussing over last minute details but closer attention reveals a precise and methodical evaluation. 

Jeff just began wrenching for EWS this season, working with Jesse Melamed and Remi Gauvin, but it's not too early to call him a success. He's been diligent, hard working and humble about his approach and eager to learn from the veteran mechanics and riders, and they have accepted him into the tribe. Anything he learns folds into his personal ethos which could be summed up as; preparation is everything. 

Jeff's truck

The best surprise is no surprise. Jeff works late and arrives early to be sure everything is perfect. Overnight he finds that a tiny volume of air creeps into the Shimano brakes so he tops them up. It's unlikely even riders as attuned as Jess and Remi would notice this, but that isn't the point. When Jeff is completely sure about "his bikes" the riders will pick that up, their confidence in the equipment assured. 

Jeff



"When Jesse brought some carbon wheels to use before the race, I said no. When he asked me why I said because I know I can get you through the race on these and I can’t guarantee it on those. And he looked me in the eye and said, 'you’ll guarantee I’ll make it through the race on these?' and I said yep."

Jesse and Remi rode all of last season on carbon rims without issue. On one set mind you. And then Jesse exploded his rim with a 24 second lead in Madeira. Jeff talked to the other mechanics and they almost universally* told him to go with aluminum. Carbon isn't generally as tough or as true but aluminum doesn't keep any secrets. If it's going to fail, an inspection should let you know. And for a team that doesn't get a lot of product, and Jeff's riders meet that description, it's much easier to get fresh aluminum rims for every race. 

I asked Jeff how he had the confidence to bend the riders to his will, and it was all about mapping it out. "If I had come to the race a little unprepared I may have waffled but I came with my game plan and I followed through with it. And when you look at things from afar you have better perspective but in the moment you might not make the best decision. You might deviate from your plan and everything you have worked toward."

Jesse's plate

At the beginning of the round Jesse was ranked 9th and Remi was ranked 15th. This meant that Remi rolled into the pits after round 3 and then 6 riders later Jesse would arrive needing attention creating an overlap and a time crunch for Jeff. 

Remi's Plate

After the Whistler rounds Jesse has moved up to 5th place and Remi is in 11th, preserving the troublesome gap.

Many of the top riders have their own mechanic; 1:1 attention. Jeff is responsible for two riders who happen to be close together in the standings. This makes the liaison stages challenging because Jesse arrives before Remi has left..

Jeff tuning
book

Jeff was a racer himself for many years. He organized a race team and threw down every weekend for a decade and he approaches wrenching from a similar perspective.

Jeff done the night before

These are Jeff's bikes. Jesse and Remi just get to ride them. They don't get to drive the truck.

Taking chances isn't part of the plan. If a wheel isn't absolutely perfect Jeff will build a new one the night before. Bearings get inspected, cleaned and filled with light oil before every race. Brakes are bled even if they feel perfect. Wheels are set up with Stan's tape and then Gorilla tape and then Cushcore. A puncture is the difference between winning and losing so there is no leaving that to chance. 

decals
more decals

Many parts that can't be replaced in accordance to EWS rules are marked with the rider's number. If any of those parts are done, the rider is done. 

jesse
Remi

Jesse and Remi have very different setups despite having identical sponsors. In general, Remi chooses tech and light weight while Jesse, who weighs less, goes the other direction. 

Chatting through final setup
Walking in

Jeff is much more than a mechanic. One of the things the riders told me is that they appreciate the racing experience he brings and the wisdom that comes along with that. In Jesse's words;  "the bike is dialled by any pro mechanic and Jeff goes above and beyond but his race day mentality is really good. I can ask him advice about bike setup and trust his opinion."

Hill

Jesse spent the day chasing one of the most impressive gravity athletes in the history of mountain biking, but he never blinked.

Ominous

This year the EWS has been cursed with rain. The precip. came in sporadic bursts on Saturday night and during the day on Sunday making the second half of stage one, Ride Don't Slide, even more treacherous.


end of stage 1

Advice is legal but touching means a DQ.

no touch

This was torture for Jeff. 

The better-financed teams had elaborate setups for the support zone after stage three which required some time to set up. Instead, Jeff had a bare bones shop which gave him time to meet the riders at the end of stage one, where he learned what help they needed. Remi came down first and a hard hit had de-tensioned his wheel. Jeff was there to give advice and keep Remi calm but the rules precluded any hands-on assistance. Luckily Remi is a skilled mechanic and Jeff, with his mitts jammed between his knees to avoid temptation, talked him through the tensioning process. Jesse had slammed his Di2 derailleur but it was still functioning well enough for Jesse to make it to the support stage so he solidiered on. 

no touch
derailleur cooked

"Sitting down at the bottom of stage 1 was probably the hardest 20 mins to half an hour of my life. Remi came down hard and his spokes were all loose. And he said “Jeff’s what’s going on? What’s happening?”  He was frustrated and not having a good time.

I just had to be calm and he snugged his spokes down and he’s a pretty good mechanic and I told him to snug them down and check them before the next stage and I told him “I”ll get you at the tech zone after stage 3.”

After he left riding away from stage 1 I knew he wasn’t happy and then Jesse coming down was wondering if his wheel was going to be the same. He had a smile on his face and he told me he hit the derailleur on the same rock and said 'Jeff did you make this cable too short?' And he said 'will there be a derailleur at the tech zone?'"

Jesse at the very end of stage 3

Stage 3 was a big victory for Jesse, putting him within 1.51 seconds of Sam.

Laying out all his tools and any parts needed well before the riders arrive, Jeff's mantra was on full display; preparation is everything.

tools neatly laid out

Before; Jesse needed a new Di2 derailleur after stage 1 but it wasn't until after stage 3 that Jeff could help him out. 

waiting

Jesse tries to relax while Jeff works on his bike.

jeff in transition

Calm and precise, Jeff's manner instills confidence in the athletes. 

after

After; Jeff Bryson's tools messy are tidier than mine 'tidy.' 

done and dusted

A little hydration after the storm. 

Jeff kept things light while he methodically went through the necessary repairs and did a quick check and service of everything else. Jesse left with a perfectly functional derailleur and Remi's wheel was tensioned and true. 

jesse on howler

Jesse destroyed Howler, the site of stage 4, and this was his pivotal stage.

#melanimals

Jesse's fans.

Flat pedal mayhem

Sam Hill was chasing Jesse without a doubt, because the man loves to win, but his first priority was gaining points to increase his lead in the overall. 

remi crosses finish

Only Richie Rude beat Remi on the final stage down from Garbanzo, and by only 6 seconds. 

on the hot seat

Remi gets his moment on the hotseat. 

jesse

A crash on the final stage for Jesse meant a long nervous wait for Sam Hill to finish. To win Sam had to beat Jesse by 15 seconds. 

jesse and jeff at the finish

Jesse beat Sam on stage 5 by 4 tenths of a second taking the win in his first EWS round ever. Jeff was more than a little proud and pretty much bursting with happiness.

congrats

Time to celebrate. 

waiting with family rather than in the hotseat

Chuffed.

jeff's reaction

The moment. 

sam and jesse

Sam Hill was gracious about Jesse's performance. 

sam and jeff

"And Sam Hill rode right up to me and looked me in the eye and said 'good race mate' and I got a hug from Sam Hill."


Sometimes I look at the guys and I think 'why don’t you just change that fender' but they put in so much time in the gym and making sure they are recovering properly... They work so hard that it makes a big difference to take that stuff off their plate. For them not to have to think about that stuff at all... I don’t want them to have any thoughts like that. They should always just be thinking about 'okay Sam Hill is this much ahead.'
Jeff and Jesse in the loan quiet moment after the win

Personal best for Jesse...

Remi and Jeff after the race

...and for Remi. Which makes two personal bests for Jeff.

"Being getting asked to be the mechanic for Jesse and Remi I thought, 'Oh my god, I can put all this energy and time into this' and I guess I can feel useful. I can have that same outlet but in a different way. And my energy can be transferred into their racing careers."

podium

Jesse Melamed became the first Canadian to win an EWS round. And Jeff Bryson was the mechanic who helped it happen. 

team podium

Team Rocky Mountain/URGE won this round and they sit second in the overall standings.

clean up before podium

After the racing is done Jeff is back in the pits on his own, doing what he can to prepare for the next round.

When Jeff was 14 years old he discovered bikes. And he knew. He remembers the distinct moment when he said to himself, "bikes are my life now." And they have been. From bike mechanic to racer to an educator of mechanics and service managers, Jeff's work has always been an expression of his love for bikes and his drive for excellence. And this is the culmination. 

For now at least. 

*Team Specialized is an exception. They use carbon rims but they get fresh ones every race. Despite that Curtis Keene cracked a rim on the first half of the first stage and was out of contention. 

Comments

velocipedestrian
+6 Merwinn abuxton Cr4w DMVancouver Cam McRae Pete Roggeman
Velocipedestrian  - Aug. 18, 2017, 1:22 a.m.

Excellent article, more of this please.

Reply

Captain-Snappy
0
Merwinn  - Aug. 21, 2017, 9:45 a.m.

Seconded.

Reply

hbelly13
+4 abuxton Cr4w Cam McRae Pete Roggeman
Raymond Epstein  - Aug. 18, 2017, 5:06 a.m.

Great stuff! Jeff is like the one person in a band who makes sure that the amp cords are packed, the strings are changed, and the drum heads replaced so that your shows are not a trainwreck due to equipment failure. He allows the artist to be an artist.

Reply

mrbrett
+4 Merwinn DMVancouver Cam McRae Pete Roggeman
mrbrett  - Aug. 18, 2017, 7:13 a.m.

Awesome article, this is a great story.

Reply

JBV
+2 Cam McRae Pete Roggeman
James Vasilyev  - Aug. 18, 2017, 8:55 a.m.

great article indeed. i'm surprised that these high end carbon rims, with cushcore, etc, and heavy casing tires still get fatal damage during these races. we know just how strong the material is but it speaks to how much harder these people are on gear than mortals.

Reply

earleb
0
earle.b  - Aug. 18, 2017, 10 a.m.

I am pretty sure Jeff's truck is a 7th Gen Ford F-Series making it something between 1980 and 1986 and not a 6th Gen 1978.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
+1 Raymond Epstein
Cam McRae  - Aug. 18, 2017, 10:24 a.m.

Don't tell Jeff. When he bought the truck, for $960 ten years ago, he asked to test drive it. The owner said "nope, she runs good" so Jeff bought it.

Reply

DaveSmith
+1 Cam McRae
Dave Smith  - Aug. 18, 2017, 10:55 a.m.

"Rusty" seemed like an inaccurate time stamp.

Reply

abuxton
0
abuxton  - Aug. 18, 2017, 8:33 p.m.

Nice write-up Cam.  Jeff is one of my best buds, so it was nice to read about his dedication to the craft. Thanks!

Reply

Vikb
+1 Cam McRae
Vik Banerjee  - Aug. 20, 2017, 7:43 a.m.

"Carbon isn't generally as tough or as true but aluminum doesn't keep any secrets." 

Should the "carbon" above have been "aluminum"? All the carbon rims I've had were stronger and truer than AL rims, but I agree with Jeff that for an extended race like he's supporting it's safer to run AL.

Reply

mel22b
0
mel22b  - Aug. 20, 2017, 9:42 p.m.

Sorry to say but I can't see Jesse being on Rocky much longer.  Until I read this article I had no idea how underfunded the team was.  That being said, awesome article and Jeff is a great guy who deserves all the success!

Reply

Timmigrant
0
Tim Coleman  - Aug. 21, 2017, 1:20 p.m.

Awesome article from the mechanic's perspective, especially someone as passionate and selfless as Jeff. I'm lucky enough to have known Jeff and raced against him for many years. The guy has always been a class act.

Reply

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