Monday, October 27, 2008

The best wheel guy in the world

A while ago while riding with Dug, we were talking about bike mechanics and which ones we like and why. I mentioned that I rarely if ever visit mechanics anymore, except to do things that require special tools, like headset presses, or to true wheels (I could true my own wheels, but why?).

In the course of the conversation, I mentioned that the best wheel guy in the world lives in Boise, ID. Dug of course questioned my superlative. It was probably hyperbole, but I can't imagine how someone could be better at truing and fixing wheels. There are undoubtedly others of equal skill, but they are few.

I found out that the best wheel guy in the world, Brian Grieger, passed away in his sleep last night. He will be missed.

Brian was to bikes what the soup nazi was to soup. He was a true master, but it was also on his terms. Brian worked out of his garage, so you didn't just show up, you made an appointment. At the appointed time, you came with your bike, and then you stood there and listened to Brian complain about how bad your poor maintenance had screwed up the bike. Or, if the repair was easy or not really your fault, he would just tell stories until he was done. You were welcome to watch and ask questions, which is the primary reason I don't take my bikes to the shop very often, if at all. But you didn't leave your bike and come back when it was done, because there wasn't room in the garage for that kind of nonsense. When the job was finished, you paid in cash. Flat rate for labor, regardless of the repair, plus the cost of whatever parts you used.

Before he was a mechanic, Brian used to race bikes with people you've probably heard of. People like Tom Ritchey, Gary Fisher, and Bob Roll. Brian would tell you straight up who was cool and who was a jerk. I learned from Brian that Bob Roll spent his entire stipend for a year on a new Ducati and had to couch surf and dumpster dive during the off season when he couldn't get room and board from the team. I think Bob may have mentioned that in one of his books, but I liked hearing Brian's versions of the stories rather than the sanitized version the publisher approved.

Brian's house was along one of my favorite lunch ride routes. His health had been poor for a while, and I hadn't actually been in the garage for more than a year. But each time I passed, I didn't have anything but kind thoughts. If anyone feels the same way about me when I'm gone, I'll think I lived a pretty good life.

Godspeed, Brian.


  1. Brian was as true a friend I could ever ask for. His gruff exterior gave way to a very, very big heart. I often listened to him speak of trips to the hospital with Ntalie and their loveable pack of puppys for dog therapy. He always had time to fix my mistakes on my bikes. I will not forget the greatest bike mechanic and my true freind Brian. He will be missed by so many people in the cycling community.

  2. I'm a bike commuter and a few years ago Brian helped me with a fender installation problem which the owner of the LBS where I had purchased the bike had no idea how to resolve. Brian's solution was quite ingenious. He obviously had a gift for thinking "outside of the box", and I'm sure that there were few (if any) bike issues that he couldn't handle.

  3. My wife and I have known Brian since he turned wrenches at Tailwind Bikes back in the 90's. He was the ONLY one we ever totally trusted taking our tandem to, and used to love listening to him complain about what a "tough time" he had doing a particular task on the bike... and then find out he had done something extra just because he "felt like it".

    We saw him just a couple of weeks ago while shopping at Albertson in Eagle, where we engaged in small talk and laughed about a particular joke I had e-mailed to him.

    I find it very hard to accept that we will never cross paths again in this world, but am grateful for those few occasions where our paths did intersect.

    Rich and Valerie McKay