THE MESSENGER: JEFF TIEDEKEN
|People like to use ADD as a crutch, I think it's a blessing. -Jeff Tiedeken|
|Jeff has got stories, he never sleeps, and he's fuelled by Mountain Dew. I've spent many nights in his shop drinking beer and watching the master work. -Greg Minnaar|
I know Jeff just well enough to know that he is brilliant and, like most geniuses, probably a little crazy. When he told me “I feel like I am a messenger,” I braced for what I was expecting to be the convincing dogma of a, not yet recognized, new religion. And, because he is charming, I would join. In actual fact what Jeff had to say was much more practical and sane, “if you can’t be the one jumping off the cliff then you can still be the one helping design the thing to jump off it with.” As the machinist and the creative mind behind the Red Bull Rampage trophies, he wants the next generation to understand that they can find ways to pursue their own skills and still have a hand in the bike industry, like he does. If you drink his Kool-Aid, you will see that these are the people who will progress and evolve our sport, perhaps more than the athletes who are pushing the limits currently.
While most people may look to Gary Fisher or Tom Ritchey with an admiration for creating the mountain biking scene we know today, Jeff idolized the welders and fabricators who were laid off from Boeing back in the ‘80’s. “Thank God there was a gas crisis,” he goes on to explain that it was the massive layoffs in aerospace that pushed workers with the skills to develop mountain bikes onto that path. They were used to precision welding and machining, working with titanium, aluminum, carbon, and just making things lighter, stronger and faster. It was their knowledge and abilities that revolutionized the rigs we ride today. “Everyone looks to the athletes who developed riding, but I idolize the guys like me, the ones who built the bikes.”
|Everyone looks to the athletes who developed riding, but I idolize the guys like me, the ones who built the bikes. -Jeff Tiedeken|
Jeff is passionate about riding; he grew up racing BMX and mountain bikes, and rode for Salsa Cycles for years. He wasn’t destined to be a pro-mountain biker though, and instead he became a licensed aerospace welder. This was a natural path when, at 17, he was already welding custom bikes and waiting out the year until he was old enough to enroll in trade school. Ten years later he lives above a 10,000 square foot machine shop in Oakland where, on a daily basis, he does everything from designing new steering for major car companies, to developing new parts for Boeing, to submitting patents on new designs for mountain biking, and making trophies for Red Bull Rampage. On occasion he may also take the time out to teach his friend and next-door neighbor, Greg Minnaar, to weld. But, he says Greg should stick to dh racing, “The last time he welded something, the wheel was 20 degrees off.”
|I have tried to lend a hand, but it didn't go so well, I measured up the suspension wrong on the soap box and it was lopsided. That was the last time I was asked to help. -Greg Minnaar|
Jeff’s goal is to have the craziest prototype development and concept shop on the West Coast. He is teaming up with the people who can make it happen, including the companies that build the CNC machines he uses and working directly with the CEO of Autodesk to help develop their software. He also credits his success to the team of highly skilled kids he has working with him. “Young people don’t have the jaded perspective of an older person,” he explains that they are always open to ideas and never say flat out ‘this isn’t going to work.’ Giving a leg up to kids, especially those who come from the rougher areas of Oakland, had allowed Jeff to use their passion for machining to help them succeed, using his shop as a type of reward for high school completion. And with the current set up of skilled labor and resources in his shop, Jeff says that when they get a call from a company wanting to work with them the question is never ‘if’, it is ‘what.’ “What are we doing? Let’s do this!”
|The balance in my shop is so odd because one day I will be working on a part for a Boeing 787, and the next day I am working on trophies for Rampage, and the next day I am working on a concept prosthetic leg for someone who has been injured in war. -Jeff Tiedeken|
He equates living above his machine shop to sleeping with a notepad next to his bed, “you can’t wait until 8am for creativity, whether it is a new concept for front steering for car companies or something for Specialized or Boeing, you have to be able to do it now.” And when it comes to writers block Jeff has never experienced a lack of inspiration. “I have been blessed with ADD. With it you have a hundred things on the go and you don’t even think about writer’s block because you’re already thinking about something else. By the time you’ve thought about not being able to think of something, you are already on to something else. It’s cool.”
A few years ago Steve Blick, from Oakley, was hanging out with Minaar and suggested that Jeff contact Todd Barber about designing the trophies for Red Bull Rampage. It became another way for him to stay involved in the culture that he identifies with. “I’m not an artist, I’m a machinist and a welder. I just do this stuff for fun and because it keeps me involved. People depend on me to come to Rampage and I don’t have to jump off a 76 foot sender just to be here.” While he’s not an artist he says that “it’s easy to create the Rampage trophies, because it’s close to the heart. It’s one of my favorite events, I wish I could compete at, I think everyone wishes they could.” In an average year he will have a hand in making trophies, building jumps, or designing start gates for roughly twenty-five Red Bull events.
|When I first met Jeff it was dark on a Friday night with our friend Greg Minnaar saying 'you have to meet this guy.' So I went and met him and instantly found myself surrounded by all the weirdest stuff that I like. I thought 'oh man, this is going to be good.' -Steve Blick, Oakley Sports Marketing Manager|
Bouncing back and fourth between so many different projects helps to keep a balance in Jeff’s life that stops things from getting too serious or boring. His biggest customer may be Google X, but that doesn’t stop him from building a handful of concept bikes a year, or working on R&D and patents for the bike industry. At the end of the year though, he says he officially makes zero dollars, mostly due to things like spending his patent earnings on a racecar for the Bonneville salt flats or a new DH bike. “I don’t think it matters if you are on your bicycle, your motorcycle, or in your racecar, if you are going fast and having fun, that’s all that matters.”
|I basically run a nonprofit business because everything is fun. -Jeff Tiedeken|
Jeff may work on top-secret projects, have a photographic memory and randomly spend his earnings on becoming a certified chef, while he continues to eat Ramen, “but,” he says, “at heart I’m still a dirt jumping monkey kid. I grew up on a BMX track and raced ABA and NBL for ten or more years. That’s at my core of building stuff and going fast.”
Looking to the future he wants to let kids know that there are people out there like him and like the aerospace welders who first started developing mountain bikes. He wants the next generation to know that they don’t have to leave the bike industry just because they aren’t going to be athletes, that there are options and important roles available. Mountain biking needs the likes of Frank Nasworthy. Not sure who he is? You wouldn’t know who Tony Alva or Tony Hawk are without him.
|In the end it's a bicycle, you should still ride it, do wheelies, impress girls, have fun, drink beer, crash it, jump stuff, and just have fun. All the stuff our moms told us not to do. -Jeff Tiedeken|
To check out more of what Jeff is up to, you can follow his blog here.