Mi amigo and pro pack slinger, Tupps Becker, gave me the idea to interview his homie, Jeff Gillmore. Between Josh Spice, Kevin Brietenbach and Tupper, I had come to know Jeff and the bikes that he wrenches for some of the biggest names in the Ultra Endurance Fat-Bike Racing. Stars like world record holders, Jeff Oatley and Kevin Breitenbach. You know, those two guys that just won the 2014 – 1000 mile and 350 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational.
This year, about a month before ITI, Jeff prepped brand new Fatback Corvus race bikes for both KB and Oatley. These were no ordinary builds. These bikes would be going where temperatures can dip to 60 below zero and through areas so remote that failure is not an option. Jeff takes every moving part…..every bearing surface and removes the factory lube and replaces it with a specific lube made for arctic temperatures. These are techniques that Jeff developed by testing his own fatback in and around one of the coldest cities on earth, Fairbanks Alaska. Jeff and KB work together at Beaver Sports in Fairbanks.
Just before this year’s ITI, we asked Jeff Oatley to share some thoughts about his friend and mechanic and this is what he had to say.
Jeff is an absolute Ninja. He’s been wrenching on bikes a long time. He’s seen it all and he knows what works and what is just silly. What makes him so cool is that he really loves bikes. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new carbon fat bike or a sweet pump track bike. He loves working on them and he loves riding them.
He’s got this super-chill, laid-back personality that really belies how hardcore he is. He rides about every day no matter the weather. Not to get ready to race, commute, or to brag about how tough he is; just because he loves to go for bikes rides. It’s really cool and sort of inspirational to me, as a guy that can sometimes get too focused on racing bikes and maybe not focused enough on the fact that riding bikes is a lot of fucking fun.
I’ve known him for quite a while and over the years I’ve gone from doing all of my own wrenching to where I want him to go through my bike before every big event. If I’m doing the ITI, Arrowhead, CTR, whatever…I’m gonna make sure that Jeff puts his hands on my bike. It gives me a lot of confidence and sort of eliminates those “Did I…” or “What if…” that you don’t want to have entering your mind during a long race. At this point I’d be pretty stressed out if Jeff couldn’t at least look at my bike before a big race.
But all that bike stuff aside, Jeff is just a cool guy. He probably knows as much about music as he does about bikes. He’s a badass guitar player. If all that isn’t enough, have you seen that guy’s fucking beard? It’s incredible!! Some guys grow a decent beard and all of a sudden their shit don’t stink. Jeff isn’t like that at all. He’s got one of the Top 10 beards, probably of all time, and he’s totally cool and humble about it.
Can’t say enough about him. He’s the real deal. Great mechanic. Great friend.
We then caught up with Jeff’s other ultra fast amigo and Beaver Sports co-worker, Kevin Brietenbach. This is what KB has to say about his chief mechanic and close friend.
Jeff is a supporter through and through. He doesn’t just work on my bike… he helps me, with me. There’s two major components to endurance cycling…the bike and the brain. Jeff started believing in what I could do many years before I realized what I could do. He’s the kindest wizard you’ll ever meet. He was put here to take care of his family, to take care of his brother and take care of his friends… with whatever means he has. He’ll give more than he’ll take everyday of the week. He doesn’t ask for much. Jeff is a lot more than a mechanic… he’s the type of support that you’ll still think about many hours into a ride. I heart Jeff.
In addition to being supportive, Jeff is also a mad mechanical wizard….like a great chef with no recipe. It’s tough to figure out how he does things. but it’s always right. I’ve never had to worry about my bike out on the trail……which frees me up to solve other problems I may come across. Spending time concerned about your bike is exhausting. The rest of the race is exhausting, but at least I know that I’ll have fun on a Jefferson built bike. (that’s what I call his best work) Everything I have is Jefferson Built (copyright). again I heart Jeff.
Jeff and I got on the phone and chatted our way through an interview. Jeff is really easy to talk to and is one of the funniest and friendliest guys that I’ve had the pleasure to interview. This is the way she went…
Gomez – How did you end up being the mechanic of the stars at Beaver Sports?
Jeff – Well, I’ve worked here for about 16 years, and had lots of time working on snow stuff. That’s what our conditions are, this is like the perfect place to be if you want to be an ultra athlete and it’s cold and dark a lot, so get after it you know.
Gomez – Winter, 10 months a year?
Jeff – Exactly, exactly, which is rad, and I like winter and I like snow riding so it works out for me.
Gomez – Were you born and raised in Fairbanks?
Jeff – No, but I’ve been here most of my life, which is pretty sweet. I like it here. I don’t mind the cold and the dark, it doesn’t bother me at all. It freaks some people out but that’s just how it is, you know.
Gomez – So the next question is, who’s the who’s who of your celebrity bikes? Who are the guys that you build bikes for?
Jeff – It’s pretty neat, obviously Jeff Oatley and Kevin, you know- that’s just stressful anyways because you build bikes for these guys and you’re like okay go race now.
Gomez – Yeah there’s not much out there as far as support.
Jeff – You’re the guy responsible for them. So that’s kind of stressful. But it works out okay. Definitely done a lot of stuff for them, and they’re both just fantastic guys!.
Gomez – I haven’t met Jeff Oatley, but I have met Kevin. Kevin’s a very very cool cat.
Jeff – Yeah he’s really fun, he’s super high energy and he’s super full of shit and he can’t sit still and he’s just quick to argue, and he’s super loving but yeah, he’s just a lot of fun. He’s a lot of energy.
Gomez – And you had mentioned Jay Cable too as a guy that you-
Jeff – Jay Cable yeah, he’s probably like the nicest ultra guy in the world. He’s just super fantastic. Super thankful and very thoughtful and like “whenever you can get to my stuff is fine” and I’m like wow Jay I’ll just do it next because you’re awesome. I’m going to stop what I’m doing just because you’re such a great guy. And I’ve done stuff for, Jeff Oatley’s wife, Heather. She’s an animal.
Gomez – Heather Best right?
Jeff – Yeah, Heather Best.
Gomez – New record holder in the ITI.
Jeff – I know, she went super fast, yeah.
Gomez – What did Heather ride this year? What kind of bike did she ride?
Jeff – She rode her Ti Fatback. And then Oatley and Tim Berntson and Kevin were all on the new Fatback Carbon Corvus. Sweet.
Gomez – Well that kind of brings us to the next question…..Since you resided on cutting edge of fat-bike racing technology. What’s your all-time favorite fat-bike?
Jeff – Well I’ve got- I own three Fatbacks, so that kind of says everything about what I like.
Gomez – Well that covers the brand.
Jeff – I know. But he (Greg Matyas) just makes great bikes man, you know.
Gomez – I agree. I ride one now.
Jeff – Yeah, I know.
Gomez – I know that you were an owner of many bikes but what’s your favorite one?
Jeff – My favorite- Yeah my Ti Fatback is probably my favorite. I bought that 3 years ago after working on Jeff Oakley’s Ti Fatbike, that now is Kevin’s, the other one that won the Arrowhead three years in a row. I was like, “what this bike’s magic, I want one of these.”
Gomez – Very cool. I was amazed when I heard that story about the lucky Ti Fatback.
Jeff – It’s nice. Carbon’s are nice on snow. I’ll get a Corvus here pretty soon.
Gomez – Yeah?
Jeff – Yeah you just have to, you can’t not have one of those. It’s such a bad ass looking bike. Oh and it rides so rad. I road Oatley’s bike around when it was loaded to go to Iditarod and I was like- It didn’t feel loaded or slow or piggish at all. It was like wow, this feels cool. It would be slower to climb because there’s more weight on the bike but like, pedalling it was like no big deal.
Gomez – Are you a shimano or a sram guy?
Jeff – Most of my stuff is sram. Yeah. I just like it. It works very well in the cold. I use a lot of the ten speed grip shift now. I’ve always used grip shift stuff because it worked really good in the cold, which is sweet.
Gomez – So tell me, what are the unique challenges of wrenching bikes, in an environment like Fairbanks?
Jeff – Well it either works or it doesn’t and that sounds kind of silly but. I’ve based it on everything that I do to my bikes, I install everything first and then I go ride it and test it and make sure everything is legit before I do it to Oatley’s bike or Kevin’s bike or anybody’s bike you know. The cold’s weird, it does weird things to bikes.
Gomez – What would be some examples of what you would have to do for instance, lubrication or what you would do for tubeless setups for the arctic temperatures, you know, 30 below zero, what would that entail?
Jeff – Well I winterized everything. The free hub body, the rear hub bottom bracket headset, usually the pulleys too and the derailleur and the front hub. Everything that’s got a bearing I try to take it apart and get into it and take out the grease and put in really really thin grease. And not a lot of grease, because you don’t need a lot of grease either when it’s cold. Up here anyways, it’s not usually wet. And that just makes everything roll very well. I mean, you can roll and coast really well at 40 below, 45 below, if everything is winterized right. You shouldn’t be able to do that, but you can.
Gomez – If you took two identical bikes one right out of the box and one that was prepped, using your tested techniques and you ghost rid them both down a hill, would there be a big difference?
Jeff – It would be different, yeah. I remember just trying to figure out how to winterize all my stuff. And I’d be standing up, trying to pedal downhill and be like God I’m going so slow. Just because everything gets so cold. So cold and so slow when it’s that- most temperatures are that crazy. Because the grease in there is really thick anyway. They do that because not everybody needs the stupid stuff that we have to use to make our bikes ridable.
Gomez – How about tubeless setups?
Jeff – Yeah, tubeless is sweet. I’ve been running my bikes tubeless for the last couple years. It’s amazing in the cold. You don’t lose air quite as fast when you go out into the cold. Going from the warm inside 70 degrees, going out to where it’s 35, 40 below. You usually, with the tube tire setups, you would feel like, wow I’ve lost air, you could even squeeze it in your tires and kind of feel. I’ve had really good luck with it. And it rolls very nice in the snow and in the cold. It’s noticeably faster just rolling, coasting.
Gomez – Do you have to do anything with the sealants that you use? And what kind of sealants?
Jeff – Sure, I’ve used Stan’s stuff. I’ve tried other stuff and that stuff seems to work the best. It stays liquid to almost about 40 below.
Gomez – Wow, Stans? With no modifications, and just straight up Stan’s? That’s pretty cool
Jeff – Yeah just straight up Stan’s. Because it does have properties of anti freeze in it and you could tell. I’ve taken my wheels apart at 40 below, and just looked- I kind of wanted to see what the Stan’s looked like- It looked kind of like a big long weird looking slurpee where you could kind of push it around, and it was about twelve inches long. I was like wow that’s neat, that’s all the juice right there.
Gomez – You need to get some video of that.
Jeff – Yeah that would be cool. It just looks weird, I was like, I shouldn’t be doing this, taking my bike apart out in the middle of a ride in the middle of nowhere but-
Gomez – At 40 below.
Jeff – At 40 below. I know it’s kind of dumb but I got to try it, see what it looks like. I’ve had really good luck with it.
Gomez – What’s the best thing any rider out there can do for their favorite mechanic, when they bring the bike in for service. And a follow up question, what’s the best thing your customers have ever done for you, when you created a miracle of fat bike mechanical supremacy.
Jeff – Doing stuff for these guys, and they go and break records, is kind of a big deal. I feel very honored to actually be involved in that.
Gomez – So wait……that was your chance to help out wrenches all around the world.
Jeff – Bring the mechanic beer, cookies. Cookies are rad. Cookies would go a long way. I’ve had people bring warm cookies, like I made you cookies can you fix my bike? I’m like I’ll fix it right now. Once they’re out of the oven you’re like- and everybody else is sharing. Like hey get out of my cookies. Did I mention, those are magic cookies. They’re not yours. But I still share. Yeah just being helpful and courteous. Obviously there’s certain people that you help out no matter what. I’d get out of bed at midnight if Oatley had issues with his bike. There’s just certain people you just do that for.
Gomez – Everyone that I met on my trip to Anchorage were so nice. Is everyone in Alaska like that?
Jeff – That’s how it seems to be with the ultra crowd. They’re pretty dialed people anyway. They’re real comfortable with what they do.
Gomez – So my next question. Alaskan beer or German beer?
Jeff – Well, Alaskan beer is pretty good.
Gomez – What’s your favorite beer. Your absolute favorite beer. If you’re going to be put out on a floating iceberg for the rest of your life.
Jeff – I like- I just try all kinds of shit. If there’s a good PBR. It doesn’t really.
Gomez – Peninsula Best Reserve, or Pabst Blue Ribbon?
Jeff – Lucky Lager dude is the shit.
Gomez – Out of all the great Alaskan bicyclists that you’ve met, who’s the toughest, who’s the #1 BAMF?
Jeff – I think hands down one of the baddest ass people I’ve ever been around is Rocky. He was just a force to be reckoned with for 30 years. He was competitive. And kicked everybody’s ass for 30 years. And that’s kind of a big deal. And I knew the softer side of Rocky, after he was kind of done racing. He was just really a fantastic guy. He’s one of those guys that he’d come into the shop and I’d just stop what I was doing and we’d just sit down and talk. Or we’d walk around and just look at bikes. It didn’t matter what I had to do or what was on my schedule for that day. I wanted to share some time with him just because of who he was and what kind of person he was.
Sadly the world lost this legend of Alaska Ultra Racing at the end of last January. His legend lives on in the hearts and minds of the many lives that he touched.
Beaver Sports – http://www.beaversports.com/
Becker Sewing – http://www.beckergear.com/
Fatback – http://fatbackbikes.com/