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Interview: Jeff Tiedeken of Monkey Likes Shiny

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Jeff Tiedeken is a member of a small, elite class of hired gun, high concept developers and fabricators within our industry, a group many people don’t even know exists. They hang out on the fringes like mad scientists, their whole purpose to live outside the industry box, think up cool stuff, and make that cool stuff happen. You’ve seen Jeff’s work without even knowing it. Maybe you’ve ridden it. Maybe you’re in love with some of it. But you’ll never know.

Jeff’s company, Monkey Like Shiny, is a full service design and fabrication shop out of Berkeley that works on projects from bicycles components to satellite parts. He also occasionally breaks loose and designs and builds a ludicrous concept bike just because he loves bicycles and he’s got a weird itch. By some strange twist of fate, Jeff and I just happened to be hanging out at the Peacock Groove space, workshop and lair of infamous Minneapolis-based builder, Erik Noren, who mentored and inspired Jeff as a kid to make stuff, make cool stuff, and to go the extra mile.

Armed with celebratory beverages, we retreated to the back of the shop to talk about Jeff’s unusual sources of inspiration, the sometimes depressing realities of high-level development in the cycling industry, and his current completely ridiculous concept project bike – a bike designed for 50 years in the future. Who needs a headset when you can just use a giant sphere?

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BIKERUMOR: You build a variety of ridiculous stuff that isn’t just bikes. What weird vehicle allows you to do that?

JEFF: I guess the weird thing about it is the cross-pollination. So the innovators of mountain biking and the innovators of bicycling in general came from other industries and I think that’s kind of where my roots are, I guess, when you think about it. So working on space shuttle parts, working on satellite parts, working on crazy under water things. Working on this crazy stuff, then you bring back those ideas to things like the bicycle industry, motorcycle industry.

BIKERUMOR: Why do you bring it back?

JEFF: I know I can do it because I’ve already been paid by someone else to learn and do these crazy things. I learn about new materials and techniques and stuff, and I can bring that back. That’s innovation and that’s where a lot of cycling started. Mountain biking started with a lot of aerospace guys at that point where they’re like aw fuck, the industry is in this hiatus period right now. I need to find another job. So they went to this point where they’re like fuck I need to find somewhere to be, you know? If Boeing is going to let me go, I need to do something. I’m good at welding titanium. I’m good at welding chromoly and aluminum. I’m just going to build bicycles. This is a cool job, this is awesome! I get to do two of the coolest things. I get to build stuff and I get to ride bicycles. You can’t ask for much more awesome job than that, you know?

There are tons of people out there and you don’t know it. A lot of people just show the bicycle side of it, or just the other stuff, there’s a lot of innovators out there that are hiding and changing the industry right now but it’s awesome. It’s cool. Guys like Chris King, I mean, he didn’t start making headsets. He started making other stuff. He was doing stuff like aerospace stuff and all kinds of medical parts. And he’s like, dude, I need headsets for my bike. And that’s awesome! That’s what it’s all about. You take that knowledge and you take that back to the industry, and that’s how you make a great product. It’s so cool.

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My whole thing is just trying new things. I work in the concept industry so this last month has been crazy. Doing 2017 concept stuff for Harley, doing 2017 concept stuff for BMW, doing crazy product stuff for the bicycle industry for a lot of major manufacturers, stuff that a lot of times doesn’t even make it far from the drawing board and concept stage. And that’s fucking awesome, I mean, it’s kind of sometimes a bummer for me- it’s heart break, you know, some of the things that I spend hundreds of hours making go into the recycling bin, but that’s part of innovation. You know? You know how it goes.

BIKERUMOR: Yeah, you pour your heart into something and you get super stoked on something, and then it evaporates into thin air! And you can never talk about it… unless it comes out, you’re like-

JEFF: I DID THAT! I WAS PART OF THAT! EVERYONE! I need to remind everyone I was part of that. Instagram, Facebook, all social media! I was part of this!

Designing products and designing stuff like that is, looking back- there’s only a few people per thing that really know the whole story. You know? I mean, you know. You’re a designer, engineer. You know the stories behind simple things. People look at those simple things like a dropout or a bicycle stem and they don’t see that. They’re like “oh hey, that’s a cool stem.” But they don’t know that there was 100 hours of head scratching or 100 hours of prototypes that never made the cut. There’s a whole group of people that are behind the scenes that are making that happen and it’s super cool.

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Some days I’m like: oh man, I wish more people know what I’m doing because my goal is to get the next generation of young kids that are in high school that are riding mountain bikes right now, I want them to be super stoked about running a CNC machine, welding, you know, like this guy Erik Noren I came to visit, I was introduced to Erik when I was probably 16. But it was crazy, you know? I was a 16 year old kid, I was having fun, I wanted to weld. He was a welder. He kind of pushed me in that direction to build stuff and that was-, you know? I have a lot to thank him for. He’s a goofy character. It’s kind of crude, but it’s cool to be a goofy character and do what you love.

BIKERUMOR: You have to be a goofy character to do what you love. You’re clearly a goofy character.

JEFF: Oh THANK you.

BIKERUMOR: How did you get hooked up with Noren of all people?

JEFF: My brother started at Quality Bicycle [Products] in the mid 1990s.Quality was just a little company at the time. It had just moved to a new place. There was talk about new companies appearing. Salsa was just brand new. Big Cheese was around.

BIKERUMOR: Salsa was new to Quality.

JEFF: Salsa was new to Quality. Ross was kind of stepping back and so the cool part about it was that there was a lot of change that happened and on a lot of people’s shoulders to make all these new brands happen at Quality. And my brother was part of that early group of people who were doing it. So was Erik and a lot of other people.

The cool part of Quality in general, and the part that I really like about Minneapolis is that people are just so into what they love, which is bicycling and the industry and like the passion of riding. So I was super stoked about it. It was awesome cause I’m 16, 17 and I was racing cross country and I got tied in with this new company Salsa and they’re like hey! We need a whole bunch of riders and there was Jeff Hall who was like a fork lift driver at Quality. And he was a really fast mountain biker, you know? He was on the team. It was myself and a bunch of other people and it was awesome. It was these dudes who just really liked to ride, you know? And they kind of built that core group.

I was a super young rider. I raced with all the guys. I was the guy that was getting passed by Jeff and Jeff being, “HURRY UP KID KEEP GOING.” and I’m like “COME ON JEFF! YOU’RE ALREADY LAPPING ME DUDE. LIKE SERIOUSLY, YOU HAVE TO SLOW DOWN YOU’RE MAKING ME LOOK BAD.” I was racing an expert, you know?

And cheering on the sidelines for me was my pudgy friend, Erik Noren, who was my brother’s friend. And it was awesome I got introduced to that whole family. From the start of Quality Bicycle [Products] and my brother being part of it, I got pulled into that. My brother was building bicycles on the side as well. He was a Minnesota Mechanical Engineering student, so what he was doing was he was machining a lot of componentry and asking Erik to weld stuff at night, and building concept downhill bikes, stuff that wasn’t even really thought of yet. These were things that in the mid 90’s Erik and my brother were doing at night just for shits and giggles. Quality was kind of the connection for getting the parts to make these downhill bikes happen. They were getting tested at you know… hey, it’s Minnesota. I wouldn’t say that there is really a downhill scene here.

BIKERUMOR: We have Spirit!

JEFF: We have Spirit! But we rode it down hills. It was cool to see that, it was inspiring between those two guys building downhill bikes sometimes when not anyone was really doing it around here. It was mid 90’s and they‘re doing crazy parts, you know? The Boxxer was new. It just came out! It’s a brand new fork. Yeah! And so the bikes are super cool. It’s inspiring. And that between my brother, Erik, and everyone else, part of that Quality family, kind of incubating me as being young, malleable mind.

BIKERUMOR: So you really didn’t just show up as a random kid and got on a bike team. You were stoked ahead of time. What is the product- you’re product-minded- what’s the product that got you stoked?

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JEFF: It’s a little bit of everything. You’re always looking for reasons to make the wheel more round. It’s like, the wheel is pretty round already.

BIKERUMOR: It could be rounder!

JEFF: Exactly, that’s the right attitude. That’s the attitude you gotta have. You’ve gotta have the attitude where you want to make the wheel more round. You always have to have the right judgement that you didn’t make it more round, you actually made it more square and you should stop while you’re ahead. But on the other hand…

BIKERUMOR: … sometimes more square is not a bad thing, though, that’s the weird thing.

JEFF: Exactly. That sparks innovation sometimes. The good and the bad of the bike industry is that it’s very optimized. So a lot of concepts I do for big names out there are these kookie out-there… A to B is optimized. What happens when you can’t go A to B? What happens when you go A to C and you have to go around B? You have this crazy concept that doesn’t look anything like a conventional operation.

That’s where I try to think when I’m building stuff. I try to do stuff that kind of encompasses engineering but also true manufacturing. Design to build. If I can push print, I can be out in the shop and within a day I can have almost a fully working prototype. And that’s the idea with having everything to start the finish in house for my shop. Six axis waterjet. Five axis mill. Live tooling lathes. Five axis presses. I have it all in my shop and I built it that way just for the sole fact of knowing when something comes in, when one of these major brands comes to me and ask “hey, we need this.” I say “what do you need?” And they don’t know, I just have to be able to start to finish build this in house because I can’t afford to be just a designer or just a fabricator. I have to be able to start to finish this whole project.

So I’ve built my whole business around being a problem solver, I guess. A prototyper and a problem solver. I just like to try things. I wouldn’t say, I’m not going to give a percentage because y’all know that there is no way you are going to win them all. The fact of the matter is that that’s part of learning. Exploration, I guess, exploration of development is going to be failure. You’re not going to get it the first time, but the thing about it is, when you know the rules, you know how to break the rules. That’s a key element of making it happen.

BIKERUMOR: Honestly, when you do really high level development 20% of your stuff might get out there.

JEFF: If you’re lucky!

BIKERUMOR: If you’re lucky, 20% of your stuff gets out there and your heart aches because this is all really good stuff.

JEFF: You believe in it.

BIKE RUMOR: When you’re in a position like you are where people come at you and throw stuff at you. And I gotta believe money.

JEFF: Sometimes. I get stuff that comes up that I’m like, don’t worry about paying me. I gotta do this. This is way too fucking rad. Sometimes I get to that point where I get so in love with what I’m hearing and what I’m seeing and what the dream is that there is no way I can’t be part of this.

BIKERUMOR: And what sucks from the high end is that it gets out there, and if it’s really awesome, it’s only awesome for like a year or two years until everyone else grabs a part of it. Or reinterprets it.

JEFF: Yep, totally.

BIKERUMOR: How do you feel when stuff you do gets re-interpreted?

JEFF: In the end- the good and the bad- the bad with social media is that within a night, someone can copy you. Within a night, someone can know you’re the inventor or the innovator or the person that came up with that. There are the pros and the cons of social media. You have to be careful. You have to be careful where you put it out there. They always say that the first form of flattery is copying. I think really in the end, I’ve been super fortunate with kind of the reputation that I’ve built and the reputation that I try to keep. And I think that people know that and that companies like Red Bull, Oakley- they trust my judgement.

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Big companies like Boeing. It’s crazy! I have a company called “Monkey Likes Shiny.” When you get a check from a company like Boeing made out to “Monkey Likes Shiny” for working on a project, that’s pretty rad. But that’s the thing, it comes to it, your reputation is key. When the main thing is striving to finish and striving to complete, you know I always tell people I always try to do 110% over-satisfactory but the fact is that if you just strive to finish, you’re going to be above the 85% of people out there. Because most people don’t actually ever get finished.

BIKERUMOR: People don’t understand hustle, man.

JEFF: That’s my Minnesota upbringing, man. I kick myself in the ass if I’m slacking.

BIKERUMOR: And you don’t know how to take compliments.

JEFF: It’s cool. I have an amazing group of dudes that work with me in the shop and some of them I brought up from basically being kids in Oakland… kind of questioning, you know, this kid has no mechanical skills, but has this passion. You open up an opportunity for that kid and you put it out there. If you have passion for what you do, it’s contagious and people need to be around it and what to be around it.

In the end of the day I want to build crazy stuff. I want to build stuff that changes the world. I want to change it in a better way.

BIKERUMOR: And you want to pull other people up with you.

JEFF: And I want help because I can’t do it alone. At the end of the day I want to drink an ice cold Grain Belt and build a flamethrower. I never want to leave my shop.

BIKERUMOR: So you build up all this stuff for other people, but when you build your own bikes, they are just ridiculous. Can you talk about what is the thing that inspires you to design the concepts that you do? Can you talk about a specific concept? What get’s you to the point where you’re like, you know what? I’m going to do this for myself.

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JEFF: Totally! I haven’t really unveiled much of it but I’m working on a hydrogen fuel cell. So the Department of Energy, they have like an extra hydrogen fuel cell laying around so they’re like “Build something with it.” And I’m like, fuck it, I’m going to build something really rad. So I get a bunch of sheets of titanium and I’m like I’m just going to start from the beginning and say: what if we have to build a bike that’s like 50 years in the future and we can’t use any tubing? Let’s say tubing isn’t available or tubing- we can get tubing but we don’t want to use tubing. Let’s lay down rules. Let’s say the whole bike has to be built from full flat sheet metal and all we can do is bend it. So I start to put some constraints on my own thinking right off the bat so that I have rules. So then I say, what are my wheels, you know? I’m going to use these wheels. Are these really the wheels that are going to be in the future?

BIKERUMOR: (laughing) What’s the wheel standard of the future, man?

JEFF: Is it going to be 27? Is it going to be 26B? Is it going to be 29?

BIKERUMOR: What if it’s just straight up metric, man?

JEFF: Exactly. What if we come up with Unified Metric American standard that we call Metrican? Metramerican? Metramerican.

BIKERUMOR: I love it. I love your thinking. You’re playing a game!

JEFF: I have this fuel cell. DOE is like, don’t cut it up. I start cutting it up. I don’t want it to look like that. It’s not the right way. And I start looking and, okay, how would you steer it? Well, headsets may not be the way of the future. What happens if there is one big spherical ball on the front?

BIKERUMOR: You’re blowing my mind! That’s crazy.

JEFF: What happens if the frame has hydraulic fluid in it and the shocks are built internally in this sheet metal body? We use tubing for a bore, but we come up with this so there is no shock but there is visible moving. And you have a spherical front end that twists in multi-axis directions. It has pivoting for suspension. It has right to left and it has rake and trail all built into it.

BIKERUMOR: Holy shit!

JEFF: So you come up with these weird goofy things and in the top tube of your bike is the hydraulic damping that no one even sees. And you come up with all this crazy stuff where you can adjust and then you come up and you’re like, I like the look of a Mavic rear wheel. You’re looking at it and you’re like Mavic wheels are cool but they suck in the wind, a big disc wheel, you know? But that might be the way of the future. That might be where they put the number on the back or something you know? I got it, I’m going to offset the wheel. I’ll ditch all the spokes, or I’ll use spokes and I’ll offset them super hard to one side. Then I’ll spin spheres and put them in the rear wheel, and that will store the hydrogen, because you have to store hydrogen in a sphere under pressure and it has to be titanium. Because you have you hydrogen embrittlement in stainless and mild steel and things like that.

So, like, now you have these things like thick spheres in the wheel that are non rotating with this wheel with a crazy dish rotating around the outside. So then you start to build this crazy, outlandish futuristic bike and you start designing it and you stop. You look at it, and you go “keep going.” That’s it! That’s the thing. I put these constraints on myself when I build a concept a bike, I say “What’s a trend right now? Delete all trends right now. Look to the future. What’s going to be the trend in the future?” I don’t want to be the trendsetter, but I also don’t want to be taking a trend right now, or a trend in the past, and regurgitate it. I want to come up with something that no one’s seen yet. I want to take something that I know works, that has some reliability, but I want to use some of the knowledge I have right now, and the skills I have right now doing crazy complex machining and fabrication and welding.

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Guys like Eric, they inspired me early on to set the bar high so that I went school- as soon as I met Eric and as soon as I turned 18, I wanted to be an aerospace welder. Right off the bat, I was qualified, not that Boeing would ever hire me at age 18 for crazy high precision parts, but the fact is that I was qualified. And for the past 10 years of my life, I have been a qualified aerospace welder and a lot of credit goes to people like Erik and my brother and the people that incubated me to take the right path. It’s just not good enough. You have to be better. Getting that stuff done early one gives you the ability to think right now.

Now that you have that stuff behind you, you’re like, I’m always going to be a good welder as long as I keep practicing. But I just practice. It’s like shooting free throws. I mean, Kobe Bryant is good at shooting free throws, he just has to keep practicing. He just has to spend an hour. You just have to keep yourself skilled, with machining or welding, and you can take that talent and put it more towards what really is the priority which is thinking of the future, and thinking of now and what I can do to help. That’s kind of my goal. It’s cool that I have kind of a goofy start, but it kinds of starts in the shop we’re standing in, not specifically this shop, but just this guy and the stuff you see. It’s really pushed me to be on a different level. Not to say that there’s any judgment and I, but he was an inspiration to get going. It’s cool.

BIKERUMOR: What would you have to say to say to yourself at 16?

JEFF: Quit being a fucking punk!

BIKERUMOR: You hear about all these awesome people who get into the industry who were, like, fucking around bike shops when they were 12.

JEFF: And that’s who I was! That’s the crazy part about it! I was just riding my Yeti and my Salsa and jumping shit. I was just living the dirt jump thing.

BIKERUMOR: As a kid!

JEFF: That was kind of new and hip, you know? I don’t know if I would really change anything because I was just- I don’t really have any regrets and I don’t really look back. I think I was lucky to have the people around me at the right time and I also cared about what I was doing. I didn’t just care about bike riding, I cared about the people I met. Because it’s all about connections in the end. You can be the best fucking machinist in the world, the best fucking bike rider in the world, but if you can’t get your contract signed to be sponsored, you’re not going to be the best racer because you’re never going to have the money to do it. Or be the best machinist. No one is going to want to teach you. The goal is that you kind of just keep your eyes open and your ears open and you’re ready to take in as much knowledge as you can. Yeah, it’s a trip. I don’t know, I don’t really think about it ever. I was pretty lucky.

BIKERUMOR: You’re all aggressive forward momentum!

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JEFF: I don’t let too much of yesterday to burn up today. Kind of my goal is to look forward. Yesterday was yesterday. Kind of as long as you’re not in jail, and you have a reason to think about why you’re here today because of yesterday… other than that, you’re doing pretty good.

MonkeyLikeShiny.blogspot.com

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14 Comments
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Ryan
Ryan
7 years ago

My job has never felt so boring before.

AngryBikeWrench
7 years ago

“JEFF: It’s a little bit of everything. You’re always looking for reasons to make the wheel more round. It’s like, the wheel is pretty round already.

BIKERUMOR: It could be rounder!”

To those who bemoan Boost 148 and 11 speeds and electronic shifting and all other progress that means you may need to make changes to your bike in the future and blame that on the bicycle marketing industrial concept, take note of these comments. This is how engineers think. 3% increase in lateral rigidity (or whatever) is worth it to them, even if it means you might need a new rear hub. Engineers never turn this way of thinking off. Yes, it’s the marketing team’s job to then sell that concept, but innovation is not driven by marketing; it’s the other way around.

MannyCalavera
MannyCalavera
7 years ago

Machinist, welder, engineer…motivational speaker? Seriously, his take on life in infectious.

Sevo
Sevo
7 years ago

AngreyBikeWrench-i could drink a lot of beers with you. Dead on.

kaliyuga
kaliyuga
7 years ago

“At the end of the day I want to drink an ice cold Grain Belt and build a flamethrower”

That should be a T-shirt

Ultraclyde
Ultraclyde
7 years ago

wow. I would LOVE to hang out with this guy.

JBikes
JBikes
7 years ago

Angry – in support of your statement – anyone, go ride a $3k mountain bike from 1995, then ride one from 2015. Are the improvements bad, not “worth it”? Try that at $1200. Same thing. Innovation over the long term works.

I get the frustration with innovations that may make a part obsolete. But over time its a needed progression for progression. That said, not all ideas are good and a good engineer will be the first to tell you that many an engineered solution proves to cause other bigger issues. Thankfully testing tends to weed these out.

Kark
Kark
7 years ago

Thanks Anna! You invariably have the coolest stuff to share.

TheFunkyMonkey
TheFunkyMonkey
7 years ago

More articles like this – well done!

I second what Angry and others have said above innovation. All well said.

Jeff should host an open house to talk about all his cool crap while downing cold ones. I (and I would assume others) would travel to hang with this guy. This guy is living life right.

Ryan
Ryan
7 years ago

Warning to all: his blogsite will suck you in. Soooo interesting!

Jon
Jon
7 years ago

I first saw MLS during a tool installation video from another youtuber (the kind machinist Tom Lipton). The view of the inside of their shop might be interesting to some, though everything is really crowded because they had to make room for the riggers:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUbM6uQo9zQ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exTn0t0hpoM
The gravity bike pictured above is in there. Also, an 8 foot press brake that probably weights almost 10 tons. And a couple Haas machines worth maybe $200k. It’s good to be backed by the CEO of Autodesk. 😉

AngryBikeWrench
7 years ago

@Jon – I love the OxToolCo videos. Really puts into perspective what “precise” means. I used to pat myself on the back when I trued a wheel to less than a business card’s thickness out of true. That would make a machinist break out in hives.

Alex @ Hermes Sport
7 years ago

Saw that machine tool video – the thought of putting an ST-30SSY and that humongous mill on my credit card made my heart skip a beat!

Serge
Serge
7 years ago

Machine Tool videos were great!!!
Cool Tools and Inspiring guy!
This is where i hoped to be…but never got there….Envy and awe.
Darn.

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