By Nicole Formosa
Photo by JP Van Swae
This story originally ran in the June 2013 Issue of Bike
If you've ever worked In a bike shop, or paid a shop to work on your bike, you've benefited from Bradley Reid's craftsmanship. Not that you would ever know it. Reid, 65, is one of the mountain-bike industry's unsung heroes. Long behind the scenes, he's had a steady hand in keeping the wheels turning on hundreds of thousands of bikes, all over the world.
As Park Tool's longest-employed staff member—and the only hand welder who is still with the company—Reid has torched every repair stand ever produced by the Midwest manufacturer, not to mention the majority of its wheel-truing stands and dealer-level tools. One couldn't even begin to put a number on the pieces Reid has bonded during his 36 years on the job, but it's safely in the hundreds of thousands.
His mark is indelible, especially considering that Park Tool is the leading supplier of tools to bike shops worldwide, and a favorite of do-it-yourself garage mechanics.
"We hang our hat on the quality of our product, and he's the first line right there on the 50 or so products that go through that department," said Eric Hawkins, Park Tool's owner. "He takes great, great pride in his work—making sure it's a strong weld, but it also looks really nice."
Reid is an unassuming, occasionally stubborn, south Minneapolis native who found his way to Park Tool in 1977 through a friend who knew the budding toolmaker needed a welder. Reid soon became the company's first full-time employee, and he never left.
For nearly four decades, he has driven 28 miles each way from his home to Park Tool's St. Paul headquarters, donned his singed gloves, flipped down his scuffed welder's mask, picked up his torch and melted metal together to create the marquee blue tools that mechanics rely on every day. To him, it's a job and a responsibility. But more importantly, as Hawkins noted, it's a matter of pride. Seldom has any tool that has left Reid's welding bench been returned.
"I'm very protective of the parts I send out," he said. "If I opened the box and didn't like it, I wouldn't buy it."
He's had to adjust over the years—two robots now weld a lot of the larger, high-volume parts, such as crank pullers and the pieces for truing stands—but Reid learned how to program the 'bots' and is now in charge of his automated colleagues.
Even at 65, retirement does not weigh heavily on Reid's mind. "I like what I'm doing," he said. "It's healthy. I don't plan on going anywhere."
And for that, we and our bikes are all better off.