Matt Goes to Washington

It could be the name to a children’s book, but in reality it’s happening to our  longtime and trusted mechanic Matt Leighton.     Today is his last day, and on Wednesday he’s off to Washington to work for Congressman Erik Paulsen. 

Matt has worked as a Mechanic at Gear West Bike and Tri for the past 6 years, and you may also recognize him as the on-site mechanic at many of the Midwest Multisport series races throughout the summer.     Those who know Matt like to tease him about his slightly obsessive-compulsive attitude towards any type of equipment/components.   Combine that with a vocabulary that will leave many of us checking the dictionary (as you will see from some of his answers), setting him loose on the sales floor can sometimes result in serious head scratching.   

I wanted to ask Matt a few questions before he exits Minnesota.

Here's Matt pretending to work on a bike

CW:  So Matt, when did you start at Gear West Bike and Tri and what brought you here?
ML: I came to Gear West after my freshmen year of college. I had worked at a different shop beforehand, but it was time for a change. At that time I was still very much involved in nordic ski racing, so I wanted to have a job that was supportive and compatible with that lifestyle. After some health issues forced me to abandon serious competition, I opted to stay in contact with endurance sports through the shop.

CW: What is your most memorable moment from your employement here?
ML: I think the most memorable thing for me was not a single instance but my entire tenure. As I reflect on it, watching how the shop has evolved and grown has been a fascinating experience that I am glad I was able to be apart of. But if I had to cite one instance that I am glad happened, it was fulfilling a personal goal — getting to a race before any racers. When I first started regularly acting as the Gear West on-site technician, I could not believe how early some people get to races. So at Lake Waconia ’07 I beat everyone but the race officials. I think I got there at 4:30am.

CW: What are you going to miss about working here?
ML: I of course will most miss the people I worked with. We always operate as a quasi-family at the shop, with each characteristic and talent coalescing into an effective team. The result is a smooth and successful blend of both personal and professional life that makes work easy. Plus, I have worked here at a time in my own life (late-teens, college) where everyone undergoes a sort of intellectual and emotional maturation. Undeniably, the last six years have had a deep impact on who I am today.

CW: What aren’t you going to miss?
ML: What I will miss least will be very familiar to my co-workers, but for outsiders I need to set it up first. For the last six summers I have been at nearly every race Gear West sponsors for on-site technical assistance. The most common thing I do is, of course, pump tires. (Incidentally, it’s a great workout for your upper body). At times the line can grow enormously, as there is a salient and understandable pre-race anxiety from participants. And here is where I would always, without fail, encounter the character I call the “I couldn’t inflate it so it must be flat” boyfriend, or his close cousin, the “lied to his girlfriend/wife about pumping her tires so now she thinks she has a flat” guy. Seriously. You couldn’t figure it out, or were too lazy to. Just admit it! It was such a profoundly simple form of egotism I just didn’t understand.

CW: So tell us what you’re going off to do now?
ML: I am going to be interning for Congressmen Erik Paulsen, which I am going to hopefully use as a springboard into a field concerning international affairs/economics, which was the focus of my degrees in college and an area of deep personal interest. That way I won’t have to subject the guys in the shop to the audio edition of The Economist anymore.

CW: What’s your big picture career ambitions/goals?
ML: My broadly defined goal is, again, to work in foreign affairs, preferably through a public institution like the State Department. I also dabbled in journalism in college, so I could see myself doing that if I somehow decided I never wanted to make a decent living. More narrowly, I want to go to graduate school. My wish upon a star would be to get a joint JD from Stanford and a MA in international relations from Johns Hopkins SAIS. I still have not decided on whether I want to pursue a Ph.D, though I will have a good amount of time to ruminate.

CW: What skills/knowledge from the bike/tri world will serve you well in DC?
ML: Being in a customer service position gives you great experience with being public relations, and with communication in general. In a legislative environment that is probably going to be important. Also, the knowledge that there is a 25 percent tariff leveled against all bicycles imported into the United States gives me the motivation to dig around to find why in gods name that is the case, and which rent-seeking party (parties?) lobbies for it. If you look bikes up in the U.S. Harmonized Tariff Schedule, it is an across the board 25 percent on all types. Unbelievable.

CW: OK, pop quiz hot shot: what’s wrong with the below picture?

President Obama riding his Trek 7100

ML: A couple of things stand out. First, the rear tire is too low. The frame looks at least a size too small, and his seat is still too low. And if I am not mistaken, it would seem that his stem is flirting with the minimum insertion level.

CW: So I’m just gonna lay it out there…. You think you’re betta’ than me?
ML: I’m probably better at discussing geopolitics, but beyond that, it’s a crapshoot.

CW: Thanks Matt.   Make sure to stay in touch, and don’t get corrupted:)

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