Being Frank – Those Responsible for Me Being Here


Brent Graves Cane Creek
Brent Graves, President and CEO

One never really knows the actual beginning, but a yellow Huffy with a banana seat in 1970 seems to be about right. Before that anything with wheels had my attention, but after that bicycles were clearly the front runner. But the start of this story begins almost a decade later. This story is about how I got here. Over the years strangers have asked how I got such a great job. I’d give them the two minute version of my life story that has passion, perseverance, risk taking, and hard work at the foundation. But the real truth probably lies with the universe and about a dozen awesome individuals that did not give up on me even when I gave them a good reason to do so.

Packing up to move this week had me uncovering old belongings. One such was a trophy from my first bike race forty years ago (and my most recent race was yesterday). I don’t know where I would be now if that “Rocky Ridge Enduro” race had not taken place. So the first big thank you goes to Ken Burnett. An off-road motorcycle competitor that wanted his son and friends to get a taste of racing in the woods, Ken organized what amounted to XC races long before there were MTB XC races. Ken would ride his motorcycle through the woods and staple paper directional areas to trees to map out a course. Then he would ride the course multiple times to bed it in a bit before launching waves of kids wearing skateboard helmets into the woods.

When Mr. Charlie Justice (a gentleman that truly deserves the “Mr.”) brought the stories of organized BMX racing to town, Ken led the way to get a track built in a state park and promote races. Mr. Justice introduced us grommets to the slick, big time, and fast world of BMX racing in the 80s, and my trajectory got a little tighter. I learned a lot from the Justice family – like how to never go to the next moto with a dirty jersey from a crash in the previous moto or how to build a starting gate and perfect starts. During this period my Uncle Gary stayed with us a while, and ever curious, he dug into the BMX world and was instrumental in my development. There, a couple more thank-yous.

The Oscar-winning movie Breaking Away had a big impact on me, but the unrelated brothers Jay Sandefur and the late Chris Hinds taught me how to live like a cyclist and pursue that dream. Before that dream could be realized, spine surgery derailed me a bit. It might have been a permanent derailment if not for the confidence and expertise of the late Dr. Richard Elkus. After he fused some of my 21 year old spine, he told me that only my mind, not my back, could keep me from doing things. Thanks guys.

Clark Kent, legally known as Peter Sweeny, spent a week visiting bicycle dealers with me in 1991. See, Pete was the VP of Sales at Diamond Back (two words back then, and the #4 brand in the USA at the time), and he made the mistake of asking my opinions on Diamond Back, model names, frame design, component spec, etc. Back then I really thought I knew it all, so Pete got more than he bargained for during the trip. But here’s the crazy thing, months later he tossed out my name for the open MTB product manager position. So to California I went. I don’t know what you were thinking, but thanks Pete.

While I’ve learned from others before and after, Al Stonehouse, was my bicycle industry mentor. He forced me to experience the Asian industry rituals, challenged me to think out-of-the-box, and taught me how to anticipate competitors’ moves and strategize. Bob Arnold was also at Diamond Back when I got there, but his contribution to my journey came when he offered me a landing at Answer/Manitou. From Bob I learned what real selling attitude really was, and my sales guys should forever hate him teaching me.

While it was tremendously valuable to learn about real selling, it was neither natural for me nor my strong suit. Enter Scott Boyer, the thinking man’s product manager. Scott had an amazing track record with motocross products before bicycles, and he taught me the value of being observant, insightful, and projecting possibilities based on similar past occurrences. That mindset led me to Reversed Arch patent/design still in use by Manitou twenty years later. Thanks Scott, and it was great to catch up at the Taipei Show.

This guy played a part in my BMX days, but his real impact in my life was about twenty years later. Dan Thornton had worked relentlessly for 27 years to build one of the best names in retail, when he needed a break. It took more courage than I have for him to hand the reigns over to me, and watch as I took his business a step backwards before taking two steps forward. I am very grateful for his trust and confidence. 

While I am definitely a product of all the contributions made by those mentioned above, there is no way that I would be here if not for the two most amazing women I have ever known, my mom and my wife. My mom sacrificed everything for me many times, and my better half has brought out the better in me time and again (and she still needs to find more!). Certainly there are others, but these people are the reason that I have had the best jobs in the world my entire career.