Being Frank: Mechanical Empathy

Brent Graves
Brent Graves – President and CEO

Nearly two decades ago I met a guy that introduced me to a concept that I had thought about but never distilled into a conscious methodology and attitude. The concept of relating to how we interface with things mechanical was something I just felt naturally. I sensed that mechanical things have finite lives that can be accelerated by slamming doors and drawers, hitting pot holes squarely, substituting a hammer for the proper tool, or neglecting routine cleaning and maintenance. While I believe this can be learned to some degree, I do believe that some, like my better half, will just never get it.

Michel Lamar was a very good mechanic and approached all mechanical work professionally. His time in the military in charge of a helicopter detail supercharged his propensity for mechanical empathy. You know, there’s nothing natural about how a helicopter flies. So one best make sure everything is right or else it falls out of the sky. Also Michel’s formative years in cycling were when road riders took it upon themselves to glue on tires, true wheels, and drill holes in parts to reduce weight(!). Back then one could not order a light weight carbon fiber stem via the internet on your smart phone – none existed.

Last month he and a handful of other buddies joined me for my 13th annual ride camp. However, the camp formula of all-day hammerfests that inherently met the definition of “epic ride” became suspect in light of the global pandemic and a couple of participants’ recent heart issues. So we halved the ride distances and turned down the intensity but added moto – pedaled in the morning and throttle twisted in the afternoon on some of the best roads in the world.

Two instances on days three and four drove home how much the time with the guys meant to me. The first was after we pulled up at a country store after blasting up some twisty roads in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Parkway. When Michel pulled his helmet off his grin warmed my heart. He could not stop talking about how much fun he was having, and I felt honored and privileged to be a part of his experience. The next day when we pulled over on a piece of The Rattler to indulge in some ice cream, the unspoken feeling was “this is living”, and clearly Michel was envisioning what his next chapter in life could look like. A week later Michel was gone.

While we worked within six feet of each other daily for over four years, I never consciously thought about the depth of our relationship. He was a great guy, quick to smile, always interested, and ALWAYS ready with a story. We connected on a certain level that was certainly fueled by our mutual passion for bicycles and motorcycles. But my reaction upon learning that some loser murdered him was deeper than I could ever have imagined. Sure it was a literal and figurative crime for his life to have been taken, but I think it hit me so hard because my last moments with him were full of pure joy and promise. Somehow the abrupt cancellation of that joy and promise made the loss unbearable.

R.I.P. (ride in peace) my friend Michel.

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