If there was ever a name synonymous with the Litespeed brand, it has been Brad DeVaney. While many brands push their engineer brainpower forward to bask in the limelight of their creations, DeVaney, Litespeed’s longtime product design and development lead, is less interested in getting credit for the design of a bike.
He just wants to ride the dang thing. All day.
From the age of five, DeVaney was enamored with riding, and served as shadow to his big brother Tim. “He’s six years older than I, so I was forever chasing around in his footsteps,” he says. He always challenged me, and it stepped up my game in every aspect of life.”
Growing up in Chattanooga, Tenn. with a father who was an automotive tinkerer in cars, boats and motocross bikes, and a big brother that served as his high water mark when it came to brotherly competition, It wasn’t long before he got the bug to race—and found he was very good at it. When he was eight years old, he went from top regional BMX racer to national level talent, traveling the country on a national circuit as a factory team rider for Schwinn. It was his first taste of examining a bike for its performance value.
“I couldn’t believe I was riding actual prototypes for a company, giving them feedback that they’d use for development.” DeVaney recalls.
As DeVaney grew, so too did his love of riding; if there was a start line and finish line, DeVaney was in. He raced for a road team in the mid ’80s that provided the team with used Team 7-Eleven bikes—providing DeVaney his first experience riding a titanium bike. In the late ‘80s, he discovered a penchant for triathlon, and mountain bike racing.
While working in shops, doing wheel builds and even his own custom frame painting job on the side while in college in the late 1980s, DeVaney would occasionally build show bikes for Litespeed in Chattanooga. The work led to a part-time gig, and with a mind full of concepts and ideas, he challenged the company—during an era of pretty staid round-tubed designs— on how to change the shape of titanium tubes in the interest of improved performance. It wasn’t long before Litespeed offered him a full-time job on the design team. Torn between completing his engineering degree in college or getting practical hands on experience, the decision was made easier by the opportunity. DeVaney joined Litespeed full-time in 1990.
“My dad said, ‘are you sure you want to leave college?’” he recalls. “I said ‘hey they’re letting me design bikes for Greg Lemond—I’m ok with it.’”
Instantly, DeVaney had a platform to prove his concepts. Inspired by the work of Ugo DeRosa, Steve Hed and Irio Tommassini. Basic round-tubed titanium gave way to DeVaney’s ideas of curves, blading, bead-rolling and extruding of the material, all very technologically advanced ideas, and in the interest of adding stiffness here, aerodynamics there, compliance there.
“I wasn’t that impressed with round-tubed technology for the most part, because you were limited to what you can do with straight round tubing,” DeVaney says. “I was fired up about what I thought Litespeed could do, so I went nuts to want to taper a tubeset. We had some basic tube-shaping tools, but I worked up the tools and processes to incorporate these news shapes in a functional way was unique in titanium. And I didn’t want to do it for a visual kick—it had to be functional.”
Litespeed’s own sponsored teams and athletes were DeVaney’s fertile field for design development, the teams and athletes he worked with in building their bikes, legendary. The Chevrolet-L.A. Sherriff team, which included Steve Hegg and Malcolm Elliott voiced their feedback on the domestic road racing scene in the late 1990s, as did triathletes like Tim DeBoom and Cameron Brown. So too did a young Tom Boonen, and two-time Race Across America winner Pete Penseyres, riding bikes across the country that came off DeVaney’s drawing board.
It wasn’t long before Litespeed—and DeVaney—became in-demand with in-the-know pros. DeVaney was the man in charge creating many of the rebadged Litespeed bikes that riders like Lance Armstrong were riding under different auspices. “I was making bikes for riders like Alex Zuelle and Laurent Jalabert. I had riders on ONCE, Gan, Telekom, Motorola, all riding my bikes in one Tour de France one year—it was incredible.:
“Then there was John Tomac’s titanium-carbon Raleigh in 1991—we didn’t get much play on that one, but there was a lot of blood, sweat and tears that went into making that bike,” he adds. “And there was Lance’s World Championships bike in 1993—those rainbow stripes meant a lot to me, and it’s something we ended up incorporating into the Litespeed head badge for some time.”
As much as he leaned on the pros for input, there was nothing better than first-person experience, so he’d finish a prototype, pull on his kit, and ride. Sometimes, testing meant multi-day excursions. Sure, it was fun, but it was testing as well.
“I remember riding 350 miles to a mountain bike race once,” DeVaney says. “I boxed and shipped my mountain bike, then took off on my road bike…and beat UPS to the delivery.”
Then there was the ride with friends from nearby Dahlonega, Georgia to Jekyll Island on the Atlantic coast, a nearly 400-mile, two day excursion. “I did that ride on a prototype of our Icon, and man, that was a pretty cool ride!”
Once passing muster of the pros (and DeVaney), many of his progressive designs made their way into production and came to define the point of differentiation between Litespeed and any other titanium bike manufacturers.
DeVaney served as the company’s point person when NASA approached to garner an assist of the creation of the Mars rover Curiosity, in 2012. “I took that call and led our interface at that facility,” DeVaney recalls. “Their team mobility leader said ‘some of these guys, they think you’re some little bike company. If you present to 85 of our engineers on titanium forming capability, I think they’d be ready to partner with you,’” he says. “So I explained it all, in their terms, and moved our plus/minus five percent tolerances to plus/minus one percent. They did decide to work with us. I had just finished a bike ride when it landed on Mars, and they had me on the phone when it landed—that was awesome. Just amazing to be a part of that.
Today, DeVaney continues to push the envelope of what’s possible in titanium, and can be seen in the new chainstay yoke on the Watia gravel bike, and many new products that are, as they say… coming soon. He still throws on a race plate and lines up at events like Unbound, or keeps it simple and hits the weekend group road ride.
“All of this is fun,” DeVaney says of his job. “And it’s a great team—at the factory, Marcus Higgins, Joe (Headrick), Chris (Brown) and Brandon (Collier) are great guys I’ve enjoyed creating newer products with. I’ve always wanted to get the job done in a graceful way, not flamboyantly, and always looked at what form was best, what builds the best. It’s simply a passion for better instruments, and I think about cycling as my music, and bikes are our instruments. I believe in a finely-tuned instrument.”
“I was creating benchmarks, and always wanted to do something remarkable with titanium,” he adds. ”And I still do.”