Our interview with Joe Breeze, considered by many to be one of the fathers of MTB.
For over 50 years Joe Breeze has shared his passion for bicycling. Born in California in 1953 at perhaps the nadir of cycling in the US, Breeze was logging 100-mile rides by the time he was 12 years old. He was soon riding and racing in western US states and touring Europe by bike. He took up frame building in 1974 in an era of cycling resurgence, and was part of the Marin County, California crew that developed the mountain bike. He built what are widely considered the first modern mountain bikes. His 1977 Breezer #1 is now enshrined in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. Breeze continued to produce road and mountain bikes for the next two decades and then in 2001, having spent years advocating for bicycle transportation, he jump-started the US transportation bike movement by designing and producing a line of Breezer bikes equipped for transportation. In 2008 he sold the Breezer brand to Advanced Sports International, and still designs Breezer mountain, road and transportation frames for the company. In 2015, Breeze and friends opened the nonprofit, all-volunteer Marin Museum of Bicycling, where he is curator.
Left to Right - Joe Breeze, Otis Guy and Marc Vendetti, founders of MMB.
OSMTB: Tell us more about the Marin Museum of Bicycling
Joe Breeze: The Marin Museum of Bicycling in Fairfax, California is our bicycle cultural center—it’s as much about the future as it is about the past, with exhibits, movies, gatherings, talks and programs that celebrate cycling. We showcase bicycles from the first pedal bikes of the 1860s to Vincenzo Nibali’s 2014 Tour de France winning bike. Bikes in our Igler Collection of 19th-century cycles represent the technological stepping stones to the modern bicycle. The museum is also the new home for the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and we continue to expand that collection. It includes some of the earliest bikes raced at Repack, and goes up to the advent of 29ers. We also have an ever-growing archive, to preserve items of cycling history and make them available for researchers. The Mountain Bike Hall of Fame honors 150-plus MTB contributors who’ve been inducted over the years since the HOF's founding in Crested Butte, Colorado in 1988. With the help of a larger committee we continue to handle the Hall of Fame's annual election process, culminating in Induction events each fall. In 2017 that will be September 22-23 in Fairfax
Marin Museum of Bicycling
OSMTB: And more about the repack years
Joe Breeze: Repack was the very crucible of mountain biking. The infamous Repack events, 24 downhill time trial races mostly in the late 1970s, were the magnet that regularly drew all us crazy kids together to share our passion for the new fat-tire bike. Word from Repack soon spread beyond our bounds, inspiring others far and wide.
OSMTB: How did you first get interested in bikes?
Joe Breeze: At a time when cycling was pretty much a secret in the US, with bikes viewed as sidewalk toys, the fact that my father rode one to work and also did road rides through the beautiful hills of Marin, gave me a glimpse of the wide world of cycling. He was a machinist and an important teacher and mentor for me. I was soon helping to spread the word, and riding with others far and wide. I started road racing in 1970 and started building frames in 1974.
OSMTB: What was the first bike you owned?
Joe Breeze: My first bike of my very own (not borrowed) was an English 3-speed made by Raleigh. That was in 1962, when I turned 9 years old.
OSMTB: What’s your favourite thing about cycling?
Joe Breeze: My favorite thing comes from the fact that the bicycle is the most efficient mode of transport ever devised. Per calorie burned, a bike is our swiftest steed—it takes us the farthest for our effort. It's that swiftness that puts the smile on my face as I fly down the road. That's the joy at the heart of cycling. And of course cycling is clean, sustainable transport. Sustainability got a lot of us interested in road racing, and was the glue that held the mountain bike movement together. We all knew cycling was a positive force, worth devoting our lives to. Our sport’s “ball” was a lifelong healthy tool for everyday life.
OSMTB: What was your greatest moment when you were racing?
Joe Breeze: In road racing it was my 13th place in the US National Championships in 1977. In off-road racing it was my 10 victories at Repack.
Joe Breeze: leading the field at Nevada City 1977.
OSMTB: Do you still get to hang out with anyone from BITD?
Joe Breeze: I’ve always lived in Marin County, so certainly I get together with many long-time friends. Many are involved at the museum, which is volunteer run. Museum co-founders Otis Guy and Marc Vendetti are my best riding buddies from Velo Club Tam and early fat-tire days. Nearly every day, a Velo Club Tam alum is on hand at the museum. Charlie Kelly is among the regulars.
OSMTB: Do you think purple ano should come back?
Joe Breeze: Being color blind, I thought that was a good shade of grey. Honestly, I’m a fan of blue with a dose of red.
OSMTB: Do you think mountain bikes succumbed to the trend of more is better, more travel, full sus and does the average rider need it?
Joe Breeze: I love all that stuff.
OSMTB: Is your garage filled with retro goodness, or are you a one bike man?
Joe Breeze: The garage was full until we started the museum.
OSMTB: Do you have a favourite bike? One you choose to ride over all the others?
Joe Breeze: I just got back from a morning commute on my Breezer town bike. It’s my car. Every ride seems to end with me thanking Shimano for their brilliant Nexus hub. For mountain biking I’m on a Breezer Supercell 160 fully 29er, my favorite mountain bike to date. Most of my rides lately are on a Breezer road bike, especially this winter of boggy trails.
OSMTB:: Do you have a favourite mountain bike to date?
Joe Breeze: Supercell.
Photo from the Breezer website
OSMTB: And the best bike paintjob?
Joe Breeze: The 2012 Breezer Cloud 9. I do love my Breezer spear paint jobs of the 1990s, but those created too big a distraction from my frame structures. I found that when an advanced bike has a classic paint job, it gets called retro despite all of the innovation going on underneath the paint and decals.
OSMTB: Has the friendliness of mountain bikers you meet out there on the trail these days changed or is it us getting old and cynical?
Joe Breeze: Anything that becomes popular runs the risk of losing passion as people flock to it solely because it’s a thing to do. But cycling has a way of making true believers. It’s effort with reward. So no, this feeling will never get old. I love seeing the joy in the riders out there, people of all ages.
OSMTB: How often do you get to ride? Where? And what?
Joe Breeze: I ride most every day. It’s how I get around. On top of that are rec rides, mountain and road. A hundred miles a week is a good week these days.
OSMTB: Where is the best place in the world you’ve ridden? And why?
Joe Breeze: I think my most memorable rides have been in Europe, epic Alpine passes. But riding out my door is special in its own way.
OSMTB: What have you been up to recently?
Joe Breeze: Designing frames for Breezer is my day job, and I’ve also been working on the museum a lot for the last few years.
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