Riding with the Breeze

Originally posted on February 10, 2014 at 9:50 am


It’s hard to imagine a more unassuming guy than Joe Breeze. Unlike his contemporaries Gary Fisher or Tom Ritchey, who are easy to spot in a crowd, Breeze could be the guy standing in line in front of you at the grocery store, or your friendly neighbor who always greets you with a wave and a smile. Of course, if you live in Fairfax, California, there’s a good chance he is both of these things.

Tucked away in a dense neighborhood at the foot of Cascade Canyon is the modest home he shares with his wife Connie and two cats. Breeze moved here in the late 1980s and, always unwilling to stop improving things, went about digging out the basement for a workshop,  built a second story, and added a walkway to the pool that sits slightly higher up along the hillside.

Inside the tidy house is a big record collection and a three-foot-long scale model of a 74-gun warship, built by Breeze’s grandfather. The details are astounding: thread is wound differently than rope, so all of the rigging was wound by hand. Each of the tiny cannons was cast individually. The lower hull is plated with tiny shingles of copper. It’s just one of several tall ship models that his grandfather built that have moved in and out of museums across the country. People had a lot more free time before TV and Facebook, Breeze jokes.

His father Bill was equally handy, building and racing cars out of his shop in Sausalito. He founded the local chapter of the Sports Car Club of America and even graced the cover of the August 1952 issue of “Road & Track” at the wheel of a Cooper 500 Formula III car. Many of Bill Breeze’s machine tools now reside in Joe’s shop and helped create the first generation of modern mountain bikes.

Breeze’s workshop is as tidy as his home. Sure, it houses four decades of cycling paraphernalia, and there are some dusty corners and cardboard boxes stacked to the rafters, but it’s largely free from clutter and a gold mine in mountain bike memorabilia. The amazing things I saw included:

  • Breezer #6, owned by Wende Cragg (who we would meet along the Tamarancho trails later in that afternoon).
  • An experimental frame Breeze built with a 78 degree head tube angle and a zero offset fork (“It was like a unicycle—a lot of fun to ride, once you got the hang of it.”).
  • The 1989 Breezer Kite—a show bike he built as a proof-of-concept that replaced portions of the frame with rigging.
  • A new-in-box Shimano Airlines group on top of a Campagnolo tool kit and a 25th Anniversary Dura Ace group.
  • A steel fork he made with a swedged steerer tube—a precursor to modern tapered steerers.
  • And countless more artifacts that belong in a museum…

Oh, and wouldn’t you know it, Breeze has such a museum. The Mountain Bike Hall of Fame announced last year that it was moving from Crested Butte, Colo., to Fairfax. The new venue is now under construction in a former organic grocery in the heart of Fairfax. Breeze is overseeing much of the construction and design work, and was key in making the move happen. In 2012 he guest-curated an installation of mountain bike history at the San Francisco airport that became the inspiration for the museum’s new home.

The Hall of Fame will include 3,000 square feet of display space, enormous murals of Mt. Tamalpais from the San Francisco Airport mountain bike exhibit, a small screening room for historic films and streaming live racing, and room for 100 guests for special events. More than just reflecting the past, Breeze envisions a hub for cyclists of all types to gather and create new histories through the flourishing Fairfax cycling culture. Despite the always sensitive issue of land-use and access for cyclists, the community is largely rallying behind the project, Breeze said, and was especially enthused by a local artist’s tile mosaic declaring Fairfax the “birthplace of mountain biking.”

Out on the trails, Breeze can still show up riders half his age. At 61 he might not be grabbing KOM climbs on Strava but with four decades of experience he can rip down Repack Road in a hurry. Hell he dropped me after only a few corners. Even though we were aboard some of his latest full-suspension Breezer mountain bikes, the road is surprisingly steep and loose and going “sub five” as Joe likes to say, isn’t easy. The bikes we ride now are a world apart from the klunkers Breeze and Co. piloted—no, I should say “plummeted”—down the mountain in the late 1970s, but the smiles on our face at the bottom were just the same.

Keep reading

Watch for a long-term review of the new 2014 Breezer Repack in issue #176, our commemorative 25th Anniversary Issue. Subscribe before February 21 and you’ll get it in your mailbox.

Check out our first impressions of the Repack, with an all-new suspension system exclusive to Breezer bikes.

Read more about the exhibition of mountain bike history at the San Francisco airport in 2012.


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