An Interview with Mountain Bike Legend Joe Breeze
Mountain bike pioneer Joe Breeze recently came through Fort Collins to promote the more utilitarian side of cycling. In a heavily attended presentation on “Healthy Transportation Choices Now” at the Fort Collins Lincoln Center, he pointed out what bikes have, and what they lack, when considered for commuting use. ExperiencePlus! was one of the event sponsors, and Rich Young arranged an interview with Joe after the talk was over.
For those of our readers who aren’t familiar with your career, who is Joe Breeze?
Joe Breeze is someone who from an early age saw the bicycle as a way to get places while getting health while saving time while having fun. And who saw and sees the bicycle as useful to many Americans in many ways even though its usefulness is still a secret to most Americans.
In my 40 years of bicycle touring, road racing, mountain biking and everyday getting around by bike, the mountain bike has had the greatest impact so far on getting that secret out. My best known achievement in mountain biking was designing and building the first successful frames for the sport in 1977-78. Those 10 Breezers were the first all-new mountain bikes, built up with all new parts.
And now, you’re working on bike advocacy and making these new “city bikes.” What is the connection, and why have you turned your efforts in this direction?
The greater usefulness of bicycles has been something that’s been with me from the beginning, but there’s a time and a place for everything. Consider town bikes as Phase 3. Phase 1 was road racing. In the 1960s, Americans, in general, saw the bicycle as a child’s sidewalk toy. The challenge of the day was to demonstrate how quickly bicycles could travel from Point A to Point B. Road racing served this end well, and the media did its part. Phase 2 was mountain biking. The mountain bike was a friendlier bike. Cushier tires and more upright seating got more Americans on bicycles than at any time since the 1890s. Phase 3 is the town bike–a useful bike for everyday living. Useful bikes put bicycling more on the order of eating and breathing. It’s a tool; not just a want, but a need. Town bikes have the potential to get more people on bikes than ever before.
One of the key points of your talk was the things that keep people from riding bikes for their basic transportation. What barriers do you see in each of the following, and what answers can you provide?
Safer and more convenient ways to get around by bicycle will make cycling more attractive. The biggest deterrent to cycling, however, is subservience to the dominant culture: cars. Billions of advertising dollars are spent every year to remind us to just drive. It’s difficult to avoid, and it’s important to recognize the impact it has on us.
To move to healthier, more sensible living it takes some resolve to ignore the dominant culture. Be aware of it, and get yourself a bike that’s equipped properly for everyday getting around. Replace some of your car trips with bike trips for errands, visiting friends, etc. Gradually replace more of your car trips–longer errands, even getting to work.
One of the best investments of time is learning how to ride safely and effectively on roads with other users. You can take classes from the League of American Bicyclists, and read Street Smarts by John Allen (a copy comes with every Breezer).
One of the first things you notice about Breezer city bikes is the number of accessories they come with. What’s on your list of must-have equipment and clothing for commuting and errands?
A well-equipped bike will be a well-used bike. That bike, parked next to your car, has a much better chance of being ridden than a “naked” bike. When you’re heading out the door, having to scrounge for lights, fenders, or carriers makes the car real inviting. Have a bike that’s ready to go–always. Breezers come with the following:
As an example of a Breezer’s utility, the lighting system is powered by the rotating wheels, so you have no batteries to buy or throw away; you’ll always have enough charge for your errand. And most Breezers’ lighting systems have a capacitor to provide four minutes of light for stops at traffic signals and such.
Aside from the above features, there’s an array of Breezer carrying bags or baskets available to suit individual needs. There are many ways to further customize your bike with creature comforts. An element of the readiness of town bikes is that they’re designed to be ridden in everyday wear, whether that’s casual clothing or a business suit. Just add a helmet and you’re ready to go.
Leaving accessories aside, what else do city bikes have that other bikes don’t?
Most people riding in America today are recreational riders, people for whom the ride is the primary goal. I believe that the people riding today represent less than 10 percent of the potential of those who could be riding. For that other 90 percent, it’s important to offer a bike that’s less intimidating. Our Breezer Town bikes have easy-to-shift, internally geared transmissions. The gears (8-speed, 7-speed, or 3-speed) are neatly in a row. They can be shifted while riding or stopped. Maintenance is almost non-existent. And there is no greasy, exposed derailleur. Our step-through U-frame bikes are easy to mount. Seating is more upright and comfort is paramount. Brake levers and saddle covers have heat-controlling insulation. For people riding more challenging topography we have our Breezer Range bikes with wider-range derailleur gearing. And all Breezers are designed with spunk. They give more mileage per effort, more smile per mile.
Your fillet-brazed steel frames were always so beautiful. Why have you chosen to go with aluminum frames for your city bikes?
I think way too much is made of differences between aluminum and steel for bike frames. More important is frame design and fabrication. I could have chosen either material. With the volume of bikes being made of aluminum these days, the price is about the same as a cro-moly steel frame. Each material has its advantages and specific design requirements, and each can do the job well.
For those considering cycling for basic transportation, where should they start? What advice and encouragement do you have to offer?
And think of the money you’ll save riding your bike instead of driving. The greatest wear and tear on a car is in the first two miles. Probably more important, the health benefits of biking will save you medical bills stemming from inactivity. Integrating health right into your routine via the extraordinary efficiencies of bicycling can save you money (and essentially time) in many ways.
Finally, can you leave us with a vision of the future you’re working toward?
There are affluent cities in this world where over 50 percent of all trips are by bicycle. In The Netherlands, 30 percent of all trips are by bicycle. The Dutch populace is by and large healthy in terms of personal health, environmental health and fiscal health. The Danes are not far behind. The Germans are catching up.
It may be difficult for many Americans to see everyday cycling approaching 30 percent any time in our future, yet there are many reasons to work in that direction. Yes, America is large, but this movement is more about getting around locally. There are other ways to travel longer distances. Most American cities are relatively flat, and if there are hills, the towns are often situated in valleys with the majority of the populace living near or on the valley floor. And certainly, biking isn’t for everyone or everywhere, but bicycling can provide healthy solutions for many, many Americans.
Think of people quietly getting health as they go about their daily routine in communities that have wisely invested in healthy solutions for themselves. People out in the light of day, with no tinted glass between them and the world, waving and smiling, speaking to each other. Of people riding to the bank, to the grocer, to a movie or a meal. Of people dressed in business suits riding to the bus or train station for work.
Secure bike parking is the norm. Cities and towns are laid out on a more human scale and not sprawled across the countryside.
America has become energy self-sufficient and tensions ease around the world. Fewer children are groomed for a life at war. Interest in violent video games wanes.
People can honestly feel good about their daily choices. Mental health issues decline.
Oh don’t get me wrong, there will likely always be people ready to exploit others. The difference with my everyday-bicycle vision is that there will be fewer people feeding off exploitation and perpetuating it around the globe.
Let’s get rolling towards a better America. Now’s a good time.
Thanks to Joe for taking time from his busy schedule to talk to us! If you’d like to learn more about Breezer bikes, visit their website at www.BreezerBikes.com.