“My lifelong quest is to distill the bicycle—the most efficient form of transport ever devised—to its purest form. When you achieve the essence, you bring forth the most endearing traits of a bicycle, the qualities that let us fly down the road with the greatest of ease, and give us the biggest smiles.” —Joe Breeze
Joe Breeze is one of the founding fathers of mountain biking. He built what are considered some of the first true mountain bikes in the late 1970s, and his company was a leader in the industry throughout the 80s and 90s, selling a variety of models under the Breezer label. Most of the early Breezers were recreation-oriented mountain and road bikes, but Joe’s lifelong interest in using bicycles for transportation eventually led him to launch a line of transportation-oriented bicycles in 2002 under the Breezer label. These bikes are fully outfitted from the factory for use as motor vehicle replacements with features such as generator lights, fenders, racks, reflective tires, locks, and bells included as standard equipment.
For 2010, Joe and company have come full circle, once again offering a selection of Breezer mountain bikes alongside their extensive transportation line-up. As with many of their bikes, these new models bear the distinction of being Joe Breeze designs.
How did your background in mountain biking lead to designing and manufacturing bicycles for transportation?
Actually, it was the other way around. My quest for transportation biking led me to mountain biking. As early as 1968 I was dreaming of a world, or really just my country, where bikes would be a popular mode of transport. Bicycling in the USA at that time was largely a sidewalk endeavor by children, so we had a long ways to go. I found road racing to be a steppingstone toward outing the bicycle secret of swift human-powered conveyance. Another, rather brief, attempt to get the word out was the idea of displaying bikes from the Golden Age of cycling, the 1890s. I hoped to restore some of those beautifully made old bikes and give people an awareness of cycling’s vast heritage. In the 1890s, bikes were the king of the road and the pinnacle of personal locomotion. That led me to buy, on a lark, a crusty old 1941 Schwinn balloon-tire bike, which my friend, Marc Vendetti, said I might enjoy riding down the slopes of Mt. Tam. He was right. And of course many others found they enjoyed it too. In fact, the mountain bike got more Americans onto bikes than any other bike since the 1890s. After a while it was apparent that interest was spilling onto the streets and a better bike was needed for everyday getting around. Hence my shift to bikes for transportation.
What type of technical innovations were brought forward from your mountain bike designs and incorporated into your transportation bikes?
Certainly I learned a lot about bike design through mountain biking, but really the crucial thing about everyday bikes is that they are equipped with useful accoutrements such as fenders, racks, lights, etc.—like a car.
What is your current role at Breezer? Are you still directly involved in the design process?
I help plan the direction and the bike and component offerings. I design the frames and act as spokesperson for the brand.
Do you feel bicycle design should be driven by consumer demand or the philosophical approach of the designer?
I don’t think that’s an either-or choice. I have my ideas of what would make sense to offer to consumers. I’m also interested in hearing the interests of consumers, and am willing to incorporate their good ideas.
What kinds of innovations do you see coming in the future for transportation bikes in general and Breezers specifically?
Over the last twenty years Shimano has done a great job making shifting easier. This will continue to the point that shifting is fully automatic and seamless. Cyclists won’t even need to think about shifting, aside from the initial programming of their shift computer. I’d like to see similar advances in braking; braking that makes stopping at stop signs hardly a bother. E-bike battery and delivery technology will see big advances.
Where do you see the market going? Do you foresee a time when the sales of transportation and utility bikes surpass sport bikes in the U.S.?
Absolutely. I see the potential in the US as ten times what we see today. The majority of that growth will be in the transportation or “need” category. We all need to get places and bicycling there keeps us healthy and saves us time. It’s just a matter of awareness for the pieces to fall into place to bring about that growth. And with that growth and the ensuing bike culture will come greater use in the recreational or “want” category. The sport of bicycling will bloom as never before.
The “vehicular cycling versus infrastructure” debate is always a hot topic around here. Where do you stand on this issue, and what do you think will get people out of their cars and onto bikes (other than $7 per gallon gas)?
I am a vehicular cyclist, that is, I ride on the road according to my rights and responsibilities stated in the California Vehicle Code. That said, we will not see 10X growth in cycling without offering separate paths for new cyclists. Look at Europe: far more utility cycling by people of all ages, and it’s happening on far more bicycle-specific infrastructure, separated from cars.
Can you tell us about your daily commute? I’m assuming you ride a Breezer? Which model, and why?
I work out of my home and do almost all my errands by bike. I do not own a car, as it would just sit there and rot, but I do occasionally use my wife’s car. My “car” of choice is a Breezer Finesse, although where parking security is problematic I ride my Uptown 7 (ex-Villager), which now has about 25,000 miles on it. I ride up to 50 miles a day on these bikes. Occasionally I augment my errand rides with a BOB trailer.
What advice would you give to those who are considering adopting a car-lite or car-free lifestyle?
- Get equipped. I did a fair number of errands by bike when all I had was a “naked” bike, but until I had a fully equipped bike, I didn’t know the extraordinary change it would have on my life.
- Get smart. Boost your confidence by taking a bike education program. Study the motor-vehicle code as if your life depended on it. Take it to heart. Ride like an ambassador of cycling.
- Get trim. Consider selling your car. If you’re in a two-car family, try doing with just one.
- Get going. The hardest part is getting out the door with your bike. Once you do, the smile crosses your face and you wonder why it seemed so hard.
We’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Joe Breeze for taking time out of his busy schedule to share his thoughts with our readers. —Alan & Michael