Quick spin: Mountain bike pioneer Joe Breeze

NorCal designer/builder returns to his roots

After 10 years of focusing on the growing bicycle transportation market, Joe Breeze is returning to his roots with new mountain bikes for 2010.

The Marin County native was one of the pioneers of the sport – along with Gary Fisher, Charlie Kelly, Tom Ritchey and Steve Potts – in its early days in the 1970s and early 1980s.

After 35 years of running his own bicycle company, 56-year-old Breeze sold it to Advanced Sports, Inc in autumn 2008. BikeRadar spoke to Breeze about the sale, what it means for the company moving forward, and his involvement with the sport of mountain bike racing.

The Breezer bicycle company began 35 years ago, when Breeze brazed his own road bikes to race in Marin County. This led to the production of the first known batch of mountain bike framesets, spawning an industry which revolutionised bicycling and put Mill Valley and Fairfax, California on the map. Breeze was featured prominently in the 2006 documentary Klunkerz.

BikeRadar: You've been especially active with Breezer Bikes this past year since Advanced Sports, Inc bought the brand in 2008. Tell us about what's coming in 2010...

Joe Breeze: For transportation Breezers perhaps the best news is lower prices. That’s due to economies of scale now that I’ve hooked up with a larger manufacturer (ASI also manufacture the Fuji, Kestrel and SE brands). We’ve added a few new fully dressed town bikes, even a naked one, and we’ll have electric Breezers for 2010. Another addition is mountain bikes – my first Breezer mountain bikes in over 10 years. And once again we’ll be selling Breezers internationally.

The 2010 Breezer Thunder Pro hardtail

It's been 10 years since the world saw Breezer mountain bikes. What have you done with the 2010 line?

I’d been focused 100 percent on transportation bikes for the past 10 years, and now with the added horsepower that ASI brings I can branch out a little. For 2010 we’ll have four hardtails, one in steel and three in aluminium. With the classic spear-point paint job, visually they look akin to your '90s Breezers. They’ve been updated with new Breezer D’fusion tubing, BreezeIn dropouts, 100mm Fox forks and Apex-mounted hydraulic discs.

What prompted you to sell the Breezer brand?

After 35 years of going it alone, the timing was right. The transportation segment of the US market was rapidly growing. Pat Cunnane, the president of ASI, always with an astute eye for the market, saw value in adding Breezer, a leader in transportation cycling, to their company.

ASI also valued my abilities with mountain bikes and road bikes, and my tendency to innovate rather than follow trends. My personal interest is bike design, not running a company, so with ASI taking over the business side I’ve been able to focus fully on the creative, technical work.  

What's a typical day like for you now?

I still live in Marin, so a typical day has me in touch via email with ASI headquarters in Philadelphia most hours of the day. I work out ideas in my machine shop and make bike and component drawings on my computer. Most days I’m also out riding to try new product.  

You and your wife are involved with the NorCal High School Racing League; tell us about that...

Our son Tommy races in the League. In fact, his interest in mountain bikes has made my transition back into mountain bike design much easier (if not inevitable). He’s one of my best product testers. Connie and I, with the Breezer brand, are sponsors of the Sir Francis Drake High School mountain bike team. I help out on team training rides and I wrench for the team at the races.  

The NorCal High School League started in 2001 and has proven very popular with students. Each year sees dramatic growth. Drake (the reigning California State Champs!) had 35 racers in 2009, and for 2010 more than 50 students have signed up. A SoCal division was started last year.

This year high school racing went national; the organisers of NorCal formed NICA, the National Interscholastic Racing Association. Colorado and Washington will have NICA racing for 2010 and NICA plans to develop high school mountain bike racing coast to coast by 2020.  

As a parent, it’s great to see schools offering a sport with life-long useful, joyful implications. NICA racing is going to alter the face of cycling across the USA. Kids love it!

Breeze (C) on the annual Dino Ride in Marin County on 13 September

You've travelled the world. Is there any place better than Marin County, California to ride?

It’s the best place for me, since it’s all right out my door. 

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