30 November 2012

A Parts-Bin Bike That Changed The World

The Trek I recently sold was a "parts bin bike."  That is to say, most of the components I hung on the frame were ones I had lying around after being stripped from other bikes--or acquired in swaps, or given to me.  

Practically every bike mechanic has put together at least one such bike for him or her self, and possibly for someone else.  Sometimes I think a true bike mechanic will not ride any other kind of bike.

Every once in a while, a "parts bin bike" gains some sort of significance beyond its maker's life.  Such was the case of this machine:

In the immortal words of Tom Cuthbertson, if you had a grand of cash and dreams of riding the Appalachian Trail on a bicycle, you went to Joe Breeze and he built you a bike like this one.

I have always liked the look of it:  an apparent cross between a diamond and French mixte frame.  (In fact, his first bikes were usually equipped with mixte bars.)  There was a reason for this design:  When Breeze, Gary Fisher and others who have claimed (or have had others claim for them) the title of the Inventor of the Mountain Bike were barreling down Marin and Sonoma County fire trails, their frames broke with alarming regularity.  The short life-spans of their bikes had to do with the abuse they incurred, to be sure. However, those pioneer mountain bikers were using bikes they picked up in thrift shops and garage and yard sales.  Some were not terribly strong bikes to begin with, but others were old bikes that probably had hairline cracks and other damage when the Downhill Dudes bought them.  Also, the old Schwinn and Columbia cruisers--which, in those days (late 1960's-mid 1970's) could be found for as little as $2--were made of mild steel.  That is why they were so heavy:  A lot of metal was used to make up for its lack of strength.

Back to Breeze's bike:  The frame was built from tubes and other pieces from wildly differing kinds of bicycles.  For example, take a look at the dropouts, fork, cranksets and brakes:


A mountain bike with track dropouts?  Or a fork from a newsboy-style bike of the 1950's?  How about a crankset and brakes from a tandem or touring bike?

When Joe Breeze built that bike nearly four decades ago, there were, of course, no mountain bike-specific parts.  The TA Cyclotouriste was one of the few cranksets available that could handle the kind of gearing needed.  And the Mafac cantilevers were, by far, the strongest brakes available at that time.  As primitive as those parts may seem to some people today, they were the best Breeze could find for his purposes.

I have to admit that I get a kick out of seeing a Brooks B-72 (which was standard equipment on many English three-speed bikes) on Breeze's rig.  What mountain biker rides such a seat today?

Whether or not Joe Breeze "invented" the mountain bikes, many agree that the bike pictured was the first to be built specifically for the nascent sport of mountain biking.  If nothing else, it's a parts bin bike (sort of, anyway) that changed the world.


  1. The Breezer design was aped rather crudely in Raleigh USA's first "mountain bike", the Trail Rider.
    And I believe Rivendell is making some frames that look like that as well.

    As for mountain bikers with Brooks saddles, there are a few out there. Nicholas from Gypsy by Trade has one:

  2. Adventure--Thanks for reminding me about that early Raleigh mountain bike. It doesn't surprise me that Rivendell is making such frames. Of course, they'll never admit that they're using a mountain bike design!

    Also, thanks for the Gypsy By Trade link!

    1. Justine, I don't think Riv is as anti-mountain bike as you might think. For one, Grant Petersen was involved with Bridgestone first, which did make mountain bikes and the highly covetable XO-1, which was a road bike with mountain bike wheels. And Grant does like old mountain bikes, as evidenced here:

      A quote from the article, when asked what Grant's ideal city bike would be:
      "If you’re asking my own preference, or what I think makes the most functional sense, the most practical sense, I’ll stick out my neck and nominate an all-steel early to late ’80s mountain bike fitted up with a higher and maybe a swept-back handlebar, fenders, rack, and basket. Platform pedals, kickstand, bell, rear view mirror, and some kind of light. It might not suit somebody’s style, and I’m not saying it’s a better style; I’m just saying for me, that’s what I think makes a lot of sense."