People have been riding off-road since bicycles were first invented, partly because there were so few paved roads more than 100 years ago, but also because bicycles tend to stir a sense of adventure to explore off the beaten track. Fundamentally, a bicycle is one of our most efficient creations, and with a narrow track and relatively light weight, it can be taken practically anywhere.
Such was the case in the early 1970s when various groups began riding their balloon tire “klunker” bicycles on trails and dirt roads. Adapted primarily from Schwinn-built paperboy cruisers, these bikes had stable downhill geometry and eventually acquired multiple gears for some climbing chops. Unfortunately, their mild steel construction combined with riding well outside their intended purpose meant that they were prone to breaking. Few examples of these original klunkers survive today.
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The Breezer Series I: The First Purpose-Built Mountain Bike
In the mid-1970s, Joe Breeze had been studying bicycle frame building at Albert Eisentraut’s school in Oakland, CA, striving to make lightweight road frames for fellow racers like Otis Guy. Joe had grown up in his father’s home machine shop, which gave him the capacity to make frames that involved more than just joining tubes with conventional lugs. As a regular competitor at the punishing Repack downhill klunker race in Fairfax, CA, he saw the need for a more durable off-road bicycle. In 1977, Joe decided to make himself a purpose-built mountain bike from the ground up with durable straight-gauge cro-moly aircraft tubing. He was also encouraged by Charlie Kelly and Larry Cragg, and Kelly actually fronted Breeze $300 to buy tubing for 10 frames.
Since Breeze liked the handling of his Schwinn-built 1941 B. F. Goodrich klunker, he adopted that geometry, with a 67.5-degree head angle for stable descending. Joe would end up winning the Repack downhill on his first run on the new bike, which would eventually become known as Breezer #1 and now resides on public display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
In 1978, Joe would embark on making a batch of 9 more bikes to be sold to Marin County locals and close friends such as Charlie Kelly, Wende Cragg, and Otis Guy. Besides racing together, Otis had been a close friend while working at a local bike shop, a tandem partner on two transcontinental record attempts, and a fellow team member of Velo Club Tamalpais, which he had helped found.
Both Joe and Otis had started riding klunker bikes together in October of 1973, but Otis jumped at the opportunity to own a bike that was meticulously made by Joe to be far more durable and lighter. The bike Otis would receive was, by design, bigger than the Schwinn it replaced (22” vs. 18”), but still not a perfect fit since Otis was 6-foot, 6-inches tall. But really, this was a time before people thought much about bike fit and climbing efficiency on these new-fangled “mountain bikes” because they were already so much more capable than what they replaced.
For $750, the new owner received a bike that was ready to ride and complete with a Silca pump, water bottle, and bottle cage, plus a spare tube, tire irons, bandana, and leather toe strap to secure these items under the saddle.
The most distinctive feature of these bikes was the “twin lateral” tubes that went from the headtube to the Campagnolo track dropouts in the style of tandem bicycles. These bikes were the definition of durable. They used a Cook Brothers Racing 26-inch BMX cruiser fork, which had been designed as an aftermarket replacement for Schwinn flat-blade forks. These BMX-style forks were too rigid for mountain bike riding, but Breeze used them because he could not get the Columbus PS “Sprint” blades he had used on Breezer #1.
The drivetrain was derived from touring bikes at the time: TA Cyclotouriste cranks, usually with three chainrings, derailleurs from Suntour and Shimano, and cantilever brakes originally from Dia Compe and later replaced with longer Mafac tandem arms. The use of cantilever brakes for downhill was unproven, so no brake cable stops were brazed to the nickel-plated frame. Instead, Zip-Ties allowed for continuous brake cable housing to be run to a drum brake if needed.
For the cockpit, a selection of motorcycle parts was used: BMW handlebars, long-blade Magura levers, and Preston Petty grips. Tipping the scales at 36 pounds with UniRoyal Nobby tires and chrome-plated steel rims, these might have been the World’s first “purpose-built” mountain bike, but they were still beasts.
A couple of years later Joe came out with his next series of bikes and dropped nearly 10 pounds, thanks in large part to the advent of aluminum rims and skin-wall tires, while also incorporating steeper geometry to be more conducive to climbing. Despite this, when the first National Off Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) championships rolled around in 1983, Otis would enter the race on his 1978 Breezer, as shown in a classic photo from this muddy event.
Despite the huge weight penalty and poor fit, Otis rode it for the historic reason that it had been exactly ten years since the klunker scene had first emerged, and because he had no other mountain bike. In this event, which was shortened from 50 miles to 30 because of the conditions, Otis finished in a respectable 13th place against competition that included Alexi Grewal, Steve Cook, and Steve Tilford. In the photo, Otis can be seen pushing the bike with a prototype of Joe’s Hite-Rite seatpost dropper spring installed.
Otis raced his Breezer at the 1983 championships despite the fact that he had begun building his own frames in 1982 as Otis Guy Cycles. As recently featured on The Radavist, he built an art show bike for the Braunstein Quay Gallery exhibition in 1989. Otis was heavily involved in the founding of the Marin Museum of Bicycling in 2014 and serves as director of the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. Otis was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993 and continues to offer a mountain bike summer camp for kids.
Frame: Breezer Series I
Fork: Breezer modified Cook Brothers Racing
Stem: SR Royal
Headset: Campagnolo Record
Bottom Bracket: Phil Wood Cartridge Bearing
Handlebar: GSM Motorcycle (Germany)
Handlebar Shim: Joe Breeze
Shifters: Suntour Mighty Click
Front Derailleur: Suntour Compe V
Rear Derailleur: Suntour V
Brake Levers: Magura Motorcycle
Front Brake: Mafac Tandem
Rear Brake: Mafac Tandem
Crankset: T.A. Specialties
Chainrings: T. A. Specialties 32-47
Pedals: Union 301 (Germany)
Pedal Washers: TA Specialities
Hubs: Phil Wood Cartridge Bearing
Rims: Ukai 26 x 1.75”
Tires: Uniroyal Nobby
Wheel QR: Campagnolo Record
Seatpost: Campagnolo Nuovo Record
Seatpost QR: Campagnolo 8 mm
Saddle: Brooks B-72 with Breeze (not Breezer) Seat Sandwich
Grips: Magura Pow-R-Grip
Cogs: Suntour Winner
Chain: Regina Extra
Bottle Cage: TA Specialities
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