jobst brandt-ride bike! - isola press hardback 224pp illus.£40

jobst brandt - ride bike

cycling's heritage is bound up with the actions and careers of many individuals, a number of whom have become household names for most of us. depending on your perspicacity and preferences, the names of those individuals will vary; roadies will recognise bartali, coppi, anquetil, wiggins, roglic, van aert and many others. those with both feet in the mud will have a different list. and within that heritage, there are names considerably less well-known almost to the point of anonymity, but without whom cycling would not be what it is today.

jobst brandt fits into the latter category.

i recently reviewed the isola press replica edition of brandt's the bicycle wheel, a book that has achieved recognition as 'the bible' when it comes to bicycle wheels, dealing with their existence in empirical terms, and described throughout by a host of equations explaining just how the three components can be combined into a component capable of carrying cyclists at speed across all manner of terrain. the bicycle wheel is the very definition of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

jobst brandt - ride bike

i don't mind admitting that i think of myself as a bit of a wheelaholic, though, as with many personal ideals, more in thrall to the handbuilt versions than those constructed by machine. but following the publishing of my review of brandt's book, i discovered that those who comprise the sunday morning ride, were completely oblivious of the man's existence. he was, i think it fair to say, a cycling icon who remained something of a secret in plain sight throughout his eighty years on planet earth.

yet his influence on the cycling heritage mentioned above was considerable, even on those who remained oblivious to his existence. for instance, until the 1970s, every road tyre featured a tread of some description, but brandt changed what he thought of as an unfortunate misapprehension.

"So he [...] put ink on the bottom of the tire and put it onto a white piece of paper, and it created a little patch, about three and a half to four inches long, with points on both ends. A lttle oval shape of the tire contact patch. [...] And Jobst says, 'look at what areas are white, where there's no contact.' He said, 'if you fill those voids up with contact, you're going to get more traction." thus was born the treadless avocet road tyre, on which brandt was able to corner at a 43 degree angle.

jobst brandt - ride bike

jobst brandt was born in new york on 14 january, 1935, the son of german parents who had fled from europe two years earlier as a result of a growing nazi threat. in 1938, his father was offered a professorship at california's stanford university, and the family moved to palo alto. brandt had three brothers; klaus, goetz and ralph. "...(he) was always the most daring of the group [...] fearless, just totally fearless." in 1948, when jobst was 13, his father answered a call from the us government to help rebuild in europe and the family relocated to germany. with that country in post-war turmoil, the family found a home in switzerland. they returned to palo alto after a year abroad.

his brother goetz remembers him as having an engineering mind and remarkable mechanical aptitude, with his first mode of teenage transport being an abandoned motorcycle which jobst rebuilt from a boxful of parts, without so much as a manual. in a reversal of what might be thought of as normal progress, brandt moved on from motorcycles to bicycles. " day he just quit and he got on a bicycle." anecdotal evidence places this at the door of the police with whom brandt had become an irritation on his motorcycle. they reputedly told him that if he didn't rid himself of the motorbike, they'd put him in jail.

jobst brandt - ride bike

that first bike was reputedly a three-speed raleigh with flat bars, jobst berating his peers and insisting that he didn't "...need all that stuff like you guys." however after entering a few races, he capitulated and fitted drop bars. in 1958, he founded the mount hamilton road race, also designing the trophy. though apparently achieving average grades at school he was enrolled at stanford at the behest of his father - still a member of the faculty - to study mechanical engineering, studies that were followed by a stint in the army, during which he was posted to aschaffenburg in germany. that posting eventually led to the beginning of brandt's infamous bike rides across the alps.

"The 1959 Alps ride remains in my memory as if it were yesterday, and I think that's why I enjoy going back every summer..."

jobst brandt - ride bike is a portrait of the man brought to life via interviews with friends and family, and at this point, the book enters the realm of cycling travelogue, with comprehensive details and superb illustration of those 1959 alpine rides. the book's designer, myfanwy vernon-hunt, is to be roundly congratulated for marrying the text and illustration in such an exemplary manner. if i might reference the recently reviewed book on the peugeot marque, its design did not allow for easy reading; this, on the other hand is excellent, as its its admirable typesetting.

jobst brandt - ride bike

the french alps were not the end of brandt's european cycle travels. still based in germany, he set his sights more widely, undertaking a tour of italy with three of his pedale alfini clubmates (for which he had designed the jerseys). he was a tall, hardy rider who could spend hours on the bike, seemingly oblivious not only to the option of slowing down occasionally, but also to the terrain over which he (on a large cinelli framed bicycle) and his colleagues pedalled. "You can do a lot more with a thin- and smooth tired bike than the MTB crowd believe."

while domiciled in germany, jobst brandt's mechanical aptitude took him into the realm of the motor car, pressing his skills upon the porsche motor company, by pointing out how badly their manuals had been translated into english. this led to time as a development engineer, working on steering gear, suspension, space frame and transmissions for porsche's race cars, before he moved onto production vehicles. but given his itinerant tendencies, it was only a matter of time before he returned to the usa. at this point, the book features what it refers to as The Jobst Rides Era of the 1970s and 80s. which may have been as a direct result of his having divorced from his german wife, helga and a desire to occupy his time and his mind.

jobst brandt - ride bike

one or two of those who accompanied him on these "jobst rides" will be well-known to many; joe breeze, tom ritchey (one of whose bicycles sits happily in thewashingmachinepost bikeshed), and gary fisher, all of whom became icons of the framebuilding world. those rides are copiously illustrated and provide an intriguing insight into just where these riders happily rode road bikes ahead of the soon to be realised mountain bike era. and jobst was keen to point out geographical features, animals and birds as they rode through forests, mud and gravel trails (several decades ahead of the gravel bike trend) "Anybody who rode with Jobst knows it wasn't about the ride a lot of the times, it was about the beauty of the outdoors and the environment."

jobst brandt was never much taken with the idea of the mountain bike, despite knowing many of those behind its creation. "Before MTBs we had dirt motorcyclists who tore up trails [...] Then came the MTB and the story started all over again."

despite my admission that my wheelaholicism was the sole reason i had previously heard of jobst brandt (i believe i may have a copy of his wheelbuilding book somewhere in the cupboard under the stairs), i always imagined him to be somewhat professorial in nature, but ultimately dispassionate about the bicycle. his book, at the time, came across as an engineering treatise on the subject. i imagine i'm not alone with that impression. so whether or not you've previously heard of jobst brandt, or have only come into contact with his wheelbuilding book, this is a marvellous and worthy tribute to an icon of the cycling world.

jobst brandt died on 15 may, 2015 at the age of 80.

at the risk of being guilty of overstatement, today's bicycles and bicycling would be very much the poorer without jobst brandt. i'd recommend you find out for yourself.

isola press - jobst brandt

monday 16 october 2023

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................