Letter from America – Well done, Mr Breeze!

mr-breezeJoe Breeze is unlikely to be a famous name among A to B readers, but most of us will be aware of his legacy. About 25 years ago, north of San Francisco, California, the young Joe Breeze and a few friends started a bicycle revolution.They gathered on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais and began trying out some ideas, utilising little more than old bike frames, single-speed drive trains, fat tyres and lots of testosterone. A few hikers and many horses were utterly terrified, but out of all this activity, along with a few broken bones and perhaps a scrambled brain or two, came the mountain bike we know so well.

The American bicycle industry sat up and took notice quickly. Sales had been stagnant, and the industry was looking for Something New.They found it in the mountain bike, and within ten years mountain bikes made up the bulk of American bicycle sales. All sorts of accessories were invented to add a bit of profit for the retailer, but the basic system remained the same.The machines had a frame, two wheels, handlebars and a seat, and little else. Suspension came later.

As usual, there were some unintended consequences to the revolution. Everyday bikes – those designed to carry the ordinary rider from A to B – disappeared from the American bicycling scene.All bicycles were sold like mountain bikes – frame and wheels only, without accessories. Selling a bicycle was a low-profit activity for retailers, while selling accessories was a high-profit activity. Everything that could be sold as an accessory was sold separately. First there were the ‘10-speeds’, then ‘cross’ bikes, then hybrids and comfort bikes, but they all looked more or less like mountain bikes. Customers had a hard time telling the difference between them.

…These days, less than 1% of all trips in the USA are made by bicycle… Re-enter Joe Breeze…

Mountain bikes invaded Europe too, but there the everyday bicycle, with its fenders, luggage rack, bell, mirror and lights survived. It did not happen that way in the USA [or in Britain. Eds], and the situation today is much the same as it has been for years.

Two years ago I bought a new comfort bicycle for commuting to work. By the time I had finished adding on all of the accessories which might be considered standard equipment in Europe, I had increased the price of the bicycle by almost 50%, given a good workout to my skills in assembly and profanity, and had laboriously produced a new creation. A to B readers would no doubt call it a commuter bicycle. I call it a UBC – Urban Battle Cruiser.We think differently about many things around Los Angeles.

My UBC has almost 5,000 commute miles on it now, with no mechanical problems and no flats. It does the job and does it well.There are some advantages to buying bicycles without any accessories.The buyer can customise the final product as desired, and tailor it to his/her needs.That is the good news about the American sales system.The bad news can be seen by standing on any American street corner and watching the passing traffic.There are very few bicycles out there…

These days less than 1% of all trips in the USA are made by bicycle. Observers will notice immediately that almost all bicycles are ridden the way they are sold – without any accessories except the legally mandated reflectors.These machines are almost useless except in excellent weather, on excellent road surfaces and in broad daylight. In fact, most American cyclists would not know a well-equipped commuter bicycle if they saw one. It has been many years since any have been seen in our shops. Until recently, that is…

Re-enter Joe Breeze. Mr. Breeze, now middle-aged and somewhat thinner of hair and thicker of waist, has re-entered the bicycle market with a new line of ‘Breezers’, which he advertises as ‘Transportation For A Healthy Planet’. He may have some real winners here, because once again the American market is stagnant and once again the industry is looking for Something New.

Breezer BikesThere are eleven models of Breezers, all well equipped for daily transportation from A to B.Three are folders, and any similarity in geometry to a Brompton or a Birdy is strictly coincidental, of course – these are the Compact models.Two other bikes, called Range models, designed for heavy duty long distance work, are closely related to the classic tourist bicycles of yesteryear.The six Town bikes are the most interesting for the average daily rider. All are fully equipped for daily use, with internal hub gears of various speeds, fenders, luggage racks, lights and all the other small accessories which make for practical cycling.These models are supplied with either diamond or step-thru frames and are colourful and stylish machines. Premium prices for these premium bicycles do not seem to present any problem to buyers.They easily outshine my UBC which, sad to say, is neither colourful nor stylish.

Once before, Mr. Breeze revolutionized the bicycling world with his mountain bikes. The first revolution happening largely by accident.This time he is trying to do it again, by design. As industrialist Henry J. Kaiser once said, ‘Find a need and fill it’.There isn’t much testosterone embedded in these bicycles, but there is much good sense and practical design.They are truly transportation for a healthy, safe, practical and sensible USA. WELL DONE, MR. BREEZE. May your tribe, and your Breezers, increase and multiply!

Breezer Bikes tel +1 415 339 8917 web www.breezerbikes.com