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RIP Jobst Brandt, author of The Bicycle Wheel, engineer & cycling guru

Forthright advocate of engineering excellence dies aged 80

Tributes have been paid from all quarters of the world cycling community to engineer and author of The Bicycle Wheel Jobst Brandt, who has died at the age of 80.

In his professional life, Brandt worked as a mechanical engineer for Porsche, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and Hewlett Packard, but he is best known in the cycling world for his book on the engineering and construction of bicycle wheels. The Bicycle Wheel demystified the subject, much to the annoyance of many old-school wheel builders, and presented a wheel building method that anyone with patience and basic manual dexterity could follow.

In the days before web forums, Brandt was extremely active on the cycling groups on usenet, an early internet discussion system. Bringing his engineering knowledge to areas of cycling infested with myth and misunderstanding often got him into heated arguments, but Brandt could always back his opinions with solid principles. For many of us fledgling wannabe bike gurus in the early 90s, he was a shining light of reason and analysis.

Brandt's knowledge wasn't just theoretical. He was an extremely keen and accomplished cyclist, leading rides in the Palo Alto area that were famous for their toughness and use of dirt roads, and spending several weeks each summer exploring the Alps. Long before gravel bikes were a thing, Brandt was riding his custom-made bike on tracks everyone else would think needed a mountain bike, had mountain bikes even been invented back then .

He was also involved with Palo Alto cycle component company Avocet, which for a while made wildly popular cycling computers and, backed by Brandt's understanding of tyre friction, popularised the idea that tyres do not need patterned tread to grip on tarmac even in the wet.

Brandt's friend Ray Hosler has written an affectionate and detailed account of the man on his blog, which includes tales that illustrate his tenacity and attitude to life.

Hosler writes: "I met Jobst in 1979 while working at Palo Alto Bicycles. I’ll never forget seeing Jobst wheel into the store on his huge bike, which he always rode into the shop while deftly opening the door.

"He immediately bound upstairs to the Avocet headquarters where he would engage owner Bud Hoffacker in lively discussions (browbeat) about everything under the sun involving bike technology.

"Jobst was like that. He believed with 100 percent certainty that his way was the right way. If you disagreed and didn’t have the facts to support your argument, you were just another crackpot."

Brandt was forced to stop riding after a crash on his 76th birthday in which he sustained serious injuries.

Shortly before that, however, he gave a lengthy interview to cycling website Cozy Beehive, touching on his professional career and how he came to write The Bicycle Wheel. He said: "No one solicited [me to write it], with nothing being known about the subject and with the total faith in bicycle mechanics to be doing the build and repair the best way possible." He set out to fill that void.

If you've not heard of Jobst Brandt but have an interest in bike tech, you could do a lot worse than spend the rest of the afternoon reading his collected writings on Sheldon Brown's website and Norman Yarvin's usenet posting archive.

Since the news broke there have been many tributes to Brandt posted on Twitter and elsewhere. Here are a few:

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for Along with founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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Ush | 8 years ago

Jobst contributed a lot. He has left behind a legacy of information that I will always appreciate. RIP.

pullmyfinger | 8 years ago

I followed the discussions back on usenet when Jobst went at it with those nitwits who were legends in their own minds. Yes, Jobst style was extremely abrasive, but he knew his shit and had data to back it up, unlike those morons who only had anecdotal "I heard from my uncle's piano teacher that the tire will do this and that blah blah blah" bullshit. Sometimes Jobst would debate Sheldon Brown, but he was always respectful because Sheldon knew his shit too. Jobst had no patience for used car salesman types, and trust me, there were plenty on usenet. Jobst wasn't on usenet to make friends, he was there to educate the cycling world, and for that I'm grateful.

pedalpowerDC | 8 years ago

Much revered as the "uber curmudgeon", cycling has lost a legend.

clayfit | 8 years ago

I've had his book for almost 3 decades, and build several wheels using his technique, including wheels that took me across the US on a tandem without needing truing. A wonderful book. It's a shame that pre-built system wheels mean that I may never build a wheel again- it's may be the single most satisfying thing I've ever don.

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