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Jobst Brandt Ride Bike! is nominally about the life of the late cyclist and engineer, but it's also a great insight into adventurous cycling in a different era. Not only did Max Leonard and his co-writers have access to Brandt's extensive writing, they were able to draw from a marvellous collection of photos to produce a book that deserves an audience beyond Brandt's followers.
Last year we announced that Isola Press was raising funds on Kickstarter to produce this book, and those backers have now been rewarded. It's available as a softcover for £30, and hardback for £40.
Jobst Brandt will be best known to many people as the author of The Bicycle Wheel, which was rightly lauded when it first appeared in 1981 – and has maintained its status as one of the best books about the subject ever since. It has just been reprinted, and we've just reviewed it.
Those familiar with Sheldon Brown's website may also be familiar with Brandt's strongly held views on many other aspects of cycling.
While those with an interest in Brandt's life will obviously enjoy this book, it will have appeal far beyond that: it is as much about epic cycle adventures, product development, and even the early days of mountain bikes – all with Brandt as the common theme. This is backed up with a superb selection of images, and there's no need to have any interest in Brandt to enjoy them.
Some of the words are Brandt's own writing, and some come from interviews. The list of interviewees is high in both quality and quantity, with well-known names such as Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze and Tom Ritchey contributing – as well as assorted Brandts. Others have added to the extensive collection of Brandt's own images to give a remarkably comprehensive result – I say remarkable because, in those pre-digital days, photography wasn't the incidental activity that it is now.
A couple of chapters are given over to a brief biography of Brandt, and it's just enough to give a flavour of his exceptional life.
I didn't expect much from this section, but I found the story of his time at Porsche in the 1960s unexpectedly interesting. He reports that, 'from my work there, I discovered why one should not build rear-engined cars, air-cooled engines, and torsion bar suspensions. That Porsche persisted in that design was unfortunate.' I suppose you could say that Porsche came round to his way of thinking eventually.
As someone who was just starting out in the cycle industry around the time Brandt's influence was at its greatest, I found the 'Jobst, Engineering, and the Bike Industry' section most illuminating.
Some of you may remember the brand Avocet, but (like me) you might not be aware of how much influence Brandt had on products such as the shoes, cycle computer, and tyres – all of which I experienced at the time. He 'saw Avocet as a way of getting some bicycle features I couldn't get elsewhere'. What a great opportunity – if you were good enough to pull it off.
Max Leonard is well known for his excellent books about the UK-focused Rough Stuff Fellowship, and now we can see that Brandt and others were doing equally inappropriate things with bikes at the same time in the USA. There was a brief mention of such rides in the Being Gary Fisher book, but there is a lot more about them here. If you enjoyed the Rough Stuff books, you will enjoy this section and the international dimension it brings.
Today we would want to label some of his rides as 'gravel' – but how could we if he wasn't using proper gravel-grade equipment? I would say that Brandt and friends were using even more unsuitable bikes than the Brits, with 'tubulars, road bikes, high gears' the order of the day. After all, 'you can do a lot more with a thin- and smooth-tired bike than the MTB crowd believe'.
The largest section of the book covers some of his European tours, mostly centred on the Alps. This really appealed to me, because I have been over most of the climbs Brandt mentions (and have even taken photos from exactly the same viewpoints). It's fascinating to see how much has changed – and how much hasn't. Not surprisingly, the biggest difference is often the road surfaces.
There are quite a few of Brandt's accounts of these tours available online, but they are heavy on the text and light on pictures; this book gives far more attention to the images, which I think will hold greater appeal for most people.
Fortunately, Brandt or his companions always seemed to have a camera with them (and also seemed to make the time to take good photos); to achieve this required 'a saddlebag, weighed down with two Vitomatic (brass housing) cameras'. He really didn't make life easy for himself, but I am very glad he made the effort.
Talking about not making things easy, consider this account of his trip over the Susten Pass in 1959: he starts in his '47-22 low gear that had always been good enough for the hills at home'. (That's about a 58 inch gear.) However, 'the Susten does not let up for 20km, and I noticed it'.
Not to worry, Brandt has a solution: 'having anticipated this, I installed my 14-25 freewheel' (on the climb), making use of the removal tool that he had with him. That's a lot of effort for not much difference, and 51 inches is still about twice what I used occasionally on the same climb.
But there's more: now he has to get down the other side, but 'the descent ... was interrupted twice as I had to turn the front wheel around, because the tubular glue was melting and the tire was bunching up at the stem'. That's really not to be recommended.
His trips are full of such episodes, and it gives great insight into the challenges of the day. As the saying goes, they really don't make 'em like that any more.
The book ends with a few posts from the rec.bicycles.tech newsgroup, which was effectively a forum from the early days of the internet. It confirms Brandt as having strong opinions on many things, and being only too pleased to tell you about it.
It also shows why he had the reputation as being 'cold, stern, joyless, and very much a curmudgeon' in later life – but to some extent he had earned the right to be so. However, it would be wrong if that were the only impression people had of him, and this book makes that less likely.
Both a biography and a well-illustrated insight into what cycling was like during Jobst Brandt's life
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Ride Bike! by Jobst Brandt
Size tested: 224pp
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
From Isola Press:
"Jobst Brandt (1935-2015) was a California cyclist and engineer whose passion and intellect changed the way we ride bikes today. Years before the evolution of mountain bikes and gravel bikes, his legendary 'Jobst rides' took riders and their bikes to places they hadn't gone before.
"Jobst spent almost fifty summers in the Alps, lightweight touring and adventuring over 2,000 miles each time, always carrying a camera to document his trip.
"He was also the brilliant mind behind many innovations such as the bike computer and smooth tires, and he even influenced the birth of the mountain bike.
"Our new JOBST BRANDT RIDE BIKE! book tells the story of his life and rides through unseen photos and original documents that detail his impact on cycling.
"We have thousands of amazing pictures that will inspire your riding adventures, and testimonies from Tom Ritchey, Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze and others."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Title: Jobst Brandt Ride Bike!
Author: Max Leonard with Olaf Brandt, Matthew Forrester, Matt Rogers, and John Woodfill
Publisher: Isola Press
Format: Hardback / Softcover
ISBN: 9781739126711 / 9781439126728
Price: £40 / £30
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The surprisingly high quality images.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
There's not enough of it!
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
This book takes everything that was good about the Rough Stuff Fellowship books (which were a 9), and adds in extra interest – making a 10 wholly justifiable.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,