News: Joe Breeze Kicked My Ass

The 10-time winner of the oldest mountain bike race still has it

Joe Breeze in his basement shop in Fairfax, CA. He inherited many of the tools from his father, a machinist, including the Bridgeport mill he's standing over here. PHOTO: Ryan Palmer

Joe Breeze in his basement shop in Fairfax, CA. He inherited many of the tools from his father, a machinist, including the Bridgeport mill he’s standing over here. PHOTO: Ryan Palmer

Things were simpler in 1976. Only a couple boulders mark the start and finish of the now-legendary Repack race. As we passed that first rock, despite being on a modern Breezer full-suspension bike, I felt as if I were going back in time. After all, I was riding with Joe Breeze, one of the founding fathers of mountain biking, on the sport’s first race course. It’s a dirt road, though. I’m thinking that it’ll be more like walking through a museum than an honest to goodness downhill.

Repack is fairly flat at the starting rock, with a small riser a couple hundred yards in. My confidence is high at this point, my initial thoughts confirmed. And then everything changed. Repack road proceeds to pitch downward, dropping 1,300 feet to the canyon floor in just over two miles. That’s when Joe took off. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the most successful Repack racer, winning 10 out of the 19 Repacks he entered, would be quick. But the man is 61 years old. He’s twice my age, for Christ’s sake.

The road is, from a road standpoint, built like crap. Almost every corner is completely off-camber, or closing radius, as if taunting you off the edge. Giant, rolling water bars pitch you in the air just in time to see the turn you’re about to blow, or the rut you’ll be landing in. And to top it off, the marbles over hard-pack surface offers mediocre traction at best.

The starting line of Repack–as noted by that big rock there. PHOTO: Ryan Palmer

The starting line of Repack–as noted by that big rock there. PHOTO: Ryan Palmer

But Breeze has been down this road hundreds, maybe thousands of times. He knows it like the back of his hand. Letting go of the brakes, he accelerates away from me as if his bike has a throttle. I feel like I have to keep up. After all, Joe has grey hair. My eyes water, my vision blurs. We’re flying, and Joe is showing no sign of slowing his re-entry into the atmosphere. I have to keep up. My confidence needs coaching at this point, but I can’t let him get away. I follow his line exactly, praying to make it to the bottom without killing myself. He knows which corners to cut, when to stay outside, where each and every braking point is. I’m hanging on, barely.

As we near the bottom, we enter the final switchbacks, one of which is dubbed ‘Camera Corner.’ I immediately recognize this iconic stomping ground, picturing Charlie Kelly drifting around it, foot dragging. I look nothing like he did.

We skid past the finish boulder about five and a half minutes after starting, and fill the brisk afternoon air with the smell of cooked disc brakes. That’s when the amazement set in. Breeze’s fastest run at Repack was a minute and change faster than we had just done it, on a bike that wasn’t much more than a beach cruiser. I’m in awe.

Repack got its name because the coaster brakes on those first klunkers used to get so hot that they’d burn up all the grease in the rear hub, requiring them to be re-packed afterward. After riding Repack with a legend, I can officially say that those guys were crazy. And I can’t thank them enough.

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