Tom Ritchey: A Tribute to Jobst Brandt
As a young bike racer I was at times very much influenced by the many aspects of Jobst’s personality, which was just as powerful as my own father’s influence in many ways. When you boil it down, Jobst was a tough guy. He wasn’t always an easy fellow to deal with, but he taught me some really valuable things, about cycling and about engineering…his influence on me was certainly positive.
Jobst was a lifelong cyclist and a fixture in the Northern California cycling community in the transformative 1970’s and 1980’s. Jobst was a different sort of rider, through and through. He was the force behind these huge, unusual rides happening in Northern California. It was a small, brave and slightly crazy group of us riding road bikes up into the fire roads and cow trails of the Santa Cruz Mountains, long before mountain bikes.
My dad started going on Jobst’s rides and when I was 14 or 15 years old, and he was introduced to his epic rides and rigid set of logic and principles as a German engineer. His rides went deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains on road bikes, and there were no cell phones of course. Self-reliance was key, in how you rode, and what you rode. If you broke down out there, nobody was going to wait…you really were on your own, so there was an unspoken pressure to not ride any questionable equipment. And Jobst would let you know if he thought your bike wasn’t up to snuff.
We were all on tubular tires those days and bikes were not as durable or as capable as they later became. The bike industry hadn’t yet developed modern test standards to refine equipment, so from Jobst I learned the concept of ‘personal fatigue testing’. The world may never know how many cranks and BB axles that Jobst broke. He’d try to help, too. While riding in Europe he’d visit Cinelli, DT and Campagnolo and try to share his opinions on how to improve parts, but they weren’t ready to listen.
Jobst had an impact on the bike industry that not everyone is aware of. For Ritchey, he really helped shape my design and engineering principles. He had a tremendous respect for standards in design, and how standards evolve to be standards for very good reason. Jobst taught me the importance of simple structural and mechanical formulas of triangulation when it comes to frame and component design. He’d reference bridges and say, “See? That’s the strongest way to build a structure.” As an early framebuilder it was an honor for me that Jobst asked me to repair his (quite large) Cinelli frame when it cracked. In time I’d repaired his bike in so many spots that he said, “Well Ritchey, you might as well just build me a frame.”
In those early years Jobst even redesigned the Ritchey logo. My first bikes had a simple “T.Ritchey” on the downtube, but Jobst crafted the more elegant ‘Ritchey’ that still adorns the downtube of Ritchey bikes to this day, with a bar connecting the “R” to the “Y”.Jobst also designed the shield head badge with the overlapping “TR”.
Jobst also helped the Avocet brand take off. He even named the brand, and he was the first one taking tread off road tires to introduce the first slick road tires. People associate it with Avocet but really Jobst was behind it.
Jobst was a fountain of new information to me, and not just engineering and cycling. He was a consummate birder. I knew nothing about birds, but Jobst would go on and on about bird sightings on rides. He was also the one to teach me how to find Chanterelle mushrooms. And he was big on cameras, and always had a Rollei 35 with him.
Most notably, Jobst knew rides that nobody else knew. If I found narrow tire tracks way off the paved roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I knew they were his. And it wasn’t’ just around here, either. For years, Jobst was taking these month-long mountain trips in the Swiss Alps along with Peter Johnson and Bill Robertson. I didn’t get there until ’87 or ’88. Jobst choreographed my route through the Alps, making sure I rode all these secret roads and old Roman pathways that didn’t exist on a map, so you’d see things that few people even knew existed.
Amazingly, he was a proverbial camel and never carried water. His bike didn’t even have braze-on’s for water bottles. Despite the desolate routes Jobst would ride, he always knew where the drinking spots were in the mountains. There were North coast rides that he’d decline to do with me…I think it’s because he didn’t know where the water was along the route.
I’m lucky to have had Jobst in my life, he was a great man and his spirit lives on in the way I ride, and the bikes and components I design.
Photos: © Jobst Brandt and Ray Hosler