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Jobst Brandt, cyclist, inventor, author and industry influencer, dies at 80

Published May 6, 2015
Brandt in 1977. Photo by Peter Johnson.

PALO ALTO, Calif. (BRAIN) — Jobst Brandt died Tuesday at age 80 after a long illness.

Although he never looked to the bike industry for his livlihood, Brandt has influenced the bike world for decades. He was a mechanical engineer with at least six patents to his name; three of them are bike-related. He worked for Porsche automobiles, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Hewlett-Packard and the bike accessories brand Avocet. He wrote The Bicycle Wheel, which was published by Avocet and is a familiar sight in thousands of bike shop work areas around the world.

He was legendary for his riding feats — riding a road bike down stairs, leading all-day road (and offroad) bike adventures around the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Swiss Alps, and appearing in a famous Avocet magazine ad, carving a tight turn at an extreme angle to demonstrate the traction of Avocet's then-novel slick tread. Brandt had championed the slick tire concept within Avocet and was heavily involved with developing products for the company. He even provided its name and logo, which was based on a wood cut he had used on a Christmas card.

Brandt was famous around Palo Alto for sharing his opinions on various bike technology and practices, and with the invention of the Internet he became a near-omnipresence on the rec.bicycles.tech newsgroup in the 1990s.

"Jobst exerted considerable influence over those he knew in the bike industry, but he was not an industry insider. Because he never worked in the bike business, he could offer his opinions about the industry without reservation," said friend Ray Hosler.

In a memoriam on his blog, Hosler said Brandt had crashed his bike on his 76th birthday, riding in a dense fog. It was to be his last bike ride. "His serious injuries added to the burden of other health liabilities," Hosler said.

Industry veteran Ray Keener met Brandt when Keener managed Palo Alto Bicycles. The shop was then owned by the Hoffacker brothers, who also owned Avocet.

"Many of us in the Palo Alto area thought we knew our stuff, until we met Jobst," Keener said. "I would call him up, I still remember his phone number, he would talk for an hour or so about whatever was of interest to him at the moment bike-wise, then he would hang up. Wisdom transmitted.

"Jobst was a giant, as an engineer, a cyclist, and as a man. He was known for being opinionated, which I never thought was true. He was correct, and didn't mind telling you about it."

As for the book, Hosler said Brandt worked on it for more than a decade, with the intention of producing the definitive book on wheel building practice and theory.

"The book has sold well since being published by Avocet and is still in print," Hosler said on his blog. "It could be in print 100 years from now because the principles of wheel building are never going to change. Sure, thanks to new materials we now have 16-spoke wheels, but it’s a number that made Jobst cringe."

Brandt is survived by his sons Adrian and Olaf and his brothers Klaus, Goetz, and Ralph.

His parents, Anitta and Professor Karl Brandt fled from Germany to the U.S. in 1933, shortly after the Nazi regime came to power.  They settled in Palo Alto's "professorville" neighborhood where they raised their family.
 
Brandt attended Stanford University where he received his BSME degree, and where his father was a professor. He was part of the ROTC program there and later fulfilled his service obligation in the U.S. Army in Aschaffenburg, Germany.
 
Brandt spoke German fluently and remained in Germany after his stint with the Army and took a job with Porsche in the Stuttgart area where he worked to design race car suspensions and steering.
 
During this time he met and married his wife Helga.  When he returned to the U.S. with her they settled in Menlo Park, Calif. and started their family. Although the two divorced in the mid '70s, Brandt remained nearby in Palo Alto and they maintained an amicable relationship until the end.
 
Apart from bicycling, Jobst was an avid naturalist and patron of nature and open-space organizations. He enjoyed bird watching. His son Adrian remembered that he "had a remarkable knack for locating seasonal bounties of elusive and costly chanterelle mushrooms, which he generously shared with family and friends."
 
The family expects to hold a memorial service in the Palo Alto area in early June.

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