Wednesday, May 06, 2015

RIP Jobst Brandt (1935/1/14 - 2015/5/5)

My first encounter with Jobst Brandt was on USENET in 1992, right after buying  a bike. He was one of the designers of the Avocet tires, and recommended their use. I had bad luck with those tires, and so switched to Michelin Hi-lite tires which were cheaper.

It wasn't until years later that I discovered what changed my life: his Tour of the Alps trip reports. I thought to myself, how can one guy ride pretty much the same roads year after year, and not get bored? In fact, some of his trip reports looked like they'd been copy/pasted from year to year with minor variations. I saw for myself in 2003, and met him in person just before the trip. Off the cuff, he gave me directions to the Inn river bike path from Imst. I found the bike path precisely as described from his directions. (Those directions are now obsolete)

From then, I was hooked, not just because of the beauty and bicycle-friendliness of the countries I cycled through, but also because I noticed that every time I stayed in a hotel that he'd visited multiple times, the quality of the food went up while the price of the lodging went down. Soon, I was studying multiple years of his trip reports, trying to ferret out which places of note to visit with the excellent food and great prices. To this day, it's always exciting to me to get a chance to visit a "Jobst Hotel" that's new to me. (And yes, beloved Rosenlaui is a Jobst hotel) This forced me to read every one of his trip reports, some of which were amazing. He'd overcome so many early obstacles (some of which required rebuilding wheels using wooden rims in the middle of a tour) that you can still find a poster-sized photo of him climbing the Gavia at the refuge at the top of that pass today.

One of my favorite excerpts from his trip reports went as follow:
After descending the Costalunga (1753m) to Canazei, I ran into a group of Berkeley riders with Gary Erickson of Cliff Bars. He was having a great time but his recruits, who had never seen so many mountains, were pretty long in the face. He sent them on to Canazei, out of the steady rain that we hardly noticed as we exchanged adventures of our rides.
By 2007, I'd become a Jobst-disciple of sorts, teaching Wheel Building classes at Google, and leading Tours in the Alps that were nowhere as tough as the ones he did. In 2005, in fact, I ran into Jobst while at the foot of Grosse Scheidegg, and we chatted for a bit while I ate at his favorite restaurant, the Lammi.

Unlike him, I didn't tour the Alps every year, and I would venture to new territory every so often. Most of these experiences taught me something that Jobst had always known: it's nearly impossible to find better cycling than in the European mountains. But I had to see for myself.

Jobst wasn't easy to communicate with. Sometimes he would answer the question he wished you had asked, rather than the question you asked him. I once sent him e-mail asking him if Lauterbrunnen valley was worth visiting. Rather than answer the question, he replied as though I'd ask him for train trip recommendations in Switzerland, and gave me a list of mountain trains to ride. I filed away that e-mail never intending to read the details, but then in 2013 with Xiaoqin and Bowen in tow, I dug up that e-mail and we rode every train he recommended, and they were indeed amazingly beautiful.

So even my failed communications with him turned out to have stunning results. We have seen a passing of a legendary cyclist, and an inspiration to all and any who would explore the world by bicycle.
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