Like a Fine Wine: Wende Cragg’s Custom 1983 Breezer Series III

Wende Cragg’s contributions to cycling and her documentation of the sport over the years are unquantifiable. And here at The Radavist, we’ve been fortunate to have her sharing snapshots of that history, from her moving piece about the origins of mountain biking, to her return to Crested Butte last year for the Pearl Pass Tour after a forty-two-year hiatus.

Wende is back today to share another special story we think you’ll thoroughly enjoy. This time, Wende pens an ode to her custom 1983 Breezer Series III built for her after multiple ill-fitting predecessors (including one of the ten original Breezer Series I). To top it off, she enlisted Joe Breeze to share a few insights about her one-of-a-kind bike and the general evolution of early Breezers. Let’s get right to it below!

Wende’s Bikes

My mountain bike turns the big Four-Oh (40) this year! Not just any run-of-the-mill, generic mountain bike; mine is a Breezer. And not just any Breezer, this is a custom Breezer… Through thick and thickest, my trusty nickel-plated beauty has been there for me, standing ready for the next incredible joyride/adventure/therapy session. Across the past four decades, she has traveled as a willing and capable pedal partner. A good sport. And, like a fine wine, she has aged well.

An old Schwinn Varsity, several sizes too large, served my siblings and me throughout our youth. An ill-fitting bike with pretzeled rims, blistered brake pads, a bent seat post, and whose upkeep was generally neglected proved to be a poor substitute for a real ride. A one–size–fits–all, gender-neutral, beater bike, but it sufficed at the time. It serviced a rambunctious household of rebellious pre-adolescents, providing an escape route to loftier pursuits. We trashed it within months of its Christmas morning arrival. Santa Claus would not have been pleased.

Crank it up, fast forward several years to adulthood, or a semblance of: My wayward introduction to the earliest fat-tired bicycles/klunkers in the mid-1970s was always a test of resolve and adaptation. Once upon a time, this newly fashioned, off-road craze had a small following of converts, most with limited access to the old Schwinn newsboy bikes coveted by the neophytes.

And you certainly did not just wander into your local bike shop and buy one off the floor! Every bike was a “bespoke” bike, the product of combed junk yards, swap meets scoured, word of mouth, or serendipitous good luck. That frame we were searching for was out there, somewhere.

Klunker Era

A standard-sized frame could readily accommodate a typical male rider. But I was not male, nor typical, and smaller than my contemporaries. On the lower side of the human scale, finding a suitable frame that fit was a challenging stab in the dark. A collective effort on the homefront uncovered a suitable, albeit too large, JC Higgins relic, pulled from a local secondhand shop.

This oversized ride was my first introduction to our newfangled pastime. A behemoth, this beast was half my body’s entire mass, weighing in at a hefty 56 pounds! But the wheels went around, and that was good enough for me.

Many miles later, as fate would have it, a lighter bike was a most welcome upgrade. My rapidly growing love affair with this new sport suggested a compromise: a vintage, chunky charmer… a 1948 (my birth year) Schwinn Excelsior! This pup was a better fit. Unfortunately, it was ripped off before I would officially launch its second coming. Few images exist of its short-lived tenure.

Shifting gears, happenstance once again changed the direction of my roll; another fork in the road. Alan Bonds, the venerable master of retro, was a pedal pal. His creations were an homage to the respectable, graphically detailed old-school Excelsiors. Held in high regard, the loyalists appreciated Alan’s attention to detail, fine craftsmanship, and genuine love of the sport. Proud owner of one of his earliest bespoke bikes, my beautiful period piece—a 1935 Schwinn World 15-speed klunker in tip-of-the-spear Schwinn finery—is now in the permanent collection of the Marin Museum of Bicycling, a testament to the time-honored Schwinns that inspired it all.

And inspiration is what it was all about. The current of creativity at that time was electrifying. These visionaries saw a rare window for future advancement and seized the moment. On fertile ground, seeds were sown. A great idea can often take root when conditions are favorable…In today’s world, these intuitive individuals would be called “disruptors!”

Enter the Breezer Series I

Indeed, disruptors they were. Innovators with a keen eye to the future of cycling and its potential for the entire world. These kingpins were on track to re-invent the modern-day bicycle: a local collective of fabricators who savored the opportunity to expand the possibilities for a fat-tire bike, a novelty of the time in 1977.

Joe Breeze, one of these idealists, is credited with building some of the first purpose-built mountain bikes, 10 in total. I can lay claim to ownership of #6, a genuine piece of cycling history and my ride for several years.

Again, the frame was a standard size and way too big for me. However, I found it a minor distraction, nothing more than a speed bump, and powered through, covering quite a few miles via the bike, including the famous Pearl Pass Tour.

Today, the original Breezer, a trailblazing/brazing prototype, is in the Smithsonian, an honorarium of highest distinction!

1983 Custom Breezer Series III

After years of trying to be content with frames that were too large four decades ago, Joe surprised me with the unexpected gift of a custom bike. One that truly fit. To a T. Like a glass slipper. Finally.

My 1983 pièce de résistance is certainly a showstopper of second-generation royalty. Is it possible to fall in love with an inanimate object?

More than a mere infatuation, the relationship has naturally matured into an intimate, symbiotic bond. Like a loyal pup, unconditionally faithful, my ride is a trustworthy companion, a soul mate, traversing life’s dusty roads.

Oh, so many forks in the road, if only they could talk. Perfect is good enough!

To get a sense of one of the countless adventures I embarked on with me Breezer, let’s rewind to July of 1989. I drove a thousand+ miles to Crested Butte, CO from my home in Fairfax, CA to be inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. An honor of the highest order, the occasion brought body and Breezer bike to the quaint Rocky Mountain town I had fallen in love with in the late 70s. A mountain bike mecca, its major draw in the summer is its dramatic display of wildflowers. Crested Butte is the wildflower capital of Colorado.

On a personal quest, I set my sights on locating the state flower, the Rocky Mountain Columbine. Gunsight Pass (12,112) is one of the highest roads in Colorado, unpaved with many switchbacks and loose rocks. Treacherous, even for 4-wheel drive, I determinedly rolled out of town on my Breezer with an eye towards finding this beautiful species. It’s a tough climb, 7 and a half miles, unrelenting and wickedly deceptive. I climbed for what seemed like hours, at a snail’s pace. I was in no hurry…My single goal was spotting the elusive, blue tinged beauty, an intricate bloom we had nicknamed *retrorocket* flowers! So, I didn’t really notice the darkening skies, an ominous sign of impending doom and gloom. I rode on, eventually meeting the only other humans I had seen all morning. A jeep, struggling on the descent, approached with a friendly but cautious warning. Harsh weather was bearing down, I might want to re-consider my ascent.

I decided the locals knew best and pivoted towards town. I didn’t get far. The dark turned to black within moments and a barrage of marble-sized hail pelted me from all angles. I prayed to the rain gods/goddesses to spare me but was met with a sizeable clap of thunder or two. I was desperate to escape the painful pelting and dangerous potential of being struck by lightning. Nothing motivates quicker than impending death/destruction. Now I was on a mission to survive. I rode like the wind, but the wind was faster. My bike and I were soaked. Thoroughly. Halfway down, the sun came out. And there was a rainbow. My Breezer and I had both survived another epic adventure, albeit sans Columbine. I failed to spot my objective but at least I lived to tell the tale.

The Induction ceremony was held on a Friday evening. My fellow inductees (Jeff Lindsey/Mountain Goat Cycles, Steve Potts/WTB, Victor Vincente of America/aka Michael Hiltner, Eric Koski/Trailmaster, Don Cook/ CBMBA) and I were feted with a night of recognition and reward. We were presented with handmade awards, a token of appreciation and distinction. A wacky and wonderful time was had by all, a night to remember.

The following morning, a sunny Saturday, offered up a friendly, non-competitive group ride. All inductees and friends (a Who’s Who of mountain bike pioneers) were treated to an incredible out-and-back ride: Schofield Pass/ 401Trail. 401 is notable for its stunning scenery and wildflowers. There were so many columbines!

Breezers, According to Breeze

Joe Breeze was kind enough to share his thoughts on the Breezer lineage for us:

I’m glad to see Wende’s 1983 Breezer still rolling strong. I built it to last, to tackle the toughest terrain, figuring an extra ounce here or there was good insurance against a stranding 20 miles from the nearest pavement. Unlike my initial 10 Breezers, Series II and III models, like this one, had a steeper head angle. Even as I designed Series I in 1977, I had enjoyed the handling of my post-war Schwinn with 70º head angle, but settled on 68º for the first 10 Breezers, as I hadn’t time to test the full geometry with its higher crank.

By 1980, when all local builders were still going with 68 head angles, I went with 70º. I was glad I did, finding better all-around handling. After all, mountain biking was becoming much more than a hell-bent Repack plummet.

Another departure was the fork. On Wende’s Breezer, I used oval Reynolds tandem blades inserted into a tubular Cunningham arch crown. It looked similar to my later uni-crown fork, which I had designed in 1980. That fork wouldn’t find production until 1983, when Gary Fisher took my drawings to Japan for his Fisher Montare model. Gary and I would split uni-crown fork royalties for years.

Wende’s Series III Breezer can be distinguished from a Series II by the head tube and crank hanger construction, being internally butted. North Shore Gear Works in San Rafael machined the insides away on a CNC lathe, leaving the strength at the ends. The seat cluster shares the same seamless finish, with reinforcement hidden.

As always with these early Breezers, the frame was first copper plated and then finished in bright nickel. Rugged nickel plating eliminated paint damage, so hucking a Breezer into a truck (or onto a bike pile) was not a concern. Plating certainly can pose issues, mostly in the process, but somehow, I was able to avoid the calamity others found.

I look forward to Wende’s bike being there for the Breezer’s 50th anniversary in 2027!

We’d like to thank Wende and Joe for all their help with this project, and future projects to come, over here at The Radavist!