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by James Huang
August 3, 2018
Photography by James Huang
TECH NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BIKEEXCHANGE
Nick Martin was an aspiring pro cross-country mountain bike racer in the mid-2000s, competing for the Trek-Volkswagen team and driving the official Volkswagen Touareg to events with the trailer towed behind it. “Home” was an old Volkswagen bus parked in the front yard of a house that belonged to his fellow racing buddy, Ross Schnell, in Fruita, Colorado.
“We had a garage, we had a bathroom, and we really were just spending all of our time tinkering and riding bikes and traveling to races,” he fondly recalled. “It’s not like I was spending a whole lot of time at home, anyway.”
Like many athletes in his situation, he struggled to keep money in his bank account, and had to be creative in putting food on the table. eBay was just starting to become popular, and Martin quickly embraced the platform as a way to sell his bikes and gear at the end of each season. He got so good at hawking used bikes and gear on eBay that fellow teammates, and even other teams, started having him sell their stuff, too. And eventually, Martin realized that he might actually be able to make a decent living doing that sort of thing.
Before long, that’s just what he decided to do, and The Pro’s Closet was born.
Fast forward more than a decade, and business is booming. The Pro’s Closet now leases a substantial warehouse space, provides full-time employment to more than four dozen people, and is widely regarded as the top reseller for used bikes and other related equipment. Martin no longer has to live in his old Volkswagen, needless to say, and has recently been able to feed his love for vintage items.
“I am a firm believer in buying used, buying things that already exist, extending the life cycle of things that already exist, and not buying new just for the sake of keeping up with the Joneses,” he said. “I buy vintage things, I’m passionate about vintage things, I like things that are high-quality that last a long time.
“My motto that me and my partner, Elizabeth, talk about all the time is, ‘buy it once, use for a lifetime, and it gets better with age.’ Things that you can fix and have a relationship with inspire me, whether it’s an office chair or a bike or vintage vinyl or old cars. There’s a lot of technology that comes and goes, but there are certain things that are consistent, like a watch or a pen.”
Photo: Chris Motta/The Pro’s Closet.
“One of the benefits of running the largest used bike company in the world is that you start to see a lot of really cool bikes come through the door,” Martin continued. “I started to have a real appreciation specifically for vintage mountain bikes. They have unbelievable craftsmanship that was built to last a lifetime, and they had a lot of creative thinking that pushed our sport forward.
“These guys did not have the internet; they did know who was building what. They were literally sitting in their workshops trying to figure out how to solve these problems.”
Martin has now acquired dozens of historically significant bikes, which the company displays at its headquarters in Boulder, Colorado, and regularly writes about on its website. Among these are Juli Furtado’s original world championship Yeti, an old Eddy Merckx owned by Davis Phinney, Tinker Juarez’s Klein Attitude, and on and on. But for Martin, who stands at 1.93m (6ft 4in) tall, there weren’t many opportunities to ride the vintage bikes he was collecting. Save for one or two, they just didn’t fit him.
But there was one bike that he knew was out there.
Martin had learned from a local collector that early mountain bike pioneer Joe Breeze had built two extra-large bikes back in the late-1970s/early-1980s. But whether either of those two bikes were still in existence was a mystery, as was their whereabouts even if they were. As fate would have it, though, Martin didn’t have to look hard for one of those bikes. In fact, he didn’t have to look at all; it found him.
The original owner passed away and gave the bike to his son, who later took it with him when he moved to Germany. He then gave it to his neighbor to use as a commuter, with neither of them realizing the bike’s significance.
“This bike was spotted on a bike rack in Germany, and a collector left a note saying they’d love to buy your bike,” Martin recalled. “So this person in Germany started researching, and found one of our articles. He reached out to me and — these are my favorite emails to get in the world — was like, ‘Hey, man, I’ve got this Breezer and would love to learn a little more about this thing.’
“It was built for this guy named Fred Peters,” Martin would eventually learn, “who owned the diner in Sausalito called Fred’s Place where Joe and Otis Guy would have lunch. Fred was one of the first people Joe ever built a bike for, and it has the only custom head tube badge Joe ever did himself.”
Martin eventually had to buy a camper trailer in trade for the Breezer, and the German man who spotted the bike on the rack commemorated the occasion by using the bike’s serial number for the trailer’s license plate.
“This is the second time I’ve had to buy a vehicle to get a bike,” Martin said. “The other one is a ’57 Chevy Nomad.”
Despite the bike being almost four decades old, and having seen a few years as an all-weather commuter in outdoor storage, it’s in remarkable condition. There’s a bit of patina in the plating on the frame and fork, but aside from the tires and pedals (period-correct replacements were sourced from another collector), all of the parts are original and in good working order.
As you’d expect, it’s also very heavy, neither the old Mafac wide-profile cantilever brakes nor Suntour drivetrain work nearly as well as modern stuff, and those old Carlisle tires just don’t grip the ground like current rubber. But that’s all part of the charm, according to Martin.
“I like the slowed-down experience of riding vintage. It’s different. It gives you a chance to slow down and smell the roses. It’s a very tactile experience.”
Joe Breeze only made about 20 or 25 of these “Series II” mountain bikes, and even fewer still of the Series III models that followed. Given Breeze’s role as one of the founders of the sport of mountain biking, it’s no surprise that Martin’s score is worth a pretty penny. By his estimates, it’d sell for somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000. Not that he’d ever part with it, though.
“It’s one of the most collectible mountain bikes in the world. This is my holy grail. I don’t have to look for another bike. I won’t ever sell it. It represents too much, and I’d never be able to find another one. This is it.”