Posted by Renee Switzer | September 27, 2016
Paul Brodie is a renaissance man. He is a self-taught engineer, fabricator, designer, painter, artist and now add in writer with his newly released book Paul Brodie The Man Behind Brodie Bikes about his fascinating life journey and the making of his former company Brodie Bikes. Paul helped to put Vancouver on the map by inventing the sloping top tube which is now a standard for mountain bikes and has been inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame at Interbike in Las Vegas.
I recently interviewed Paul about his book which carries a strong message of “follow your passions” mixed with some unusual and intimate tales about his life.
The Start of Brodie Bikes
As a creative entrepreneur, I was curious to know how Paul managed to cross over from being a bike frame builder for Rocky Mountain Bikes to starting his own company. Paul said he was “hugely motivated and driven about mountain bikes” and that he was not happy working for someone else. Over the course of 12 months and an investment of $8000 Paul quietly set up Brodie Bikes and in 1986 was finally able to quit working at Rocky Mountain.
In the beginning Paul partnered with a salesman that had also left Rocky Mountain Bikes and they tried to get Paul’s bikes into shops but understandably people were hesitant to take his bikes as no one had heard of Brodie Bikes. After a few months, the partnership with the salesman dissolved and Paul with little knowledge in sales and marketing was left to find his own way.
Paul attributes a lot of his success with “being in the right place at the right time”. The product was good and there was a market need for a better and stronger mountain bike. Brodie Bikes got noticed by the local racing community and in 1986 when racer Brent Martin won the Canadian Championship on a Brodie Bike, the sloping top tube bikes took hold.
How a Past Life Inspired a 1919 Board Track Racer…
In 2001 Paul sold Brodie Bikes and created Flashback Fabrications Ltd, a company Paul describes as “being all about creating with my hands, following my passions and recreating board track motorcycles and other rare machines like an 1888 Whippet”.
Board track races were held in Motordromes which were circular wooden tracks, surfaced with two-by-fours and were designed after the velodrome courses we see for bicycle racing but with a much steeper bank. The banks which had up to 60 degrees slope enabled racers to maintain speed as they took curves but it also made them extremely dangerous and thus were given the nickname Murderdromes.
In 2005 Paul began to work on the drawings for a board track bike called the Excelsior OHC Racer which was originally created by Excelsior Motor Manufacturing & Supply Company under the ownership of Ignaz Schwinn of Schwinn Bicycles. With only 5 photographs available to reference, a year of his time and living off of a line of credit Paul meticulously recreated and shone light on a historical motorbike that never really had a proper run.
The reasons behind creating this machine, which played a tragically short role in history, are rather curious and to completely appreciate them one must learn a little about his parents. Paul describes his father as an analytical and sceptical man of science and his mother as a healer who was deeply spiritual, worked with crystals and tapped into spiritual realms. She also sent Paul to have spiritual readings from a young age. It delighted me to learn about these character references and helped me to better understand Paul’s rich and diverse character. It also helped to ease me into hearing Paul’s story about his connection to the Excelsior Bike.
Paul learned from a past-life reading that he was Bob Perry. Perry was an engineer at Excelsior and he helped create the Excelsior Bike; he was also the captain of the Excelsior racing team. Against the wishes of Ignaz Schwinn, who saw potential for Perry to become a future executive at Schwinn, Perry wanted to race and debut the new 1919 61 cu.in. OHC machine. On January 4th, 1920 at Ascot Park, Ca, Perry debuted the Excelsior to a crowd of race enthusiasts. At 100 miles per hour Perry lost control entering a turn and 5 hrs later died at hospital.
As legend has it out of the limited number of bikes actually produced a handful were destroyed by the hand of Ignaz Schwinn. The story goes that in a state of devastation after Perry’s death Ignaz went back to the race shop with a sledge hammer and personally destroyed the board track racers.
Paul has since built and sold 4 Excelsiors to bike collectors around the world. He intends to only build 10, each one takes a year to complete and comes with a price tag of $139,000 USD.
More on Motordrome Racing
If you are interested in stepping back in time to a 1920’s board track race here is a 6 minute video which highlights a competition that took place on April 24, 1921, at the Beverly Hills Speedway in Los Angeles, California. Note: Digital file made from a 35mm print preserved by the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum. Watch Video Here.
Thank you for reading