Peter Johnson had a machinist’s soul

Jobst Brandt, Olaf Brandt, Peter Johnson, Jan Causey Johnson in Switzerland, 1984. Jobst Brandt photo

When it came to having someone mend my smashed frame in 1981, I immediately thought of Peter Johnson.

I got to know him on Sunday rides with Jobst Brandt, and sharing that kind of toil and strife gave me confidence that he’d do a good job.

Peter warned me that I shouldn’t expect the bike to last forever. When tubes have to be reheated they become more brittle and joints are prone to failure.

I was a starving cyclists at the time and needed a quick fix. So Peter built a new fork, and replaced the toptube, downtube, and headtube.

The bike lasted five more years and got me through a three-week ride in the Alps. I couldn’t complain.

Peter and Jobst complemented each other, like wheels on pavement. Peter the machinist built and maintained Jobst’s bike for more than 25 years.

Peter Johnson negotiates Engsteln Trail near Melchtal, Switzerland, in 1985. Jobst Brandt photo
Peter on Gavia Pass in 1984. Jobst Brandt photo

They toured the Alps six times, 1982-85, 1989, and 1990. That’s a lot of miles and climbing.

Now Peter is gone. I last saw him a few years ago, in the hospital after heart surgery. He died in Bern, Switzerland, a place he loved to visit.

Peter was a regular on Sunday rides well into the 1990s, and his wife Jan joined him on many occasions. Our Wool Jersey Gang had some fun adventures exploring the Santa Cruz Mountains.

I’ll never forget my last visit to Peter’s machine shop in 2006. He owned enough tools and machines to build a car from scratch. Not to mention spare bike equipment.

Peter built obscure parts in his job, things you’ll never see but find their way into vital machinery.

Jobst asked Peter to machine special washers that lodged between a Shimano SPD clipless pedal and a Campagnolo or Shimano crank arm. I had already broken two cranks at the pedal eye, so I jumped at the opportunity to have Peter build me some washers and mill in the crank’s pedal hole opening.

While the washers were tiny and didn’t look like they could do much to prevent a failure, they have worked perfectly for years. The snug fit keeps the pedal from moving.

Machine shop in 2006

Finally, Peter could invent. He built a threadless headset in the early 1970s, well before they were “invented.” It was used by Marc Brandt and Grant Handley in 1976.

Parts wear out with use, and we’re no exception. Now there’s one less machinist to keep the wheels turning. We had some good Sunday rides together, memories that last a lifetime.

3 Responses to “Peter Johnson had a machinist’s soul”

  1. Brian Cox Says:

    Ciao, Peter. I’m glad that you came to visit me in the hospital at the end of June last year. It had been awhile. I can close my eyes and feel the wind as Jobst, you and I flew down Gazos or Page Mill or Kings for all those years long ago. I’ll never forget the ride in the early 1990s when you were struggling on the way home. Jobst and I dropped you twice on Tunitas. But, on the Addison-Wesley sprint, I’m pedalling as hard as I can, doing 28-29 mph, and I can’t stay on your wheel.

  2. Richard Mlynarik Says:

    Grant Petersen writes

  3. Brian Myers Says:

    I had the privilege of having a conversation with Peter last fall. Always positive, enthusiastic, valued people. I had ridden with him and Jobst on the Sunday ride(s), See Him and Jan at the San Jose velodrome in the early 80’s.

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