Recognized as a perfect melding of person and machine, biking has always been about speed, barreling down a road and getting from point A to B as fast as possible. It’s over the last few decades that we’ve sought to adapt bicycles to different terrains and styles of riding. One such branch span off into the realms of mountain biking, taking a specially strengthened bicycle frame outfitted with high-end suspension and big tires down trails and across bumpy tracks that would shatter a normal bicycle.
The history of the sport followed several false starts in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, with anyone able to take a regular bicycle on a track created by animals or wagons, but they lacked the durability and stability to progress at any real speed.
It wasn’t until 1953, when a lone, passionate pioneer by the name of John Finley Scott developed his innovative ‘Woodsie Bike,’ a Schwinn World Diamond frame bicycle equipped with balloon tires, that the twin world of bikers and hikers began to come together. There wasn’t a whole lot of interest in what was considered such a fringe sport at the time, but folk saw this lone enthusiast flying down trails and jouncing over rocks and gravel and began to get an idea of the passion he was feeling.
Picture California in the 1970’s and imagine a network of roads that were only just beginning to succumb to congestion. The roads that bicycle enthusiasts had grown used to, coastal roads offering ultimate freedom and open city streets, were slowing down, filling with traffic. Not about to have their fun come to the same grinding halt that cars were experiencing, smart Californian cyclists took their bicycles off road, on to dirt tracks and mountain paths.
Two San Francisco biking enthusiasts, Gary Fisher and Carles Kelly left the city and made a short hop to Marin County, a sunny region full of rolling hills and beautiful scenery, panoramas famous for world class vineyards. Meeting keen biker Joe Breeze, they united to form a group of adrenaline junkies looking for fire trails and mountain tracks to descend on their newly modified Schwinn Excelsior bikes, each one fitted with Joe’s freshly invented fat tires.
These ‘knobby tires’ could traverse all kinds of terrain and rocky tracks. Daily, upon Mount Tamalpais and surrounding territory, Joe, Gary, Carles and their new group of friends started descending the dizzyingly narrow tracks, scraping the edges of bushes and hard rocks at speed, until arriving at the bottom of the trail. Their hearts and lungs would be pumping, their brakes hot and worn.
These fat tired bikes were the true mountain bikes that we recognize today, and insanely adventurous riders take them out in search of new trails every weekend. The frames are stronger today, and regular brakes have been swapped out for more efficient drum brakes, closer to what we see on motorcycles. Spring suspension has been replaced with air and fluid tube systems capable of smoothing the passage of the bike across rocky ground. Mountain biking has indeed come of age, but it has the clunkers modified by crazy Californians in the 1970’s to thank for the sport becoming such a worldwide success.
More MTB History
Mountain biking is a sport in which are riding specially designed mountain bikes over rough mountain terrain. Mountain bikes are similar to ordinary bicycles, but at them are incorporated features that improve the bicycle.
Mountain biking categories: cross country (XC), trail riding, all mountain, downhill, free ride, slope style, dirt jumping, Road Biking, and trials.
Another early example of riding bicycles off-road is when road racing cyclists used cyclo-cross as a means of keeping fit during the winter. The sport was remarkably akin to present-day mountain biking.
The Roughstuff Fellowship was created in 1955 by off-road cyclists in the UK. In Oregon, while a club member, Chemeketan D. Gwynn, built rough terrain trail for bikes in 1966. He called it “mountain bike” for its intended place of use. This may be the first use of that name.
In 1968 in England, Geoff Apps, motorcycle trials rider, began experimenting with off-road bike designs. He had developed a custom built lightweight bicycle which was uniquely suited to the wet and muddy off-road conditions found in the south-east of England. They were designed around 2 inch x 650b Nokian snow tyres though a 700c (27 in.) version was also produced. These were sold under the Cleland Cycles brand until late 1984. Bikes based on the Cleland design were also sold by English Cycles and Highpath Engineering until the early 1990s.
The first high quality fat tire bike is made in Marin County, California by Joe Breeze, who felt the demand for such bike while riding rocky trails of the surrounding mountains. Tamalpais with his friends. They had used balloon-tire one-speed bicycles from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s with coaster brakes. In that pursuit, one of these trails got the name “Repack” because one descent was enough to overheat the hub brake. From these Mt. Tamalpais downhill bikes were referred to as “my mountain bike” in contrast to “my road bike” without giving the term generic significance. This was the case with the riders in the Santa Barbara area where fat tired bikes were also used to put down tracks, according to Joe Breeze.
During the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century, mountain biking moved from a little known sport to sport with growing in popularity. Mountain bikes and mountain bike equipment that was once available only to specialty stores or through mail today can be found in the standard stores.
In 1988 was established the International Mountain Bicycling Association, which is a nonprofit educational association. Their mission is to create, enhance and preserve great mountain biking experiences. IMBA’s worldwide network includes 35,000 members, more than 750 chapters, clubs and patrols; more than 200 corporate partners; and about 600 retailer shops. IMBA’s members live in U.S.A. Canada and in 30 other countries. IMBA is a leading organizer of mountain bike events. They host major initiatives such as Take Kid Mountain Biking Day.
Union Cycliste Internationale is the main governing body for mountain bike racing.
Mountain biking is an exciting, intense, physically challenging sport in which riders are constantly faced with opportunities for self-discovery through the testing of mental and physical limits. A sense of freedom is often associated with riding. Freedom from the hassles and stress of everyday life as you become absorbed in the ride and focus on your bike, the trail, and your body, as well as the freedom which accompanies an activity that demands quick reactions and reflex behaviors.