The Daredevils Who Invented Mountain Biking

The Daredevils Who Invented Mountain Biking


The highwheelers are kind of fascinating.
High wheelers were sort of this thrill seeking technology ridden mostly by athletic young
men and the bigger the wheel, the faster you could go. There are stories of practices where
when they started going down hill, the pedals were directly connected to the front wheel,
and so as fast as the wheels spinnig, so are the pedals and when they are going down hill
and going too fast, it can be hard to keep your feet on there and so some of the young
men would throw their legs over the handlebars and they could sort of leap off the bike if
it was crashing so that they wouldn’t get all tangled up. The types of bicycles we ride
today, something like this, when that was invented that became known as the safety bicycle
since it was much safer. Prior to the invention of mountain biking, there was a bike boom
in the early 1970s. More people came to see bicycles as a potential viable mode of transportation
especially in the face of rising concerns about the environment. I interviewed a lot
of the early mountain bikers and I also went riding with a lot of them, which was actually
really crucial. I learned as much going riding with them as I did sitting down talking with
them. Mountain biking as we know it today really did start in Marin County, just north
of San Francisco. It was begun by a group of people that were more into biking for adventures
and what they would do is they would take old pre World War II Schwinn Cruiser bikes
and get a ride in a pick-up truck to the top of Mt. Tamalpais and then proceed to rocket
down it down this mountain on the dirt trails as fast as they could and race to the bottom.
Parts often broke on them as they were riding and so they would learn well this type of
hub tends to break sooner than this other type of hub so we’re all going to try and
have the good hub. Essentially it was an iterative process such that they found eventually the
best parts to put on a bike. So what is fascinating about this bike is that its very well traveled
you could say. The frame was built in Marin County, but then we have the Brooks Saddle
from the UK, we have the derailleur from Suntour in Japan, we have the TA Crank set from France,
we have a seat post from Italy just to produce this one bike. Bikers started to have more
tension with hikers and horseback riders in Marin. It did subsequently lead to the shutting
down of most single track trails to mountain bikes in Marin County. Other factions in the
area built their own trails and so people have actually built really fascinating trails
that are built for riding in a pleasing fashion to create what they call a flow experience.
A trail becomes for a trained mountain biker, a line moving through that tells you where
your bicycle is supposed to go. All these sort of experiences were all inter-meshed.
Gary Fisher knew the Grateful Dead because he had encountered them when he had raced
in the Tour Del Mar bike race. Which was both a road biking race and a folk rock festival.
I mean today, how often would you expect a band like the Grateful Dead to play at a bike
race? These aren’t the sort of connections you’d make today, but in that moment in that
place that made sense, because bikes and the music scene were seen as a sort of groovy
thing that was going to help make the world into the place we wanted it to be.