The origin of mountain biking began in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s: the hippie era. Back then there was a culture that pushed back against the normal regime. Some people did this using rock and roll, festivals, drugs and alcohol. Others did this by riding their bicycle in nature (sometimes combined with the other things we mentioned.). Original bikes were used from the 1930’s: these were fat tired. These tires were also called balloon tires because of their thickness.
In Marin County more and more people took their bicycles to Mount Tamalpais. They notice that their bike isn’t suited for the rough paths, but they have a lot of fun racing downhill and figuring out how to keep the bike in one piece. They use klunkerz, prewar bikes with fat tires that can easily be remodeled.
The Velo Club Tamalpais with members Charlie Kelly, Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze and Tom Ritchey is a fact. They rode their bicycles on the road. Although they used their racing bikes for their hobby, they would ride their klunkerz to meetings of the Club. Slowly the members of the club did more and more research on how to convert their bicycles to make them suitable for riding in the mountain landscape.
In the late 1970’s bicycles were being more and more adapted. Gary Fisher used gears and brakes for motorcycles: these were unbreakable! Meanwhile there still were single speed bikes, but it was very hard to climb mountains with those. Bicycles with gears soon gained more territory. From singlespeed, the gears went to five and ten.
In ’77 the mountain bike further developed. The men began to talk about producing real mountain bikes. They began with heavy frames, but would put on lighter parts. Because of the heavy frame, cycling still was a challenge. Craig Mitchell was a man that was known for making experimental bikes. He used a scientific approach to build bicycles, something that wasn’t standard to do. Charlie Kelly asked him to make a copy of an Excelsior bike that they used in the beginning, but a much lighter version. This was the first ever custom-made mountain bike. It still didn’t work as it should, but it was an invention in itself.
Later Joe Breeze began to build his own mountain bike frames. He used to build race frames before. He would spend a lot of time at the drawing board, making sure the proportions were just right. Joe Breeze was the one who designed the very first mountain bike, meant for mountain biking. In that first edition he created 10 mountain bikes, with the total cost of 750 dollars. He sold all 10 even before they were finished. Joe took this bike to a race and won. The people began to call the mountain bikes ‘Breezers’, after his last name.
1977 → 1979
The first article about mountain biking appeared in the Co Evolution Quarterly. The cyclists from Marin County heard that there were people in Colorado who also built mountain bikes. They organized a yearly event around mountain biking. The group decided to check this out. When they arrived, it appeared that the folks in Colorado were a lot less serious about mountain biking. They would party and then ride their bikes. However, the event did take place. They climbed the Crested Butte. Writer Richard Nilsen wrote about this trip in the Co Evolution Quarterly. In his article he described how different the sport was compared to regular cycling and what the risks of mountain biking were. He also described how the mountain bikes were built and the impact this had. After the ride on the Crested Butte, the guys of Marin County appeared on the cover of Bicycle Sport. They slowly gained more and more national attention and even appeared on TV in 1979.
Meanwhile, Charlie Kelly, Gary Fisher and Tom Ritchey wanted to build their own bicycles. They had another view about what was suited as material and how the proportions should be. Tom made a frame for Gary, who finished the mountain bike with the rest of the parts. He did this with Charlie Kelly under the name Mountain Bikes. The name Ritchey was bound to the Mountain Bikes company because Tom Ritchey delivered the frames. Gary Fisher made the mistake of making a logo with both names. People didn’t see it as two separate companies anymore. Gary Fisher and Charlie Kelly didn’t have the rights to the Ritchey name. In 1982 Gary Fisher bought Charlie Kelly out and went on with Tom Ritchey. Ritchey later split up from Fisher, because he wanted to focus on handmade bicycles, where Fisher became more focused on mass production of mountain bikes.
Another big player in that time was Mike Sinyard. In 1974 he started Specialized, a company that imported hard-to-get bicycle parts for mountain bikes from Europe. Gary Fisher used to buy parts from him. Sinyard asked Fisher if he could try out his bicycles. Eventually he took the step to ship the frames to China in 1981. He mass produced them and gave them the name ‘Stumpjumpers’. Mike Sinyard admits that he was very inspired by Tom Ritchey and Gary Fisher.
Shimano in Japan was market leader when it came to parts for race bicycles. Specialized in America followed with the producing of total mountain bikes. Specialized appeared in New York Magazine and Newsweek. After that the mountain bike madness really started. There were tens of millions of mountain bikes sold. In 1986 there were flying more mountain bikes across the counter then normal bicycles.