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10.4 A Brief History of the Mountain Bike


This article is from the Bicycles FAQ, by Mike Iglesias with numerous contributions by others.

10.4 A Brief History of the Mountain Bike

From: Jobst Brandt <jobst.brandt@stanfordalumni.org>
Date: Thu, 08 Oct 1998 16:26:38 PDT

The first -successful- high quality fat-tire bicycle was built in
Marin County, California by Joe Breeze, who recognized a demand for
such a bicycle while riding rocky trails of nearby Mt Tamalpais with
friends. They had used balloon-tire one-speed bicycles from the
1930s, 1940s and 1950s (Schwinn Excelsior) with coaster brakes. In
that pursuit, one of these trails got the name "Repack" because one
descent was enough to overheat the hub brake's, requiring it to be
re-packed. 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 seems also to have been the case with
riders in the Santa Barbara area where fat tired bikes were also used
to descend trails, according to Joe Breeze.

Joe Breeze, Otis Guy, and Gary Fisher, all still in the bike business
today, were top category USCF riders. Many of the Tamalpais riders
were members of road racing Velo Club Tamalpais, whose blue and gold
jersey carried the mountain logo. In October of 1977, Joe built a
fat-tire bike of lightweight tubing that was previously found only on
better road bikes. It had all new, high-quality parts and 26" x
2.125" Uniroyal "Knobby" tires on Schwinn S2 rims and Phil Wood hubs.
Joe built ten of these first Breezers by June 1978. Breezer #1 has
been on display at various places, including the Oakland Museum, where
it has been on permanent display since 1985.

However the first Breezer was predated by a frame built for Charlie
Kelly by Craig Mitchell earlier in 1977. As the Breezer frames that
followed, it was made of 4130 chrome-molybdenum airframe tubing. Kelly
equipped it with the parts from his Schwinn Excelsior. These parts
included SunTour derailleurs and thumbshifters, TA aluminum cranks,
Union drum brake hubs, motorcycle brake levers, Brooks B-72 saddle,
Schwinn S-2 rims and UniRoyal Knobby tires (essentially, the best
parts found on clunkers of that day). In spite of this, Charlie chose
switch back to his Schwinn frame, which he rode until June of 1978,
when he got himself a Breezer, and for one reason or another the
Mitchell frame was not further developed.

In January 1979, Joe and Otis, who were planning another
transcontinental record attempt, visited Tom Ritchey, who was building
their tandem frame, and brought along Joe's Breezer mountain bike.
Peter Johnson, another noted frame builder who happened to be present,
was immediately impressed with its features, as was Tom who also
sensed the significance of the concept, being a veteran road bike
trail rider in the Santa Cruz mountains. Gary Fisher got wind of
Tom's interest in fat tire bikes and asked Tom to build him one. Tom
built one for himself, one for Gary, and one for Gary to sell.

After building nine more frames later in 1979, Tom couldn't find
buyers for them nearby in Palo Alto, so he asked Fisher if he could
sell them in Marin. Fisher and Charlie Kelly pooled a few hundred
dollars and started "MountainBikes" which became today's Gary Fisher
Bicycles. It was the first exclusively mountain bike business. It
was Tom's bikes, and Fisher and Kelly's business that made the
introduction of the mountain bike take hold. There was an obvious gap
in the market, most builders focusing on road bikes left this an open
field for innovation.

Fisher and Kelly tried to trademark the name Mountainbike, but through
procedural or definition errors the application was finally rejected.
Meanwhile in the 1980's Bicycling magazine had a "name that bike"
contest that exclusded the name "Mountianbike", it being before the
trade mark board at the time. ATB was the winner but it didn't hold
ground against the much more natural "Mountain Bike" name that spread
rapidly after the trade mark application failed.

If anyone's name stands out as the builder of the earliest viable
mountain bike, it is Joe Breeze, who today still produces Breezers.
The marketing push first came from Tom Ritchey, Gary Fisher, and
Charlie Kelly and the ball was rolling. At first the USCF felt it
below their dignity, as did the UCI, to include these bicycles, but
after NORBA racers began to outnumber USCF racers, they relented and
absorbed these upstarts, as they certainly would recumbents if they
had similar public appeal.


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