How Mountain Bikes Became a Global Phenomenon

People have been riding on rough dirt roads pretty much since the Bicycle was invented. But it wasn’t until Californian Charlie Kelly combined competition, rapid technology development and marketing strategy that mountain biking was truly invented. Since then, the sport has become a prime part of the biking community even becoming an Olympic sport.

You may have seen these athletes at the last Olympics in Rio with their ultra-light carbon fiber machines with powerful disc brakes, precision shifting and responsive transmissions. But the mountain bike used in the Olympics today has come a long way from the first mountain bikes that rolled out of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, California, just north of San Francisco.

In the early 1970s, cyclists in the County began assembling their bikes from salvaged paper-boy bikes from the 30s and 40s, using them to go down Tam’s paths. Slowly and over the years, the bikes have evolved to satisfy the need for speed and dirt-racing that mountain biking is famous for. Kelly organized the first series of downhill races in the fall of 1976, with a crew that he named “Repack.” The name was chosen because of the number of times the bike needed maintenance after skidding through 52 turns on a coaster brake.

Kelly says that by time they made it down, the grease would have burnt out and “you’d have to go home and re-pack the hub.” Frames also suffered a lot of wear and tear. Kelly and his team broke so many frames coming down that he called the Breeze to build something stronger and Breeze responded, building him his “secret weapon” frames in 1977. These new, stronger frames were made out of steel alloy tubing and had lateral tubes running diagonally across them for added strength. Kelly then had then outfitted with new parts to create the world’s first purpose-built mountain bike.

The first Breeze frame that he used to ride to victory at a Repack race is now part of the display at the Smithsonian Institute. The second Breezer is part of the collection at the Marin Bicycle Museum and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, near Mt. Tam. The museum also features a photo of Kelly dressed head to toe in denim. He says that the early mountain bikes were very heavy, sometimes weighing over 38 pounds, almost twice as much as a modern day cross country racer.

The clunking sub-culture grew across the country when a TV crew documented a Repack race and mountain biking as we know it today was born. By the early 80s, the Stumpjumper mountain bike was already in mass production. By the end of the decade, many bikes had motorcycle like suspensions and disc brakes were not too far behind. In 1996, mountain biking made its debut on the world stage at the Atlanta Olympic Games.

This article was provided by Bike and Spanner – the leading Bike Service Edinburgh.