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A 1970s Race In Marin Launched A National Mountain Biking Trend

A Nineteen Seventies Race In Marin Launched A Nationwide Mountain Biking Pattern

MARIN COUNTY, CA — On Oct. 21, 1976, a small group of cyclists and a canine named Junior gathered on Carson Ridge, which rises simply west of Fairfax. It was midmorning and the sky was brilliant blue, a gorgeous day for racing 50-pound classic Schwinn Excelsior clunkers down Cascade Canyon Highway, whose winding dust floor plunges 1,300 ft in lower than two miles, previous serpentine outcrops, low-lying chaparral, and scattered oaks on its method to the confluence of San Anselmo and Cascade creeks.

Among the many bike riders assembled that Thursday morning, at an hour when most folk have been dutifully toiling at their boring 9-to-5s, was Fred Wolf, an early off-road bike owner; Charlie Kelly, a roadie for a beloved native rock band referred to as the Sons of Champlin; Larry and Wende Cragg, who carried her trusty Nikkormat 35mm digicam virtually in all places; and an airbrush artist and vintage-bicycle customizer named Alan Bonds, whose recorded time of 5 minutes and 12 seconds that day (common pace, about 23 mph) was adequate to take first place in a race that rapidly turned recognized all over the world as Repack.

“It was sort of a fluke,” mentioned Bonds in the present day of his historic victory. “Not one of the actually quick guys like Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, and Otis Man have been there. I used to be principally racing towards Fred, Charlie, and some others, though they have been the quickest guys I knew.”

For the file, Fisher would submit the quickest time on Repack (4:22 on Dec. 5, 1976), Joe Breeze would wind up second (4:24 on Dec. 19, 1976), and Otis Man would place third (4:25 on Dec. 12, 1976).

Repack was held 22 occasions between 1976 and 1979, plus two extra occasions within the early Nineteen Eighties. In lots of respects, Repack launched mountain biking, though, strictly talking, it isn’t the place the then-nascent sport and leisure pastime was born. Nonetheless, the primary Repack race was early sufficient that riders didn’t check with the bikes they pointed down Cascade Canyon Highway as “mountain bikes,” because the phrase had not but been coined.

UC Davis professor John Finley Scott created a forerunner of the trendy mountain bike in 1953 when he constructed his first “woodsie,” as he referred to as it.

In England, starting in 1955, members of the Tough-Stuff Fellowship rode bicycles outfitted with fats balloon tires by way of locations just like the Chiltern Hills. And all through the Nineteen Seventies, individuals in america rode bicycles off street for enjoyable in Santa Barbara and Cupertino, in addition to in Crested Butte, Colorado, the place the Pearl Go Tour endurance journey by way of 40 miles of rocky, high-altitude terrain was launched a month earlier than the primary Repack race.

These Repack riders on that first October morning weren’t overly targeted on their place on this mountain biking historical past, however by 1976, all of them have been intimately acquainted with the dusty fireplace roads that snaked across the flanks of close by Mount Tamalpais, the place handfuls of cyclists had been using off-pavement for the reason that mid-Nineteen Sixties.

For Fisher — whose identify has change into synonymous with the game because of the mountain bikes he and Kelly in-built 1979 — the hills of Marin County have been an unsupervised playground, which he explored with a gaggle of biking buddies from Redwood Excessive College in Larkspur referred to as the Larkspur Canyon Gang, who rode previous Schwinns and different modified clunkers.

“The scene was like, , exit into the mountains, drink some beer,” Fisher mentioned.

Wende Cragg, one of many few feminine cyclists within the early days of mountain biking, undoubtedly didn’t get into off-road for the pace.

“On my first journey out, I used to be terrified — my bike weighed about 55 kilos, so it was exhausting to deal with,” mentioned Cragg, who was a neighbor and buddy of Wolf. “I believed, ‘God, I am by no means going to get again on this bike once more.’ Little by little, I acclimated to it. Earlier than I knew it, I used to be hooked.”

Partially, Cragg was interested in the liberty she felt using a bicycle within the hills. “I lived proper subsequent to an open-space space, so I had instant entry,” she mentioned. “There was no motive to not reap the benefits of it. None of us actually labored, and for a few years, that is all I did, actually, simply journey, journey, journey. We would pack a lunch and a Frisbee, convey the canine and a few bud, and go.”

For individuals like Cragg, mountain biking was a portal to communing with Mom Nature. For others, not a lot. “The rationale mountain biking is so well-liked,” says Kelly, “is that it is one of many solely methods in trendy life that you may flip in your adrenaline pump, and go away it on for a very long time.”

In Marin County, probably the greatest locations to get within the adrenaline zone was Cascade Canyon Highway, which had been a favourite of the toughest of the hardcores for the reason that early Nineteen Seventies. In actual fact, even its nickname, Repack, which individuals like Kelly and Wolf began utilizing a while after 1974, was hardcore.

Coaster brakes received a severe exercise on the best way down Cascade Canyon Highway. By the point riders arrived on the backside, their bikes’ rear hubs would truly be smoking from the pressures they have been subjected to, as scorching as a frying pan to the contact. The smoke, in fact, was proof of the lubricants contained in the hub vaporizing. Thus, should you did not need your rear hub to grab up on you with out warning, you wanted to repack it with recent, cool grease.

“By 1976,” Kelly says, “a complete bunch of us had upgraded our clunkers to 10-speeds, with drum brakes within the entrance and rear. That is what I used to be using on the day of the primary Repack. In these days, a motorcycle didn’t final lengthy sufficient beneath me to get too sentimental about it. I simply destroyed frames, repeatedly.”

Repack, then, didn’t mark the primary time cyclists in Marin County began using their bikes into the hills, nor was it the primary time cyclists in California had tricked out fat-tire bikes with higher {hardware}. However the aggressive nature of Repack drew consideration to mountain biking in a approach that using round within the hills ingesting beer together with your buddies didn’t. And as soon as individuals in Marin like Bonds, Breeze, Kelly and Fisher started to customise, after which construct from scratch, bikes designed to overcome Repack, the entire thing jelled.

To satisfy Breeze in the present day, you would not peg him because the man who received extra Repacks than anybody else, and whose personal-best time down Cascade Canyon Highway (4:24) is simply two seconds behind the course file set by Fisher (4:22).

Fact informed, Breeze appears extra just like the curator of a bicycling museum in Marin County, which is what he occurs to be, than a calculating pace demon, which is what he as soon as was. Within the early Nineteen Seventies, inspired by his buddy Marc Vendetti, Breeze began using a 1941, balloon-tire Schwinn on Mount Tam, too.

“When fat-tire racing got here alongside,” Breeze says of Repack, “I used to be the No. 1 draft decide. I took it actually significantly. I might stroll up and down the course to map it out, to memorize it. I made a science out of it.”

Breeze seems to have been the primary individual to construct a body designed for mountain biking, though even he did not name it that within the fall of 1977 when he started work on his first Breezer. With its distinctive twin-lateral tubes, the primary nickel-plated Breezer was commissioned by
Kelly.

In all, Breeze made 10 Breezers between the autumn of 1977 and the spring of 1978. Breezer No. 1, the prototype, which Breeze rode in Repack No. 15 within the fall of 1977 for a profitable time of 4:25, is now within the Smithsonian.

Breezer No. 2 stays within the assortment of Kelly.

Breeze’s bikes have been unarguably superior, however Breeze was a perfectionist, which meant he did not precisely work rapidly.

“Gary was on the lookout for somebody to construct him a customized bike, however Joe was going to take some time,” Kelly mentioned. “So Gary farmed the job out to a few totally different builders, together with Tom Ritchey, to see who might do it first. Tom Ritchey received Gary his bike first.”

Ritchey was a whiz-kid, lightning-fast body builder from Palo Alto.

“Tom thought, ‘Properly, these guys need frames, so I am going to make some extra,'” remembers Kelly, “however he did not actually wish to construct out the complete bikes, as a result of that is an actual ache. So, in desperation, Tom mentioned, ‘Hey Gary, are you able to assist me eliminate these frames?’ And Gary mentioned, ‘Hey Charlie, are you able to assist me eliminate these frames?’ And from that minute on, I suppose we have been in enterprise.

The entire thing was sort of flawed and doomed from the beginning, however it did change the world, and who will get to try this? So, I am not sad about it.”

What Kelly is referring to is co-founding with Fisher an organization referred to as MountainBikes, which lastly gave a reputation to what he, Wolf, Bonds, Fisher, Breeze, Cragg, and lots of others have been using up the hills of Marin.

“In 1979, Charlie Kelly and I began an organization referred to as MountainBikes,” mentioned Fisher. “That was an authentic identify on the time. Earlier than that, individuals referred to as all of them sorts of silly issues.

“What we did principally,” Fisher continues, “was make plenty of bikes. The primary 12 months we made 160 bikes, the second 12 months we made 1,000. A thousand bikes! All these different guys have been dickin’ round, , making 10 bikes a 12 months. However I used to be like, ‘Man, you gotta make it occur!'”

The Kelly/Fisher partnership resulted in 1983, and a decade later, Fisher ended up promoting MountainBikes to Trek, which now has a model referred to as the Gary Fisher Assortment.

“Folks name me the ‘father of the mountain bike’ and all these items, they usually say to me, ‘Gary, thanks, thanks for making a mountain bike. You have modified my life.’ And I say to them, ‘Hey, man, if it weren’t for you eager to journey my bikes, I might be nothing, ?'”


*To learn the total, authentic September 2014 story in regards to the historical past of mountain biking, go to Collectors Weekly. To be taught extra in regards to the early days of mountain biking, decide up Charlie Kelly’s 2014 e-book, “Fats Tire Flyer: Repack and the Beginning of Mountain Biking” and take a look at Billy Savage’s
documentary, “Klunkerz.” Additionally, help the Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Corridor of Fame, which opened in Fairfax in 2015, when the Mountain Bike Corridor of Fame relocated from Crested Butte, Colorado, the place it was based in 1988.


By Ben Marks / Collectors Weekly

Copyright 2020 by Bay Metropolis Information, Inc. — Republication, Rebroadcast or another Reuse with out the categorical written consent of Bay Metropolis Information, Inc. is prohibited.

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