Two of mountain biking’s founding fathers are to talk in the UK at four events. Charlie Kelly and Joe Breeze were among those who "created" mountain biking back in the 1970s. They will be talking in London and as far north as Scunthorpe as part of a book tour promoting Kelly’s Fat-Tire Flyer, which has a foreword by Breeze.
Kelly was the co-founder (with Gary Fisher) of the MountainBikes company, organizer of the Repack races which popularised mountain biking. He has also been a chronicler of the sport since the beginning. Breeze is a bicycle framebuilder, designer and advocate from Marin County, California.
While Kelly, Fisher, Breeze, and others are generally considered the fathers of modern mountain biking (there were mothers, too, such as photographer Wende Cragg and racer Jacquie Phelan) there were earlier Northern Californian innovators, such as University of California Davis professor John Finley Scott who, in 1953, produced his "woodsie" multiple gear balloon tyre bike. Santa Barbara riders and Cupertino’s Morrow Dirt Club members experimented with off-road bikes in the 1970s. But it was a core number of the Marin County clunker riders – and some enterprising Japanese bicycle engineers – who turned a hippy recreation into a global movement.
The first Repack race – the event that kickstarted mountain biking – was held on October 21st 1976. Repack served as the testing ground for a series of modifications and innovations crucial to the early development and evolution of the mountain bike, which were originally called "clunkers". These were modified Schwinn paperboy bikes. The Repack was so named because the coaster brakes on the 1930s bikes had to be repacked with grease after every descent.
The Repack downhill time-trial race series of 1976-79 only ever had about 200 entrants across those four years, but they included Kelly, originator of the race which took place on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, California, over the bridge from San Francisco. Pioneers such as Breeze, Fisher, Otis Guy, Tom Ritchey, Charlie Cunningham and others helped kick-start a bicycle revolution which eventually spread around the world.
The Repack riders didn’t know this at the time. In 1975, after a ride on Mount Tamalpais, Breeze said to Guy: "This sure is a lot of fun, but who else would want to do it?"
Fisher and Kelly co-founded a company called Mountain Bikes of Fairfax, California, and this became the generic name for the new breed of fat-tyred bicycles.
Fisher still has the fastest time on the course, Breeze the second fastest. The fire road where the race took place is now mostly off-limits to mountain bikers.
Prize Giving Rock is still there, where the awards were handed out, "mainly ‘smokables’” remembers Breeze.
“To us the mountain bike was a lark,” Breeze has said “but, by golly, it got more people onto bicycles than any machine since the 1890s."
According to a blurb from Velo Press Kelly’s new book "delivers the true, complete, and often unbelievable history of the rise of mountain biking and its lasting culture. Rich with first-hand descriptions and bursting with original photographs, drawings, and memorabilia, Fat Tire Flyer is the definitive history of one of the most significant inventions of the 20th century."
You can hear firsthand from Kelly and Breeze at the following four events:
July 13th – Look Mum No Hands, London, 6:30-8:30.
July 15th – Swanage, Dorset. Retro ride, pub, pig roast, talk & show, Noon to night, £12. firstname.lastname@example.org.
July 16th – Nottingham. dinner, Klunkerz/Q&A at 8pm, Broadway Theatre, £12; ride on Monday. Duncan.McCann@yt-industries.com.
July 17th – Cafe Independent, Scunthorpe, 6:30-8:30, talk & show, £10.