Early History of Mountain Bikes

How much do you know about the history of mountain bikes? It’s true that people have been biking over rough roads and paths since the first days of bicycles. However, the development of the mountain bike resulted from various factors like technology, competition, and marketing. The pioneer of mountain bikes is Charlie Kelly. The bikes starts out slow, but later became a big industry. Today mountain bikes are ridden around the world and are even included in an Olympic sport.

How did it all start? The first mount bikers launched the sport on a mountain a little north of San Francisco. During the early 1970s bicyclists around Marin County in California started putting together “clunkers” that included paper-boy bicycles from the 1930s and 1940s. They went down paths as well as fire roads.

As time passed the mountain bike evolved from DIY bikes to tough rigs equipped with full suspension and prices that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. However, the situation was different four decades ago. In 1976 Kelly put together the first of a group of downhill races that he and his bikers named “Repack.” It referred to the maintenance that was needed after going through 52 turns while riding a coaster brake. He explained that when you reached the bottom the grease was burnt into a trail of smoke. The bikers had to return home then re-pack the bike’s hub.

However, the brakes weren’t the only bike parts that got worn during the first mountain biking. In addition, Kelly broke several frames so he eventually had a stronger one built. He explains that he wanted to have a bike that was a “secret weapon.”

During the next year Breeze constructed the first one of 10 frames that were inspired by the dimensions of Kelly’s 1941 Schwinn. That included twin lateral tubes that ran across the frames diagonally. He then added new parts, which resulted in the world’s first new customized mountain bikes.

The first frame from Breeze was ridden by Kelly when he won a Repack race. In fact, the bike is now in the Smithsonian Institute. In addition, the bike named Breezer No. 2 is in a bike collection at the Marin Bicycle Museum/Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. It’s located near Mt. Tam.

The museum shows the early history of mountain bikes before helmets, bike shorts, and GoPro cameras. Breeze explains that it was “team Levi’s” since the bikers often wore denim outfits. In addition, the early mountain bikes were also heavy. Kelly’s first bicycle had a weight of 38 pounds, which is about 2x as heavy as today’s cross-country bikes.

The Repack race was documented by a TV crew. The subculture of “clunking” then spread, which resulted in a spike in demand for mountain bikes.

The bike museum shows excellent examples of steel frame bikes from early designers who have become famous since then. There are also aluminum frames that were designed. Then by the early 1980s Specialized Bicycles started mass-producing its mountain bike known as the “Stumpjumper.” Other companies then added components/tires for mountain bikes.