Monday, December 11, 2006

Mother%*&@!rs of Invention

Singlespeed in Interior Alaska
around the turn of the 20th century.

I was reading the new issue of Bike magazine a couple of days ago when I saw a photo caption identifying Gary Fisher's original clunker as “the bike that started it all.”

Now, I really hate to sound like a geezer but I do anyway, so I’ll carry on. Anybody who’s been a mountain biker for 15 to 20 years, like I have, has seen this sort of thing a hundred times. “The first mountain bike.” “The inventor of the mountain bike.” “The guy who ‘started it all.’”

These things are always attached to photos or stories about Tom Ritchey, Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, et. al. And it’s always bullshit. The caption in Bike magazine should be more along the lines of, “the bike first ridden by a guy who decided to sell a bunch of 'em by branding himself as the inventor of the mountain bike.”

No offense to all those guys and their marketing prowess, but they no more invented the mountain bike than George Foreman invented the grill.

The mountain bike wasn’t invented. It evolved. Sturdy, fat-tire bikes had been played with at different times in various parts of the world for decades before the Marin County crowd ever tried it. Some of the same magazines that often call those guys the “inventors” of mountain bikes should know better, because they have often published photos of 1940s- and 1950s-era bikes that could almost pass for one of today’s machines, especially now that so many masochists are eschewing derailleurs.

Those beer-fueled baby boomers in Northern California helped shape this sport by driving a major step in its evolution, but it would be a damned shame if their ad campaigns lead newcomers to believe those guys invented it.


Luke said...

Wow! Tim's right for, what? The second time ever?

If I'da known that what me and my friends were doing when we were riding our old banana-seat bikes through the woods in the '70s could wind up being some sort of financial windfall ('course, first I'd have had to have known what "financial" and "windfall" meant which, at that age, I didn't...come to think of it: I've still never seen a "financial windfall"...anyway...), I wouldn't be forced to work day in and day out with the grumpy, old fart.

@#$%$#@'ed Californians...always thinkin' they invented everything. Worse than Al Gore, man...

bwc said...


I would call them innovators. And certainly excellent marketers...

todd said...

Read this book. If that wasn't a mountain bike, nothing was.

Jim said...

I have been told by an older local cycling enthusiast that a bike similar to the Pugsley was fabricated (by Paterek?) in the 1960s. It used motorcyle wheels and tires and two bottom bracket shells welded together to allow the chain to clear the tire. It was a one-of-a-kind, however, and there was no serious attempt to market it to the public. The local enthusiast told me he showed a picture of the paleo-pugsley to Dave Gray at Surly (Pugsley's "inventor"), and that Dave was completely surprised that the Pugsley concept wasn't a new idea.

Tim said...

Actually, that's a bit of a touchy subject with some folks up here, Jim. The folks at Surly were far from being the first to build a fat bike. Mark Gronewald (see my "Wildfire Designs" link) has been building superfat snow bikes in Palmer, Alaska, for years. And John Evingson, who has since moved back home to Minnesota, was building Iditabikes here in Anchorage about a decade ago.

I wrote a newspaper article about John seven or eight years ago, and at the time, he was quick to give some credit to Ray Molina in Texas, who was pioneering huge wheels for riding in sand that were being adapted for snow use in Alaska. This was all many years before there was a Large Marge wheel.

gwadzilla said...

earlier this week I posted something about a movie called KLUNKERZ

then a guy named Charlie Kelly emailed me

he was one of the original REPACK guys
and well

invented or not
they were vital in speeding the evolution
not ot mention it looked like these guys were having a really good time

lets not forget something

they were all serious road racers on beach crusiers who were creative with tools and modifications

it is all really bad ass

those folks kicked ass on the bike
and well
many of them still kick ass on the bike today

CEO Gary Fisher included...

what about the development of parts by someone like Keith Bontrager?

it may not be inventions
but it is innovation
and that
is something fantastic in itself

I see your point

but just being there is something

gwadzilla said...


what is the year on that image?

it may be a fixed gear

as all early bikes were fixed gears