And now, without further ado, here is the aforementioned research paper.
I-Search: “How and Why Did Mountain Biking Originate?”
I. My Questions – What I Already Know, and What I Want to Know
I chose my topic because I just got a new mountain bike for Christmas and have been riding it quite a bit lately. There are trails on which I ride that fall into two types of trails; trails that are two tracks and trails that are one track. I often wonder how the trails that are one track wide came to be. This question, in turn, led me to wonder how mountain biking actually got started.
I know that mountain biking as we see it today is not how it originally started, and that while the bikes that are fairly ubiquitous today as most people’s normal bikes are called mountain bikes, that is a bit of a misnomer. They are nothing like the original mountain bike and I want to know how and why they have come to be this way and what the original bikes looked like.
I already know that mountain biking was created long after bikes were originally made. It was a niche sport to start out with and then it gained popularity and it is now very popular today. Mountain bikes now look very different than the original mountain bikes looked. I do know that the first mountain bikes were just modified road bikes but I don’t know how they were changed and if there was a brand riders preferred to buy to change into a mountain bike.
I wonder how the sport of mountain biking was born and why it was born as well. I would also like to find out who or what group of people invented mountain biking and what they say their reason for inventing mountain biking was. I particularly want to focus on how mountain biking was started and what made the inventors think that doing what they did was a good idea.
In order to answer my research question I have a few goals. First of all, I want to interview someone who was interested in bikes when mountain biking was first starting and learn what they had heard about it. I would also like to discover who is credited with inventing mountain biking and, if I can, find out why they invented it.
II. My Search Process – How I Prepared to Research and Answer my Question
The first day I did research was in the library of Lewis and Clark High School; I used ProQuest and eLibrary to look for things that were related to mountain biking and its history. I found many things about mountain biking but not many about the history of mountain biking. Because of this I tried many different combinations of “mountain biking” and “history” and “origin” and “beginning of” and so on. I did manage to get some useful information with each search. However, there were very few things which pertained only to mountain biking and this was somewhat frustrating.
Because I was having some luck, but less than I was hoping, I went to Google and searched for the “History of Mountain Biking,” and I found quite a bit of information. I used Wikipedia to get a little background information and then I used the sources at the bottom to look for more information. One site Wikipedia cited was called “rough stuff fellowship” which describes a little about how mountain biking originated and how people tried to ride off-road when mountain bikes had not yet been developed.
I found a book entitled The Birth of Dirt by Frank J. Berto I was interested in reading as a source, but could not get it in locally and would have taken too long to arrive if I ordered it from a website, so I had to find alternate sources to use. Those turned out to be excellent, although I still plan to read the Berto book.
My dad has been riding bikes and been interested in the cycling community since college and he recommended that I interview the owner of the bike shop he has relied on for over twenty years. I have known the shop owner, Steve Loveland, most of my life and certainly knew him to be an expert on the topic. So, I interviewed Steve who has owned a bike shop for many years and he told me many things that have been very helpful in my research process. He gave me information I had not found on the internet so I know I was lucky to interview him.
III. What I Have Learned in Answering my Question/Search Results
After much research I have found the answer to my question regarding how and why mountain biking originated.
Mountain biking as we know it today was not actually the first type of “mountain bike” innovated. The first bikes which were innovated from road bicycles were made in the military. They were made for the Buffalo Soldiers who were “a turn-of-the-century infantry who customized bicycles to carry gear over rough terrain…the riders… rode from Missoula, Montana, to Yellowstone and back… Their mission: to test the bicycle for military use in mountainous terrain” (“Mountain Bike”). However, the bicycles did not work out and they were abandoned and mountain biking was not heard of again until the 1950s.
There was also the Velo Cross Club Parisian (VCCP) of France. It was made up of about 20 cyclists from Paris who “developed a sport that was remarkably akin to present-day mountain biking. These riders juiced up their French 650-B bikes with an extraordinary degree of technical sophistication” (“Mountain Bike”). However, these guys were the only men to do their sport and it never caught on in France, let alone the rest of the world. Most people believe that mountain biking originated in the late 1970’s in the United States of America by a couple of guys.
“Marin County is not the only place where the mountain bike was invented, but it is the birthplace of the sport of mountain biking” (Kelly). There are quite a few different names which go along with mountain biking history in the United State. The guys who are widely considered to be the inventors of mountain bikes are an elite group. “Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, and Tom Ritchey are the guys who invented mountain biking in the late ‘70s” (Loveland). These guys did not just use a bike straight from the road. The bikes that these guys used “had used balloon-tire one-speed bicycles from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s with coaster brakes” (Brandt). There is much controversy regarding who actually innovated these new bikes and again there are many names thrown around. According to Dan Koeppel, Joe Breeze “was the reigning genius among the Northern California cohort… that is widely credited with turning mountain hiking into a mass phenomenon that swept the globe in the 1990s (Koeppel). Still, there are others who do not think it was Joe Breeze. Other people believe that Gary Fisher was one of the key originators, that he is “the godfather of the mountain bike-some would dispute that- but because he took the mountain bike to the world. His enthusiasm and pure love for riding bikes has convoyed itself into a major sport and he himself an international icon for our sport” (“MB15”). There have been many places where bikes have been adapted to handle rough terrain and there is one very famous place. Although we will never know who exactly did innovate this phenomenon we do know that, “in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, a group of young cycling enthusiasts and budding entrepreneurs would dedicate themselves to improving the clunker concept” (Designs 12-15). Now this leads to the question, what is a clunker?
Well, it turns out that a clunker is a modified cruiser bike which has been modified to work on dirt and going down hill. These clunkers were usually Schwinn bikes because, “They were cheap (nobody wanted them), heavy-duty (by virtue of their mass), and most of all a gas to ride” (Designs12). There are also other names for the same bikes. They can be called clunkers, beaters, bombers, cruisers, fat tire bikes and ballooners. If someone said something about their clunker then someone else might talk about their bomber and everyone would know that they were talking about the same thing even though they were called different names.
Most sources I looked at said that the guys in Marin County innovated their bikes only because they were interested in finding a new way to have fun. Steve Loveland commented that these guys did innovate mountain biking because they did want to have fun but he also informed me of something which I had never read about. He explained that the guys had been using BMX bikes originally and went on to say, “Those guys grew up with BMX bikes and they did use their BMX bikes on the dirt to do down hill” (Loveland). He also informed me that as the men grew up they outgrew their BMX bikes and so using them on the steep dirt trails was hard to do and dangerous. Steve believes that they innovated the cruisers to work on dirt because, “they wanted to have the same experience that they had with their BMX bikes but they wanted to be safer and have a little more control” (Loveland). So this is what they did. They took bikes that were the right size and fitted them to work like their BMX bikes. This way they could go even faster than they were able to before. Once they learned what they could do, they did not stop. They were “true cycling enthusiasts [were] trying to find something new to do on two wheels” (“Mountain bike”). This certainly appears to be true considering they had many races and there was little or no prize money involved, just fun. They also clearly had fun because they maintained their bikes no matter what happened to them. They were hooked on this new approach to bike riding.
The first commercially produced mountain bike was the Specialized Stump Jumper. This was first produced in 1982 and it is still produced today although the original model looks very different from the new models. This means that until 1982, and possibly later, anyone who wanted a mountain biking bike had to either modify a road bike or make their own. In the case of the Marin County guys, at first they just modified road bikes but then they started refining what the modified and then they just build their own. One of the guys who custom made mountain bike frames was Tom Ritchey, “Tom Ritchey’s father was in the metal business, either a welder or builder” (Loveland). This meant that Tom Ritchey had a leg up on the guys who wanted custom bikes and he could also make his own bike, as he did, as did many other of the guys he knew. Tom Ritchey, in fact, built himself and Gary Fisher each a custom bike to use. This meant that the old clunkers were “obsolete” but more people could get their hands on them, as they were commercially produced, so there were pros and cons to each kind of bike.
Originally, these clunkers were so heavy that the group in Marin county that rode them had to, “[drive or walk them] to the top of the mountain then the riders bombed down the steep trails, coaster brakes smoking” (Designs 16). This meant that every time the bikes were ridden down the hill they had to be driven back to the top again. The bikes which Tom Ritchey and Gary Fisher had were lighter than cruisers and had been built specifically to be lighter.
Another problem with the cruiser bikes was their coaster brakes. When the bikes were ridden down a mountain in Marin County whoever was riding it would use the coaster brake almost all the time to control speed. At the end of a run all the grease inside the bearing would, “overheat the hub brakes, requiring it to be re-packed” (Brandt). This did mean that one could not do multiple runs quickly, every run required time to be spend fixing the brakes. This could get tedious and repetitive very quickly. Eventually all of these problems were overcome.
Soon, the people who were downhill riding in Marin County decided that they, “felt that they had to bike up the hills or mountains in order to appreciate riding the descent, thus the birth of multi-speed bikes with shifters and gear in order to aid riders ride up the hills and mountains” (“Mountain Biking”). Because the riders decided to ride their bikes uphill they needed to equip their bikes better. One thing they did was to add cantilever brakes which were lighter and stronger than coaster brakes. The new bikes also had shifters because there were now gears which aided the riders riding up the hill.
Mountain bikers now are very different from what they were when mountain biking was just beginning. According to Bike Snob NYC, “due to significant variations in both terrain and social attitudes across the country and the world, many different styles of Mountain Bikers have evolved” (Weiss 62). Back when mountain biking was just beginning there was really only one kind; downhill. People rode down the hill with bikes specifically modified to go downhill fast and then at the end the rider did not ride back up the hill. Eventually all-mountain also came to fruition (this refers to going both up and down the mountain) and then later even more styles of mountain biking have come about. All-mountain mountain biking is what happened when the rider rode up and down the hill; gears and cantilever breaks helped this style of mountain biking evolve.
Mountain bikes have been around for a long, long time. It is just the sport of mountain biking that started in the 1970s and that is what most people consider to be the beginning of mountain biking. Why did such an innovation from road cycling happen? It was because a group of guys liked riding their BMX bikes down hill and they wanted bigger bikes, but really it was just to have fun. Mountain biking as we know it today started in Marin County and was spearheaded by Gary Fisher, Tom Ritchey, and Joe Breeze.
IV. What This Means to Me and My Growth
Doing this project has given me a chance to learn much more than I ever knew about mountain biking. I have learned all about the bikes that were originally used for mountain biking and I have learned about why the most famous people are famous and what they did that was significant. I also learned how the mountain biking got started which was from BMX bikes and how mountain bikes got gears, the people wanted to ride uphill also.
The most important thing which I have learned is that mountain biking has been a continuous thing and Marin County is significant not because mountain bikes were invented there but because that is where the sport of mountain biking originated and where mountain bike racing originated. I also think the fact that when the guys who were really involved in mountain biking, Joe Breeze, Gary Fisher and Tom Ritchey, could not find something they wanted for their bike they just made it. They even made a completely custom bike for themselves just because they thought it would be more fun.
I have learned things relating to my topic and mot relating to my topic as well. I have learned how mountain biking originated and every time I get on my mountain bike and go for a ride I will remember why I am doing what I am, some guys wanted to have some fun. I have also learned things about research topics and research papers. I had a different topic previously and it did not interest me so I changed it. I will remember that if I can I should pick a topic which interests me and I will enjoy researching.
Because of the research I did and what I found out I am going to try and visit places that are significant to mountain biking. I hope to visit places like the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and places in Marin County if I have the chance. I have also decided that I will try to experience all the different kinds of mountain biking that there are, not just cross country (what most people think of when they think of mountain biking).
I am also amazed at how ingenious and persistent the people who innovated mountain biking were. I am especially impressed with the amount the experimented and tried different things and did not just stay with one choice because they though they could improve anything.
Another thing which this paper had impressed upon me was how much mountain biking has changed since the first guys changed their road bikes into bikes with fat tires to go on dirt. Now we have bikes which weigh less than 20 pounds or have front and back suspension and seat-posts which move according to terrain types, grips which are engineered to relieve pressure on a certain nerve in your hand; the list goes on and on.
It amazes me just how much mountain biking has changed in just a couple of decades, it is truly amazing how quickly the new sport caught on and now there are many, many types of mountain biking.
I doubt that the men who started mountain biking just as a way to have a little more fun ever thought that it would catch on or that it would become so remarkably popular.
Doing this paper I did encounter challenges of different types. I was having trouble finding sources to start out with but I overcame my challenge by trying different combinations and words and eventually I was able to find the research which I was looking for. I was nervous for my interview because I have never formally interviewed someone. I discovered that if I was calm and thought through my questions and then wrote down my interviewee’s response I had all the information I needed. I also found out that Steve was very kind and willing to help me out and it was clear he loves cycling because he provided me with a wealth of information and offered more help if I needed it. My last big challenge was time management. I learned that doing mediocre research is quick and easy but doing good research is time consuming. When I was researching I took quite a bit of time on my sources because I thoroughly read through each of them and then found what I wanted. This required reflection and analysis. I did not realize how long this process took. I also discovered that once you get involved in your topic it takes longer because not only are you writing a research paper, you are also learning. So I found that sometimes even when the paper doesn’t need more information, I often did. I probably took longer than I should have because I was enjoying my topic and trying to learn as much as I could. In the future I will keep in mind how long good research takes and remind myself to get my information for my paper and then extend my research for my own enrichment later.
Brandt, Brandt. "A Brief History of the Mountain Bike by Jobst Brandt." Sheldon Brown-Bicycle Technical Information. Sheldon Brown, 08 Oct. 1998. Web. 27 Apr. 2011.
This site was helpful but somewhat limited in the information. I learned mostly about what the famous mountain bikers did to get famous. I learned about Gary Fisher and how he started a bike company. I learned about Tom Ritchey and how he build frames for some of the group to use instead of their clunkers. I also learned why the racers were called repack races and why the coaster brakes had to be repacked.
Designs, Amici. Fat Tire, A Celebration of Mountain Biking. Print.
This book was very helpful to me and very interesting. The book was written by one of the people who was originally riding clunkers so it was a good first had source. I learned lots about the history of mountain biking and who all was involved. I also learned about the major developments of mountain biking and cycling in general. I also learned about the technical things which the rider used such as handlebars and bottom brackets.
Kelly, Charlie. "Charlie Kelly's Mountain Bike Hubsite." (Sonic.net). Charlie Kelly. Web. 08 May 2011.
This is the personal website of one of the leaders of the mountain biking movement. He has lots of information about how mountain biking was innovated. He also had lots of information about the racing and repacking. In addition, he had many pictures which showed the clunkers and the people who used them. This website was a good source for a general overview.
Koeppel, Dan. "Joe Breeze wants to change the world." Bicycling. 01 Sep. 2003: 32. eLibrary. Web. 27 Apr. 2011. This periodical was an okay source. I found it from using eLibrary. This article was not so much about the origins of mountain biking but a man. The man was one of the innovators of mountain biking. Unfortunately, the article was about him more recently than about him in the 1970’s
Loveland, Steve. "Mountain Biking." Personal interview. 1 May 2011.
Steve has been in the world of cycling for over 30 years and so was around for the start of mountain biking. He was very willing to help with my interview and was accommodating to all of my questions. He told me some very interesting things about mountain biking which I had not found. He also gave me some background on the men who innovated mountain biking and why he believes they did it. He was probably the best source I had because he has so much knowledge of mountain biking.
"MB15--The greatest of all time. The top of the heap. The cream." Mountain Bike. 01 Jan. 2001: 105. eLibrary. Web. 27 Apr. 2011. This source was a good source. It informed me about the equipment of mountain biking which is important. It also had some things about the major contributors to mountain biking originally. It especially talked about Gary Fisher. It was a good source to look at to compare past and present technologies.
"The Mountain Bike Hall of Fame - The History of Mountain Biking." The Mountain Bike Hall of Fame - Crested Butte, Colorado. Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, 2001. Web. 27 Apr. 2011.
This site was very helpful to me and I would highly recommend it to someone who is interested in the history of mountain biking. I learned quite a bit about my topic. I learned how many different people innovated their bikes in order to use them off-road and when they did this. This is the site which was established to record the history of mountain biking so they are a very reliable source. It tells all of the people who could have invented mountain biking and gives good background on all of them
"Mountain Biking History." Mountain Bike Info, News, Pictures, Forum, Shop, Travel and Community. ABC-of-Mountain Biking. Web. 08 May 2011.
This was a good source for a general overview. It had some details but it mostly told a time line for how and why things happened. It was a good source of information about the brakes. I learned about cantilever breaks and why they were so much better than coaster breaks. I also learned why mountain bikes did not have gears and then why they were included.
Weiss, Eben. Bike Snob: Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling. San Francisco: Chronicle, 2010. Print.
This book was a mediocre source for the origins of mountain biking. It mostly focuses on cycling in general and discussing modern issues. There was some good information about mountain biking and mountain bikers. It was also very funny and entertaining to read. I would recommend this to someone who wanted to read a funny book about cycling and not to read it if they wanted a thorough history.