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Rec.Bicycles Frequently Asked Questions Posting Part 5/5
Section - 10.4 A Brief History of the Mountain Bike

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Date: Fri, 13 Feb 2004 12:07:59 -0800

The first -successful- high quality fat-tire bicycle was built in
Marin County, California by Joe Breeze, who recognized a demand for
such a bicycle while riding with friends on the rocky trails of nearby
Mt Tamalpais.  They used balloon-tire one-speed bicycles from the
1930s, 1940s and 1950s (Schwinn Excelsior) with New Departure and
Bendix coaster brakes.  These brakes were the origin of the name
"Repack" for one of the trails, because one descent was enough to
overheat the hub brake, requiring it to be re-packed.  They referred
to their Mt. Tamalpais downhill bicycles as "my mountain bike" in
contrast to "my road bike" without giving the term generic
significance.  According to Joe Breeze, riders around Santa Barbara
also used the term for their fat tired trail bicycles.

Joe Breeze, Otis Guy, and Gary Fisher, all still in the bicycle
business today, were top category USCF riders.  Many of the Tamalpais
riders were members of road racing Velo Club Tamalpais, whose blue and
gold jersey carried the Mt. Tamalpais silhouette logo.  In October of
1977, Joe built a fat-tire bicycle of lightweight tubing that was
previously found only on better road racing bicycles.  It had all new,
high-quality parts and 26" x 2.125" Uniroyal "Knobby" tires on Schwinn
S2 rims and Phil Wood hubs.  Joe built ten of these first Breezers by
June 1978.  Breezer #1 has been on display at various places,
including the Oakland Museum, where it has been on permanent display
since 1985.

However the first Breezer was predated by a frame built for Charlie
Kelly by Craig Mitchell earlier in 1977.  As the Breezer frames that
followed, it was made of 4130 chrome-molybdenum airframe tubing.
Charlie equipped it with the parts from his Schwinn Excelsior
including SunTour derailleurs and thumb shifters, TA aluminum cranks,
Union drum brake hubs, motorcycle brake levers, Brooks B-72 saddle,
Schwinn S-2 rims and UniRoyal Knobby tires (essentially, the best
parts found on clunkers of that day).  In spite of this, he chose to
switch back to his Schwinn frame, which he rode until June of 1978,
when he got himself a Breezer, and for one reason or another the
Mitchell frame was not further developed.

In January 1979, Joe and Otis, who were planning another tandem
transcontinental record attempt, visited Tom Ritchey, who was building
the frame, and brought along Joe's Breezer mountain bike.  Peter
Johnson, another noted frame builder who happened to be present, was
impressed with its features, as was Tom, sensing the significance of
the concept, both being veteran road bike trail riders in the Santa
Cruz mountains.  Gary Fisher got wind of Tom's interest in fat tire
bikes and asked Tom to build him one.  Tom built one for himself, one
for Gary, and one for Gary to sell.

After building nine more frames later in 1979, Tom couldn't find
buyers for them in nearby Palo Alto, so he asked Fisher if he could
sell them in Marin.  Fisher and Charlie Kelly pooled a few hundred
dollars and started "MountainBikes" which became today's Gary Fisher
Bicycles.  It was the first exclusively mountain bike business.  It
was Tom's bikes, and Fisher and Kelly's business that made the
introduction of the mountain bike take hold.  This was an obvious gap
in the bicycle market, most builders focusing on road bikes, left this
as an open field for innovation.

Fisher and Kelly tried to trademark the name Mountainbike, but through
procedural or definition errors the application was finally rejected.
Meanwhile in the 1980's Bicycling Magazine had a "name that bike"
contest that excluded the name "Mountainbike", that name being before
the trade mark board at the time.  ATB was the winner but it didn't
hold ground against the much more natural "Mountain Bike" name that
spread rapidly after the trade mark application failed.

If anyone's name stands out as the builder of the earliest viable
mountain bike, it is Joe Breeze, who today still produces Breezers.
The marketing push first came from Tom Ritchey, Gary Fisher, and
Charlie Kelly and the ball was rolling.  At first the USCF felt it
below their dignity, as did the UCI, to include these bicycles, but
after NORBA racers began to outnumber USCF racers, they relented and
absorbed these upstarts, as they certainly would recumbents if they
had similar public appeal.

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