Mountain Bike Hall of Fame FAQ
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Mountain Bike Hall of Fame FAQ.
These are the questions that would be asked frequently about my membership in the MTBHOF, if anyone ever wondered enough to ask.
Left: Jersey badge representing my membership in the oldest and most stately of British off-road bicycle societies, the Rough-Stuff Fellowship. Tut-tut, talley-ho, and all that rot.
Q: What is the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame?
A: It is exactly what the name suggests, a sort of three-dimensional scrapbook of the sport of mountain biking. Bikes, photos, documents and so on, kept in Crested Butte, Colorado.
It is also a repository of a few mementos from my personal fifteen minutes of above-average recognition.
Q: Wow. Are you some kind of genius bike builder or something?
Q: Then why are you famous?
A: This just in. I'm not. You never heard of me before this phony interview.
Q: Sure I did. You were that guy, right, that did that thing, and then that stuff happened? No? Okay, then why are you in the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame?
A: For fifteen years, from about 1975 to 1990, I was very involved with the sport. I promoted races, the most famous of which was called Repack, I owned the first custom mountain bike I know about, I was part of one of the first companies to sell mountain bikes, I published the first magazine for mountain bikers, I helped organize the National Off-Road Bicycle Association (NORBA), I wrote the first set of racing rules, which are still being used, and I wrote a lot of magazine articles about the sport. Now I do other stuff.
Q: Why did you quit?
A: Because mountain biking used to be a lot of small companies and it was fun to be in the business because you knew everyone and everyone was making money. Now it's a few big companies, small profit margins, and the selling has become no different than selling plumbing supplies. You should see the trade shows. Insanity. Due to mass production and technology, the mountain bikes of today are a hundred times more fun to ride than bikes from 20 years ago, and a hundred times less fun to sell. I'd rather ride them than do anything else about them.
Q: What is the Repack Race?
A: It was an event that took place sporadically between 1976 and 1984, with most of the races taking place between 1976 and 1979. It started on a fall day in 1976 with a half-dozen of us taking crudely timed runs down a steep hill to decide who was the fastest rider. Figured we would do it once and settle the question forever. Who knew that you had to decide something like that every time a new guy showed up, just to keep it straight? And because hey, I got unlucky, but I really could beat that guy, so I need another shot at him.
So we evolved a better timing system, put together prizes and posters and racing classes, and I coordinated these activities for several years. I have a page on this site that has more about that. Repack was the basis for my writing the rules for NORBA, because you have to have an idea of what a race is like in order to put together a rule book. By 1979 I had put on more mountain bike races than anyone else, although Tom Hillard was putting on races in the Santa Rosa area at the same time.
Of course, you could always just click the damn link.
Q: Link? Where?
A: Here. Click it.
Q: Please tell me about your writing career.
A: I sold my first article to Bicycling Magazine in 1978, an article about an aspect of bicycling that was so weird that they had to print it, the Repack Downhill. That was fun, but it didn't pay diddly. I think I got $75 for it. Later on, Bicycling reprinted the article, and I had to, AHEM, REMIND them to pay me again. But, there I was, published. So I kept writing. You can read the article if you want to.
I sold an article on mountain biking to Outside magazine in 1979, and that was a big payday, $400. Because I was one of the few literate mountain bikers, I got most of the work in the early '80s writing about the sport. And I had my own magazine from 1980 on. Later on I wrote a book on mountain biking that sold fifteen or twenty copies, and now is so out of date that it is laughable.
Q: Why don't you write for one of the mountain bike magazines I see on the newsstands?
A: Have you ever READ any of these mountain bike magazines? I didn't think so. There isn't that much to say about the sport, it has already been said too many times, and I had to say it too often. Why add to the pollution? All they talk about any more is products and more products. They never met one they didn't like as long as it took a two-page ad. And if it didn't take an ad, they never heard of it.
Q: You sound bitter. Didn't you get fired from Rodale Press in 1990? Didn't your magazine eventually collapse?
A: Excuse me? Don't forget that you're just a literary device that I'm using to write this bogus FAQ. Try again, or I'm deleting you and trying something else.
Q: Sorry. I overstepped my role. May I say, sir, that you are wearing a smashing ensemble today? It sets off your rugged good looks splendidly. Say, didn't you edit a DARLING little magazine called the Fat Tire Flyer? The first magazine for mountain bikers? From 1980 to 1987?
A: Thanks for the setup. Why, yes I did.
Q: But no longer?
A: Everything has a life span, even a publication like the Fat Tire Flyer, because if it didn't, it would be a life sentence. I started it with Denise Caramagno; it was the most imaginative thing I ever got the opportunity to do, but it was a pretty harsh taskmaster. I would probably be embarrassed by what it would have become had I actually sold it to an entity like Rodale Press. Now THAT'S a scary thought. You have to experience the corporate magazine mentality in order to appreciate why the magazines are so incredibly unimaginative. As far as I know, the world record for unimaginativeness is held by Rodale Press. I would far prefer that the Fat Tire Flyer die than have it converted into a Rodale publication.
Q: You still sound bitter. Is it because they're making money and you aren't?
A: What kind of question is that for a FAQ? Do you want to know stuff or do you just want to jerk my chain?
Q: Hey, take it easy. Remember, I'm just a fictional questioner. I exist only at your pleasure. Sir.
A: That's not a question. Do you have one?
Q: Okay, here's one. Do you know Gary Fisher?
A: Sure. We were roommates for several years, and partners in a company we called MountainBikes, one of the first companies to sell off-road bikes. I applied for a trademark on that name, and the so-called trademark lawyer who took my money screwed up the two page application, so it was denied. But we were the first to use that name.
Gary and I were partners starting on a fall day in 1979 when we pooled the cash in our pockets ($200) in the parking lot of Celoni's Liquors, until 1983. The way it worked was that Tom Ritchey built our frames, and Gary and I assembled and marketed the bikes in a little shop we rented in San Anselmo. When we started, we had so little money that we had to get payment in advance from someone who would trust a couple of wild hippies with $1300, then we would buy all the parts and assemble the bike two weeks to a month later.
Q: What happened to the company?
A: In 1983 Gary and his father bought my interest. I have not been involved with the hardware end of the sport since then. The Gary Fisher bicycle company is now part of Trek.
Q: How about Joe Breeze and Otis Guy?
A: They're good guys, also members of the Hall of Fame. Remember that? The subject of this FAQ?
Joe built my first custom mountain bike in 1978, the second one he built and the third such bike that I am aware of. If he says anything about anything, assume I agree with it, because Joe is a Righteous Dude.
A bunch of other people I know from Fairfax and San Anselmo are also inductees, including Wende Cragg, Jacquie Phelan, Joe Murray, Fred Wolf, Alan Bonds, Denise Caramagno, and Charlie Cunningham.
Q: What is this NORBA thingy?
A: The National Off-Road Bicycle Association. They have their own website, and if you were really interested, you would go there.
An association like NORBA is a natural artifact of the sort of subculture that likes to compete at something, from bicycles to billiards. Whatever the environmental goals of NORBA are, they are and were from the beginning secondary to racing and the fact that somebody gets to choose the national champion in every sport, and for mountain biking, that is NORBA.
Q: What did you have to do with it?
A: So glad you asked. In 1983 Jack Ingram, who worked for a small bike company called Panda Bikes, invited a bunch of Northern California mountain bikers to his house in the East Bay (for those who live elsewhere, that would be the area east of San Francisco Bay) to discuss the possibility of a mountain bike race sanctioning body. Because his house was so far from where most of the attendees lived, the next dozen or so meetings were held in my house in Fairfax. Over a period of a few months we put together the basics of a racing body, starting from scratch. There was a lot to do. We needed rules, insurance, a bank account, racer-members, a league of promoters, a mailing address, a logo, a means of interpreting rules, i.e. officials who agreed on what those rules were and a process to answer appeals. Oh yeah. We needed money too.
Contrary to my usual policy, I allowed the organization to take advantage of the mailing list from the Fat Tire Flyer subscribers to build a membership. Creation of rules fell to Tom Hillard and me because we were the only members who had promoted races. The first NORBA "National Championship" was organized in the fall of 1983 by Glenn Odell, under the rules that Tom and I arrived at and codified that spring.
I was part of NORBA for a few years, first as a founding member and later as a rules advisor, my influence fading as the sport grew from 1983 to about 1990. My personal legacy was that Tom Hillard and I wrote the rules that govern the sport worldwide, and have now been used in the Olympic Games.
In 1988 the citizens of Crested Butte organized the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, and inducted the first ten members. I had the honor of acting as the Master of Ceremonies for that event, and was also inducted. Among the exhibits at the Hall of Fame are my original Breezer bike from 1977, which was the second mountain bike ever built by Joe Breeze, and a complete collection of the Fat Tire Flyer.
Q: Wow, you really are cool!
A: Remember, you said it, not me.