The answer to the question of where mountain biking was actually invented is probably one of those that depends on who you ask. Even if you refuse to call Marin, CA the birthplace of mountain biking, the area’s history with the sport is undeniable. Some of the very first mountain bikes, or more appropriately klunkers, were raced up and down the legendary Repack road giving rise to the Repack downhill. Taking pre-war beach cruisers and modifying them with knobby-er tires, different forks, and more robust brakes, the cast of the Marin mountain bike scene included some of today’s biggest names in mountain biking – Joe Breeze, Gary Fisher, Otis Guy the list goes on and on.
It’s fitting then that the newest addition to the streets of Fairfax includes the new Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. Occupying the space of an old grocery store, the quaint setting is just a short ride from Repack and the heart of Marin.
Thanks to the work of Joe Breeze, Otis Guy, four other board members, and countless volunteers, their idea of a museum dedicated to the area’s rich mountain biking history is finally becoming a reality. Inside, the display includes three main components, one of which being the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. Originally located in Crested Butte, CO and run by Don and Kay Cook, Joe approached them with the idea of relocating the HOF to Fairfax due to the increased traffic and proximity to the Bay area, and eventually they gave Joe and the team involved their blessing.
After months of hard work and donations, the new museum is just about to open its doors to the public. Until then, we have a little taste of the awesome machines you’ll find inside…
If getting a sneak peek at the museum was the icing on an already awesome day of riding in Marin, having Joe Breeze and Otis Guy on hand to unveil it was the cherry on top. Arranged in chronological order, the museum includes the progression of mountain bikes since the very beginning starting with some of the actual klunkers ridden by Joe Breeze and Otis Guy themselves. Other highlights include the first bike Tom Ritchey and Charlie Cunningham ever built, Jaquie Phelan’s race winning Cunningham, Joe Murray’s 1985 Fisher, Mert Lawill’s Fisher Suspension bike, Jammin Jimmy Deaton’s Yeti Kamikaze bike, Thomas Frischknecht’s Olympic Ritchey, and one of the more modern bikes on display, Miles Rockwell’s wild Cannondale DH bike and one of the first 29ers.
Even though the museum has a heavy slant towards mountain biking, there is a fantastic representation of bicycle technology in general due to the inclusion of 8 bicycles from the nineteenth century from the Igler collection. Ralph Igler originally had the collection at his house in Palo Alto, but always imagined having them displayed in a museum. After seeing the collection first hand in the 70’s, Joe and Otis lost touch with Ralph and when the idea for the museum came up they learned that he had passed away in 2004. The collection was then willed to his son, a professor of history at UC Irvine. After doing some serious detective work, the son was tracked down and it turns out he had similar ideas about Ralph’s collection. The Marin Museum was then allowed to hand pick 8 bikes out of collection of around 50 that really show the progression of bicycle technology since the very first commercially produced bicycle, an 1868 Michauex Bone Shaker. The bikes include samples of the first chain drives, pneumatic tires, and diamond frames as we know them today.
Also outside the scope of mountain biking is the Mateo collection from Matteo Martignoni. Working as a builder of Strawberry frames in Portland, Matteo was also a member of the Junior Worlds team in 1984 and the director of the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy. A former Petaluma resident, the Matteo collection includes many iconic road bikes including historically significant builds from BSA and Cinelli. Just look at those early derailleurs!
Born from fully dressed pre-war cruisers, mountain biking’s roots lie in the creation of Klunkers. Prized for their durability among other cruiser frames, the Schwinn Excelsior DX often started looking like this, only for the fenders, tank, racks, kickstand, and lights to be thrown away and replaced with better and better parts. When modified with a different fork, the frame offered a 12″ high bottom bracket, 18″ chainstays, and a 69 degree head tube angle.
Eventually, Klunkers started resembling this green pre-40s DX built with Suntour Cyclone derailleurs, TA cranks, and stronger aluminum rims.
According to Otis, this was one of the first geared mountain bikes in existence. After spotting it at a cross race under a member of the Morrow Dirt Club, the bike and rider disappeared for awhile until Otis and crew were able to reunite and talk about gearing modifications. Check out the rear brake(s) – two rear levers operate both a drum brake and a center pull caliper mounted on the chainstay.
As a testament to just how tough these frames were, this red and white 41 Schwinn belonged to Otis Guy, but when he was working at the fire house he loaned it out to Joe Breeze to ride at Repack. Together, the bike won the Repack downhill 6 or 7 times under Joe and Otis. While he is still building his own bikes and frames under Otis Guy Cycles, his bikes look a bit different today.
As mountain biking starts to become a “thing,” the focus turns to the first Ritchey frame ever built and Breezer #6. Often credited with building the first modern mountain bike with a purpose built frame and carefully selected components, Breezer’s first mountain frame came from a request from charlie Kelly to build him a lighter, stronger frame that wouldn’t break. This particular Breezer was built for Wende Cragg and weighs about 35 lbs – significantly lighter than the 40+lb klunkers.
As the Repack crowd was getting into mountain bikes, the BMX and motorcycle world was taking notice. The Lawwill Pro Cruiser was a joint effort between motorcycle legend Mert Lawwill, Don Koski, and Terry Knight.
Of course, the display includes one of the original Specialized Stumpjumpers. Number 56, to be exact. Donated by Mike Sinyard, the Stumpjumper marks a pivotal point in mountain biking where bikes went from being built one by one in the states, to a mass production model.
Always on the cutting edge of bike technology, WTB co-founder Charlie Cunningham was one of the first builders to look towards aluminum as a frame material. He would go on to build one of his radical bikes for his future wife Jaquie Phelan, who also happened to be on hand for the event. Known for going head to head with (and beating) the boys at a time when the concept of “women’s specific” anything didn’t exist, Jaquie went on to form the Women’s Mountain Bike and Tea Society (WOMBATS) and was one of the very first pioneers for womens’ mountain biking.
Jaquie’s Otto, as it was affectionately named, stood the test of time even as critics of aluminum said it wouldn’t last. It also featured a number of custom touches which foreshadowed the future of mountain bike design including a wider spaced front hub, chainguide (not on Otto, but on the other Cunningham on display), and custom wide range gearing.
The evolution continues with the years of the elevated chainstay including the Mantis Flying V and Kestrel’s groundbreaking carbon MXZ.
There is no escaping the giant chainring on this Yeti A.R.C. soft tail. That massive gear is one of the reasons Jammin’ Jimmy Deaton was a four time winner of the Kamikaze Downhill.
The early examples of suspension and disc brakes are so much fun to see whether it’s the inverted fork on this Mountain Cycle San Andreas or the Fisher RS-1 with Mert Lawwill designed suspension.
Thomas Frischknecht’s Olympic Ritchey mountain bike gives you an idea where they got the inspiration for the current Ritchey P-series paint jobs. Some of you may remember the bike with two forks, which on paper sounds like a smart idea. Manitou was already making the forks, so why not build a frame around the fork legs but as rear suspension?
Nearing the end of the display you’ll find an awesome example of an Ibis Bow Ti, one of the very first 29ers, and the Cannondale Fulcrum.
Choosing a favorite among the bikes on display would be a bit like choosing a favorite child, but for pure bicycle techno-geekery, Myles Rockwell’s 1998 Cannondale Fulcrum draws a lot of attention. It just so happens that the bike was featured in The Pro’s Closet Museum Series where Myles and master bicycle restorer Tasshi Dennis get into the fine details of the wild frame. Make sure to head over to The Pro’s Closet website for a piece by piece breakdown of the build.
While we were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame thanks to GU, you’ll be able to see it for yourself after June 6th. Currently still in the construction phase (with Joe and Otis practically living at the museum to get it built), the plan is to have a Grand Opening celebration on the 6th with an official ribbon cutting, food, drinks, group rides, tours, and more. If you appreciate history and consider yourself a mountain biker, the Marin Museum of Bicycling and Hall of Fame will be something to add to your bucket list.