History of Mountain Biking: How Did It Get Started?

Mountain biking is all about riding off-road with unique kinds of bikes designed for it. This sport is widely known worldwide and mountain bike manufacturers always try their best to bring innovations to their bikes.

Have you ever wondered who came up with the idea of mountain biking? How it all started in the first place? I’ve got you. You’ll find tons of data tracing back to mountain biking origins but not all of it is authentic.

History of Mountain Biking – From 1930s till Date

History of Mountain Biking
Featured Image: History of Mountain Biking

So, today we’ll look at the history of mountain biking right from the start till now.

Who Invented the Mountain Bike?

During the 1930s, retrofitted beach cruisers were mostly used to manufacture mountain bikes. The Buffalo soldiers rode these bikes for off-road biking till the late 1980s. So, it won’t be wrong to say that the Buffalo soldiers were the ones who initiated mountain biking in the true sense. But, Joe Breeze made the first true mountain bike.

Where Was Mountain Biking Invented?

Mountain biking history shows that its invention was in the late 1960s when the Larkspur Canyon Gang (a group of rebels) started off-road riding in Mt. Tamalpais, Marin County.

But, even before this group began mountain biking, several other people have also rode their bikes off-road such as John Finley Scott from the United States. He produced a motorcycle known as the ‘Woodsie Bike’ for off-road terrains.

Looking even back, the US army also used their bicycles for off-road riding in the year 1886. In short, the US army was the first one to indulge in mountain biking. Moving further with the history of mountain biking, let’s discuss how a bicycle transformed into a modern mountain bike over the decades.

Origin of Modern Mountain Bike From 1817 to the 1990s

The Walking Machine

The journey of mountain bikes began when Karl Darvis (a German inventor) designed a bike known as ‘The Walking Machine’ in 1817. During this period, horses were the major means of transportation. So, this bike replaced horses. As it was similar to a scooter, Karl named it ‘The Dransine’. His wooden scooter however had a problem; it gave a tough time to the rider as the majority of roads at that time were rough and unpaved, making the mountain bike ride on road extremely painful.

The Velocipede

In the year 1865 came ‘The Velocipede’. This bike had a closer resemblance to the modern tricycle for a toddler. The name Velocipede is a Latin word that means ‘fast foot’. This did not work well due to the bad combination of metal tires and rough streets and was soon renamed ‘Boneshaker’. Adults never preferred this bike for their rides.

The Penny Farthing

Shortly after, ‘The Penny Farthing’ appeared in 1870. This was the first ever bike with a metal frame and the first to give its rider a smooth ride on the rough and unpaved streets. Riders developed a great liking for it but it had a drawback. The bike seemed dangerous as it required the rider to keep a high riding position throughout.

The Safety Bike

In the year 1880, came ‘The Safety Bike’. You can imagine its popularity as it has similarities with the mountain bikes of today. What was so special about the bike? Well, the bike had its drivetrain placed between the front and rear wheels, resulting in a more stable bike. Its metal wheels and rubber tires guaranteed a comfortable and safe ride. This one was free from risks that came with ‘The Penny Farthing’. Hence, it attracted more people towards it.

US Army Off-road Bikes

It was 1866 when the US army also switched to off-road bikes instead of the previously used horses. Everyone knew the perks of bicycles over horses, that’s why they did so. Similarly, bikes were a cheaper option considering the horses needed feeding and some of them would even fall ill or die on the battlefield. These off-road bikes had a sturdy frame with forks. Hence, just like Polygon bikes, they soon became popular among the troops.

You may also want to read about enduro mountain biking

How Did Off-road Racing Come into Existence?

Some road riders would occasionally ride through forests and farmers’ fields by taking shortcuts to reach the finish line fast. This was in the year 1902. This practice gave birth to the sport, cyclocross which is a common race till day among bikers.

The Woodsie Bike

A mountain bike enthusiast from the United States, John Finley manufactured ‘The Woodsie Bike’ in 1953. He added flat handlebars, derailleur gears, fat balloon tires, and cantilever brakes to a Schwinn World diamond frame and this formed ‘The Woodsie Bike’. John further played an essential role in the manufacture as well as promotion of mountain bikes among folks.

Rough Stuff Fellowship

With the onset of 1955, some group containing both intoxicated men and women established a club for off-road cycling which no one ever thought of before. The club was on the Welsh English border with the name, ‘Rough Stuff Fellowship’. The bikers would cycle around casually and stop by the local pub in between the ride.

The Klunker

A group of hippies from California was responsible for the manufacture of ‘The Klunker’ in 1970. This group retrofitted beach cruises from the 1930s with upgraded brakes, fat balloon tires, and motocross handlebars. They rode their bikes down fire roads with maximum speed and often the rider would get injured or come with a broken bike.

However, this did not affect their love for biking as they had the best time of their lives.

This bike riding further introduced the “Repack Races”. After each race, the grease in the hubs would melt and leak out and this called out for repacking and so the name Repack Races. After this, it was the first time mountain bike-specific products came to the light.

Specialized Stumpjumper

Even till the start of the 1980s, there was no proper mountain bike. After seeing the increasing popularity of mountain biking, road bike manufacturers formed the first mass-produced mountain bike. This bike was from the brand Specialized and thus given the name ‘Specialized Stumpjumper’ in 1981. Moreover, the bike had wider tires, flat handlebars, and thicker tubing.

1985 to Early 1990s

Raleigh (a big bicycle manufacturer) designed and manufactured the mountain bike named the ‘Maverick’ and this was their first ever mountain bike. To become successful, the bike took several years. Towards the late 1980s, mass media started giving coverage to all huge mountain bike events. This was the time when mountain biking took the world by storm as millions of people liked and viewed these televised mountain bike events.

With the increasing broadcasting of these events, more sponsors came forward with deals for the athletes. This in turn sparked competition between the top biking competitors. So, now this perfect combination of media exposure and top-class racing compelled all the bicycle brands towards making innovative mountain bikes. In addition, these brands also started working on enhancing the range of their different mountain bike components and products, providing athletes with a competitive edge.

Since this time, mountain biking kept on getting better and evolving with each passing year. Now, we get to see numerous types of mountain biking for which particular bikes are available as well. Although the types of mountain biking will keep increasing, their basics will remain the same.

FAQs about MTBs History

Who Introduced Suspension in Mountain Bikes?

As we all know that any mountain bike is not possible without suspension travel as it acts as a shock absorber on uneven trails or descents. So, Brian Skinner was the first to introduce a mountain bike with a suspension in 1982. He is also famous for designing and creating various mountain bike components like Shimano Deore and Deore XT components. You might be unaware that he was also behind the MCR Descender which is the full suspension mountain bike ever. This full suspension bike was around till 1990 with Proflex Off-road by Serrota.

Who invented mountain biking?

The Marin County riders of California were the ones who invented mountain biking in the first place with their Schwinn Excelsior bikes. The riders started racing against one another in Repack Races. However, it became difficult for the bikers to move up the hill with their old bikes. So, they started adding BMX or motocross-style handlebars to bring about improvements in the handling of their bikes.

How did mountain biking originate?

Mountain biking originated in California when a gang of hippies started off-riding with their retrofitted beach cruises.

When did MTB become popular?

MTB gained popularity towards the end of the 1970s and the start of the 1980s in the United States. The bikers at that time used their old bicycles with single-speed balloon tires.

When was the first mountain bike created?

Even though there is always going to be a never-ending debate about who deserves the credit for the first mountain bike, Joe Breeze is the one who deserves it the most.  Joe Breeze introduced the Breezer Series 1 in 1978. This was the first mountain bike ever created. The Breezer involved Chromoly instead of the usual steel.

During the same period, Tom Ritchey, Gary Fisher, and Charlie Kelly were among the early mountain bike pioneers. They also began to produce their mountain bikes. Frames were produced by Ritchey which got accessorized by Gary and Charlie. They also started a brand with the name Mountain Bikes which ultimately got dissolved when the three ended their relationship. Later, they named the company Fisher Mountain Bikes while Tom started his frame shop.

Wrapping Up Mountain Biking History

From the history of MTB, one gets to see how the desire for freedom and the need for exploring landscapes and geographies led to this now popular term, mountain biking. It is understandable to say that mountain biking would keep on evolving with time as it is a growing sport and the interest of athletes keeps on increasing in it.

So, bike manufacturers try their best to bring about improvements that could result in smooth riding so more people purchase only from them. Mountain biking is gaining more popularity these days across the globe than anybody could imagine in the early days.

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