Fat Tire Flyer

Early mountain bike

“One of Gary’s 1940s Schwinns at the far end of the klunker’s evolutionary scale: derailleurs front and rear, a triple crank, and drum brakes. A great machine for its time, but heavy; this bike weighs about 46 pounds.”

In October, one of the progenitors of what we now call mountain biking published a book about the history of our sport: Fat Tire Flyer: Repack and the Birth of Mountain Biking, by Charlie Kelly. In 264 hardbound glossy pages, Kelly tells how he and small group of friends including future icons like Gary Fisher, Tom Ritchey, and Joe Breeze, among others, started riding old fat tire Schwinn cruisers, which they lovingly called Klunkers, on the fire roads of Marin County near San Francisco in the early-mid 70s. “Repack” refers to the name of their favorite descent, which lost some 1300 vertical feet over less than 2 miles. By the time they reached the bottom, all of the grease had burnt up and smoked out of the coaster-brake rear hub which needed to be serviced (repacked with fresh grease). Over the course of a few years they started modifying those old bikes to suit their needs (adding derailleurs and gears and so on), then started making a few purpose built off-road bikes, and thus was born the mountain bike, which went from subcultural obscurity to the international multibillion-dollar passion of millions of recreational and lifestyle riders, as well as Olympic crosscountry and Red Bull Rampage insanity. To say that mountain biking has become a big deal is like saying people like beer. Duh.

Charlie is a decent writer and storyteller, so the prose flows pretty well. There are lots of pictures of early bikes and hippies flying down dirt roads in jeans and combat boots, unhelmeted hair flying. The Grateful Dead make an appearance, and there’s a lot of Gary Fisher stories (Charlie and Gary were roommates and eventual business partners). Anyone interested in mountain biking ought to enjoy reading the book, or at least flipping through and looking at the pictures. Less than $30 on Amazon (click the photo below and treat yo’self).

The appendix contains some of the earliest stories and news pieces on mountain biking, which are interesting to read alongside this retrospective.

About Josh Bolick

Josh Bolick works at Florida State University Libraries in the Office of Scholarly Communication.
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4 Responses to Fat Tire Flyer

  1. repackrider says:

    Thanks for the attention.

  2. Special autographed editions for sale at Marin Museum of Bicycling or the museum’s online store at http://www.mmbhof.org. Signers include the author Charlie Kelly, Joe Breeze, Otis Guy and others… The books can also be personally inscripted with a message. These are the ones to have… all proceeds benefit Charlie Kelley and Marin Museum of Bicycling.

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