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How did 40 years go past so quickly?

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How did 40 years go past so quickly?

Old 08-29-19, 12:19 PM
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How did 40 years go past so quickly?

[This was written for a non-bicycling website. I thought I would put it here too even though it over-explains a few things.]

It was just 40 years ago, late summer of 1979.

For a couple of months Gary Fisher had been riding a custom balloon tire bicycle he had built on a frame made by Tom Ritchey. I had a similar bike built by Joe Breeze a year earlier. Gary and I had been roommates for about four years, but Gary had recently rented a small cottage where he lived alone. During the time we had shared a house, we had evolved a hybrid off-road bike built on an old Schwinn frame, which we used for downhill racing on a steep section of fire road we called “Repack.” More recently we had taken the next step, which was to create bicycles built for the purpose using modern bicycle materials and components, along with the big tires.

When Tom built Gary’s bike, in addition to Gary’s input he took advantage of what Joe had learned by building ten bikes like mine. The idea of building such bikes and selling them was far from our minds. The world’s supply of such bikes was thirteen, ten built by Joe Breeze, and three built on Tom Ritchey’s frames. To us, that seemed like all the world could possibly want.

Almost unique among American frame builders of the `70s, Tom worked “lugless,” using bronze welding (“brazing”) to join tubes instead of the cast sleeves (“lugs”) commonly used on steel road frames. That meant he was not limited in the diameter of the tubing he used, or the angles he chose to join them. He immediately used larger diameter tubing than he used on road bikes, and geometry nothing like that of a road bike.

When Tom built a bike for Gary, one for Gary’s friend James and one for himself, he had a revelation. Building off-road bikes was simpler than building custom road bikes, and the materials cost far less.

First, he didn’t need to use an expensive double-butted tube set with tapered stays. He could buy straight-gauge chrome-moly tubing in 20-foot lengths straight from the foundry, in the larger diameters he preferred. Second, he didn’t have to build each bike as a unique one-off, like all the custom road frames he was building. He could make two sizes, and even paint them all the same color. By standardizing the frame design, he could cut a dozen tube sets in an afternoon and build bikes the next day.

For the time and money invested in building one custom road frame, he could build five or six balloon-tire frames. They were so easy to build that he built nine more frames after Gary collected the two he had ordered, in hopes of selling them to his own friends. Tom rode regularly with a group who hit the trails south of San Francisco on what would now be called “gravel bikes,” drop bar, skinny tire bikes built to take abuse.

But because their passion was exploring, not downhill racing, Tom’s friends didn’t care for bikes with heavy wheels and big tires, built to take a downhill pounding. Tom couldn’t unload any of his nine new frames.

Finally Tom called his only customer, who had bought two of Tom’s frames and sold one to a friend. Maybe Gary could find a few more buyers for hand made balloon tire bike frames that were as beautiful as anything made for the Tour de France.

Gary drove the fifty miles to Tom’s place in Palo Alto and picked up the frames. Later that day he tracked me down in Fairfax. He opened the trunk of his battered BMW, and showed me nine beautiful bicycle frames. He explained where they had come from.

“Hey man, you want to sell bikes?”

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had said no, but I didn’t. Without even thinking, I said, “Sure.” That answer set me off on the greatest bicycle adventure of the 20th Century.

We pooled the money we had in our pockets at that moment, about $200, and rode a few blocks to the bank where we opened a commercial account to handle the profits that never actually came flooding in. The bank executive filled out the form and asked what we would call the company. Gary and I agreed that “MountainBikes” was a catchy title, for both the name of our company and the product we intended to sell.

When Gary and I decided to work together to sell bikes, we thought the market was 10-15 a year, but almost immediately the demand was for that many every WEEK. In 1981 on a small company called Specialized Bicycle Imports bought four of our hand made bikes and reverse engineered them for mass produced bikes they called “Stumpjumpers.” Within six years the name of our company had become the generic name for all similar bicycles, and “mountain bikes” dominated the bicycle market. In 1996 mountain biking became an Olympic sport.

And then things got REALLY crazy! Red Bull Rampage, Megavalanche, and Danny McCaskill, who ever saw THOSE coming in 1979?
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Old 08-29-19, 01:21 PM
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wow. The reason I am on this forum (and give a little cash to membership shout-out! )
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Old 08-29-19, 05:59 PM
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Thanks for sharing.
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Old 08-30-19, 01:22 AM
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Originally Posted by Repack Rider View Post
In 1981 on a small company called Specialized Bicycle Imports bought four of our hand made bikes and reverse engineered them for mass produced bikes they called “Stumpjumpers.” Within six years the name of our company had become the generic name for all similar bicycles, and “mountain bikes” dominated the bicycle market.
I winced when I read this part. Did you get any royalties or other compensation? This is called 'rip off'.
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Old 08-30-19, 01:40 AM
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Thank you, man. For the article, and everything. Glad you said "Sure."!
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Old 08-30-19, 07:56 AM
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Love this,Charlie!
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Old 08-30-19, 09:42 AM
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Originally Posted by Bad Lag View Post
I winced when I read this part. Did you get any royalties or other compensation? This is called 'rip off'.
There was nothing on our bikes that could have been patented. A bike is a bike, and any competent bicycle engineer could spend five minutes with one of our bikes and a tape measure, and be able to duplicate it.

I was upset at the time, but 38 years of reflection has changed my view. Almost no one gets to change the world in the slightest, and most who DO change it just make stuff worse.

As far as I can tell, our activities improved the world, changed bicycling forever, and put millions of people on bikes. Even an inexpensive, mass produced version of our design was a fine, solid, practical bike.

Gary and I were going to go bankrupt anyway.
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Old 08-30-19, 09:59 AM
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Thanks for nearly 40 years of fun and keeping me relatively fit. My attempts to procure a bike from you or the Cove Bike Shop didn't materialize, but got me started.
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Old 08-30-19, 12:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Repack Rider View Post
There was nothing on our bikes that could have been patented. A bike is a bike, and any competent bicycle engineer could spend five minutes with one of our bikes and a tape measure, and be able to duplicate it.

I was upset at the time, but 38 years of reflection has changed my view. Almost no one gets to change the world in the slightest, and most who DO change it just make stuff worse.

As far as I can tell, our activities improved the world, changed bicycling forever, and put millions of people on bikes. Even an inexpensive, mass produced version of our design was a fine, solid, practical bike.

Gary and I were going to go bankrupt anyway.
I read most of this thread earlier this morning, then while taking my usual ride I found myself thinking much of what you just wrote above! That and how it takes real business people to scale up production/distribution quickly.

I remember really liking my first mtb (a 1984 Stumpjumper Sport) because it felt like I was going dirt bike riding, yet I didn't need any registration hassle or even gasoline (or a helmet!) to ride it. It's geometry even felt much like a dirt bike, especially after I fitted a steel "Suberbike"-bend handlebar from a motorcycle so that I could rotate the bar in the clamps to achieve different levels of reach (this was is a rural part of NY State btw, and I still wasn't seeing people riding these there very often).
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Old 08-30-19, 12:21 PM
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Old 08-30-19, 03:11 PM
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I am a Dutchman, and when I bought a Gary Fisher Zebrano at a local thrift store in The Hague for €60, I had no idea who or what a Gary Fisher was, other than a cheap hybrid bike. I had just joined BF, did some Googling and read the stories about Marin County and Repack.

Ten years later, the Zebrano is still going strong at my office as my errand bike, and I am reading this thread. Cool.
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Old 08-30-19, 04:13 PM
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In my mid 30's (mid 1990s) I started doing some trail hiking as a physical activity, but still something was missing. The gym rat routine just wasn't doing it for me. I needed a non contact activity that supplied all the physical and cardio challenges and most importantly........FUN! Group rides, solo rides, races, challenging trail features, party atmosphere, mountain bikes had it all, including some contact with dirt occasionally. By my mid 40's I was probably in the best physical condition I'd ever been in because of mountain biking.
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