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Origin of Mountain Biking in France in the 1950's

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Origin of Mountain Biking in France in the 1950's

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Old 12-04-03, 12:00 AM
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randya
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Origin of Mountain Biking in France in the 1950's

I'm not sure if this has been posted here before...

VTT Magazine March 1998 (translation by Pryor Dodge)
L'officiel du vélo tout-terrain (The mountain bike journal)

Scoop: Le VTT est né en France (The mountain bike was born in France)

All aficionados of mountain bikes will tell you that their sport was born in the 1970's in Marin County, California. This solid fact is well imbedded in people's minds. However, considering what we know today, we can now say that if it received recognition on the other side of the Atlantic, the mountain bikes' roots are in the north-east suburbs of Paris, near the Porte des Lilas.

We find ourselves at the beginning of the 1950's. Bobet had not yet won his first Tour de France and the great Fausto Coppi had not yet become world champion. Rather, during this period, the sport craze in working class suburbs was moto-cross. Competitions attracting thousands of spectators were organized at the outskirts of the capital (Paris) on the old escarpment fortifications.

As a related aspect of this sport, a group of 18 teenagers, most of whom long-time schoolmates, lacking motorcycles but dreaming to follow in the steps of their elders, chose bicycles for their sport and, for "amusement", created the association VCCP (Vélo Cross Club Parisien).

In an effort to emulate his elders, Jean Duda decided to create a specific kind of bicycle; he was the first to equip his bicycle with a suspension fork from a motorcycle. His friends quickly followed suit. They took these forks from broken 100 cm3 cycles. Finding this arrangement impractical- different diameters of the pivoting sections and problematic steering, some in the group began incorporating "Soupless" parallelogram motorcycle forks. After much tinkering and improve-ments, the astonishing results produced suspension forks, handlebar gear changing, reinforced frames, and a heightened frame curve (?) (the first mountain bikes by Tom Ritchey and Joe Breeze, around 1975, didn't offer all of this!). Out of concern for solidity, wheel rims and spokes were also taken from small motorbikes. The rear wheel, having a drum brake, was oversized in relation to the front wheel.

Taking advantage of the milieu in which they evolved, these suburban kids succeeded in convincing the organizers of the moto-cross races to allow them to ride the course during intermission. At their debut in Ivry in 1951, few spectators could believe their ears when they heard the announcement that bicyclists would ride the course. Nevertheless, the riders quickly wound their way around the course with great success. From 1951 to 1956, they presented themselves in the surrounding Paris suburbs of Lilas, Pantin, Bobigny, Montreuil and Montmorency. Equipment improved during their string of competitions (3 or 4 per year). Frames were strengthened, often in a handicraft manner. Following a break in the frame, several riders, like Gérard Gartner (having had a boxing career, winning the French championship, now a sculptor), did not hesitate to insert another tube inside the frame before re-brazing the whole thing....a sort of ancestor of the double-butted frame! The other little revolution happened when Claude Serre (who later became the French champion of speed motorcycling at the beginning of the 1960's, then an engineer) created his own fork. The VCCP had reached its climax. The group trained every day, just after school. Wheelie (the 'record' of 52 meters - 56 yards - was held by Henri Albisson!) and bunny-up (hop) competitions sprung up.

The most ambitious person in this group, Georges Leskovak (who later created the French Federation of Karting - gokarts), recognizing the sport's potential, approached the motorcycle and bicycle federations. The former could not accept this 'non-motorized' activity while the latter imposed conditions (helmets, insurance, permits...) such that an affiliation never formed.

With the passage of time, the group began to fall apart. The older members were called to military service while the others, now of age and having the means, purchased motorcycles.

Furthermore, the "crossmen" (motorcyclists), sensing that these kids in the VCCP were taking attention away from them, were not accommodating, and the federations did not recognize them, which lead the VCCP to slowly die out during 1956. Only 30 years later would these innovators realize that they had come close to becoming legends.

One cannot bring to light the adventure of the VCCP without mentioning all the participants. We offer a friendly salute to: Henri Albisson, Claude Biraud, Serge Douvil, Jacques Bouquetal, François Dechorniat, Jean Duda, Guy Hermand, Georges Leskowak, Alain Lyver, Lucien Picou, "little Prousky", "big Prousky", Guy Sentucq, Jean-Claude Serre and Georges Voutsas.

Many thanks to "VCCPists" Gérard Gartner and Jacques Michel, without whom this epic period would have been forgotten. And above all, let us remember Clément Guilbert, recently deceased, to whom his friends wanted to dedicate this article.

Finally, all our thanks to Laurent Dibos of "Canal, the magazine of Pantin

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Old 12-04-03, 02:24 PM
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Gary Fisher is going to kick your ass for posting that.
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Old 12-04-03, 02:48 PM
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Bianchi is actually credited with designing the first MTB in 1914 leave it to the French to take credit for something the Italians have already done (like cooking)


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Old 12-04-03, 06:56 PM
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Sorry, but the French were 50+ years too late. The US still lays claim to the first mountain bikers in 1897. The Black Bicycle Corps pedaled through the Rocky Mountains and covered 1900 miles on one speed bikes. Check your local PBS station for a great documentary on these bicycling tough guys.
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Old 12-04-03, 07:57 PM
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My dad claims to have ridden the equivalent of today's roadbikes offroad in the 60s. I always thought that the sport originating in one location was bogus. I'm sure there were lots of guys who were riding off road long before most even considered it an option. The history of the sport frankly doesn't interest me much.
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Old 12-04-03, 09:45 PM
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Weren't the early Tours de France off-road races by today's standards?
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Old 12-04-03, 10:53 PM
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wicked link

Originally Posted by riderx
Sorry, but the French were 50+ years too late. The US still lays claim to the first mountain bikers in 1897. The Black Bicycle Corps pedaled through the Rocky Mountains and covered 1900 miles on one speed bikes. Check your local PBS station for a great documentary on these bicycling tough guys.
damn fine...oh but the mountain bike FRAME ht was supposed to have been built by joe breeze -schwinn curve tube adapt-2 built- then tom ritchey made 3- redesigned- the ht as we know it. then made 10 more which went to marin c with kelly and fisher, later they had copied in japan- special and rocky. as to who was the first or inventor of the sport- doesn't matter. I was jumping ramps with mustangs minus seat and oversized front rims in 1975- I don't think I invented bmx. Probably most biking was on dirt road or OFF road pre 1st world war- rural folk didn't have pavement. who cares, I just like the bikes.j
( I thought it was a very cool story-am gonna look up more on it thanks.)
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Old 12-05-03, 10:59 AM
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Originally Posted by Jim311
My dad claims to have ridden the equivalent of today's roadbikes offroad in the 60s. I always thought that the sport originating in one location was bogus. I'm sure there were lots of guys who were riding off road long before most even considered it an option. The history of the sport frankly doesn't interest me much.
Amen. I was going to claim to have invented mtn. biking until I saw the PBS special about the Black Bicycle Corp.

In the 60's we all took our Schwinn Stingrays, single and 3/5 speeds and put knobby tires on them. We put rear (knobby) tires on the front for better traction because they were wider. We road all over the dirt roads, mining trails, and phosphate pits of central Fl. You can get some good hill work in around the phosphate pits, great drops and downhills. Jumping was our specialty, we went through rear wheels and had to repack our bearings regularly.

Like you said. I'm sure people in many places and at different times have figured out how much fun it is riding a bike in the dirt.
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Old 12-05-03, 08:03 PM
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Before the 'Good Roads Movement' of the 1890s, all bicycling was done on unpaved roads....
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