Jim’s Tech Talk
Photos: too many to count!
Even though I’ve had my Being Gary Fisher book for two weeks, I haven’t made a dent in it yet. It’s because there’s so much to take in. It’s Gary telling his story, which makes for fun reading. It was co-written by UK cycling journalist Guy Kesteven. I don’t know how much was penned by which G-man.
But, the thing that’s slowing me down isn’t the writing, it’s that this book resembles a scrapbook – or an artbook might better describe it, with hundreds of fascinating and historic photos and engaging and entertaining art throughout (just look at that cover!). I haven’t seen any of the photos or art or vintage ads before and I am enjoying the visual show a lot. An editor’s note says, “The design team of Ultan Coyle and Alex Fergusson.. took one colorful life and made it into one hell of a trip.”
You might not know that Gary was a roadie before he became a dirt bike inventor and guru. I loved learning about his racer background and his rebellion against the governing body of cycling in the USA when they tried to force him to cut his hair.
Also, I feel a connection to the birth of the mountain bike of which Gary was so involved. And, I’m interested in learning more of the behind-the-scenes of what it took to launch this revolutionary new type of bike and riding.
Everything changed when the mountain bike took off. We had the 10-speed craze in the early seventies. But, a tremendous number of those bicycles never got used much due to the dropped-bar bent-over riding position and usually too-tough gearing, along with the flat-prone skinny tires (even more so if you had sew-ups – how many early road bikes were equipped).
With the mountain bike, all the problems were solved. You had wide comfortable upright handlebars with easily accessed oversize brake and shift levers, fat almost flat-proof rubber and easy pedaling low, low gears. It was the perfect bike for all terrain and almost all types of riding and it took the world by storm overnight. Unlike the 10-speed, the mountain bike was a bike everyone could ride and enjoy however they wanted.
My early connection to the mountain bike happened in 1980, as things were just getting going. I haven’t gotten to that part of the book yet. But, at the time I was temporarily working in a bike shop in Santa Cruz, California, having landed there at the end of a cross-country bike tour. The shop received Charlie Kelly’s classic ‘zine Fat Tire Flyer and when I left to return to the shop in Vermont (where I had worked before leaving for the XC trip), I took one with me.
Back in the Green Mountain State, inspired by Kelly’s writing and keeping in touch with what was going on in California with mountain bikes, I was inspired to put together an MTB out of a Schwinn Jaguar cruiser we had. It was easy following the tips in Flat Tire Flyer and buying all the recommended parts shown in it, too (at that time they were about the only components available, too).
Our shop was in Putney, where there are miles of cross-country skiing trails I explored in the spring and summer on that cobbled together klunker. I don’t know if it’s true, but much later, Dirt Rag magazine credited me with building the first mountain bike on the east coast, which was that Schwinn.
I’m looking forward to reading more of those early days of the mountain bike to relive the excitement I remember and hear the backstory on all the parts that Gary played. I also want to find out how he ended up lighting gigs for the Grateful Dead. And, it’ll be interesting to read about how and why he decided to join Trek.
Overall, I think if you have an interest in bicycle history, ever owned a Gary Fisher bicycle or like reading about tipping points, you’ll enjoy this book. I bet it becomes a collectible, too. I only wish there was a way to get an autographed copy to personalize it. Because you’ll feel like you know Gary as you read it. Though I’m sure he’d sign it if you ever ran into him at a bike event.
Ride total: 9,920
Next Article: 5 Bike Setup Mistakes You Should Avoid
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.