From Klunkers to Modern Mountain Bikes: A History of the Sport

    The sport of mountain biking was first established in the late 1800s and gained popularity during the 1970s.

    The sport of mountain biking was first established in the late 1800s and gained popularity during the 1970s.

    The foundation of mountain biking dates back to the late 1800s, when bikes specifically designed for off-road use were first created. During an August 1896 expedition, a group of soldiers used the first form of these adapted bikes to travel from Montana to Yellowstone National Park, which was established in 1872. It is said that the term “mountain bike” was originally coined by a member of the 1955-founded Roughstuff Fellowship, which was comprised of off-road cyclists from the United Kingdom.

    It was in the 1970s and 80s that the sport of mountain biking truly expanded, appealing to people in the United States, specifically in Colorado and California. Schwinn cruiser bikes were converted for use on trails, complete with larger tires and improved brake systems. In the early 70s, no mountain bike built from the ground up was available, simply the reworked versions that were referred to as “klunkers.” Geoff Apps was the pioneer of off-road bicycle designs beginning in 1968, with a usable model created in 1979, specifically built for the outdoor conditions of southeast England that he called home. Cleland Cycles began to sell this design until 1984. Also credited is Joe Breeze, who produced a purpose-built mountain bike in 1978, one year before Apps’ bike came to the market.

    When road bike companies began to manufacture mountain bikes beginning in the late 70s, the sport was set in motion. Tom Ritchey, Gary Fisher and Charlie Kelly formed a company called MountainBikes, where custom bike frames were made along with original bikes. After the company closed, Fisher Mountain Bikes was established, now absorbed into the well-known Trek. The Gary Fisher Collection is still a subgroup of Trek’s business. The two main models of mountain bikes first sold were the Specialized Stumpjumper and the Univega Alpina Pro. Already constructed companies like Fuji and Schwinn never assumed the trend of mountain biking would actually catch on, but with the rise of more extreme sports, newer companies took advantage of the growing market and produced their own gear, nabbing profits missed out on by many others.

    In the early 1990s, mountain biking became mainstream and equipment was much more readily available. The design of newer bikes that incorporated suspension tires and a flatter handlebar were developed specifically for riding in rough terrain and gave people more control over their bikes. The implementation of lower ratio gears were added to help riders when climbing steeper land or working around and over obstacles.

    Mountain biking can be broken down into a number of categories, which are cross-country, all-mountain, downhill, four-cross, free-ride, dirt jumping, trials, urban, trailing, and touring. Cross-country mountain biking is characterized by riding from one point to another or in a loop, with obstacles integrated into the course. All-mountain biking, also known as Enduro, uses a higher suspension than in cross-country, but with a weight that still works well for covering an assortment of environments present within a course. Four-cross mountain biking, also called Dual Slalom or shortened to 4X, describes competitions that use obstacles such as dirt jumps on downhill courses. This sport can best be described as a BMX and mountain biking hybrid. Free-ride mountain biking is focused on completing a variety of tricks and jumps while not on a set course, giving great freedom to the rider. Dirt-jumping, a subgroup of several of the before-mentioned forms of mountain biking, is related to trials, which is where the biker jumps over obstacles. Trail riding is the most common form of mountain biking and is great for beginners because the terrain to be covered is varied and can be customized to the skill level of the rider. Trail riding is often done on formed hiking paths that allow bikes. Touring is the form of long-distance mountain biking where an all-terrain bike is used for travel, accompanying its rider on roads, trails and an array of other regions on their adventure.

    Image from Jim Semlor on the Wikimedia Commons

    Share This Article