I read lots of mountain bike magazines. There’s currently a four foot high stack of them in my back bedroom. I’ve taken out subscriptions to all the major ones at some point over the last 20 years and even had articles and photographs published some of them.
So I am always a bit sceptical whenever I see a feature on the history of mountain biking. Experience tells me that it’s usually a disappointing sidebar feature which is compromised by brevity and sometimes spoilt by inaccuracy.
A few publications, notably the now defunct Privateer, have got it right though. Nice long in depth articles from highly regarded sources; so when ‘The History of Mountain Biking’ landed on my doormat I wasn’t expecting to be impressed.
On a first quick flick through of the 154 pages I was struck by the lack of advertisements. In fact unlike the mainstream magazines which have so little content compared to the volume of adverts, this had none, apart from on the inside covers. This was all content; a good prospect.
Scanning through the list of contributors revealed a range of very highly regarded journalists and significant figures in mountain biking’s past and present.
Tym Manley, Charlie Kelly, Steve Worland, Jacquie Phelan, Steve Behr, Wende Cragg to name but a few…
The first article written by Tym Manley, is engaging and well written, summing up the story behind the ‘official’ rise of the mountain bike in California. It’s in depth and really sets the scene, introducing many of the key figures of the time.
Charlie Kelly’s article about the Repack downhill races really is excellent and is embellished with Wende Cragg’s photographs of those early Klunker rides and races. Perhaps that article alone is worth the £7.99 cover price.
The publication takes in profiles and interviews with so many of the figures from the late seventies each added a thread to the story.
But just in case you are thinking that it’s all turning into a Marin County love- in, the editors introduce a nice clear counterpoint to the official myth, with articles and images including The Rough Stuff Fellowship and of course Geoff Apps and his Cleland bikes.
There is a good article about the early UK scene, which discusses how brands like Muddy Fox, Ridgeback, Dawes, Saracen and Overburys emerged to capitalize upon the US fad of these shiny exotic mountain bikes. There’s reference to Jeremy Torr and Max Glaskin and the Mountain Bike Club. The heady days of UK cross country race weekends are covered along with the evolution from simple do it all bikes, to increasingly niche technological advances and aspects of the sport.
The content mostly focuses on the individuals and personalities that have shaped the way mountain biking has grown. Most of these individuals have contributed with either articles or by participating in interviews. This adds credibility and authenticity to the story as it is told.
There are also a plethora of high quality photographs to satisfy all the technology enthusiasts and component fetishists.
This of course brings things all the way up to date with the inevitable ‘we’ve never had it so good’ articles about technological advances, purpose built trails, Olympic status and investment in the sport.
I’m sure most would agree that modern bikes offer a faster, smoother, more comfortable ride and that groomed, sculpted trails offer the chance to do a bit of antisocial Strava fuelled ‘schralping’ like never before…
Hopefully the History of Mountain Biking can introduce a few more people to the origins of the sport which have, over the years been retold, lost, regained and perhaps revised a little.
It’s good to have some context. This magazine is a very good starting point.