Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #159, published in October 2011. Words by Jeff Archer. Photos by Wes Stearns.
One of the best things about being involved with the Museum of Mountain Bike Art & Technology (MOMBAT) is getting to talk to folks who were instrumental in popularizing mountain biking. Some were builders, some were promoters, some were racers, but they all ate, breathed and slept mountain bikes. Most are eager to share stories from their glory days of mountain biking—when R&D was done with a pencil and piece of paper, followed by going to the garage to build it, and then taking it out on the trail with a couple of friends. Some of these ideas, such as suspension forks, dramatically changed the direction of the entire industry. Others, such as two-wheel drive, had much less of an impact. Successes and failures both resulted in good stories; we have been fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of many of them. On a more personal level: Every rider has a story about their cycling history. Here is mine.
My first ride was a 16 inch solid-tired bike from Sears. It was a little blue bike with a bolt-on top tube that could be flipped up for a boy, or down for a girl. For my seventh birthday I received a Schwinn Pea Picker—one of the Krate series of bikes. The bike had a 5-speed Stik-Shift, 16 inch front wheel with drum brake and a slick rear tire. In one of my worst deals ever, I sold the bike to finance the purchase of a used Schwinn Varsity in Kool Orange. The Pea Picker would be worth close to $2,000 now, while the Varsity might bring $100—and you thought real estate was a bad investment!
Anyway, about this time a neighborhood fix-it guy wanted to get rid of all his bike parts, so my dad and I went to his house and picked up three truckloads worth of bikes. For the next three years, I sold about 125 refurbished bikes out of our front yard.
At college, the only “job experience” I had was working on bikes, so I applied at a couple of bikes shops. After piecing together weird combinations of parts, putting new bikes together seemed easy. The shop I worked for sold Raleigh, which had just introduced a line of mountain bikes. The Raleigh Seneca retailed for about $350, which was a stretch while attending school and making $5 an hour. I remember calling my parents to plead my case, and telling them I couldn’t imagine ever needing a better bike! It must have worked, since I ordered it up and my first ride was out to the car to take it home. As I circled around the car to get to the trunk, the tires slid out from under me. The resulting crash tore the saddle and a grip. Thus began my mountain biking career.
My next bike was a 1987 Rockhopper followed by a 1991 Raleigh Peak and then a blur of Cannondales, Treks, and finally, Mountain Goats. Over the years, I have worked on some pretty cool bikes and read every mountain bike magazine I could get my hands on. I remember figuring out how many hours it would take to get one of the $3,500 bikes and quickly becoming depressed. About 10 years later, many of the earlier bikes had been declared obsolete, and I began gathering up some nice examples of the bikes I previously couldn’t have afforded. Another decade later the MOMBAT was born. That’s my story, now let’s hear yours.
This bike can be seen at the Museum of Mountain Bike Art & Technology in historic downtown Statesville, North Carolina. If you can’t visit in person, check out the collection at www.mombat.org.