Friend of Dirt Rag Michael Hermann of Purple Lizard Maps was also one of the original mountain bikers in Central Pennsylvania. In this installment of Blast from the Past, we go back to 1990 in State College, PA. Mike Hermann and Randy Moore tell the story of the Bombers.
This piece was originally published in Dirt Rag #11 in August 1990.
The bombers started in the mid-70s. We were called the bombers ’cause we used bomber bikes…’old Schwinn single speeds. This was pre mountain bikes, when there wasn’t any such thing as a mountain bike. It was single speed Schwinn cruisers, 10 speeds and 3-speeds.
The original rules of the club were that the bike had to weigh over 50 pounds and you couldn’t have more than 100 bucks in it. It was totally opposite of the way you think now. I’ve still got one of the coolest of them here. We took drum brakes and we drilled them out so we had 72 spokes in each wheel.
All the people who were roadies that were riding and training hard bought old Schwinn singlespeeds as a diversion to go out on in lousy weather. It was started by people that are in their 30s now. Then us younger guys, who were racing BMX at the time, started hanging out with these guys. So the older guys were doing it on their single speeds and we had our ultra-trick BMX bikes.
Then Schwinn introduced the King Sting. And the Sting came with single speeds or 5 speeds. Then suddenly people started running gears and that was like a big move to have a derailluer on the back. The problem with riding with a derailleur was that everyone thought you were a pussy and tried to take it out. They’d go out of their way to kick it in. So you’d have to limp back with one gear anyway. The game was Pass The Leader.
We started to head for the trails because it was the only place you could play. The name of the game was Pass the Leader. And you did it on narrow singletrack. Pass the Leader meant, typically, you put the slowest guy in the front and the strongest guys in the back. You had to try and pass whoever was in front of you on the singletrack. But it was full contact. You were allowed to push or kick or shove and knock people out of the trail. So you’d wait ’til the gnarliest part of the singletrack came up to try and pass someone, so you could actually knock them off the trail completely to take the lead. That was the thing. The strongest guys would always take the front and it was such a challenge to try and take them out.
The train of thought was that your bikes were heavy, overbuilt, they were indestructible and you rode slow. Now you have a $2000 bike that doesn’t weigh anything and you go as fast as you can. It was a kind of different way of thinking, but that was the only bike you could ride off road. There wasn’t any other option.
When mountain bikes first came out everyone was kind of blown away by the cost concept of spending $500 on a mountain bike. The Bicycle Shop was going out on a limb to even stock this type of a bike. At the time that was a real risky product, no one really knew…we knew we liked it, but we always considered ourselves a little warped compared to the general public.
By the year 1986 there was enough interest and enough people with mountain bikes who were road bike racers that it was a natural thing to have a race. We just said, “Hey, let’s have a race.” The first Coburn race had only about 45 people. They were all State College people. That SOUNDS like a lot for a first time race that early in the sport but that’s how many people we had showing up for Sunday Bomber rides. So for us it was a let down. Out of those 40 people only 30 were able to ride back to town. Everybody else… you know, bikes always broke down, blew up, wheels pretzeled, things broke. Not like today where the bikes are so reliable and well made.
I’m not claiming to have started or to have been before anybody else or anything. But California’s first production was 1981, and here we are 2-2 ½ years earlier kinda doing the same thing. We ended up putting 5-speed rear ends on original Cook Bros. Cruisers in 1980-81, kind of what California was doing.
We had our group which was a really tight, bloody group if you want to call it that. We started off in 1978 just as a wild bunch of kids trying to have a good time We grabbed used bikes, what l call bicycle toss bikes. and we’d take them out and ride the brains out of them and kill them. We found out that they weren’t strong enough. We just destroyed them and threw ’em in the closest dumpster. That moved on to getting a heavier duty bike to ride in the bushes and shrubs and trails, which turned into a Schwinn cruiser, the classic beach cruiser. Which then, on a daily basis, we modified better and better. We put more spokes in the wheels. We ended up with kick 2-speed Schwinn hubs, original Bendix yellow band hubs.
You know, we just kept breaking everything. Chain guards would break off, we’d throw ’em away. People would try everything. You’d get a kick out of what we did to some of the frames, seat support struts, handlebar welding and motorcycle handlebars–all the products that weren’t available, we made or modified, because none of this stuff was even made yet. We photographed it which was really pretty funny.
At the time, I was riding road bikes professionally and having a great time with that but to blow off steam we got together twice a week as the Bombers and rode and saw what we could do.
We had three members in 1978, four in 1979, six in 1980. It was specific numbers of people because those were the people that qualified and wanted to be part of this club by the very weird rules we had. We had the original bylaws between the three of us of what was required to become a member of this club, including emergency room visits and broken frames. I can show you the medical records, we all got hurt severely the first 2 years. That was funny. You also had to ride hard enough and destroy one of your buddies bikes enough that they had to walk home from at least 5 miles away. Because part of it was running each other over. Which was a blast. I mean, we had more fun that you can imagine.
You should see the equipment we used. Everyone wore high boots up to their knees with steel toes. And leather pants or double jeans. It was more like a motorcycle group than a pedaling group. But we did have a good time.