From Repack to Rwanda: The Origins, Evolution, and Global Reach of the Mountain Bike

International Terminal

July 2012 - February 2013

From Repack to Rwanda: The Origins, Evolution, and Global Reach of the Mountain Bike



"This sure is a lot of fun, but who else would want to do it."

Joe Breeze to Otis Guy on Mount Tamalpais,
Marin County, California c. 1975

No one could have guessed what was set in motion when Joe Breeze and Otis Guy, two young road racers from Northern California's Marin County, began riding stripped-down, single-speed Schwinn bikes on Mount Tamalpais in 1973. They had selected these bikes, often called clunkers, for the sturdy frames and "balloon" tires that allowed rugged, off-road travel. Off-road bicycling was pioneered in several California locations, and elsewhere. U. C. Davis professor John Finley Scott produced his "woodsie" bike with knobby tires and multiple gears in 1953. Santa Barbara riders and Cupertino's Morrow Dirt Club members experimented with off-road bikes in the 1970s. But Marin's clunker enthusiasts created a galvanizing event that rapidly propelled mountain bike development in Northern California and helped spread its popularity far beyond the borders of the Golden State.

The event was Repack, a time-trial race held on a remote Marin fire road. The race derived its name from the need to repack the bikes' coaster brakes after the grease vaporized during rapid descent. From 1976 to 1979, a series of twenty-two Repack races served as the ultimate proving ground for a tight-knit group of friendly but competitive rivals determined to prove who was fastest down the hill. More importantly, the race served as the testing ground for a series of modifications and innovations crucial to the early development and evolution of the mountain bike. Repack inspired Breeze's production of the first modern mountain bike in 1977 in nearby Mill Valley and a variety of models by other designer-frame builders working in Northern California in the late 1970s and early 1980s.


Schwinn Admiral DX  c. 1941
Arnold, Schwinn, & Co. (est. 1895), Chicago
Restored by Bob Ujszaszi of Redondo Beach, California
Owned by Rudy Contratti of Fairfax, California


Modified 1941 Schwinn B.F. Goodrich  1973
Arnold, Schwinn, & Co. (est. 1895), Chicago
modified by Joe Breeze (b. 1953), Mill Valley, California
Courtesy of Joe Breeze


Modified 1941 Schwinn Texas Special  1974
Arnold, Schwinn, & Co. (est. 1895), Chicago
modified by Otis Guy (b. 1953), San Anselmo, California
Courtesy of Otis Guy


Modified 1940s Schwinn with front and rear derailleurs  c. 1976
Arnold, Schwinn, & Co. (est. 1895), Chicago
modified by Gary Fisher (b. 1950), San Anselmo, California
Courtesy of Gary Fisher


Breezer #6 (for Wende Cragg)  1978
Joe Breeze (b. 1953), Mill Valley, California
Courtesy of Joe Breeze


Ritchey #1  1979
Tom Ritchey (b. 1956), Palo Alto, California
On loan from Tom Ritchey's Collection


Cunningham CCPROTO  1979
Charlie Cunningham (b. 1948)
Cunningham Applied Technology, Fairfax, California
Courtesy of Charlie Cunningham


Pro Cruiser  1980
Lawwill-Knight Ltd., Hayward, California
Courtesy of Mert Lawwill


Trailmaster #2  c. 1980
Erik Koski (b. 1953), Cove Bike Shop, Tiburon, California
On loan from Mark Janike and in care of Monkey Wrench Cycles


Ritchey/MountainBikes  c. 1981
MountainBikes, San Anselmo, California
Courtesy of Jack Bissell


Stumpjumper  1981
Specialized Bicycle Components, San Jose, California
Courtesy of Bryant Bainbridge


Cunningham R1 built for racer Jacquie Phelan  c. 1983
Cunningham Applied Technology, Fairfax, California
Courtesy of Jacquie Phelan


Mountain Goat Deluxe  c. 1983
Mountain Goat Cycles, Chico, California
Courtesy of Dave Locke


Salsa  1983
Salsa Cycles, Petaluma, California
Courtesy of T. Dennis


Steve Potts Limited Edition  c. 1988
Steve Potts Bicycles, Mill Valley, California
Courtesy of Steve Potts


Kestrel Nitro  1988
Cycle Composites Incorporated, Watsonville, California
Courtesy of Kevin Kenney


Kestrel MX-Z  c. 1989
Cycle Composites Incorporated, Watsonville, California
On loan courtesy of Richard Belson


Bontrager OR with composite fork crown  1990
Bontrager Cycles, Sunnyvale, California
From the private collection of Eric G. Rumpf


Fisher RS-1  c. 1992
Gary Fisher Bicycle Company, San Rafael, California
Courtesy of Mert Lawwill


Ritchey Project 20 Team race bike  c. 1995
Ritchey Design, Inc., Redwood City, California
On loan from Tom Ritchey's Collection


Ibis Bow-Ti  c. 1997
Ibis Cycles; Mendocino 1981–83, Sebastopol 1984–98, Santa Rosa 1998–2001, Santa Cruz 2005–present
On loan from Aaron Singer, Seaplane Adventures


Willits concept bike for the Interbike bicycle show in Las Vegas, Nevada   2000
Willits Bikes, Crested Butte, Colorado
Courtesy of Wes Williams, Willits Brand Bicycles


Fisher Superfly ridden by Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski to National Championship   2009
Fisher/Trek, Waterloo, Wisconsin
Courtesy of Trek Bicycles
L2012.0620.001, .003


Breezer Cloud 9 Elite  2012
Breezer Bicycles, Philadelphia
Courtesy of Joe Breeze


Specialized S-Works Epic  2012
Specialized Bicycle Components, Morgan Hill, California
Courtesy of Bryant Bainbridge


Santa Cruz V10/Syndicate race bike  2012
Santa Cruz Bicycles, Santa Cruz, California
Courtesy of Bradley Woehl, American Cyclery, San Francisco


Bamboo mountain bike  2012
Calfee Design, Inc., Santa Cruz, California
On loan from Calfee Design

Northern California's impact on the mountain bike continued in the ensuing decades with designers and builders exploring new materials, altering frame geometry, and developing one innovative component after another. Engineers from the area's military aerospace industries worked side by side with local bike designers to introduce the molded, all-carbon frames that are now prevalent. Bay Area motorcycle racers used their knowledge of suspension principles to produce the prototypes for today's full-suspension mountain bikes. Frame builders working in the North Bay charted the course for the eventual acceptance of larger 29-inch wheels. And a pair of brothers who graduated from Santa Clara University took suspension designs to new heights with shocks now found on top-performing bikes worldwide.

From its humble origins as a modified, single-speed bike raced downhill on the trails of Marin County in the early 1970s, to today's sophisticated machine used for recreation, commuting, and international competitions, the mountain bike has achieved global popularity. It is ridden everywhere, including some of the world's most remote locations from the Himalayas to Timbuktu. In Ghana, a Santa Cruz-based designer's frames are assembled from the local and renewable resources of bamboo and hemp. In Rwanda, one of the industry's founders from Palo Alto is helping transform that nation's economy through a series of bicycle-related initiatives. Northern California's contributions to the mountain bike are widespread and deeply felt. Despite the insistence of many early clunker riders that they "weren't out to change the world," the bicycles they created and the industry they pioneered certainly have.




Special thanks to those who made this history and who participated through the generous loan of their material and expertise, especially to guest curator Joe Breeze who guided this exhibition throughout its development.



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