Posts Tagged ‘Bumsonthesaddle Gary Fisher’


Gary in conversation with yours truly (thanks to Nilesh Dhumal for taking the pic)

Yesterday, I headed down to local bike shop BumsontheSaddle, thrilled at the prospect of meeting the man who invented mountain biking – Gary Fisher.

Gary was in town on a Trek-Firefox tour to promote bicycling in India and I grabbed this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pick his brain.

In a freewheeling chat, this is what he had to say on life in the 70s, bike technology and the two-wheeled, engineless machine.

You were part of the Marin County crew which first ‘invented’ the sport of mountain biking and then went on to change the world. Tell us about those exciting times.

Oh we were just a bunch of guys who met by accident. Back in the day, I actually lived in a little house which was actually the outhouse of The Grateful Dead. Used to work with them (and also with Jefferson Airplane). Good times indeed. Some of the guys have gone on to big things while the others still hang out in the neighbourhood. I don’t get to see them very often since I’m always travelling but yeah it was great. We didn’t plan on changing the world. We just found something we liked to do. We slapped fat tyres on old pre WWII frames and customised them to make them go downhill. I built the first one for my old buddy Charlie (Kelly) and soon everybody wanted one. We didn’t plan it, it just sort of happened.

Those were the times of the draft?

Oh yeah man. People did all sorts of things to avoid the draft. Some of them pretended to be cuckoo. Some of them went and tried to get weird diseases. I knew a guy who just didn’t show up. Two years later he was called up and sentenced. His punishment – a year of service in a local school. Not bad at all, huh. The next stop on this tour is Vietnam and it’ll be my first time. I’m very excited about that.

Your most recent area of interest has shifted from the competitive aspect of bicycling to ‘utility’ cycling. Tell us more about that.

Utility cycling is what we need if we’re going to change the world. Once upon a time people were purely recreational cyclists and weren’t too keen on commuting by bicycle. That’s changed a lot. I see a lot of 20 and 30-somethings saying, “Hang on. I don’t want to drive a car and be stuck in traffic. I want to be able to cut down my time in traffic and here’s something I can do.”

What has your experience of urban Indian bicycling been like?

Well I can tell you that its probably a lot better than the US. While there is a lot of chaos in these parts, traffic isn’t very fast moving so there is comparatively less danger to cyclists. I think there is a lot of potential for people to commute by bicycle.

In India we find people less receptive to the ‘green’ argument and more receptive to a cost-benefit proposition (cost of a bike vs. cost of a car + fuel + interest, etc.). In your experience what’s the most compelling argument while trying to get people onto a bike?

I don’t think there’s a single argument actually. We need to help people understand that there are many benefits to biking even beyond making a greener planet and cutting fuel bills. The most compelling bit surrounds that of your health and if that isn’t self-interest then nothing is.

On the subject of bicycles and health.

You know its amazing how unfit people are. The health benefits of cycling are tremendous. In the US, healthcare is incredibly expensive and everybody (except the very wealthy) absolutely has to depend on health insurance. There is way too much pressure on the public healthcare system. Interestingly, the biggest supporters of bike rides and bicycle transport happen to be hospitals. This is because they understand the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. If you think there’s a large cycling population abroad, it isn’t true. In the US, only 1% of the population regularly rides a bike i.e. more than once a week. This just shows how much progress there is still to be made. People need to know what a difference it can make to their lives. In my case, at my age (62) I still bike a lot. One of the big advantages of this is that it allows me to indulge in whatever food I want to (and I love good food). I can really load up after a bike ride and know it doesn’t affect my health.

Whats your take on the traditional 26er and the advent of new wheel sizes?

The 26er was a complete accident. It was quite simply, the only wheel size onto which we could graft a large cross-section tyre so we could take a bike offroad. The 29er was more a matter of convenience. For a long time we had wanted a larger wheel size which could roll over rocks easily. I remember getting to the top of one of the trails in Colorado and finding rocks so big, we’d have loved to have had a 12 foot wheels to roll over it all (Haha!). The 29er came about simply using wide-section mountain bike tires on a roadbike rim. This year the 650B is the most talked about innovation in bicycles. While its been around for a while, its really taken off now. However, it’ll still take a few years for manufacturers to catch on and start providing components specifically for it. None of these will replace the 26er though and over time, as newer bike sizes and components get introduced, the 26er will sink in cost and become ever more affordable (since it’ll be less fashionable).

Logan Bingelli came third in the Red Bull Rampage this year on a KHS 650B downhill bike. How will this affect demand for 650s?

Yes, he did and it will definitely stir up more interest in it. However, not enough to really constitute proper demand. In the US if there are 15,000 guys on a 26er and 1,500 on a 29er, there will probably be less than 15 on a 650B. It’ll take time for that to change.

Since most of the wheel sizes were developed accidentally (or incidentally) over time in a pre-computerised era, is there now research into what is mathematically an ideal size for various conditions? Can you tell us about it?

Yes indeed there is a lot of research going into it. Can’t really talk about it however (confidential).

You’ve been quoted as saying one of the biggest challenges to mountain biking lies in shifting technology. Why is that? 

Well, when we came up with the mountain bike, the first innovation we came up with was a shifter that was placed on a handlebar. However, there really is a lot of work to be done on the derailleurs themselves. There is tremendous stress on that part of a bike. While this doesn’t matter to some riders who just pick a brand new bike every year or two and to professionals (who have sponsored bikes), it is a very expensive proposition to regular people. It simply costs too much to keep replacing parts of the drivetrain.

We’ve been working with developing electronic shifting systems and, to me, this is the future. People want to enjoy their rides and concentrate on ride quality and not having to worry about shifting is one less distraction on a ride. This will hopefully also lead to more long-lasting drivetrains.

But doesn’t the very concept of ‘long-lasting’ fly in the face of the throw-away-and-replace philosophy which drives most big businesses? I mean, isn’t it contradictory to manufacturers’ philosophy which is to keep people coming back to buy more?

I personally think something should be built to last. I think we will have more people on bikes if we could make it more affordable and less hassle to maintain bikes. I constantly push and challenge the guys at Shimano and SRAM to make quality drivetrains which both perform and last. Its only a matter of time before we get there.

We just had the first UCI-certified mountain biking event in India last weekend, including the first international 4X championship. What will it take to bring competitive mountain biking to India in a big way?

Well I think there are a lot of steps being taken in the right direction. There are more riders around these parts and there’s a lot of international interest in nascent markets such as India. I am pretty sure that competitive mountain biking is going to take off in a big way. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if in 5 to 10 years, India plays host to a World Cup Downhill race.


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