Even though bicycles have been around for 200 years, the first mountain bike was not invented until the 1970's. The sport of mountain biking first began in Northern California. Several bike enthusiasts who lived near Mount Tamalpais (Mt Tam to locals) decided they wanted to try and build a bike that would be able to handle riding on the rough terrain of the mountain trails.
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The first type of mountain bike to be produced was strictly a downhill cruiser. Bikers would pile them in a truck and drive to the top, then careen down the mountain on their new bikes. Unfortunately the brakes they were using at the time would heat up on the descent and would need to be greased over and over in between each run. Eventually these brakes were replaced with cantilever brakes, which eliminated the need for repetitive greasing. It was around this time that gears were also incorporated into the mountain bikes so that bikers could ride up the hill instead of driving, and really feel like they earned the free feeling of each descent.
One of the original founders of mountain biking, Otis Guy, currently owns his own bike shop in Marin that hand makes every single frame under his supervision. Otis is a former Category 1 road racer, Pro mountain bike racer, and has even been inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. He helped introduced the Velo Club Tamalpais, Marin's first racing club, which included other founders of the sport Joe Breeze, Marc Vendetti, Charlie Kelly and Gary Fisher. Today, Otis also runs a mountain bike camp for kids in Fairfax, CA, helping to keep cycling alive for future generations.
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Read more about the history of Mountain Biking:
Marin Museum of Bicycling: Otis Guy
ABC of Mountain Biking: History
Otis Guy Cycles