Racing roots: great riders in the history of mountain biking

Lyle Ellerbee

Mountain bike racing has been pushing the envelope given that the first knobbly tyre popped on to a rim. This is its tale instructed by way of some of its major names and most legendary times.

No subject what, where or how you ride, there is a cornerstone which is vital to accept mountain biking was born a sport. Levels of competition has been at the forefront of defining what constitutes a mountain bicycle because just before they ended up even known as this sort of. Faster was the concentrate, the clock the unflinching enemy, and solutions have usually been designed to keep up with the require for speed, producing the greatest mountain bikes with every new advancement. 

Economics and vogue may well have propelled the mountain bike ahead above the many years, but the core factor that has authorized it to weather the storm and survive to be the passion that we all take pleasure in now is the truth that it is, very first and foremost, a aggressive sport. 

Photo of Steve Peat mountain bike racer spraying champagne from a bottle

Steve Peat of Terrific Britain just after winning gold in the elite men’s downhill remaining at the UCI Mountain Bike Earth Championships on Mount Stromlo in Canberra on September 6, 2009.  (TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP by using Getty Images)

The mountain that gave birth to MTB

That activity initially sprang to everyday living amidst the substantially-storied and somewhat unique smelling dust tracks of Mount Tamalpais, California in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Knobbly tyres ended up fitted to slack angled beach front cruisers to enable them reduce as a result of deep, silty gravel. The names of the early pioneers (Mike Sinyard, Gary Fisher, Charlie Kelly et al) are writ significant into the background guides.

Early tech improvements were born out of a have to have to go faster

Pace was key – the mountain bike did not start out daily life as a commuter car or truck or an aesthetically-pleasimbng sizzling rod. Early tech improvements ended up born out of a have to have to go more rapidly. The now legendary Repack races were named immediately after the competitors’ hurried need to re-pack their coaster hubs with grease in among operates. The film ‘Klunkerz’ (the identify presented to the precursors of the MTB) attributes something much extra than just a bimble down memory lane – it’s a glimpse at the sort of velocity and danger that continue to resonates with admirers of racing currently. Suitable from the start, levels of competition was the driving pressure.

Mountain biking steadily grew and though some of the systems that followed those early yrs may well now surface laughable, several stuck. The mass sector discovered the attraction of off-highway biking and exploration many thanks to the ruggedness of elements formulated to consider a beating on race working day. 

In Michigan’s John Tomac, mountain biking performed host to 1 of the most proficient all-rounders, ever. A former skilled BMX racer, Tomac expended the late 1980’s racing both on and off-road. In 1991 he would earn gold at the UCI Entire world Championships in Italy on his XC bicycle, consider silver in the downhill and get the UCI Entire world Cup in general title alongside with the hotly-contested NORBA US nationwide series in downhill. Tomac’s prodigious talent loomed large throughout disciplines and is unlikely to at any time be recurring. America’s (quite distinct) future big detail would arrive four yrs later…

Tomac’s prodigious talent loomed massive throughout disciplines and is unlikely to ever be recurring

One particular of mountain biking’s earliest world wide home names would come from a perhaps a lot less most likely position the minimal international locations. Bart Brentjens lit up Tv set screens across the environment as XC arrived into dwelling rooms as part of the Atlanta 1996 Olympics. The tall, pony-tailed, sleeveless determine was now a UCI Environment Champion. But his earn in Atlanta, forward of Switzerland’s Thomas Frischknecht and France’s Miguel Martinez, is even now witnessed by the sport’s European heartland as when it definitely arrived on to the big stage.

The gestation experienced been a superior a person, now it could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the most recognised athletics on earth. Brentjens went on to consider a bronze medal in Athens 2004. He now co-hosts Crimson Bull TV’s protection of the UCI World Cup XC sequence. He has also obtained the rights to the American Eagle brand, on which he campaigned as a pro, to back again his have best-flight squad. 

Test out the ideal cross-country mountain bikes

Downhill and the extreme sporting activities growth

While XC got the ball rolling in the popular consciousness, it was downhill that seriously manufactured mountain biking a cult sport. Downhill races experienced little by little moved from sideshow status to getting a most important function in their own ideal and attracted an completely different athlete in comparison to the spartan XC whippets. The technological know-how remained worryingly basic even though speeds crept at any time better. Even by fashionable specifications the threat element seemed enormous. Races like Mammoth Mountain’s Kamikaze Downhill noticed bikes sprout all kinds of aero appendages (yet minimal in the way of suspension or brakes) to bid for speeds of 65mph down its lunar entry streets.

Photo of Nico Vouilloz with mud on his face

Sep 1995:  Nicolas Vouilloz at the Entire world Championships in Kirkzarten, Germany.  (Credit score: Anton Want/Allsport)

Downhillers experienced type, bravado and kudos further than the anaerobic mechanics of their XC stablemates. The arrival of the severe sporting activities boom of the 1990’s obviously hoovered up downhill mountain biking and dragged it into its melee of hair gel, piercings and before long-to-be-defunct electricity drinks. 

A titanic battle for the soul of the sport played out on the web pages of publications, on bed room partitions and on Eurosport Television. Nico Vouilloz was the ice-in-the-veins Frenchman who understood only a monk-like focus to his craft. He travelled to races with a suspension dyno in his van, he pored around each and every probable line and experimented with every single and any combination of configurations as he bulldozered his way to 10 UCI Earth Championship titles. Only his teammate, Anne-Caroline Chausson, would ever topple Nico in phrases of achievements, with 16 cross self-discipline Worlds crowns.

Entire world Championships 4Cross Women’s Podium with Jonnier Sabrina,  Chausson Anne-Caroline and Kinter Jill (Photo by Tim De Waele/Getty Illustrations or photos)

Shaun Palmer on the other hand gained just 1 leading flight race, but is usually talked about in the exact breath. If Vouilloz was the grasp of precision, Palmer was the learn of chaos. A snowboarder by trade, he arrived into mountain biking with a bang in 1995 and almost pipped Vouilloz to a UCI Globe Champs acquire in Cairns the pursuing period. But crucially Palmer fundamentally transformed how downhill looked and acted.

He wore dishevelled motocross equipment and skate trainers amidst competition in uncomfortable Lycra and gawky pads. Palmer was brash, outspoken and brought a ‘ride quickly, bash faster’ solution that stuck. New brands from outside industries, determined to carve out a slice of the pie, tripped around their cheque books to get concerned. 6 figure salaries and obscure sponsorships were being all the rage, with several race bikes resembling sticker boards. 

And then all of a sudden, as if overnight, it stopped. 

Old photograph of NORBA national mountain bike championships

16 May perhaps 1999: Shaun Palmer #20 catches some air all through the NORBA Nationwide Championships in Snow Summit, California. (Credit: Jeff Gross/ALLSPORT)

Increase of the Australian racers

The serious sports activities bubble burst. The endless stoke finished and mountain biking was still left with a era of racers who had battled it out to make it to the huge demonstrate, only to locate that possessing now bought there, that the substantial motorhomes and branded vans experienced created way for rented Sprinter vans and lodge space flooring. Mountain bicycle racing survived the early 2000’s as Vouilloz’s reign, at times troubled by the likes of Britain’s Steve Peat and South Africa’s Greg Minnaar, arrived to an stop. There was a collective ‘What upcoming?’ until eventually an 18 yr-old, quietly spoken, hole-toothed Australian Junior first climbed off a flight to attempt his hand at racing in the European large leagues. If Shaun Palmer experienced rewritten how fast downhillers should reside, then Sam Hill reformatted how speedily they ought to experience. 

If Shaun Palmer experienced rewritten how quickly downhillers must reside, then Sam Hill reformatted how speedily they ought to ride. 

A new wave of Aussie powerhouses fronted by Chris Kovarik and Nathan Rennie had now finished the weighty lifting on bringing flat pedals again into the conversation, but it was Sam Hill who would make them notorious. Heels-down to the point of toes almost calling shins, Hill appeared to surf the again fifty percent of his bike through the most brutal of technological sections. He turned gap recognizing into an artwork type and line preference into a craft. Thirteen UCI World Cup wins ended up notched concerning 2005-2014, two in general titles and five UCI Planet Champs titles alongside some race run displays which would be noticed by many as the best ever.

Hill’s most mercurial masterpieces were being painted versus the backdrops of a sodden Champery in 2007 and a dusty Val Di Sole in 2008. The truth that he did not acquire both race is testomony to just how really they are even now regarded.  

Photo of Sam Hill at the Rotorua enduro world series race

Sam Hill of Australia celebrates following winning the Environment Champs on August 26m 2006, in Rotorua.  (Picture by Phil Walter/Getty Pictures)

When Sam Hill preferred a new problem he turned to the latest self-discipline of mountain bike racing enduro. With a format mirroring that of rallying, enduro experienced taken hold in various forms all-around the entire world but the emergence of the Enduro Earth Series attempted to provide it all less than a single roof.

The increase of enduro

What commenced everyday living in Punta Ala in 2013 as a assortment of path bikes sporting DH tyres would go on to aim and drive mountain bike style and design and technological innovation further than any one could have imagined. Born out of the deep compromise involving plummeting down levels – which usually surpassed the size of an total DH race period – and gruelling 50km extensive times in the saddle, enduro bikes have redefined what we count on from our comprehensive-suspension mountain bikes. Tracy Moseley and Jerome Clementz did a lot of the early profitable, but it was Hill (who jumped to enduro entire-time in 2016) who would become the very first three-time title winner, whilst Cecile Ravanel grew to become the initial racer to submit the fabled fantastic year. 

Whilst XC and DH challenged a unique ability and attitude, enduro challenged what it meant to be a mountain bike racer. Not only were EWS racers using on each and every other and the clock, but they also experienced to take care of their personal actual physical endurance together with any technical concerns which could possibly appear up together the way. Remaining fastest via one particular portion or on one lap was no for a longer period enough. Enduro immediately progressed, a great deal more rapidly than potentially any of the other disciplines had carried out and in a lot of parts of the globe became the focal ‘grass roots’ race self-discipline. It essential the products that most riders by now had and race programs could be developed everywhere there ended up trails. 

Mountain bicycle racing is now everywhere

Mountain bicycle racing, if you choose it to be, is now everywhere you go. As with any activity, admirers can nestle their on the web entire world with the social media accounts of racers, teams and brands alike and preserve in touch with their heroes from the early morning espresso to the past beer of the evening. So too are there more techniques than at any time to see the racing alone. Irrespective of whether it is on YouTube or through a distinct streaming assistance, you can now sit down and check out your picked willpower when it satisfies.

Photo of Sam Hill riding a Nukeproof bike in the mountains

Sam Hill turned his hand to enduro, and his huge skill introduced him numerous victories (Kike Abelleira / EWS)

The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), like fairly significantly all governing bodies, has arrive in for flack in excess of the decades. But as soon as you take into account the relative age of mountain biking (50 many years outdated versus highway cycling’s venerable 150 a long time) the development can definitely be seen for what it is. The UCI has warmed up to mountain bike racing now, and cottoned on to not only how popular and varied a sport it is, but how it remains a fantastic stage of entry into biking for tens of millions.

What does the upcoming keep? It’s difficult to say, but just after the dip in fascination at the change of the century and the economical collapse not extensive after, it feels like the momentum is after once again firmly powering mountain bike racing. New heroes and villains are seemingly produced every weekend and the bike industry sees racing after yet again as a way to win on Sunday and provide on Monday. E-bikes will be key and create in their own ideal, but what is essential is that the heady metamorphosis that began on Mount Tamalpais all all those a long time in the past carries on to try to go more rapidly.

Writer: Ric McLaughlin

Like this? Look at out Specialized Stumpjumper – 40 a long time in the dust or check out some retro mountain bicycle treasures.

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