The railing moves, or maybe the pavement is narrower than last time I passed. My bar clips the safety barrier and I’m catapulted off the bike and onto the grassy bank on the other side. I lie, laughing and staring up at the moons. It’s the perfect end to a day I could never have imagined happening: a day where I got to hang out with Charlie Kelly, co-inventor of mountain biking, and publisher of the first ever mountain bike magazine. Even without a number of hours in a bar, I’d be feeling a bit giddy.
Happy birthday mountain biking.
When I meet Charlie, it’s 42 years almost to the day since he put on what is widely considered to be the first ever mountain bike race. That makes Charlie pretty old, even compared to me, but that hasn’t stopped him undertaking a whistlestop tour of the UK to promote his book, and to help raise funds to archive and preserve his lifetime’s worth of mountain bike printed material and memorabilia. The book – Fat Tire Flyer: Repack and the Birth of Mountain Biking – uses just a tiny portion of his collected material to tell the story of how he and friends Joe Breeze, Gary Fisher and Tom Ritchey would bring a different sort of bicycle to the world. The talk that Charlie is giving on his tour also seems to use just a tiny portion of the stories he has from a life that would be full if it were divided between half a dozen people. As we hang out during the day I hear a mix of tales I’ve heard versions of before, and others that are certainly new to me.
If you’re a certain sort of rider – the sort that goes a bit funny over bikes generally, or finds it hard to resist stroking certain perfect curves in steel tubed frames, or finds it just a little bit difficult to truly feel profound love for a modern carbon fibre full suspension bike – then you’ll already know who Charlie Kelly is. If you’re not a nerd, and perhaps just enjoy riding trails without thinking about history, or you’re too young to know that history isn’t all boring, then you might not know his name. Between the book, the tour, and media interviews over the years (I’m in that nerd camp), I feel like I’m already pretty well filled in on the story of the Repack races and the subsequent birth of the first purpose built mountain bike. I want to know about the bits in between, and the man who helped spawn an industry, but has spent most of his life on the edge of it – a life riding bikes, but not working with them.
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Subscriber Exclusive Signed Issue
While he was here we got Charlie to sign copies of his article in issue 121, ‘Crested Butte 40 Years On’. We have 13 copies available to buy in our shop right now for our Premier subscribers and life subscribers. Not a subscriber and want a copy? You can sign up right now for just £1.99