A Day With Charlie Kelly, Godfather of Mountain Biking

by 6

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.

Charlie Kelly
Charlie with his book, which you should really get hold of.
Charlie Kelly
Fans and nerds will appreciate the chance to get their copy signed.

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.

Hippie Heydays.


The rest of this feature is for members only. If you have an account, please log in. If not, you can get access by registering here for free.

Members get access to exclusive content like this but they also get..

Premier members get more

  • Magazine content in print 6x/year post free
  • App access to every new issue of Singletrack
  • Ad free website
  • Big discounts on shop merchandise
  • Access downloads like GPX files, PDFs and even iBooks
  • Full mag archive access to all Singletrack back issues

Premier membership starts at just £1.99

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

Buy a signed copy now

Hannah Dobson

Hannah came to Singletrack having decided there must be more to life than meetings. Having worked in policy and project management roles at the Scottish Parliament and in local government, Hannah had organisational skills that SIngletrack needed. She also likes bikes, and likes to write.

Hannah likes all bikes, but especially unusual ones. If it’s a bit odd, or a bit niche, or made of metal, she’s probably going to get excited. If it gets her down some steep stuff, all the better. She’ll give most things a go once, she tries not to say no to anything on a bike, unless she really thinks it’s going to hurt. She’s pretty good with steri-strips.

More than bikes, Hannah likes what bikes do. She thinks that they link people and places; that cycling creates a connection between us and our environment; bikes create communities; deliver freedom; bring joy; and improve fitness. They're environmentally friendly and create friendly environments.

Hannah tries to write about all these things in the hope that others might discover the joy of bikes too.

Comments (6)

    One of the more memorable pub crawls of my month in the UK. Thanks for documenting it!

    Really interesting! I’ve got a copy of Kelly’s first (and only other?) book and used to pore over it for days as a kid in the early days of mtbing in this country.


    Must have been fun times in a fun place. I loved Klunkerz.

    Where are his talks? Any chance of a link?

    @cyclelife If you’re in the UK you’ve just missed them…I think if you check out Fat Tire Flyer on Facebook it’s a pretty good place to keep updated with where Charlie is. Charlie himself is also on Facebook and posts a lot of updates about things he’s doing.

    great article and interview , thanks Hannah.

Leave a Reply