Singletrack Podcast – The legendary Charlie Kelly episode

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Whether you believe that mountain biking started on the slopes of Mount Tam, or the forests of the Pacific Northwest, or some muddy fields in the UK, the term ‘Mountain Bike’ was first recorded when Gary Fisher and Charlie Kelly registered the name of their company as ‘Mountain Bikes’. Along with business partner Tom Ritchey, these three little pigs of the mountain bike world chose their paths. Tom Ritchey built his house of hand built and brazed steel, eventually growing into the Ritchey company still popular today. Gary Fisher built his house from mass production, aiming to bring mountain bikes to the many – and as part of Trek he can claim to have achieved that. The third little piggy, Charlie Kelly, after starting the first mountain bike company with Gary Fisher, and then organising the first races (the legendary Repack), he chose the path of print media, starting ‘Fat Tire Flyer’, the first ever mountain bike magazine.

It’s this that earns Charlie Kelly the award of Singletrack Legend for 2020. In a year when two further printed mountain bike magazines were lost, and as we eye up our 20th anniversary year, it seems appropriate to celebrate the creator of the first ever written celebration of mountain bike culture. Charlie describes his time working on Fat Tire Flyer as the most creative endeavour he ever did. As his own boss, he was free to cover the things that he was interested in, and did little to court advertisers. His antipathy towards reviewing bikes or attracting advertisers can be seen in his ‘Universal Bike Review’. It’s perhaps little surprise then that of the three little pigs of mountain biking, Charlie has not made his fortune in the bike industry. Indeed, he didn’t even make a living in it, eventually turning his hand to professional piano moving – which is perhaps not so different to bike racing ‘You get to travel across the country in a truck with your friends, and then you do something that takes just a few minutes and people think is amazing’.

Pianos might have been his profession, but Charlie never left bikes behind, riding much as the rest of us do – with friends, in the hills, from home. Of course, his old time friends, including Joe Breeze, are often happy to send him a bike or a frame to play out on, so it’s perhaps no surprise that there’s no room in Charlie’s garage for the huge collection of MTB memorabilia that he collected over the years. That archive of magazines, adverts, catalogues, fliers and much more resides in a storage unit, and after retiring from the piano business Charlie set about turning some of that historical record into a book – Fat Tire Flyer: ‘Repack and the birth of mountain biking’.

Promoting the Fat Tire Flyer book took him on the kind of sofa surfing promotional tour that might better befit a young privateer than a founding father of mountain biking, but that’s another part of the reason that Charlie gets our Legend Award. For no reward other than the adventures, the fun, the stories (of which there are many) and the chance to meet people, Charlie has helped create a culture that keeps so many of us in the sport today. For those of us that ride not for medals, or FTP targets, or glory, we have Charlie to thank for being there at the beginning to help create something that we can all feel part of.

Raise your glasses to Singletrack Legend Award winner 2020, Charlie Kelly. As is the tradition with presenting the Legend Award, we were a bit sneaky and tricked him into thinking he was going to talk to us for a podcast. Which his did, so maybe we weren’t that sneaky. Listen in to hear his reaction, and some more tales from this year’s Singletrack Legend.

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Charlie had no idea that we were planning this when he shipped a bunch of rather cool Repack items to us – he just thought it was fitting that we should have them to sell in our 20th year. Check out our shop for some Repack products, with more birthday celebration items to come next year.

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