Invented on the Slopes of Mill Valley


We love Marin and we are now opening the Armour Group Marin office so send us all the folks you know looking to move to Marin! We also love mountain biking and since that sport was invented on the slopes of Mill Valley we wanted to give a historical perspective of the sport we all know and love.

Look north across the bay, and you’ll see majestic Mount Tamalpais. Literally “west hill,” in the Miwok language, 2,576-foot Mount Tamalpais (or just Mount Tam or Tam) is a defining feature of Marin County and was sacred to the local Indians. Skirted with Coastal Redwoods and occasionally dusted with snow, much of it essentially remains a wilderness. The mountain is also threaded with trails, and in the late 60s/early 70s, these ribbons of dirt proved irresistible to a group of local cyclists.

Even though bikes have been ridden off-road since their invention in the early 19th century, the sport of mountain biking did not exist until creative riders stripped old Schwinns of fenders and chain guards and pointed them downhill. These so-called “clunkers” weighed 50 pounds for better for cruising and had big balloon tires, which the riders liked for shock absorption. And clunkers were most definitely easier to ride downhill than up. That was the whole point! Car shuttle up the slopes of Mount Tam and bomb down the hills. In fact, the first mountain bike race was held on the northern slopes of Mt. Tam. The Repack Downhill race was so named because these clunkers had coaster brakes (a.k.a. back pedal brakes), which would overheat on the long descents and would have to be “repacked” with grease again before use.

Accomplished cyclists, like Gary Fisher, thrashing enthusiasts, like Charlie Kelly, and tinkering welders, like Joe Breeze, got fed up with cracked bike frames, poor components, and prohibitive weight and started making their own rides. They called their new inventions “mountain bikes” and designed them for abuse. The first mass-production mountain bike, the Specialized Stumpjumper was released in 1981, and ambling dog walkers have never been safe since… Twenty years after the first Repack Downhill, mountain biking debuted as an Olympic sport in Atlanta in 1996. All it took was some tinkering local boys who liked going downhill—fast—for the world to take notice. 

For more information and fun facts, visit the Marin Museum of Bicycling in downtown Fairfax. 

Savina Deianova