Mountain biking Origins: All About the History of Mountain Biking

Maybe you are an avid rider, or maybe, you are just curious, but have you ever wondered about the history of mountain biking? If yes, you are in the right place. 

Few people know about where mountain biking started and how it became a legendary sport. In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about mountain biking and cover these topics while doing it. 

Where Did it All Start?

As much as we would love to give you a time and date where the first mountain biker hit a decent trail, we can’t. Mountain biking didn’t start that way, and cycling wasn’t always the recreational sport it is today. 

When cycling first started, it was more of a mode of transport, and you didn’t have all the bikes that we have today. We all remember Penny Farthings and bikes like that. They were the first kind of bikes to be used and, as you can imagine, wouldn’t last mountain biking. 

When bikes had started advancing to a point where they were easier to control, they had brakes, and the design resembled what bikes today look like, people began to get creative. 

The first use of off-road bikes came in late 1800 in expeditions. A great example is the US infantry bicycle corps which used them for military purposes, and the Buffalo Soldiers, who used them to travel from Missoula to Montana. They say mountain biking started in Marin County, California, but it was more complicated.

Cycling Got Fun

Cycling soon became more recreational, and 1903 was the first Tour De France. 

At this point, we started seeing cycling being done for fun more than using a form of transport. Riders began to take it very seriously and wanted to train all year round, but in certain places, you didn’t have the weather, and turbo trainers didn’t exist. 

That’s when Cyclocross was born, and riders would go off-road in winter to train their fitness and improve their handling skills. Cyclocross is riding a road bike off-road, and although a lot of fun wasn’t an ideal situation. Although in the 1940’s it did become officially recognized as its sport.

Bikes Were Built

In 1955 the Rough Stuff Fellowship was started by an off-road cyclist in the UK., D. Gwynn, a member of the fellowship, built a bicycle made for purely off-road riding, and he called this the mountain bicycle. 

This was one of the first uses of the name, and although we had off-road bikes, this was classed as a mountain bike. It didn’t stop there D.Gwynn was the only person to start experimenting. 

Geoff Apps, a motorbike trail bike rider, started experimenting with Mountain bikes. He began in 1968, and he built bikes around tires that were good for rough terrain. 

After years of experimenting and trying different things, he eventually made a bike suited to wet and muddy conditions. 

They were popular and started getting sold with Cleland Cycles until 1984, when many other brands and shops followed the trend. This wasn’t an isolated incident. Other people claim it was going on in many parts of the world and had been since the 1930s. 

Essentially these bikes were road bikes with oversized tires. After extensive research, we have read many stories of people creating the first mountain bike, and it’s not clear where it first came from. 

Many people say it was John Finley Scott in 1953. The information isn’t quite unclear. We can confirm that many people in the late 1960s were making off-road bikes.

The first official ready-made mountain bike came from a few legends in the sport. The frame was designed and welded by the legendary Tom Ritchey, and it was Gary Fisher and Charlie Kelly that added all the accessories. 

They were sold by a company called mountain bikes and what made them unique was the specialist frame and the flat handlebar design. Frames from factories became very popular and were mass-produced.

It Got Popular

Then it started to get very popular, and everyone who cycled had an interest in mountain biking. And it was the new category of adventure sports everyone wanted a piece of. The international mountain bicycling association was born, and the impact of mountain biking was huge. The 1990s-2000 saw mountain bikes come into shops, and they were also available via mail order. 

More prominent companies started to get behind mountain biking, and the technology advanced. We began to see suspension forks and shocks, different wheel sizes, tires made for grip, and many accessories.

We see fantastic mountain bikes that come in all shapes and sizes in modern-day times. We have incredible technological advancements and cycles and are in a golden age where MTBs have batteries to take you up hills and help take you down faster. 

The Different Disciplines 

As mountain biking advanced, it also came with many different disciplines. There was cross-country for those long distances rides, trails for technical riding, and downhill for crazy descents. 

In this next section, we will speak about the different mountain bike disciplines that came along from the start until now.

Cross Country Mountain Biking / XC

Cross Country is what it says in the name. It’s one of the lightest forms of mountain biking, and expect long rides out on the saddle where you’re going super fast on light off-road terrain. The bikes you use have light suspension and are made to be as light and as quickly as possible.

Trails / All Mountain

Trail mountain biking is like XC but is a little more technical. It’s a fun day out, but you’re going to have to have a bike with some ability to keep you going and be quick wherever you can be.

Enduro Mountain Biking

Enduro is a more aggressive form of trail riding. You will need an equipped bike and expect to do some extreme climbing and descending while on an enduro course. You will see some of the most lightweight, capable bikes in this class.

Downhill Mountain Biking

Downhill racing is getting from the top of a course to the bottom as quickly as possible. It sounds much easier than it is. Expect seriously tough obstacles, jumps, and to be thrown around the bike a lot.

Downhill courses are concise and can last only minutes. Downhill mountain bikes need to be very capable, and it’s one of the most challenging forms of mountain biking.

Four Cross

This is a discipline where four racers will go up against each other on jumps, berms, and gaps. It’s becoming more and more popular, and we think soon it will be much more significant.

Freeride

Freeriding is very extreme, and you have to imagine it as really doing whatever you want and making it look good. It’s aggressive, and you need to be very technical about the riding.

Urban and Street riding

Urban and street riding is like BMX, where it’s all about the tricks you can perform. You can be part of many competitions in an urban setting.

Dirt Jump

Dirt jump is pretty self-explanatory. You will see some fantastic tricks and spills for dirt jumping. It’s a popular part of mountain biking and is common in mountain bike parks.

This is to name a few disciplines. As mountain biking advances, we see more and more. They are all very challenging and will be a lot of fun. We highly recommend going to a discipline that you enjoy and suits your skillset.

Legends of the Mountain Biking World

Although there are many legends about mountain biking, here are a few people we think did some extraordinary things for the sport and changed it for the better.

Gary Fisher

We mentioned Gary Fisher earlier in this article. He was an incredible influence on mountain biking. 

He was an advocate for a lot of new technology, and we saw that in the first full-suspension mountain bike, the Gary Fisher RS-1. 

This featured the first four linkage systems, and it was so far ahead of its time it was unbelievable. 

He was also the first person to put 29″ wheels on a bike which completely changed mountain biking and changed the direction of all the big brands on the market.

Paul Turner

You might have heard of a brand called RockShox. Well, RockShox started making suspension in 1989, and this was because of the legend Paul Turner. 

The first suspension fork to hit the market was the RS-1. It gave a full 48mm of travel and was used by Greg Herbold to win the first Downhill Championship in 1990. 

Paul paved the way for many suspension companies, and mountain biking was never the same again.

Danny MacAskill

Danny MacAskill is a personal favorite and a legendary trails rider and is riding these days heavily. 

He produces excellent content and things that you never thought would be possible this guy can do. He has a Youtube channel, and some of the things he can do are just incredible. Well worth a look.

Juliana Furtado

Juliana was a professional skier before she got into mountain biking. She competed in the Olympics, was XC and Downhill world champion, and was just an incredible racer. 

She started pushing the industry to make women’s specific components and then worked with Santa Cruz to design bikes. The legendary Santa Cruz Juliana came from a fantastic pedigree. 

Nino Schurter

Known as one of the most successful mountain bikers, with eight UCI championship wins, three Olympic medals, and seven world titles, this guy doesn’t mess around. 

This mountain biker just had so much skill and confidence like none other. If you are to watch old videos of Nino racing, he is incredible. 

What’s in the future for Mountain Biking

It’s a tricky question to answer, but I believe in the future of mountain biking, we will be racing the same disciplines but on much better technology.

We will see bikes completely redesigned with 3D printing and more electronic components such as lighter, more efficient Ebikes and new suspension types.

We think mountain bike production will hugely change, and international mountain bike groups will get much more significant.

Photo of author
Written By Robbie Ferri
My name is Robbie Ferri, I’m an Ultra Endurance cyclist from the UK. I have been lucky enough to have cycled all over the world. With some amazing world record attempts, bikepacking races, and many miles under my belt I couldn’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than on my bike.

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