The Early Days of Mountain Biking

Kristy and I were digging through the archives, and found a few pictures of our early mountain biking days. I think the first mountain bike I saw was a Miyata at Spooner Mountain Sports back in 1985. I was riding BMX at the time, but demos on that bike around the shop stuck in my memory. I finally got my first mountain bike in 1989, a Specialized Rock Hopper, and Kristy got hers soon after. Kristy and I were living in Reno at the time, and rode the trails near Peavine Mountain.

Kristy with 1990 Specialized Rockhopper
Kristy with brand new 1990 Specialized Rock Hopper

It got me thinking that while the equipment has changed a lot in the last 20 years I’ve been mountain biking, the amount of perceived fun I’ve had has remained constant. You rode the equipment of the day, and it was awesome. You just didn’t know any better!

Kristy with 1990 Specialized Rockhopper
Kristy with brand new 1990 Specialized Rock Hopper

While I have good memories of those days, I have no desire to go back and ride one of those bikes off-road! Road bike geometry, skinny handlebars, and rigid frames made extended rides pretty brutal. I remember being almost too sore to sit down after 20 miles or so.

Jeff - Flume Trail
Jeff – Flume Trail circa 1993-1994

We didn’t have as much singletrack to ride back then either. My old mountain bike trail guidebooks are full of fire roads. Roads that were built back in the logging days that most often went straight up the hill! You were riding the granny gear right from the trail head. The road going up North Canyon to Marlette Lake is a good example of a typical climb back then.

Flume Trail Early 90's
The Flume Trail before it was accessible to the masses

My first ride to Marlette Lake was on a BMX bike, probably in 1985. My dad had just bought a Cannondale mountain bike with a 26 inch front wheel, and a 24 inch rear wheel. The smaller rear wheel allowed shorter chainstays for better traction. Just one of the many Cannondale experiments that didn’t stick. We pushed our BMX bikes up to the Lake, but got to ride them all the way back to Spooner Lake. My buddy and I each crashed once on that trip.

Geroge and Jeff
George and Jeff – Marlette Lake circa 1993-1994

After getting my mountain bike, I made my first run on the Flume Trail. The trail back then was much different than today’s trail. Today’s trail is much safer and more accessible to the masses. But just as today, the views were just as spectacular!

Geroge at Marlette Lake
Entrance to the Flume Trail at Marlette Lake – Klein Mountain Bike

Today I have a several hundred bucks invested in cycling clothing, something for every occasion. Back then I had a helmet, some riding shoes (no cleats or clipless pedals back then), some Spenco Gel gloves I found up on the Mount Rose Trail, and shorts and a T-shirt. I eventually bought some riding shorts, but I don’t recall wearing them too much. I found them years later and couldn’t even fit in them!

Jeff - Above Washoe Valley
Jeff – Above Washoe Valley circa 1993-1994

The first rider I remember with suspension forks was Keith Conrad. He was always fast, but then he got even faster. I remember a ride that took us down the washboard road of Voltaire Canyon. While I was getting my eyeballs rattled loose, Keith was flying down the road at a pace I couldn’t come close to following. I knew suspension forks would be in my future.

Red House Flume
Red House Flume – circa 1993-1994

I finally got my first bike with a suspension fork in 1994 or 1995, a Haro Escape. The geometry was not what it is today with its short top tube, long stem and narrow bars, but it was a lot faster and more comfortable than my old Rock Hopper. The fork probably only had 2 inches of nerf-like suspension travel.

Haro Escape
Haro Escape – circa 1995

In 1996 I garaged the mountain bike, and explored motorcycles for the next several years. I remember thinking I’d never touch another bicycle again while I was on the motorcycle! It wasn’t until 2001 that I got the bicycle back out. I was getting fat and out of shape, and thought cycling would be a fun way to get fit again. We started the lunch rides in 2001, and are still doing them today. The motorcycles were sold off by 2006, and bicycles filled the garage!

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9 thoughts on “The Early Days of Mountain Biking

  1. I started riding about the same time, on a Specialized Hard Rock Comp — it had the same ugly stickers as your Rockhopper, Jeff. Those were the days. Looking back, mine wasn’t much of a bike, but it did amazing things and I had a blast riding it.

    I usually rode in cheap, lightweight hiking boots with toe clips on my pedals, and always wore a cotton T-shirt. Didn’t own a jersey at all during the early years. I remember it being a big event when I finally bought a single pair of padded shorts.

    It’s all about the fun you can enjoy with the gear you have. Some of my favorite ride memories are from those early days.

    1. I’m still riding my 95 haro escape, looks exactly like yours. I still consider it my new bike. My old bike is a 1986 ross. Wish I could ride in the beautiful areas where your photos were taken!

  2. nice trip down memory lane. thanks for sharing.

    road bikes were my thing until about 6 years ago when i bought a trek 850. that was upgraded to a hardtail stumpjumper when i was up in minn-ee-so-tah in ’05. then the rigid surly 1 x 1. yes, yes, yes! i love that bike!

    ah well. bikes are good!

  3. I started MTBing about that time; 87′ I think. I don’t have many pictures from then but I do have one of just about every bike I’ve had. I started out with a Bianchi that I bought from a buddy who was upgrading and hated off road the first few times I tried it! Too damn Aerobic for a roadie like me.
    Great to see those pictures. Looks like you were living the dream even back then!!

  4. Virtually the same story and timeline for me too. Great Pics! I think everyone had a Mt. Rack at one time. The noteable point for me that really defined my interest in cycling was when I went from ” You were a dipstick if you wore a helmet” to the overnight realization that ” You were a dipstick if you didnt wear a helmet.” back in the early 90’s. Evolution from then went to clipless pedals, shortly followed by front suspension in 1994 to spandex, to full suspension in the late 90’s. the fun was always the same, but you are right, I would not want to be on one of those old bikes now. Like I think one of our past presidents once said ” The past is like used toilet paper, its ok to look back at it, but you sure wouldnt want to be in the middle of it again”

  5. Ok, since this thread appears to be about sharing feelings, I will lend you one.

    I started riding mountain bikes offroad in the very same area we ride now, as I grew up about a block away from “poo corner.” The water retention basin below WNC used to be the “sand pits” and I spent many an afternoon riding my schwinn 10 speed mountain bike all through that area and up vicee canyon and back. There was nothing but motorcycle trails to ride on and everything was sandy and full of rocks.

    In about 1990 I was given my step-brother’s old 84 Yamaha IT 200 and promptly dropped riding bikes for about 2 years. I juggled dirt bikes and skateboarding during this time and then started getting really serious about skateboarding and dropped dirt bikes all together.

    I was true to skating for most of my junior high and high school years. You see, the unfortunate thing about adolescence is that a lot of my buddies would have given me shit for riding anything other than a skateboard during those times. I had a falling out with a few of the more hardcore skaters and started riding BMX with my friend’s Jensen and Ernie. I used to go down to the BMX track in southeast carson and practice while some of my friends were more serious and started racing. I was honestly too chicken to race and really didn’t have anyone pushing me to so I stayed in that comfort zone of knowing I could ride it alone.

    When I got my drivers license I stopped all sports and became an idiot teenage driver. It wasn’t till getting stationed in san diego with the marines that I started skateboarding again, why not? – San Diego’s locale is perfect for that activity. We did a lot of skating in downtown SD and at Roosevelt High by the zoo.

    I have been riding quads and dirtbikes off and on until late 2007 when I bought a mountain bike with the sole purpose of riding around the neighborhood and riding down to the feisty goat pub because it is so close to my house. My wife started giving me a hard time about never riding my bike so last spring I began riding it to work every day starting in April.

    In early August I met Jeff on the commute home and he invited me up on the trails at lunch and I’ve been doing that ever since. I originally lost 20 pounds (have since gained about 10 back) but I’m definitely in the best shape of my life.

    Yes, I had a Mt. Rack on my schwinn, both of em!

  6. Love the pictures. Thought you might find it interesting that I am still riding a 95 Haro Escape identical to the one in your pics. Cant seem to kill it off..lol. Many many thousands of miles and more than one century ride on it. I have thought about a new one but Im awfully attached to that ol bike. Its mostly still intact except for many sets of tires, brake pads, chains and bottom brackets. Lots of good riding here. Very few single tracks but many many miles of logging and gas well trails.

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