Fat Tire Flyer
The first Mountain Bike Magazine
In the early 1970’s, my fellow cycling friends and I would take our cruiser bikes, bikes we called klunkers, on rides in the hills of Marin County. At first this was for fun and a diversion from our more serious ventures in road biking and racing. It was a good time, but eventually we began modifying the bikes with gears and drum brakes cannibalized from old motorcycles. By the mid 1970’s “klunking” had become a thing with our group of friends and we spent a lot of time building up our old bikes and charting new rides around the hills of Marin County.
One fire road we commonly used as our final decent back into Fairfax became known as Repack. It was very steep, very fast and, because we were on our rear coaster brake most of the way down, the intense heat would burn up all the grease in our rear hub. By the time we made it to the bottom our coaster brake would hardly work and there would be smoke pouring out of the hub. We had no choice but to go home and repack the hub with more grease. Hence the name of the trail… Repack.
We often raced down Repack, which lent itself to a very dangerous motocross sort of descent with people jockeying for position and taking extraordinary chances to best each other. So one day we decided to have a timed race to see, once and for all, who was the fastest down Repack. I bought a couple of digital timers, which were a new technology at that time, and proceeded to organize the race. We naively thought this would determine the fastest rider and end the debate… but that was pure folly. All it did was encourage MORE races so others could have their shot at the title. So over the next several years I became the organizer and promoter of the Repack Downhill Race.
I must say that there were a lot of other moments, innovations and contributions, but most historic lore views Repack as the beginning of the sport of Mountain biking. It was certainly the event which put a spotlight on the idea of off road biking. It also pushed the idea of Klunking to a whole new level, one where there was real competition with a huge surge in technological advancement. Put another way, the race was a crucible where new technology, ideas and riding technique were tested. All of which would evolve klunking into something much bigger and better.
During the Repack race era, I asked my friend Joe Breeze to build me a bike frame specifically for this activity. The activity didn’t even have the name Mountain Biking at that time, but essentially I was asking Joe to build the first Mountain Bike. After much prodding, he built the frame, but then decided to keep it for himself. That bike, known as Breezer #1, is now on display in the Smithsonian. I got Breezer #2, the second frame in a 10 frame run of off-road bikes. Breezer #2 now hangs on the wall of the Marin Museum of Bicycling . These were the early days. Now I have to say I’ve probably had more adventures than one man deserves. And Mountain Biking has only been part of it.
My best friend and roommate back in those days was Gary Fisher. We both started off as road cyclists, but more and more klunking became part of our lives. Then, in late 1979 Gary and I joined forces with frame builder Tom Ritchey to start a company called “MountainBikes,” the first commercial effort to sell this new concept in bicycling. It would later become the namesake of the sport.
In 2014 my book Fat Tire Flyer: Repack and the Birth of Mountain Biking was published. It goes into much greater detail about the adventures of my life and my exploits in the early days of klunking and mountain biking. If you do not yet have a copy and would like one, please see the store page on this site.
In Charlies words
The Fat Tire Flyer started by accident. In the summer of 1980 a few of us thought we might start a club of people who rode these weird bikes. After all, there were maybe two or three dozen of us. We held a meeting at Wende Cragg's house. I can't remember what else we discussed, but the idea of a newsletter came up.
I had actually sold a couple of magazine articles on mountain biking. I could write proper English. That was something I could do, you know, photocopy a few sheets. Okay, for the next club meeting of the horribly pretentious Marin County Wilderness Wheelers, my girlfriend and I would have a newsletter."
Denise Caramagno ran a roller skate shop in Marin County and was one of the few women who took part in what was a virtually all male sport, "clunker" riding. It was she who came up with the name that stuck, Fat Tire Flyer.
The two of us produced a very crude, but almost imaginative booklet of folded, photocopied sheets. The headlines were set with Letraset, the stick-on stuff that was used before computerized art, some pen and ink drawings, body text done on a typewriter, and very little in the way of hard news. If you don't HAVE a lot of news, you had better go with style. You can only wring so much out of a bare set of race results. Road testing? Excuse me. If there are only a couple of dozen people doing this, it's not like no one knows what is "going on with the sport."
Denise and I made one big mistake with our first issue. On the cover we wrote, "Issue One". If there is Issue One, then that means there must be Issue Two..and so on. The "club" never met again, but the newsletter staggered along for another seven years. It became a holy obligation, get out the next issue, and there was never enough money. Tough on relationships.
Denise handled publishing and I edited and we both folded and stapled and sorted and mailed and somehow we got the thing out. In the three years of Denise's tenure we moved from our photocopied sheet, through several generations of more and more professional layout, and became a real magazine, the only voice for mountain bikers for over five years.
Fat Tire Flyer is the story of the rise of mountain biking and its roots. First hand descriptions and an abundance of original photographs, drawings, and memorabilia. The Fat Tire Flyer book, with a foreword written by Joe Breeze, is the definitive history of one of the most significant inventions of the 20th century.
The Legacy Project
Right now in Marin County, California there is a literal treasure trove of early mountain bike history stashed away in a storage unit. It's a massive time capsule waiting to be shared with mountain bikers everywhere.
From the mid 1970's through 1992, Charlie Kelly saved everything he could find relating to
the sport of mountain biking. His well-preserved archive includes historic documents from the earliest years and is especially weighted towards the 1980's, when mountain biking’s popularity exploded. It is the most complete collection of early mountain bike media in the world, some items from before it was even called mountain biking, and man being the only existing copy in existence. Most of the items haven't seen the light of day in over 25 years.
The long-term goal is a growing database of material, where contributors around the globe can submit mountain biking content from ANY time period, and help preserve the history of the sport. As Charlie puts it, "This should eventually become the Library of Alexandria for everything related to mountain biking." -- hundreds of thousands of historic documents -- and build a website capable of hosting and delivering them to the world, the resulting archive an indispensable tool for any historian or mountain biking enthusiast to explore and discover the depths of the sport’s history. The long-term goal is a growing database of material, where contributors around the globe can submit mountain biking content from ANY time period, and help preserve the history of the sport. As Charlie puts it, "This should eventually become the Library of Alexandria for everything related to mountain biking."
Help make The Mountain Bike Legacy Project a reality by donating here https://www.gofundme.com/f/mountain-bike-legacy-project