Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Maxwell. Maxwell Wonders, “How many types of bikes are there?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Maxwell!
Do you remember when you first learned to ride a bicycle? All the fear and frustration you felt as you were trying to get the hang of how to balance yourself on two wheels…well…all that fear and frustration was swept away by the breeze you felt fly past your face when you first began pedaling under your own power.
As riding a bike quickly became second nature, there were probably a few lessons you learned right away. For example, you quickly learned that you need to apply your brakes some distance ahead of where you actually want to stop.
You also probably learned that it's best to stay on smooth, paved surfaces. Riding your bike off-road could be much more rough and difficult. Although taking your bike off-road isn't a big deal at all if you have a mountain bike.
Have you ever WONDERed about the history of mountain bikes? Mountains have been around pretty much forever. Bicycles have been around a couple hundred years. Surely mountain bikes have a long history, too?
Actually, mountain bikes are a fairly-new invention. They've only been around since the late 1970s. Rather than being the product of a large bicycle manufacturer's research and development team, the humble mountain bike came into existence through the hard work and trial and error of a group of friends doing what they loved: riding rough dirt tracks down the side of a mountain.
The story of the development of the mountain bike has been told at length in books and movies. We'll take a brief look at the highlights here, so you can appreciate how this unique type of bicycle was created.
In the mid-1970s, a group of friends, including Joe Breeze, Otis Guy, Charlie Kelly, and Gary Fisher, began racing their bikes down the rough dirt paths on Mount Tamalpais, which is located in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. It didn't take them long to notice how hard the trails were on their bikes.
To tackle these tough trails, they began to experiment with different types of bikes. For example, they began to use old, pre-World War II single-speed bikes that had heavy frames and big tires. They called these old bikes "klunkers" and riding them became known as "klunking."
Simultaneously, a bike club near Cupertino, California, called the Morrow Dirt Club, was doing some similar experimentation. For example, a member of that club named Russ Mahon had added 10-speed gears and disc brakes to a klunker-like bike.
The Marin County riders continued to add additional features to their klunkers, including thumb shifters and motocross-style handlebars. Finally, in 1977, Joe Breeze welded the first custom heavy frame intended for downhill racing, thereby successfully producing the first true mountain bike.
Breeze made the bike for his friend Charlie Kelly, who is usually considered the person to coin the term "mountain bike." The specialized frame was made from steel alloy tubing. It was given added strength and stability by two lateral tubes that ran diagonally across the frame.
It did not take long for the mountain bike craze to take off. Within a decade, multiple manufacturers were producing a wide variety of mountain bikes with lighter carbon fiber frames, finely-tuned suspensions, powerful disc brakes, and precision shifters.
Today's mountain bikes look nothing like the klunkers that preceded them, and that's probably a good thing. In 1996, mountain biking debuted as a sport at the Olympic Games in Atlanta. Since that time, the sport has grown in popularity and expanded to include many different types of races and competitions, most of which would be impossible on an old klunker!