My first bike was a custom fat-tire special, built by hand by my grandfather in Seattle. I got it for my third-grade Christmas present. I rode it all over Seattle. It had no decals, no name, and was a bit big for me. It may have been made out of plumbing conduit but I loved it. A gang of us used to ride downtown, a distance of about 8 to 10 miles, and watch movies. I can’t ever remember locking my bike up, there was no need. I also wore no helmet and never thought twice about getting hit by a car. Seattle in the late 1950s was a very different kind of place.
Later I got a Schwinn Sting Ray, red and white. That bike I rode everywhere in Lynnwood, north of Seattle, where our family lived while I went to junior high and high school. Even after getting my driver’s license I can remember riding that bike. Once my Dad caught me riding down a bunch of stairs on it and warned me that I could break an axle doing that. About two weeks later, I broke my front axle.
In high school the Euro bike craze hit the states — skinny tired, 10-speed bikes suddenly were available in the U.S. I got a Schwinn Continental, kind of a crimson, and kept it all through college and afterward. Then, in the mid-70s, I got a Nishiki equipped with Shimano, which was cheap but good stuff, no name value at all, it was all Campagnolo if you wanted brand name. But the Shimano set never wore out and worked fine. By the late 1970s I was getting into long-distance riding, 100 miles, 200 miles, living in northern California and doing triathlons as well. I did the Davis Double, the Terrible Two, all the centuries (Almaden, Sequoia, Mill Valley, Grizzly, Mt. Hamilton, which was my favorite). I did some Jobst off-road rides on my Klein, my first truly pimped-out bike, in the hills above Palo Alto, but never cared much for it.
It was not till 1991 or so that I caught the MTB bug. My wife wanted a bike so I picked up a Trek Mountain Trak 830, fully rigid, heavier than cast iron. I brought it home and took it for a spin around the block. I couldn’t believe it! Within minutes I was hopping curbs, doing little wheelies and having the time of my life. It was like a whole new world of biking, I had ridden into another dimension.
So I got a Specialized Rockhopper with a suspension fork, that tan elastomer thing from Rock Shox, and was on my way. Soon I got a Pro-flex 853, fully suspended with a linkage Girvin fork, what a hoot. I took it up on Grouse Mountain in B.C., this was long before the Northshore became famous, and almost killed myself doing primitive rock ledges and stump drops. Some locals took me with them and, even though I lagged behind, had words of praise afterward. “You did pretty good,” one told me. “The last Yank we rode with went out on a stretcher.”
I don’t have photos of any of these bikes. This was before digital cameras, and you just didn’t carry a Nikon SLR with multiple lenses on a mountain bike ride.
The first bike I have digital photos of is my beloved yellow Trek Y-33, one of the first mass-produced carbon fiber mountain bikes. It had a somewhat goofy design, single pivot with lots o’ bob, but was a real kick in the ass to ride. I rode it all over the West, from Crested Butte to Sedona to Moab to Mount Tam. The photo here is from a week-long hut-to-hut tour from Telluride to Moab in 1996. My reports from that ride were chronicled in The Seattle Times. Can you believe it, we sent dispatches with a cell phone we recharged off a tire generator on one of our bikes! Credit the genius of Mark Eppley, the wild and crazy founder of Laplink, a pioneering peer-to-pier networking company.
The Y-33 eventually got stolen off the back of my van in downtown Portland in mid-day, and I replaced it with one of the original Santa Cruz Hecklers, cherry red and fully tricked. I even got one of the first five-inch single-crown forks, a Marzocchi, having no clue whatsoever about what it would do to the geometry. The Heckler, another single pivot bike (it was succeeded by the Superlight, which carries the same design even today, and after a hiatus of a few years was revived in its current 5-inch configuration), could really brake-jack you into some wicked face plants. I eventually sold it and got a Turner XCE, which remains one of my favorite bikes of all time. Four-inches, light, four-bar with Horst link, wow. It had everything I needed and wanted, at least till the new generation of freeride bikes came on the scene.
I also got a Schwinn Moab hardtail, which was stolen from in front a Seattle bike shop, no less. Oh I forgot to mention, my original Rockhopper I gave to my son-in-law. It as stolen in Vancouver, B.C. I guess you could say I shared the joy!
The Turner was my first bike from the Downhill Zone in Seattle, where I’ve bought a whole gaggle of bikes. I joke with DHZ founder, Darren Brown, that he should give me one of those punchcards like you get at the coffeehouses. You know, buy 9 bikes, get one free!
While living in San Francisco for a time, I picked up a Titus HC ti hardtail from one of the world’s great bike shops, Chris Lane’s Roaring Mouse Cycles. I still ride the Titus more than any bike I own, because it’s now my commuter, around-town bike. I put 10-15 miles a day on that thing and it just goes and goes and goes. I got the Titus after getting a Giant carbon-fiber hardtail that I truly loved but which gave out after about 8 months. The BB couldn’t take all the climbing I did and wound out of the frame. You can’t re-glue it so Giant gave me an NS-1, which I promptly sold brand new, not needing another FS bike.
Then the long-travel craze started to hit, and I got a Ventana El Saltamontes from DHZ because it could go from 3.5 to 5 inches. Eventually I converted it to a full 6 with a Romic shock and long rocker, and thought this is it. This is as much travel as I’ll ever need. But the geometry was all wrong, we were just learning about this stuff. I got a Turner 6-Pack, rode it for a summer, never much liked it, and then gave it back to DHZ on consignment, who sold it for $100 less than I paid (thanks guys!), and ordered me an Intense 6.6 in Pearl. White Flite I call it. I still do a lot of riding on it, anything fast and technical and ragged. Whistler, Northshore and Galbraith Mountain near Bellingham are perfect for the Intense, and I spent a couple of seasons pretty much glued to the thing. DHZ put my Saltamontes on the rack and got me a pretty good price for it.
But in 2007 I found myself longing to get back to high-country, all-day epics, not the sort of thing you do on a 35-lb. thrasher. Goaded by my friend Jim Lyon, who had picked up an Ibis Mojo, I went with carbon fiber again and got a black (nude) large Mojo, tricked it out with a Pace CF fork and gold Marta brakes (Jim’s has red Martas and I didn’t want people to think I was copying him). I really really like the Mojo, so much that my beloved, my trusted, my all-time No. 1 Turner XCE went on the rack.
I guess the cool thing with all my bikes is that, hopefully, they’re all still in circ! Guys are still out there enjoying them, and I’m still adding to my quiver. I’m thinking a 29er next. I’m holding out hope that Ibis is putting together a 29er CF hardtail. We’ll see. For now I’m pretty well set.