Few people can claim to be as inextricably linked with the birth of mountain biking as Gary Fisher. His company MountainBikes produced what were arguably the very first production mountain bikes, before he went on to found Gary Fisher Bikes, which he later sold to Trek. Though Trek has stopped producing bikes under the Fisher name, they have retained him as an advocate and expert, a wise move given the depth of his knowledge.
Long before he and others began riding klunkerz around Marin County, Fisher was a dedicated roadie, entering his first road race as a 12-year-old junior in 1963. Fisher was fast enough to earn podium finishes at the Red Zinger Classic, Tour of Nevada City, as well as the Cyclocross National Championships. Perhaps more impressive is that Fisher set the record of 4:22:14 at the Repack downhill without the aid of suspension or big wheels. His record still stands.
While Fisher’s current public image is that of a flamboyant bon vivant, that obscures his real identity. He’s a man with an immense intellect and a restless curiosity. It’s easy to forget just how many mountain bike innovations can be credited to him. From 29-inch wheels to oversize headsets, full suspension to long front-centers with short stems, much of what makes mountain biking as enjoyable as it is can be credited to insights he uncovered while out on the trail. In the entirety of my career I’ve not met anyone whose day-to-day role was more removed from product management with as complete a grasp of such minutiae as frame geometry and tubing dimensions. He’s as much a bike geek now as he ever was.
The advantages presented by 29-inch wheels, long front-centers with short stems, oversize headsets and full suspension are established at this point. Rather than rehash the self-obvious why of such innovations, I was interested to discuss with Fisher the nature of innovation, the how of getting to that epiphany.
To learn more about Gary Fisher visit his page at the Marin Museum of Bicycling.