San Francisco Airport hosts mountain bike exhibition

John Stevenson John Stevenson

Passing through San Francisco airport on your summer holidays? Give yourself a bit more than the usual queuing and TSA time to check out a new exhibition on the history of the mountain bike, ‘From Repack to Rwanda: The Origins, Evolution, and Global Reach of the Mountain Bike.’

Howie Hammerman, Otis Guy, Chris McManus, and Joe Breeze on top of Kent Rock, Mount Tamalpais, California November,1977 Photo by Wende Crag
Howie Hammerman, Otis Guy, Chris McManus, and Joe Breeze on top of Kent Rock, Mount Tamalpais, California November,1977
Photo by Wende Crag

San Francisco, and in particular the Marin County area north across the Golden Gate Bridge, was the birthplace of the modern mountain bike. Otis Guy, Joe, Breeze, Gary Fisher, Tom Ritchey, Charlie Kelly and a host of others rode and then raced modified beach cruiser bikes – clunkers – on Marin’s trails. Though they say they never intended to change the world, that’s exactly what they did. The fun, practicality and toughness of mountain bikes kicked new life into cycling in the 80s and led to the bike boom we’re seeing today.

Curated by Joe Breeze, the exhibition comprises a series of bikes by Northern California builders that were landmarks in the development of the mountain bike. The display includes one of Breeze’s own bikes, Breezer #6, built for photographer Wende Cragg; Tom Ritchey’s first bike; and less-often-seen machines such as the Nitro dual suspension bike cooked up by Keith Bontrager and Paul Turner for Kestrel in 1988.

A Gary Fisher-modified 1940s Schwinn with front and rear derailleurs on display at From Repack to Rwanda: The Origins, Evolution, and Global Reach of the Mountain Bike at the San Francisco International Airport, International Terminal Main Hall, July 2012 – February 2013 Image: SFO Museum
A Gary Fisher-modified 1940s Schwinn with front and rear derailleurs on display at From Repack to Rwanda: The Origins, Evolution, and Global Reach of the Mountain Bike at the San Francisco International Airport, International Terminal Main Hall, July 2012 – February 2013
Image: SFO Museum

Dual suspension machines with the Nitro in their DNA dominate downhill racing today, but the Marin pioneers raced downhill on fully-rigid machines. The first such race was the Repack of the exhibition’s title. The name comes from the need to repack the coaster brakes of those early bikes with grease after a run boiled it out.

You can also see the bike that likely started the 29er revolution, Wes Williams’ Willits concept bike from 2000, and one of Ritchey’s Project Rwanda Coffee bikes, a bike that demonstrates how the mountain bike’s influence has fed back into the sturdy, practical bikes that still provide vital practical transport all over the world.

Tom Ritchey with passengers on Project Rwanda Coffee Bike c. 2010
Tom Ritchey with passengers on Project Rwanda Coffee Bike c. 2010

San Franciso Airport’s website has a slideshow of eleven on the bikes and an article detailing the background to the show.

From Repack to Rwanda: The Origins, Evolution, and Global Reach of the Mountain Bike is located pre-security in the International Terminal Main Hall Departures Lobby, San Francisco International Airport.  The exhibition is on view to all Airport visitors from July 21, 2012 to February 3, 2013.  There is no charge to view the exhibition.

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