29 October 2014

Rough Stuff From The Brothers

Back when mountain bikes were new--well, they weren't.  Not really.

When Gary Fisher, or whoever, broke his twentieth or thirtieth balloon-tire bomber frame while barreling down the fire trails of Marin County and decided to fashion a lighter, stronger frame with the same geometry--and provisions for multiple gears, dearailleurs and cantilever brakes--it wasn't a radical new idea.

That's not to say that it wasn't important, which would be like saying that Levi Strauss has had no effect on the way people dress.  At the time Gary Fisher, Keith Bontrager and those mountain-bike pioneers were introducing their rigs, almost no other Americans--or, for that matter, people in other parts of the cycling world--had seen a bike made for the rigors of trail riding.

The idea of such a bike has been around since the dawn of cycling itself.  It makes sense, when you think about it:  When the first vehicles we recognize as bicycles appeared about 130 or 140 years ago, there were few paved roads.  Riding even those could shake one's bones even more than the "boneshakers" of that time.  Bikes at that time had to withstand being ridden over ruts, rocks and sometimes roots.

Some might argue that the velos a ballon one still finds in the French countryside are forerunners of today's velos a tout terrain. Other possible ancestors of today's mountain bikes could also include any number of wide-tired bikes used for transportation and even recreation in various parts of the world.

In England, there was a genre called the "Rough Stuff" bike.  Jack Taylor Cycles, most renowned for their tandems, actually used the catchy phrase as the name for  one model  of single-rider bikes they made. 

Rough Stuff

Isn't it funny how so many ideas that seemed so radical in the 1980's are present on a bike designed three decades earlier?  I'm talking about the sloping top tube, high bottom bracket and small (compared to a typical road bike) diameter wheels.  Also, this bike has the Mafac cantilever brakes and Specialites TA ProVis 5 (a.k.a. Cyclotouriste) cranks. 

Jack Taylor, Rough Stuff
Before the tries and cables were replaced.

The bike was first produced from drawings submitted by a nature photographer.  In the early 1950's, photography equipment was much bigger, bulkier and heavier than it is now.  The built-in rear rack, like the whole bike, is built to withstand the rigors of carrying such a load in the wild.

Here is a BBC documentary about Jack--and his brothers/fellow builders Ken and Norman--that aired in 1986:



  1. I'd suggest that cyclocross bikes were the real ancestors of the mountain bike. According to Wikipedia, their first French championship was held in 1902. In 1910, Octave Lapize attributed his TDF win to his cyclocross training. THAT led to the Belgians muscling in. Perhaps that Belgian cyclocross sing is what created the cycling climate that made Eddy Merckx one of the greatest in history. Well, maybe!

  2. Steve, I wouldn't disagree with you. I've often wondered how popular mountain biking would have become had there been anything like a cyclo-cross scene in North America during the 1970's, when Gary Fisher and those guys were bombing down the Tamalpais trail. To the extent there was a cyclo-cross scene, it existed almost entirely in New England and was all but unknown in California.

  3. There is a matching yellow Jack Taylor trailer for this bike. I remember seeing it when the entire rig --- bike and trailer --- were being sold by Derby King. I believe I have photos of it somewhere. Years later the whole kit was for sale on Craigslist in Detroit, along with a blue JT tandem if I recall correctly.

  4. Pete--Wow! I would have loved to see that trailer with the bike. I'm amaxed that it ended up on Detroit Craigslist--with a Jack Taylor tandem.

    Any chance you would have any photos?