May 20, 1995 in Sports

Bicycle Evolves Into Marvel Of Engineering Most Of That Effort Of Late Has Gone Into Refining The Mountain Bike

Kevin Blocker Staff Writer
 
Tags:History

The first patent for a machine that resembled a bicycle was held by Frenchman Jean Theson, who on Feb. 4, 1645, was given the right to “put into use a small body on four wheels driven without horses but by two seated men.”

Jean would be astonished by what his idea has evolved into in the three-and-a-half centuries since his patent.

If you plan on attending the Jeep/NORBA 1995 Championship Series at Mount Spokane this weekend, it will be hard to miss the various mountain bike manufacturers who have set up temporary domiciles at the starting line where the cross country races are being held.

Maybe just as astounding as the physical condition of most of the cyclists is the physical condition of the mountain bikes they ride.

Credit for the creation of the mountain bike is given to Gary Fisher, who in the mid-1970s threw together various parts of old Schwinn bicycles before rambling down Mount Tamalapais just across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Fisher probably had no idea he would soon alter the face of the bicycling industry.

“Ninety percent of all bicycles purchased in America today are of the mountain bike design,” Chris Cameron said. He is the director of Northwest sales and marketing for “Mountain Bike,” the most-read mountain bike magazine in the U.S.

“The development of these bikes has just taken off. At first they were seen as something for the alternative recreationalist before the mainstream public flocked to them,” Cameron said.

On May 31, 1868, the first recorded bicycle race was won in the Parc de Saint-Cloud by James Moore, an Englishman, who also won the first road race (Paris to Rouen) in November 1869. Reportedly, he rode a 160-pound machine with solid rubber tires and ball bearings.

Today, that 160-pound machine has been scaled down to a mere 24-pound tool that seems to have more independent parts and gadgets than a bottom-of-theline automobile.

Cameron, who is based out of San Francisco, said that “space-age technology” is being incorporated in today’s bikes.

“There are former aerospace engineers, who have been laid off by defense companies in California, who have now gone to work for mountain bike corporations and have literally transferred what they know into a bike.”

For 1995, the Trek company removed close to 2 pounds of its 8700SHX bike. That was accomplished when the company used a form of carbon material that is being used in the frames of modern jet fighters.

Airalloy seamless butted aluminum handlebars, hydraulic disc brakes and titanium cranks and bottom brackets are all products of the increased sophistication going into mountain bikes.

“At least in this arena, it’s almost a renaissance of Yankee ingenuity,” Cameron said. “For years, the Europeans had the most sophisticated tour and road bikes, but with the mountain bike being born here, they are now playing catch-up.”

Chris Shotwell, a team technician with the company Rock Shox of San Jose, Calif., said the company has just recently designed a bike like none other.

“The path of the rear wheel of the bike is set in a linear trajectory. Basically, when you hit a bump, the rear-wheel setting forces the bike to accelerate instead of decelerating.”

However, not everyone involved in the construction of bikes and their numerous accessories sports a doctorate in math from MIT. The mountain bike has sprouted a new generation of young entrepreneurs who have made practical applications to bikes.

Tyson Mrosek is a 19-year-old dual slalom qualifier, who also works for Bullett Bros. of Big Bear, Calif. Mrosek is the designer of the “Tyson System.”

His little creation encloses the chain around a single front ring of the bike keeping the chain from falling off. The device was created a year ago.

“It’s really simple. I’m surprised that no one else thought about it before,” Mrosek said.

That combined with a hypertension chain system on the rear gears, landed Bullett Bros. some big bucks. In the World Championships last year, more than half the riders were outfitted with those products.

Jean Theson would probably be proud of where his invention has gone.


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