Monday, May 19, 2008

A Fisher of Bikes

Posted By on Mon, May 19, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Just had coffee with mountain bike legends Gary Fisher, Charlie Kelly and filmmaker Billy Savage. They're in town to promote Klunkerz, the film about the original mountain bike pioneers.

To sit with these guys is to (a) reminisce, broadly and then with great precision, about the inception of the mountain bike and (b) wish you had been there.

Gary Fisher at Flying M - SHEA ANDERSEN

"Gary and I hadn't had any reason to hang out together in 10 years," said Kelly, who still has bike grease under his fingernails.

"We have a lot of fun, man," said Fisher.

Over the course of the morning the two of them compared notes about just who really invented the mountain bike (a matter of some debate that may never be resolved), the nature of competition in the bike world (want a soliloquy on bike commerce? Just get Fisher started on Specialized and its founder Mike Sinyard) and the wild unstructured culture of bike lovers.

Charlie Kelly - SHEA ANDERSEN

Savage said he wanted to make a movie that, he said, wouldn't be just another "bike porn" flick that shows the year's latest, raging bike jumps or maneuvers.

"This is going to be a one-time thing," Savage said. "It'll have a life."

The movie is set to show tonight at The Flicks at 7 p.m. Fisher, Kelly and Savage will be on hand to take a few questions after the show.

If the film looks sort of home-movie-ish, Savage said, that's by design. He didn't want it to look too slick. Nor, he said, will it include some of the, ah, earthier reminiscences from the various bike folks.

"I couldn't make it too edgy," Savage said. "It would alienate some of the younger kids, or their parents."

He started in 2004 by approaching Fisher and other legends.

"Billy Savage was about the fifth or sixth guy who came along who wanted to make this flick," Fisher said. "I said, 'Here's another hippie.'"

So he gave Savage a long list of names, people who ought to be dug up and contacted about the birth of mountain biking. Fisher didn't expect to see it go much further. To his delight, Savage hunted up many of the old names, and strung together a narrative about the sport's origins in Northern California, especially Mt. Tamalpais, where Fisher and others started racing converted old bikes down a makeshift dirt course.

But getting people to talk about bikes, especially these people, was easy. Getting them together, though, wasn't so easy.

First, many of the folks who were there at the beginning, no longer see completely eye to eye on the bike world. Fisher and Sinyard, both sitting atop different bike empires, still quibble about business tactics and strategies. Likewise, as much as he might admire frame builder Tom Ritchey, Fisher nonetheless describes the mustachioed bike builder as "a weird bird" who got his start in the bike biz by doing "lots of whack, crazy things to his road bike."

And there are quibbles about just who did what to get mountain biking off the ground. Sure, Fisher and Kelly say, others may have put gears on old klunker or cruiser-type bikes and taken them into the mountains. But what then?

"I hear people say, 'Hey, I invented mountain biking too,'" Kelly said. "You know what I say? 'How come I never heard of you?'"

Both he and Fisher have a good laugh over this sort of thing.

"To me, it's not the nuts and bolts that were important," Fisher said. "There are details that I absolutely think are incorrect. But the overall thing is right."

Overall, Kelly and Fisher seem to be enjoying this extended class reunion, where various aging bike nuts, many of whom were together in California for the emerging mountain bike culture, are finding each other once again.

"We were the real thing," Kelly said.

And then it was time to go. They had a ride scheduled for this afternoon before the movie.

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