Category Archives: History

Kat Sweet: Building the Sisterhood of Shred

KatSweet_mountainbikes
Kat Sweet at the I5 Colonnade mountain bike park in Seattle. Photo by Meg Valliant.

Though mountain biking has been a male-dominated sport from the get go, there have always been a small contingent of women along for the ride. Jacquie Phelan, Juli Furtado, Rebecca Rusch, Marla Streb and many others all played pioneering roles in mountain biking’s development. Like them, Kat Sweet‘s mountain bike career has helped break down barriers for women and clear a path for today’s riders, especially in downhill where she was one of just a handful of women racing in those early days.

Sweet’s bike life has spanned nearly three decades of professional racing, freeride competitions, contest promotion, and coaching. These days her focus is on the latter two with her Sugar Showdown contest series for women freeriders and her Sweetlines Coaching business. Specializing in freeride coaching for women and kids, Sweet is working to foster the next generation of mountain biker rippers and grow the “sisterhood of shred.” I spoke with her about her long history in mountain biking, her unexpected foray into coaching, breaking down barriers to entry as a mentor for women riders, and much more.

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The Tour du St-Laurent Cycliste

60 Cycles by Jean-Claude Labrecque, National Film Board of Canada

The Tour du St. Laurent was an amateur stage race in Quebec held 12 times between 1954 and 1965. The race varied in length over the years, but essentially followed the Saint Laurence River from Quebec to Montreal and back. Filmmaker Jean-Claude Labrecque made this short film about the 1964 edition of the race. It has an interesting 60s surf-film feel to it with ambient sounds from the race, an electric guitar soundtrack, and almost no talking. If you’d like to learn more,  the Cycleops blog has an in-depth history of the race.

The Death of Tom Simpson

Tom Simpson is a British cycling legend. He was the first Brit to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, first to win the World Championship rode race, and won several Spring Classics and Vuelta a España stages. He died in 1967 on the 13th stage of the Tour de France, while climbing the Mont Ventoux. A potent combination of amphetamines and alcohol in his system allowed him to literally ride himself to death.

In 2010, BBC produced an hour long documentary about Simpson called Death on the Mountain. It not only looks at the fateful 1967 tour, but Simpson’s escape from poverty through cycling, his rise to fame, and the circumstances that lead to his unfortunate death. The program is filled with interviews with Simpson’s teammates and competitors and excellent footage of professional races from that era.

Graeme Obree’s Landspeed Record

Graeme Obree likely needs no introduction among cyclists who’ve been involved in the sport for any length of time. The Scotsman is famous for his world hour records and the unorthodox “superman” position he used on his custom built track bike, Old Faithful. Nearly two decades after beating the UCI hour record, Obree is chasing a new world record, the human powered vehicle land speed record. Given that the only rule for the HPV record is that the vehicle must not have an engine, Obree is free to play to his creative strengths and build any wild bike he can dream up.

Humans Invent–a British website focused on inventions, design, and innovation–produced a series of video interviews with Obree as he built his bike and prepares for the speed record. They’re well done and provide terrific insight into Obree’s unique way of thinking about bikes, design, passion, and more.

Return of the Flying Scotsman: inside the mind of Graeme Obree from Humans Invent on Vimeo.

Graeme Obree: Hand-building the fastest bicycle in the world from Humans Invent on Vimeo.

The Mysterious Nelson Vails Documentary

Nelson Vails was the first African American cyclist to medal in the Olympics, making history when he won the Silver in the 1984 track sprint. Before his professional cycling career, he made his living as a bike messenger in New York, which earned him a role in the famed Kevin Bacon messenger movie Quicksilver. In short, he’s an awesome figure in cycling history. He’s also one of the featured athletes in a forthcoming documentary on African American cyclists called RIDE: In Living Color. Click here to read the recent interview with RIDE’s director Yolanda Davis-Overstreet.

A few weeks ago, a teaser for a Nelson Vails documentary was posted on youtube by user stephgauger1. It’s made the rounds on cycling blogs, but nobody seems to know who’s behind its production or anything about the film beyond the stated “2013″ release date. In this day and age, a movie trailer without any accompanying information pretty much constitutes a mystery. But, a little Internet sleuthing reveals that stephgauger1 is Stephane Gauger. He is one of the two filmmakers involved in Cruzin’, about a ride former professional cyclist Tony Cruz did down the length of Vietnam.

I contacted Cruzin’s production company, One World Media Group for a little information on the Nelson Vails film. Cruizin‘s director Scott Nguyen responded. He said: “As of right now we’re still in the development phase for the documentary film. It basically outlines Nelson Vails life story, his trials and tribulations, etc. We are set to shoot the film in NYC this December for an April, 2013 release.”