Category Archives: History

The World’s First Mountain Bike Film (Probably)

Canadian filmmaker Wolf Ruck made Freewheelin’ in 1985. The short film highlights early mountain bike footage set to a decidedly-80s soundtrack. According to Brian Vernor (read The Bicycle Story’s 2011 interview with him), it is likely the first purpose-made mountain bike film in history. Vernor writes:

“In early 2010 I showed this film to multiple cycling media outlets in an effort to re-release the film, or even do an in depth profile on the man that as far as I know has made the first mountain bike film. the FIRST. This is a film. It is not a bunch of scrappy footage. Wolf Ruck made something beautiful and important, and then he moved on and made other films about other subjects. He was very humble when I approached him about his film FREEWHEELIN. He was even surprised anybody cared. What a shock to see this film for me. Besides the historical importance, the great vibe he transmits from the scene as it was back then, jamming soundtrack he co-ordinated, Wolf Ruck can likely be credited with the first urban POV shot in all of cycling. Plenty of people have made names for themselves simply from that shot alone. As a filmmaker this whole film inspires me.”

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.