New England is a stronghold of American custom frame builders. Portland, OR may have more of them, but New Englanders have been at it longer. The U.S. custom frame building business traces its roots to the 1970s when Richard Sachs, Peter Weigle, and Ben Serotta learned the craft at Whitcomb Cycles in London. Of course, companies such as Schwinn and Huffy had been manufacturing bicycles in the U.S. for decades, but Sachs, Weigle and Serotta were among the first to bring the tailor-made style of bicycle building to the States. When they returned to New England in 1972, Weigle and Sachs started the short-lived Whitcomb USA. Serotta started Serotta Cycles. The three laid the foundation for many generations of builders to come in the region.
Flash forward to the late 80s, Fat City Cycles was in full swing and a young Mike Flanigan rolled into Boston from Texas and talked his way into a job in the paint department. Over his five years there he became a master painter and found the time to teach himself TIG welding. When Fat City was sold in the mid-90s, Flanigan and a few other Fat City refugees started Independent Fabrication. In the early 2000s, dissatisfied with the direction of his company, he left and launched his one-man, city and cargo bike-focused shop, Alternative Needs Transportation (ANT). Between Fat City, Independent Fabrication, and ANT, Flanigan has played an important role in shaping the modern frame building landscape. He also played a part in bringing city bikes to the American mainstream. I spoke to Flanigan about his deep history in the frame building world, Fat City’s major influence, the value and significant of custom bikes, and his recent closure of ANT bikes.
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 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.
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.
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.