Marin Blog · Marin Arts and Culture Collection

Marin County’s History of Mountain Biking

Posted in Blogging Marin on Monday, October 25, 2021 by MCVB Staff

By Megan Eileen McDonough


Did you know that Marin County is the birthplace of mountain biking? It was right here in Marin that some of the first-ever mountain bikes (aka "klunkers") raced down Repack Road. It's all thanks to a group of Marin teenagers who decided to ride vintage bikes on Mount Tamalpais. More on that later.

If you’re an avid biker, make sure to visit the Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame located in Fairfax. Here you'll get a crash course on biking, as exhibits are arranged in chronological order. The space spans 3,000 square feet, with display bikes from 1868 to the present day. Also on display is the very bike that won the 2014 Tour de France. While the museum heavily focuses on mountain biking, there's plenty of bicycle technology thrown into the mix that will appeal to any type of rider.

We’ve rounded up five fun facts you never knew about biking history.

1. The 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps Gets Creative

Before the 19th century, most roads weren't paved, which proved challenging for bikers. That didn't stop a regiment of riders called the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps, though! In August 1896, the group (comprising black enlisted men and a white lieutenant) made the round-trip journey from Missoula, Montana, to Yellowstone National Park on bike. Why exactly did they go through all that trouble? Well, after the riders put together customized bikes suitable for rough terrain, they had to test whether they worked or not. That, and also for military research purposes. The next year, they rode from Missoula all the way to St Louis.

2. Introducing the ‘Woodsie’ Bike

When it comes to off-road riding, a man named John Finley Scott is among the most well-known biking enthusiasts. Hailing from the United States, he put together the “Woodsie” bike in 1953 when he was just a sophomore in college. The first version of his Woodsie bike was built using a Schwinn Varsity frame and featured balloon tires, derailleur gears, and flat handlebars. When it came time for the second version a few years later in 1960, it featured a custom-built Jeff Butter frame plus side pull brakes, drop handlebars, and 650B rims and tires.

3. The Larkspur Canyon Gang Goes Vintage

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a group of Marin teens called the Larkspur Canyon Gang decided to go on an extreme adventure. They grabbed a couple of 1930s vintage-style single-speed balloon-tire bikes and headed straight for Mount Tamalpais. If you’re familiar with the mountainous terrain, you know biking here is no easy feat. The group also rode through Baltimore Canyon in Larkspur. Not only did they become local legends, but the group’s mountain biking trip also gained popularity far beyond their social circle. Even today, their exploits are remembered and revered.

4. The Cupertino Riders Tackle the South Bay Hills

While the Larkspur Canyon Gang sure made headlines, there's another group of cyclists from the 1970s worth mentioning. They called themselves the Cupertino Riders (also known as the Morrow Dirt Club) and they lived about 75 miles south of Marin. Since hilly terrain made their daily commutes difficult, the group went about modifying their bikes to get up and down the hills faster. They grafted thumb-shift-operated derailleurs and motorcycle-lever-operated drum brakes onto their klunkers. During a cyclocross race in 1974, their technology got major attention.

5. Repack Races Became the Thing to Do

These off-road riders eventually organized a series of downhill races. They called it Repack because the riders literally had to repack their coaster brakes with grease post-race. The grease helped vaporize the heat that comes along with extreme braking along a steep descent. New technologies were introduced shortly thereafter, like coaster brakes and inch-pitch drive trains, both of which enabled lightweight components. Soon enough, the races (and innovations) became more and more impressive, with everyone taking notice, including the media.

For all you need to plan your Marin County vacation, visit the Marin Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website or Facebook page.