Mountain bike origins, pioneers featured in Saturday film festival at Horizon casino
No one is sure of the exact date, but it was some time in the late 1960s when Marc Vendetti and a group of friends who dubbed themselves The Larkspur Canyon Gang began riding old clunker newsboy bicycles down the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County. Little did they know that they had just invented the California version of the mountain bike.
The overall origin of the mountain bike is still hotly debated — but everyone agrees that the group of youngsters in Marin were among the first to take the sport of cycling off road, and develop the equipment that was the precursor of the mountain bike of today.
“Basically we’ve got this mountain in our back yard, and one day it occurred to us that we could double our riding territory,” said Joe Breeze, considered one of the sport’s true inventors and pioneers. “We were all dedicated road racers, and this was something exciting and new.”
Breeze, Vendetti and other mountain bike pioneers such as Charlie Kelly, Wende Cragg, Gary Fisher, Alan Bonds and Tom Ritchey are all subjects of the documentary film “Klunkerz,” which will be the featured attraction at the Lake Tahoe Bicycle Film Festival on Saturday, Sept. 8 at the Horizon Resort Casino.
The LTBFF, which festival producer Ty Polastri hopes to make an annual event, will be held from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., and also features the films “Joy Ride” (an animated short about the spirit of the ride); “SingleTrack Minds” (mountain biking in Marin’s Mount Tamalpais and the issues of trail use); “The Tour Baby” (behind-the-scenes look at the Tour de France), and one film that has yet to be announced.
“Klunkerz” was created by first-time filmmaker Billy Savage, a Marin native who is a cyclist himself. The film was shot of 19 months in and around Marin County, and was completed in no small part due to Savage’s talents as a diplomat — some of the main characters are no longer speaking with each other.
“It was an incredible experience getting to know these amazing athletes,” Savage said. “These pioneers were motivated purely by their love of cycling and the environment. They taught me a lot.”
The first mountain bikers salvaged their heavyweight bikes from anywhere they could — engaging in recycling before it became popular.
“They got the parts from trash cans, dumpsters, junkyards,” Savage said. “They gave these bikes a new life, not unlike what kids are doing in the cities with fixed-gear, lightweight bikes from the ’60s and ’70s today.”
Alan Bonds is a Texas native who moved to Marin in 1972.
“When everyone else was riding one-speeds with coaster breaks and original tires, we were using tandem drum breaks, multiple rear cogs and fat tires,” Bonds said. “In addition to being a rugged bike, it rode comfortably and looked really cool.”
Bonds will attend the film festival and will bring one of the original 1970s mountain bikes for display.
Many of the early Marin County mountain bikers went on to create their own companies — Fisher with Fisher Mountain Bikes, Ritchie with Richie Logic, Charlie Cunningham (Wilderness Trail Bikes), Breeze (Breezer Bikes), Otis Guy (Otis Guy Cycles) and others. Some went on to become millionaires.
Breeze still lives in Fairfax, and his son, Tommy, 13, is heavily into biking.
“He rides to school every day, two miles, which he has done since the third grade,” Breeze said. “He loves it. Of course he loves baseball too.”
Polatsri, director of the Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition, knows the story well.
“Basically these are a bunch of guys who took old Schwinns and started riding down hill as kids,” Polastri said. “It’s quite a cast of characters; a very interesting story.”
Polastri himself is a longtime Tahoe resident who has been a tireless — sorry, make that hard-working — advocate for cycling.
“The film festival is an extension of everything else we’ve been doing with the Bicycle Coalition,” he said. “A lot of the stuff we do is meat-and-potatoes advocate stuff. So the film festival represents something fun. It’s a way to celebrate cycling and the spirit that makes us ride.”
Polastri hopes to build the event so that there are a wider selection of films next year, with awards and more personal appearances by the filmmakers.
“Organizing these types of things is my background, so it came naturally,” he said. “I think it’s going to be fun.”