Gary Fisher is a man known by many names; he has been called a legend, pioneer, innovator, and hippie. He is most famously known as the inventor of the mountain bike. It has been 38 years since Gary pieced together his first iteration of what would come to be known as the mountain bike. 2013 also marks his 50th year of racing bicycles. You only have to spend a few minutes talking with Fisher to really get a sense of the passion he has for cycling. An impassioned advocate for the sport, he is working hard to take cycling from its current place on the fringe of sport, transportation, and recreation and inject it directly into the everyday lives of all Americans. He has lofty goals for the future cycling with high school mountain bike racing at the forefront of his focus. From high school mountain biking to the future of urban planning and design, Fisher provides a truly unique and global perspective of what cycling is, and what it can be.
Early last week, Kansas City area cyclists had a unique opportunity to meet Gary Fisher. On Monday, The Trek Store of Independence hosted a special fundraising event for ERTA which included a bike ride and a meet-and-greet event. The day began with an early morning ride from the local bike shop. Temperatures were in the 30s and the roads were still damp from some light rain but that didn’t stop riders from joining Mr. Fisher for a pleasant ride on the roads in Eastern Jackson County. The cyclists chatted Fisher up on various subjects as they rode. He proved to be both approachable and generous with his time and answers.
Fisher spent his afternoon working with various advocacy groups in the area and returned to the Trek Store of Independence for an evening of questions, photo ops, and autographs. Trek provided food and beverages and ERTA collected donations and sold raffle tickets at the door to help raise funds for area trail building efforts. As part of the evening event, Gary participated in a question and answer session. Audience members asked various questions and Gary regaled everyone with his colorful stories from various cycling experiences and discussed his vision for the future of cycling. By the end of the evening the event had raised over 1000 dollars for local trail building and maintenance.
Gary Fisher Q&A:
Q: “There are a few rumors that circle around about you…Are you really going to run for Mayor of San Francisco?”
Fisher: “Well, it’s a lot of work… I’m thinking, I am sorta lazy; I like to go out and ride my bike, have fun, things like that. The politicians, their balance is out of whack. These guys are too in their head and not in their body enough. I would love to be mayor but I gotta change the job, and maybe I can.”
Q: “Do you have multiple inspirations for designing or do you have any single inspiration for designing?”
Fisher: “It’s totally multiple. You know I’ll see stuff and say we can do this, we can do that, we can do this we can do that. And what I’ve learned now is like, man, you’ve got to take your time because you’ve got to develop a whole team around you. It’s three major things you’ve got to have: a great idea, great design, and you’ve got to hype it like crazy. Then you have to actually be able to deliver the product, you know, this takes a team and I realized that a long time ago. It’s like in, when I was in high school; I got straight A’s in two subjects only – metal shop and jewelry – so you’d think I’d be a good frame builder. Well, when I started this business called Mountain Bikes, the first person I hired, well the first person I hired was a bookkeeper. I teamed up with Tom Ritchey; I tried all the frame builders in the area and that guy could deliver and we made 160 bikes the first year and we made 1000 bikes in 1980; a thousand! You know, and it’s like Specialized said, ‘We made 500 bikes in 1983; we are the first mass merchandisers,’ and I think they are full of hype. I don’t think it is quite correct. So it’s like, you know, I’ve got some work to do. I’ve got to write a book. Right now I am in the process of doing that and telling my side of the story and everything ‘cause those guys are in the Smithsonian. My grandfather’s script for Midsummer’s Night Dream with Mickey Rooney from 1936 is in the Smithsonian too. I’ve got to meet up with my grandfather. I’ve got family, they are all-Americans and I’ve got to meet up with them. I am not there yet; I am not there yet and I’ve got work to do.”
Q: “What do you see in mountain biking in the next 10-15 years as far as innovation and growth?”
Fisher: “Awe man! Ok, good question. The technology side, you will see more electronics, things like that. Technology is racing faster and faster and faster and faster. Ok fine, but that is not going to be the big story. The big story is always high school mountain bike racing. There are 176,000 high schools in the United States. I want to get 20% of it by 2020 riding mountain bikes and that will be the biggest influx of bike riders in the last 100 years in the United States. These kids are our future, we all know it. Mountain biking is a safer sport, because we have the insurance actuaries, those are the guys with the real facts, actually telling us that mountain biking is a safer sport than any field sport for a high school kid. Cross country mountain biking, let’s qualify that! You also got the fact that the school doesn’t have to own and maintain the field and you also got the fact that mountain biking attracts different athletes. Nobody sits on the bench, they have all got a ride, all the points count to the schools’ totals, and there’s a lot of parity between boys and girls. There are a number of these teams that have equal numbers of boys and girls. We need more girls in sport, period. I see the high school thing, man that is the big game changer in this country.”
Q: “Ten years from now, what are 80-90% of frames made out of?”
Fisher: “That’s an easy one; it is going to be the carbon stuff. Because the economies of scale, as you do the bigger numbers, the price comes down. We say carbon fiber but that means all kinds of weird-ass substances and everything. Here’s the thing, we get help from the military here in the United States for the made in the US frames and they like working with us because it’s like, you know, we’re there pushing the envelope. You look at the military it has gotten a lot of stuff from the sports industry in the last 15 years or so and they’re in bed with us, they love us and everything and the biggest thing we have to watch out is our leaks to foreign countries, big issue at this moment. But I think the material is going to be the carbon and stuff and the price will come down and flow over to other things. You know we thought for a while that titanium was going to be the material. But as you buy more the price doesn’t come down and then the way it rides, you can’t tune it like you can carbon, that’s the thing. The carbon product rides better and everything. You know I love craftsmanship and I love the jewelry that the steel frame makers are doing. That’s not our gig; we’re into rocket science, that’s Trek, rocket science and were going to reinvent things and make it better and everything. That’s our gig, that’s where we’re going.”
Q: “I was wondering if you could tell us of the funniest wreck you ever had where you got up laughing.”
Fisher: “Man, which one? I think one of my funnest was I was driving my BMW, It was a 1600. It was a lower-grade version of the 2002 back in the 70s and I had this car for about 5 years and I finally got everything running perfect. I was driving through Oakland, California and I got t-boned by this guy in the intersection…I knew it was the end of that car and the car had a big dent in it like this, and I had a bloody nose from the car’s driver’s side breaking on my nose. I laughed all the way back to Marin and said this car is toast and I got rid of it. I never bought a car again! That was funny.”
“I have fallen off my bike a few times too! The funniest time there was for the development of the Genesis geometry. It was a 100 mile, off-road, single-track, illegal ride in Marin County called the Tour de Luck Marin. My old friend Gravy, Steve G., his dad was in the Electric Flag and all these bands, and was like a blues player and everything. Steve was like a mechanic, a mechanic for Campagnolo, a mechanic for Cannondale, mechanic for Schwinn, a mechanic for a whole bunch of people, ace mechanic. He put on this event. I’m out there riding this event and I go over the handle bars three times and the last time I did it, I broke my wrist. I rode in, it was out in the middle of nowhere Point Reyes and everything, and I rode back to the headquarters and I am waiting for a friend of mine to show up in a pickup truck to take me out to Marin General Hospital and there are all these guys running around, running around. I’m, ‘What’s going on here?’ all the rangers running around and everything. So we get out of there and later I get a call from the rangers, ‘We heard you were hurt and we sent a helicopter out to pick you up, you’re going to pay for this.’ And I said listen, ‘I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t take it, I am not going to pay for it.’ boom, end of it. That was ok.
“Then I developed Genesis geometry out of that because I said the geometry we had been using, that I developed in the 80s, was wrong because I knew we had put so little attention into the whole thing. Then I went out and said, we are a real bike company, we’re going to go out and research this the way we should, we are going to make every permutation you can ever imagine and go out and ride it, do our due diligence. And we did, we came up with Genesis…There are circuses like this in life that change your brain, change your mind, change your attitude and something happens maybe, and that happened and it was good. Because you know the company, man, we made bank off of that whole Genesis geometry thing. Because it didn’t cost anything for us to change geometry but everybody bought it; and they bought it because it actually worked.”
Q: What about drugs in cycling?
Fisher: “The rumor that we financed our company with drug sales, or selling to drug dealers, is untrue. You know in the early days we knew some drug dealers and all that, of course. One time we had some guys from Mendocino come down and pay for a bike with a big bag of pot. Alright, the first mountain bike race done by the Larkspur Canyon gang well, that was an ounce of pot that we won.”
Photo Credit: David Eaton