Mountain bike guru rides Siouxland trails
Gary Fisher, right, leads a group of mountain bike enthusiasts Friday morning at Stone State Park. Fisher, credited with inventing the mountain bike and the sport of mountain biking, was in Sioux City Friday to appear at the new Scheels All Sports. (Staff photo by Jerry Mennenga)

Gary Fisher, the inventor of the mountain bike, rode the Loess Hills at Stone State Park on Friday, giving the area his stamp of approval.

"I like to come out and visit the front lines," he said. "That is to say: How are people riding in different places? You learn something everywhere you go. While this might not be considered the mountain biking capital of the world, people ride mountain bikes nonetheless."

Fisher was in Sioux City on Friday as part of an appearance at the new Scheels All Sports at the Southern Hills Mall with an autograph session in the evening. But in the morning and early afternoon, Fisher rode with other gear heads.

After the first run of the trails with a group of riders, Fisher said he particularly like a descent near Mt. Lucia that had bermed side walls.

"You could just go into a corner and not touch the brakes and fly around it," he said as he laughed with wide smile accentuated by a tuft of hair below his lower lip called a soul patch. "I certify this as excellent."

Many of his bikes were on hand and available for a test ride on the hilly trails of the park. Some of the bikes had revolutionary new larger 29-inch wheels instead of the standard 26-inch models on most mountain bikes. The larger tires offer a longer tire contact patch for better traction. They also decrease the angle of attack, making it roll over obstacles faster, smoother and easier. Big wheels make for smaller obstacles, according to Fisher.

At age 52, Fisher lives in the San Francisco Bay area. He continues to race and travel to take in the sport he is credited with inventing. The sport of mountain biking began as what Fisher called "Klunking." In 1974, he grafted together a mixture of road bike and motorcycle parts onto a Schwinn bicycle frame. He called the new mountain bike "The Klunker."

The new bike design featured an unprecedented wide gear range and heavy-duty braking that was specifically designed to ride up mountains as well as down. In 1979, Fisher and a partner refined "The Klunker" and started selling it under the company name Mountain Bikes. The Mountain Bikes company evolved into the Gary Fisher line of bikes sold today.

As inventor, world-class racer and businessman, Fisher is the man whose name defines the sport of mountain biking. He was inducted into the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame in 1988, dubbed the "father of mountain biking" by Smithsonian Magazine in 1994 and was recognized by Popular Mechanics magazine in 2000 as an innovator in sports.

Fisher just returned from Holland where he was doing some mountain bike racing.

"You don't need much elevation change to have a great course," Fisher said.

He explained there is a thriving mountain bike race course in Florida, where there is only a 25-foot elevation change. However, the mountain bikers got together and built trails. Much like golf course designers, mountain bike race course designers are coming up with challenging places to ride. Another hotbed of trail building is the Vancouver, British Columbia, area in Canada.

In some areas, such as Stone State Park, trails are shared by hikers, horse riders and bikers, but Fisher said the future of mountain biking is trails made especially for the sport to make it more demanding.

One area Fisher also enjoys is riding cattle trails in Mexico. As the herds are moved, they make several individual trails that form a main trail complex.

"When you ride with your other riders, you are continually passing each other on these different trails," Fisher said.

Being surrounded by a small group of bike riders throughout the day in Sioux City brought a smile to Fisher's face. Although he produces the equipment for the sport, he said he enjoys traveling and meeting people who share his passion for the sport.

"Showing up on a bike is one of those things where you show up in a neutral manner," he said. "It's a great way to meet people."

Fisher said he can't bring himself to go to a health club to exercise, but really enjoys riding a bicycle out in nature.

"With the bike, it's so much fun to get your exercise," Fisher said. "I think the future of exercise is working it in to what you do daily and the fun factor. Bikes are being used more and more for serious transportation."

Sam Johnson, 16, of Sioux City got out of school Friday to ride with the man he described as a "cool guy." He does some racing and plans to participate in the Iowa Games this summer.

After they hit the trails together, Fisher complimented Johnson's riding by saying, "He's one fit kid."

Gary Miller, 57, of Rifle, Colo., was in the area for a graduation of a nephew who lives in Montrose, S.D. He almost always brings his Gary Fisher mountain bike while on trips. Once he learned Fisher was going to be in the area, Miller made the drive to Sioux City.

At 57 years old, Miller said he is more fit than when he was 30 years old. While he enjoys riding with younger people who often can't catch up, he said he wished more people his age would take their conditioning more seriously.

"I don't think a lot of the older guys realize the fitness benefits," he said.

Tim Hansen of Sioux City took some time off work Friday to meet Fisher. He sprained an ankle in the morning, so he didn't ride. He said for bikers, having Fisher in Sioux City would be like a NASCAR fan being able to meet Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"If you're a mountain biker and Gary Fisher shows up -- that's kind of cool," Hansen said.

Mike Koehler may be reached at (712) 293-4219 or mikekoehler@siouxcityjournal.com

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