Airport Exhibit Celebrates History of Mountain Biking

by  Blane Bachelor | Nov 29, 2012
Mountain biking
Mountain biking / Dolomites-image/iStock

For mountain biking enthusiasts as well as history buffs passing through San Francisco International Airport in the next few months, an exhibit called From Repack to Rwanda is an excellent reason to arrive at the airport a few minutes early.

It offers a fascinating look at the history of mountain biking, which traces its roots to a group of daredevil riders who started bombing down hills and mountains in the Bay Area during the early 1970s on modified bikes they called “clunkers.”

Included in the exhibit is a display of mountain bikes that chronicles the influence of those riders, as well as the development of the sport over the decades, from the early versions to the super-sleek models of today.

Located in the international terminalof the airport, the exhibit was curated by Joe Breeze, widely recognized as a key pioneer of the sport (with a name like that, how could he not be?). During a ride sometime around 1975, Breeze remarked to fellow rider Otis Guy, “This sure is a lot of fun, but who else would want to do it?”

The first part of the exhibition’s title refers to the earliest organized downhill off-road bicycle races that took place in Fairfax, Calif., from 1976 to 1979. (Repack refers to the need to repack the bikes’ coaster brakes after the grease vaporized during rapid descent.) During that time, a series of 22 Repack races drew increasingly competitive riders while serving as a testing ground for the innovations and modifications that led to the development of the mountain bike.

From those humble origins on the trails of Marin County in the 1970s, mountain biking has exploded in worldwide popularity, a development that's well-documented in the exhibit. Mountain bikes are ridden across the globe, including some the world’s most remote locations, and influences of its Northern California origins are everywhere. In Rwanda, one of the industry’s pioneers from Palo Alto is helping transform the country’s economy via bicycle-related initiatives.

One caveat: Viewing the exhibit tends to make one want to hop on a mountain bike instead of strap down into an airplane seat. However, being San Francisco's airport, SFO has excellent amenities for bicyclists, including dedicated bike lanes, a bike valet, and an assembly/disassembly area for travelers taking their bike with them.

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