Sunday, September 30, 2007

Mountain Bike Pre History

Mountain Bike Pre History

My 1975 Tankagnolo "Clone" on Display at Weir's Cyclery, the oldest bicycle shop in Portland, Oregon, founded in 1924

My 1975 Tankagnolo - Tankagnolo II

Shwinn Varsity Gone Phat

Rodney Rom with his 1966 "ChROMer"

Tankagnolo Bobs "Prehistory" of the Mountain Bike

My 1974 "Tankagnolo I" with Shimano Disc Brake


  1. To Tell Your Mountain Bike History Story

  2. To Add Regional Flavor to Mountain Bike History

  3. To find those who built mountain bikes on the sidelines of the bigger story.

I invite all who were not in the mainstream, but created a mountain bike, to submit your story to me at: Try to include any kind of proof of the time period. This might include photos of your bike in places that would show the era, receipts for parts used to build the bike etc. Tell what motivated you to create a mountain bike, how you solved the problems doing so, where you rode it, if you had a group participating, and if you tried to promote the idea to the larger community.


The Mountain Bike Hall of Fame – – The most importand site on the subject, a complete history of the mainstream events that started the revolution in cycling that have led to todays mountain bike scene.

Weirs Cyclery - My story, Tankagnolo, the Northwest’s first Mountain bike and first with a disc brake.


1. Website Mission Statement

2. My 1974-1976 “Tankagnolo” Mountain Bikes – First with a Disc Brake-First in the Northwest.

3. The Cincinnati Mountain Bike Connection, 1966 – Rodney Rom

4. Motorcycle Rear Wheel - Custom Frame 1980 - Paul Thomasburg
Quoted directly from Dirt Rag Magazine


As most of us know, there was a revolution in bicycling that made its final focus in the hills of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, California during the early 1970s. Books, websites, and museums have sprung up gathering information and telling the fantastic story of those who chose to take old fat tire "Clunkers" out into the woods to enjoy nature and race off road.

For these stories, I refer you to the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame at, and to the best book I have found so far on the subject, "The Birth of Dirt", by Frank Berto. Add to that, the documentery “Knunkerz” (spelled with a z) by Billy Savage will be out in DVD in 2008. This is a great work of filmaking and a very broad view of all those invoved in the coming of this sport in the seventies.

Without those revolutionaries in Marin, this sport may well not exist today unless another group elsewhere had gained enough inertia to make it happen. Other small movements started, but none gained the energy of the Marin group, to begin manufacturing bikes and traveling the world to collect the right parts to do it right.

This site is not looking to challenge the existing histories. I wish to add to the richness of the history by looking for stories of things that happened that did not gain enough energy to burst onto the world scene or directly add to the revolution’s energy. I look for the stories that will add regional flare to the history and help show that approaching moment when the time was right for things to go “non-linear” in the sports growth.

Why Include Those Whose Works That “Became Nothing” or “Dead Ended”?

I, and those who have submitted their stories, feel a part of the bigger picture because we came alive with the same idea at the same time. When I saw the first mountain bikes in the stores, I sought to find out who was in parallel with me on what I thought was mine? What were their motivations? How did they solve the same problems? How did the mountain bike grow to this level while I rode alone with the same idea?

This forum is here to gather the stories of all of us who created mountain bikes, either before, or in parallel to the events in Marin County.

First with a disc brake – First in the North West
by Bob Crispin

Riding Tankagnolo I in 1974

I arrived in Spokane, Washington in the winter of 1972, an early escapee from the cost of living in California. I was an avid cyclist and made the move with no regard for such inconveniences as snow and ice, cycling anyway on a Campy'ed out Motobecane with sew-up tires. I fell down a lot. I fell down a lot more. Finally I purchased a used, big tire, one speed bike with coaster brakes and fenders. I did not fall down as often, but had to walk up hills. I was frustrated!

The idea of fitting the old one speed with a ten speed drive train came quickly, but left just as quickly, as I would have no way to stop. Coaster brakes and derailleurs do not mix and no wide caliper brakes existed, that I knew of. Then I found out that JC Penney's sold a ten speed bike with a Shimano disk brake.

The brake was cable operated, had replaceable pads, and although very heavy by today's standards, stopped quickly and smoothly even in wet conditions. I ordered and purchased the brake from Spokane's Wheel Sport bike shop. I rebuilt the wheel with the original 2.25 inch rim from the one speed bike and the Shimano brake hub that included threads for a ten speed freewheel on one side and special threads for the brake disk on the other side. I finished up by installing double chain rings, the derailleurs, and the cables. My lowest gear, a 39 tooth small chain ring and a 34 tooth freewheel, was an "alpine" gear in those days (29.8 gear inches). Now I was free to ride in snow, climb hills, and soon to discover, ahaa dirt roads. The 45 pound bike provided "road hugging weight" like the big cars of the fifties. It had the feel of the old cruiser bikes, but with the new gears didn't bog down on the slightest climb.

Early 1070s Disc Brake for JC Penney Ten-Speeds

The bike was not as nimble as the mountain bikes of today, but no longer did I have to watch for pot holes, small rocks and the minor rises between streets and driveways as when riding road bikes, or walk hills as when riding the old one speed. I named my bike "Tankagnolo", blending "tank" for the heavier, fat tire characteristic of the bike with "Campagnolo", a top end road bike component of that day, to complement the roadie characteristics of the bike. My only problem, the old one speed frame was too small for my height.

As the narrow diameter steel seat post on my new fat tire snow bike began to bend from the seat being set way too high, an idea came to mind. I had a 25 inch Schwinn Varsity ten speed I used for my around town bike. Using an acetylene torch where I worked, I could work mild steel with the experience I had from High School metal shop and combine the larger ten speed frame with the wider wheels from the converted one speed.

After some careful planning, I was able to heat and bend the seat and chain stays to accommodate the wider wheels. The stay supports had to be cut out and new ones brazed in. The biggest problem was finding a front fork for the wider wheel with a steerer tube long enough for a 25 inch frame. The Schwinn Varsity fork was too narrow for the wider wheel. The steerer tube on the fork from the converted one speed was too short. I finally found a BMX fork with a long enough steerer tube but then had to weld three inch sections to each fork blade to accommodate the 26 inch wheels. Finally it was done and fenders were added for those snowy, wet winter days. "Tankagnolo II" was born in 1975.

Tankagnolo II in 1975

In the spring of 1976, I removed the fenders and gave the bike a new paint job, creating a sleek "Tankagnolo III" the final version, and headed for the dirt roads around Spokane. The bike opened new doors for me, I could ride in the winter snow and also escape the paved roads of Spokane in the summer. I had the dirt roads to myself except for the occasional runner. The bike handled well but, due to it's weight was incapable of great aerial stunts such as bunny hopping.

Tankagnolo III in 1976

Spokane's other cyclists, less the BMX kids, were on the pavement completely preoccupied with making a lighter bike with yet narrower wheels. On the streets of Spokane Tankagnolo received more than one glance back from ten speed roadies, who could not shake me pulling Spokane's South Hill on the way home from work! When they looked back they could see the fat tires, but without a closer look, as I stayed just to their left, didn't notice the evidence of more than one speed.

When I built the bike, I had no idea of what was happening in the hills of Marin County. I built the bike to fill my need to ride in snow and still be able to climb hills; it was the driving force that led me to combine the advantages of the old fat tire one speed and a multi speed drive train. I couldn't believe it in 1982 when I walked into a bike shop to find it full of fat tire ten and fifteen speed bikes with names like "Stumpjumper"!! That was the first time I knew another such bike existed, or heard it called a "mountain bike".

A short story, with a photo of my bike appeared in the May-June, 1978 edition of Bike World, the "Looking at People" column on page 83. In the article I state that "The bike turns railroad tracks and other city bumps into a velvet touch. It's the Cadillac of bikes, both in feel and looks". Responses to this early mountain bike from the roadies were summed up with "The bike is worthwhile and also guaranteed to bring lots of laughs from the critics". Last, I say "I feel the world should know that it is possible to do". It is clear to me now that they do. My recognition into the Hall of Fame was documented in Dirt Rag Magazine, page 10 of issue, #119, April 2006.

I was recognized by the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame as "The first mountain bike with a disc brake" and “First mountain bike in the Pacific Northwest”. The paragraph describing the bike is found at mntbikehalloffame, "History", "First Bikes", “Other First Bikes. A greater story with lots of photographs is on the web at, "Interesting People", "Meet Bob Crispin", "More".

For you Spokanites, I built the first two bikes in 1974 and 1975 and photographed them in and around the house on the N. W. corner of Mansfield and Wall streets (W. 706 Mansfield St.). The house was still there when I visited in 2004. The “Tanko II” photo on this site is beside that house.

I am now an avid off road rider and meet with a group of friends every year, renting a guest house along the West Coast states, riding all day and enjoying beer and good food each evening. I have known several of the friends since the late 1950s, a few were in Spokane to see Tankagnolo, and thought it a cute novelty. Now they all ride off road on a weekly basis. I have to thank the boys of Marin and all those who set this movement in motion. Age and innovation had me rolling first on a full suspension GT LTS II, and now a Stumpjumper FSR. I ride my recent remake of Tankognolo in Portlands many bike parades.

I rebuilt the third iteration of Tankagnolo in 1992, a clone almost to the last part as shown below.

Me and Tankagnolo IIIA in 2002

The copy of the bike I created in 1975 with another Shwinn Varsity is on long term display at Weir's Cyclery in North Portlands St Johns neighborhood. I painted the bike Rustolium “Royal Blue”, just as I had the third itertion in 1976.

Tankognolo Rebuild on Display at Weir’s Cyclery.

Once the display was up, I had no tankagnolo to ride, so went in search of another rare 1970s Shimano disc brake. As soon as I found one, I built another to ride. I painted it the same Rustolium “Sunrise Red” that the 1975 version was painted, but skipped the fenders. It too is almost a perfect clone, but I changed the two things I would have done if I had more money in the 1970s, a “Campy” long arm rear derailour, and a Brooks saddle.

I had a chance this year to ride it in snow, revisiting my initial motovation for building Tankagnolo in the first place.

Snow Revisited – Winter 2007

Dirt revisited – Fall 2007

Portland Bike Fair - 2007

For Tankagnolo I, II and IIIFrame - Tankagnolo I: From one speed cruiser, name unknown.

Frame - Tankagnolo II and III: Schwinn Varsity - 25 inch, mild steel.

Fork: Modified BMX for 26 inch fat tire wheel (see text)

Wheels: 2.25 inch, steel, chromed, rims from one speed cruiser.

Tires: 2.25 inch balloon tires, wire bead.

Front Hub: From one speed cruiser.

Rear Hub: Shimano hub with threads for brake disk.

Quick Release: None, bolt on wheels, steel axles,

Peddles: Steel, no clips, no cages.

Cranks: Schwinn one piece steel crank.

Chain Rings: 52T large, 39T small, steel.Freewheel: Five speed, 34T large, 14T small, steel.

Gear range: "Alpine", 29.82 to 96.57 gear inches.

Rear Derailleur: Crane by Shimano, steel.

Front Derailleur: Unknown, steel.

Shift Levers: Stem mounted, friction.

Front Brake: None

Rear Brake: Shimano disk brake, steel and aluminum construction, 7 inch steel disk, 1 1/4 inch replaceable brake pads. (brake was a stock item on 1974 J.C. Penney's ten speeds)

Seat: Generic vinyl ten speed style.

Seat Post: Schwinn, steel, 13/16 inch diameter

Handlebars: Standard ten speed drop bars, aluminum.

Stem: Alloy, 21.1 mm diameter, 0 degree rise.

Fenders (Tanko I and II): From one speed cruiser, steel.

Weight: 45 lbs (65 lb weight mentioned in 1978 story was with the rear carrier and box.)

Best friend and Photographer Roland Unrue takes Tankagnolo I for a spin 1974

Here is my first submitted Story by Rodney Rom who, along with myself, is recognized by the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame under, “Other First Bikes” in the “History” section.

The 1966 ChROMer
By Rodney Rom

August 2003 Mountain Bike Magazine

Being a Midwestern mountain-bike pioneer, I was distanced from the information available during the mountain bike's "mid-to-late 1970s" gestation period concerning the Marin County, California developments and claims. In mountain biking's infancy, not many Midwestern newsstands carried mountain bike magazines. Since my Ohio creation pre-dated these published developments, I would humbly like to share the story of my 1966 east-of-the-Mississippi pioneering efforts.

On February 26, 1966, I graduated to multi-sprocket bicycles with my purchase of a new 10-speed Schwinn Varsity Tourist from Willy Greb, owner of Montgomery Cyclery, just outside the northeast city limits of Cincinnati. The $69.95-plus-tax purchase price on the receipt does not reflect the value of the new-but-modified 3-speed, front-suspension Sting Ray I traded in on the Varsity. The Varsity was basically a good highway bike, allowing me to travel greater distances using less time and effort. Its only two drawbacks for me were the woefully-inadequate-when-wet brakes and the skinny wheels and tires, since not all of its use was pavement mileage.

At the time, I also rode quite a bit in the woods and hills of our eastern-Cincinnati suburbs with two other Varsity-equipped friends, Ron Zibulka (now living in California!) and Steve Lonnemann. Our main off-road challenge was “Suicide Hill” near Loveland. The tires and wheels were a liability because we could never enjoy the full potential of our many gears as we were always afraid of blowing a tire or bending a rim. The final straw, however, came not on the trails but on a city street one unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon in early April of 1966 about a half block from home. We had just had a rain shower. I was going down a slight grade and approaching a green traffic light when the light changed. I grabbed both brakes – and rolled right through the red light! Fortunately, there was no cross traffic, so I lived to tell the story. But the next afternoon, I was back at Willy’s cycle shop to see what could be done to improve the Varsity – and my longevity.

As it turned out, Schwinn had, by that time, brought out their 5-speed, drum-brake-equipped Paramount tandem. Upon seeing that, I made out my wish list:

· Imported German Union drum brakes, front and rear;

· 26x2.125 heavyweight rear tire with S-7 rim;· 26x1.75 middleweight front tire with S-7 rim;

· Heavy-duty .105”-diameter spokes, front and rear; and

· Rear sprockets #1 & 2 with two and one extra teeth, respectivelyWilly, along with Bert, his second-in-command, did an excellent job of assembling and setting-up the special-ordered components in short order so I could finish my project.

The only item lacking was a suspension system. I thought about the coil-spring front fork from the old Schwinn “tanks”, but my Varsity was the tall-frame model to accommodate my long inseam, and the fork stem tube was too short to fit through the frame tube. Since I would have had to do major re-engineering for the suspension – engineering which, at that time was beyond my capabilities or budget. I chose to leave it rigid-framed.

Even though the middleweight front tire had adequate clearance in the stock fork, I did have to cut, widen, and re-weld the rear frame to accept the balloon tire. After widening the frame, the original blue paint needed a refinish in the welded areas. None of the local body shops could guarantee a spot match and, because of the modification, the Schwinn factory's legal department notified me in a letter that they wouldn’t allow me to ship the frame back to them for a complete re-do, so I stripped the rest of the paint off and had the frame chromed! It looked great when it was new. In Schwinn's letter of refusal, they dodged the non-stock-frame liability issue and used the excuse of production schedules to let me down gently.

During the construction phase of the project, most folks called me “crazy” for “cutting up” a brand-new, expensive bicycle. The comments were quite different, however, once the bike was completed!

Rodney Takes A Spin on ChROMer

Total expenditure on this project came to approximately $250.00. The net weight of the completed bike turned out to be 43.0 lbs. (19.5 kg).

The first photo I took of the completed bike shows the bike parked next to my basement workbench. On the back of the original photo is the developing date – “March 1967." I had that roll of film developed while I was home on leave after Navy boot camp. The picture was actually taken the previous fall, prior to my December 6th ship-out

Subsequent adventures with ChROMer (the bike’s nickname, based on my own surname) included an occasional ride in European and South American liberty ports as well as cruising around the Norfolk, Virginia/northern North Carolina homeport area. As Frank Berto states on page 52 of his book, The Birth of Dirt, "...the mountain bike was more than just a downhill racer:" My bike's hill-climbing modifications improved its rideability in all areas of 2-wheeling. Aircraft carriers do have some odd-shaped inner-hull storage voids unusable for much else. I had to sign a release drawn up by the ship's Legal Officer to be allowed to have it on board ship with me. (As a lowly E-3, I had one benefit not even the officers enjoyed! How many other mountain bikes can claim to be approved by the U.S. military?) Unfortunately, the salt air almost totally ruined the chrome finish and gave the bike a heavy patina of rust – damage I have yet to repair.

Shortly after my son was born in 1978, I was employed as a welder-fabricator at Riehle's Machine Shop in Fairfax, just southeast of Cincinnati. In the shop, I was able to engineer a very effective aluminum-tube swivel-and-lean trailer hitch and tongue for our children’s wagon. Our "Berlin Flyer" wagon, by the way, was one of the first to have automotive Ackermann-style individually-steered front wheels instead of the typical horizontally-pivoting straight axle. This feature greatly aided stability and safety while towing my young daughter and son. We used ChROMer on family outings at the Lunken Airport bikepath in the summers. My daughter and son enjoyed every mile (they didn't have to pedal!).

My wife and I bought our first house in 1980, a mere 1-1/4 mile from the machine shop where I worked. From this time on, until we sold the Cincinnati house and moved to Missouri in early 1982, I regularly used ChROMer to commute. It was great not having to fill the car's gas tank, and it kept me fit, as well! I even rode it in the snow, ala Bob Crispin's Tankagnolo, just to prove to doubters that the bike was truly a multi-purpose vehicle.

Is ChROMer still around and operational? Yes, it is. I still own it, along with the original Owner’s Manual and all the documentation mentioned above — receipts, correspondence and dated photographs. It is no longer used as a daily driver, being saved instead for special occasions like parade duty.May 30, 1966, is the date I completed ChROMer’s assembly and took my first ride. After using it that summer, I did have plans to duplicate and market the favorably-commented-on bike (Willy Greb can verify this) but, unfortunately, Ho Chi Minh and Lyndon Johnson had different ideas as to how I should spend my next few years. Otherwise, the basement of my boyhood home at 5811 Bramble Avenue in the Cincinnati, Ohio neighborhood of Madisonville would be better known as one of the pre-Marin birthplaces of mountain biking.

Marin County's Gary Fisher has been long accepted as "The Father of the Mountain Bike" for his 1973-'76 efforts. If he is, does this make me a Grandfather or a Godfather?


Rodney Rom


1980Paul Thomasburg

This story comes from Dirt Rag Magazine. I shall write them for more infomation and try to contact the man who built this bike.

Scan of Dirt Rag Story of April, 2006

Quote from Dirt Rag Magazine:

"Paul Thomasburg was around in what we'll call the "experimental" stages of mountian biking-the 70s. Breakage was an issue and this led Paul to design and build his own frame with the help of framebuilder Kimo Tanaka in 1980

Yes, that's an 18" motorcycle rim laced to a 140mm Phil Wood tandem hub. You'll also notice the cranks-one piece Tikagis with homemade triple chainrings made from modified Schwinn doubles.

The main tubes are 1.25" in diameter, so Paul had to cobble a front derailleur together from spare bits. Power is transferred through a Sedis chain into a New Winner freewheel. Stopping is handled by Tomaselli motorcycle levers and Mafac cantilever brakes. The fork is a unicrown Cool Brothers BMX cruiser type.

This bike feels like a boat anchor when you pick it up, but Paul rode it all day during the Crossroads Bike Fest last year, and he was in front the whole time"

Thank you Dirt Rag for publishing "Pre Mountain Bike History” stories, including one about my bike the spring of 2006.

As more stories arrive, they will begin from this point. Send in stories and I will publish them. - Tankagnolo Bob