Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Fat Tire Revolution - The Final Installment ?

The first Ross Stage race held in Wendell State Park in Mass in 84 had come had a pivotal time as I was headed off to my first year of college in a matter of weeks and this race felt very much like it has cemented my an off-road rider. Although I never would realize it at that time, the bike and the activity would not only define me and my future, but helped guide me through being successful at school and beyond. The sport and more importantly the community surrounding it was, and is, a haven. Once I had entered college up in Keene, New Hampshire, I immediately sought out other like-minded riders. One of them being a year ahead of me and riding those most coveted of bikes, a beautiful black Fat Chance. Martin Dombroski was also from southern Connecticut, he was the previous owner of a shiny,chrome finished Ross but then upgraded to this Fat Chance that he had purchased from a close friend who owned a shop in CT. (Martin would go on later in life to own this shop) At that time I still owned the Univega but had upgraded to a Gary Fisher Montare. one of the first Fisher bikes that were offered at a very reasonable price as it was sourced from Asia. While I enjoyed the red Fisher, I still pined for some Somerville steel.

On a whim one weekend, I loaded up as much food and water as I could carry and headed East on the bike towards Peterborough, some 20 miles away. My goal was to visit the EMS store there but I was sidetracked into a tiny, hole in the wall shop where I saw it. A blazing red Fat Chance with black decals for sale. It was my size but had some goofy riser bars installed that I didn't care for but whatever. I managed to work a deal where I traded in a heinous Benotto road bike and the Gary Fisher plus a measly amount of cash for the Fat Chance. The sport had completely engulfed me, it was a huge amount of pride to be riding something made with caring hands, that was specifically designed for classic New England woods riding.

Martin and I spent a great deal of time on the weekends exploring the woods all over Keene, our posse size was growing slowly and every new addition came back with a massive ear to ear grin filled with black flies and mud. The Fat Chance was absolutely dreamy, the old Fisher felt like an old sled in comparison. The wheelbase was nice and short, but with a slack head angle and short chainstays, the bike just floated over the nastiest terrain. An added bonus was while Martin and I were home during the summers in Connecticut, we would still get together and find new places to ride. I also continued to race, the Norba Eastern Nationals were to held in our state so by all means we would be in attendance. During that summer I was working with my brother-in-law doing home construction work. I would fill a day working and then jump on bike until dark in order to prep for this race. Much like the initial Ross race, the Eastern Nationals brought in some serious talent. Tomac, was there, riding for Mongoose bikes at the time. Ned Overend made his appearance back when he was sponsored by Schwinn. I was completely geeked out over the fact that Ned and I shared a camo-graphic Bell V1-Pro helmet. Martin and I raced the Novice class and I managed to pull off a win that day with Martin coming in second, perhaps there was some sandbagging involved but that race wasn't a cakewalk.

It finally dawned on me about halfway through school that their just might be some way to pull off making a career out of this mountain bike thing. There are others out there doing just that, so what could stop me from following in their steps. My focus during school was technically oriented, computer-aided design and manufacturing. I was super intrigued by developments down in Somerville, Mass. that had some ex-Fat City employees dabbling in Titanium with a new company called Merlin Metalworks. I had reached out to them for a project at school where I wanted to do a study of Titaniums properties, someone at Merlin was kind enough to send me a chainstay to run some tests on. I received an A on that paper and I think my prof. was a bit dumbstruck at the time as to why such an exotic and costly material was to be used on a childs toy...a bicycle of all things!! One of my classes was about tool design so of course my focus was on a better way to hold a tube or a frame during the manufacturing process. During my senior year, I drove down to Somerville and interviewed with Chris Chance very much hoping/planning for a foot in the door at Fat City doing something...anything. Turns out that doing something...anything wasn't going to pay that well and Boston is not a cheap place to live. While I was there, I walked across the parking from Fat City into Merlin. This was a study in extreme contrasts. Fat City was dirty, very punk rock, loud, dangerous even. Merlin on the other hand was obviously run by pointy heads who may have come from MIT nearby and just happened to like bikes. Super clean shop, beautifully crafted bikes on display...nerd central. By graduation time I was very much in love with a girl from Maine ( yes, the first time I spotted her on campus was while she was riding a Peugeot mountain bike) I followed her to Maine and fell into a position managing a bike shop in coastal Camden. Being a responsible for what was on the sales floor, of course Fat Chance and Merlin were both represented nicely.My obsessive/compulsive tendencies with all things two-wheels continued unabated. I finally bid the old Fat Chance a fond farewell and moved onto a Wicked Fat Chance. The yearly Norba National at Mount Snow VT had become an institution, a meca for riders from all over the Northeast. The XC loop was legendary for how ridiculously difficult is was ( and still is ) if it rained, the very talented smiled, the rest hung their heads. In 92, I was riding through Camden, when I spotted the Rockshox tech van and trailer, fresh from working the Mt Snow event. I'll admit I was giddy as a little school girl, I quick wrote a note to the driver asking/pleading with them to come down to the shop and give us a clinic on suspension forks, something none of us knew anything about except that Rockshox was on to something. Terry Howe was driving the van and sure enough, he stopped in and we had a nice couple of hours chatting. I threw out the possibility that if he ever needed any help working an event in New England then please give me a ring. As luck and a lot of persistence would have it. Terry contacted my the following summer and I spent the next 3 weekends, one at Mt Snow and an additional 2 up in Quebec, drowning in shock fluid and absolutely loving it. Paul Turner, founder of Rockshox attended those events and I was able to make a half-assed attempt letting him know that if Rockshox was hiring,then I'm your man. Whatever work ethic was on display at these events was recognized with a position as an R&D tech at Rockshox's facility in Boulder, CO. Pure heaven for bike nerds like myself.

I mention in the header that this is the final installment. I've been wanting/almost needing to put down ALL these words for a long time. I've always wanted some mean of capturing an amazing course in my life and I know may of you have shared this same path. I wrote in the first installment on why the mountain bike is the best invention of my lifetime. That a bit of a bold statement but I mean it. This bike was responsible for getting millions of people to think of bicycles in a whole new way,in an entirely new light. From the mountain bike spawned the commuter, the hybrid, an evolved townie bike, comfortable road bikes. Think about it. This was the nineties and who do you know that didn't get a mountain bike or a version thereof. Sure for some folks it didn't stick but for the most part we are still feeling the positive effects of this revolution that took place decades ago. Mountain biking is responsible for providing my wife and I a very modest living, the ability to travel the world, keeping us healthy and happy, meeting the most amazing people I've ever had the pleasure to ride with. Mountain biking is directly responsible for my obsession with cyclocross. Cross is blending my old-school road bike roots with the attitude of mountain biking, cross is not for everyone, it's ridiculously,stupid hard but pays off massive dividends, much like it's fat tired cousin.Thanks a ton for reading all this, hope you enjoyed reading it as much I've enjoyed reminiscing- Shotty


Chris said...

Thanks, Shotty! I've enjoyed reading your tales.

MOM said...

an amazing course , indeed!