The first true International World Mountain Bike Championships were in 1990, in Durango, Colorado. I was there at the age of 15, with my Dad and my Bridgestone. This week’s UCI World Championships at Mont St. Anne, Quebec mark the 20th Anniversary of that inaugural race. I think I’m the only racer at this year’s Worlds that rode that race in 1990.
Today, as I rest my legs and hide from the heat, in preparation for Saturday’s competition, I’m having a good time remembering that race in Durango….. (cue harp music)
My strongest memories are from watching the Downhill events. Back then, most Downhillers also raced XC, and vice-versa, and they did it on the same bike. Fully rigid bikes were outfitted for DH duty by simply lowering the seat with a quick release lever. Suspension forks were unavailable. SPD pedals were just an engineer’s idea at the time. Tires larger than 2.2” wide did not exist. Cutting-edge brakes meant cantilevered rubber rubbing on a rim.
Downhill, at the time, was what Super D is now. XC racers racing XC bikes on an XC Downhill. Double track descents mixed with singletrack and even the occasional climb. The DH at 1990’s Worlds had a 30 second climb in it that would have today’s racers boycotting the event.
My favorite memory from that weekend was this: John Tomac, the only rider at the event with drop bars (aside from myself) ripping by on a steep access road littered with nasty waterbars. Farmer John was racing the DH on the very edge of control, in the drops, at probably 45 mph on some nasty shit (for then). Impressive. The Tomes didn’t win, though I think he ended up in the top five. And Tenspeed Handlebars never made it to mainstream DH, or XC for that matter. Even Farmers make mistakes.
I’m not much for statistics, and I don’t remember who won those races 20 years ago, but I remember this: Bend Local Paul Thomasberg was top 5 in the Pro Downhill and the Pro XC. On the same weekend. At the World Championships. In 1990, men were men, and Mountain Bikers were Mountain Bikers.
At the first World’s the UCI hadn’t decided that MTB races should be run on 15-20 minute laps. They hadn’t decided that there should be “tech zones” manned by mechanics wielding tools and spares. The course in CO was long, going to the summit of the Purgatory ski resort every lap, climbing mostly on steep access roads. Race track composition was far less singletrack biased back then.
Mountain biking was far less singletrack biased back then. Indeed, some of the best mountain bike rides in Bend involved no singletrack at all at the time. Sure, there were hiking trails when mountain bikes were invented. But the invention of the Mountain Bike Trail wasn’t until afterward, and in 1990 there were a fraction of the miles of singletrack that we all enjoy today. And there were a fraction of the people out there enjoying them. At that first World Championships, there weren’t even braking bumps. The first time I remember seeing braking bumps (what the hell are all these bumps from?) was at Durango a few years later—after the dawn of suspension.
That first Worlds didn’t go so hot. Since I was (okay–am) a dork, I spent the days prior to my race practicing my trials moves in the parking lot. This, in turn, wore out what remained of my rear brake cable, which broke as I rolled up to the start line. My dad sprinted and grabbed his bike from the trunk of our car, and I raced on his Bridgestone. I had just enough time to raise the seat before the French “Un, deux, trois” and the gun.
I actually was racing pretty well, and hanging with some Swiss kids when I flatted on the first descent. Since, at the time, CO2 canisters were for BB guns, not for bikes, I used my standard full-sized-frame pump to put not-enough air in my tire. It took perhaps 12 minutes. And then I started racing again. And I flatted again. Not one for the record books.
This week, I’ll represent the USA at my seventh Worlds, here in Quebec. The XC course is short and impossibly technical by 1990 standards, but my Giant Anthem X 29er, with disc brakes, full suspension, tubeless tires, and SPD’s almost feels like cheating, in retrospect. If I can just hang with those Swiss guys, it’ll be my best Worlds yet.
The attached picture was taken a few minutes before the start of the first UCI Junior World Championship, right before I broke my brake cable. My toe-clips are color matched to my frame pump, but I’m sure you noticed that. You have an eye for style. Swiss guys on hardtails with skinwall tires? Some things never change.
Giant Factory MTB Team