Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Recommended Read: Fat Tire Flyer

I recently finished reading Charlie Kelly's fantastic, fun, and informative new book Fat Tire Flyer: Repack and the Birth of Mountain Biking (2014, Velo Press). Although I've always been partial to road bikes, Kelly's account of the birth of the mountain bike is well worth reading and a very enjoyable story.

The book takes its title from the magazine founded and published by Kelly in the early 1980s, also called Fat Tire Flyer, which was one of the original publications dedicated to mountain biking in the sport's early days. Charlie Kelly is without a doubt one of the best authorities on the subject, having been involved with the sport since its infancy, and as Joe Breeze refers to him in the book's forward, "one of the main instigators of the sport." Kelly was the organizer of the famous Repack downhill races in Marin County, and the co-founder with Gary Fisher of the MountainBikes company which built and sold some of the first examples of the breed, with frames built by Tom Ritchey. Actually, I'm not even scratching the surface on Kelly's involvement in the beginnings of mountain biking. You'll just have to read the book for that.

Charlie Kelly's book is part informative history and part personal memoir. Kelly is a great chronicler of the people, the places, and the events that combined to turn a band of hippie bicycle enthusiasts in the 70s into the fathers of a whole new bicycling movement. His style is informal and personal, and it isn't difficult to "hear" his voice and imagine him telling the story of the "Klunkerz" and the early Repack races, almost as though you were with him gathered 'round a campfire after a long day of riding the trails around Marin.

Joe Breeze created this fantastic
map of the Repack Course
in 1984. It's just one of the many
"historic artifacts" that help bring
 Kelly's chronicle to life.
Not only is it a captivating "read," but Kelly is also quite an archivist. The book is chock full great photos, many candid snapshots from early rides and races, and numerous "artifacts" and mementos that help document his historical account. There are pages from Kelly's old notebooks, chronicling race results from those famous Repack races, original newspaper clippings, old promotional posters, and much more. It's clear that Kelly must not throw anything away, and it makes me wonder how much more must be tucked away in his collection.

Charlie Kelly and Joe Breeze at 10,000 ft in Mineral King Valley.
The caption with the photo says, "Yes, we know how lucky we are."
The bikes are two of the very first Breezers, often credited as the
first purpose-built mountain bikes.
The large format (approx. 9-1/2 x 11" and over 250 pages) would make it easy to call Fat Tire Flyer a "coffee table book" but it is really much more. Yes, one could easily entertain themselves just flipping through the book's many photos, but Charlie Kelly's storytelling style makes it a book that people will want to read from cover to cover.
The back cover is graced by a 1977 panoramic group photo of mountain biking's
pioneers, taken just prior to one of the Repack races. Charlie Kelly, Gary
Fisher and Joe Breeze are there in the middle (4th, 5th, and 6th from
the left). The full photo is included within.


  1. What an astute and compassionate review. I completely agree and couldn't have said it better.

  2. Us SoCal beach kids watched this MTB thing with disdain. We had already built the same type of bikes years before. The only difference was we never intended for our bikes to be ridden off road. Mounting derailleurs on old Schwinn's was nothing new. Honestly we laughed at their arrogance in claiming to have "Invented" this type of bike. In retrospect we feel more than a bit foolish now.