This excerpt is from the chapter on Repack from Fat Tire Flyer by Charlie Kelly.
With a growing circle of clunker owners, by 1976 there were all sorts of informal group activities. Those of us who didn’t have to report daily to a form of employment started taking group rides, often throwing the bikes into the back of Fred’s pickup truck and taking them out to a new place to explore, such as Point Reyes National Seashore or Bolinas Ridge, which were inviting but a little remote to ride to from Fairfax. We pushed and pedaled to the top of Mount Barnabe and Pine Mountain and lesser peaks in between and explored every trail in the backcountry of Marin County, learning the lay of the land better than any but the rangers who patrolled it.
Before anyone thought to make rules about such things, we found every singletrack in the Water District and kicked off the primary political aspect of mountain biking when we offended hikers and equestrians by our mere presence in places once used only for their activities.
The first “Appetite Seminar” had taken place on Thanksgiving Day, 1975, when a dozen or so riders took a lap of the Pine Mountain Loop, the idea being that a long ride would set us up for a big dinner. The finish of the seminar was an exhilarating run down Repack, and the ride served as an introduction to it for the participants. Although the idea was spontaneous, we repeated it the following year. The Appetite Seminar is now the longest-running annual mountain bike event in the world and has become a Bay Area holiday tradition for upwards of a thousand mountain bikers.
Even with the new gearing, the bikes were still impossibly heavy, and pushing the bike efficiently was as much of an art as riding it. Sometimes pushing was faster even in areas where riding was possible. Trudging for half an hour up a steep hill beside a 50-pound clunker was not what most people consider fun, but we didn’t mind. It wasn’t any harder than trying to stay with the flying peloton in a road bike race, and even the trudging turned into a slow-motion speed contest as a couple of grim, sweaty riders tried to match each other stride for stride at 2 miles an hour. The reward for these efforts was standing on the peak, then shredding the dirt road back down.
As the group rides grew, perhaps a dozen clunker riders would push off a peak after picnicking at the top and recovering from the trudge it took to get there. This was the rush we had been working for all day, and we wanted all of it. Two or three riders are manageable on a fire road, but the groups were now bigger. “Dicing” on the downhill started to be a problem when everyone was equally competitive but not equal in size. It became obvious that you didn’t want to try to pass one of the bigger riders, who would ride you off a cliff to preserve his lead in a “race” that hadn’t really been declared. Pure downhill was fun, but fighting another rider for the fast line through the turn was a distraction. Eating dust and not being able to see the road was a bummer and so was having another guy stick his elbow in your ear. Everyone liked to see the road with no one in front and all options open, but on any given ride only one rider seemed to.
The long rides and slow walks up hills gave us plenty of time to discuss every possible subject to death. We must have discussed the idea of holding a downhill race for hours over a period of weeks before it all came together at the top of Repack on the morning of October 21, 1976. Not many sports can trace their birth to such a specific time, date, and location. As that date approached, and we discussed what we wanted to do, our perspective was different. We figured that we would settle one nagging question: Who among us was actually the fastest downhill rider? The once-and-for-all aspect was clear: Why would we ever want to go to all this trouble again to settle something that we settled to everyone’s satisfaction on October 21?
If the race was downhill, Repack was the obvious place to hold it because it was the most challenging hill we knew, and it was in a perfect location just outside of Fairfax. It was well outside of the popular hiking routes and was virtually unknown to anyone at the time who didn’t ride on it, so we could be reasonably sure that we wouldn’t meet the local chapter of the Sierra Club on a Sunday hike. The average grade is about 14 percent, but parts are much steeper. The road winds along the top of a ridge separating two drainages that meet at the bottom. Because it twists so much, sightlines are more limited than speed, so the rider has to continually accelerate into the unknown around the next bend.
The descent is 1,300 feet of elevation over 2 miles, and the only limit to how fast you can go was how fast you want to go. There are huge ruts, deep ditches, hard switchback turns, and loose surfaces on off-camber turns to skid you over the edge.
Sounds like . . . fun.
For more about Repack and the first Appetite Seminar, please pick up a copy of Fat Tire Flyer: Repack and the Birth of Mountain Biking.
Fat Tire Flyer is the unbelievable story of the invention of mountain biking, as told by the people who were there: Charlie Kelly, Joe Breeze, Tom Ritchey, Gary Fisher, and many more of the Repack crew. We’ll offer sneak peeks at the book here on fattireflyer.com, but we hope you’ll order the book today from your local bike shop, bookstore, or from these online retailers.
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