Like most British mountain bike racers from the early days, Neil Ruddock found himself a bit out of date a few years ago when looking to buy a new bike, until he discovered a retro mountain bike website forum, and found hundreds of like-minded enthusiasts.
Now Ruddock and his burgeoning band of retro dirt riders are convening the masses in the first annual Old World MTB Championship in Bergen, Holland, from September 4-5, with plans to hold the event in the UK in 2010 and Fairfax, California in 2011.
“As a 40-something guy I needed to recover some fitness and turned again to cycling, having raced in the early days of mountain biking in the UK,” Ruddock told BikeRadar. “Looking around at the bike shops, the technology had come on a long way since I last owned a bike – but I just didn’t get the need for several specialist types of bicycle when I used to have just the one!
“Hence I decided to try and buy a bike I was familiar with; luckily this coincided with the dawn of eBay, so choice and prices were extremely favourable. Soon I was trawling the globe, fascinated and enthused to be able to bid for classic bikes and parts from the early days of the sport, bikes that were at the time well beyond my means.”
Ruddock joined www.retrobike.co.uk when it had slightly more than 400 members in 2005, sharing parts and tips, as the fledgling group began restoring the faded and rusty frames wasting away in their garden sheds.
“The next logical step was to begin to meet up and ride these newly prepared bikes – these early meetings in 2005 were the catalyst that made us realise that we were not alone in our rediscovered enthusiasm,” Ruddock said. “New registrations to the forum began to flow steadily as our combined energies were galvanised in classic bike displays and racing our bikes in newly-created club shirts. It seemed like everyone was saying ‘I used to have one of those…’ as we rode by.”
Within three years, registrations were nearing 5,000 people, with a demographic that covered the UK but also reached out to the US, Canada, Europe and Australia.
The forum’s membership was enhanced with valuable and regular contributions by the likes of (MountainBikes co-founder, with Gary Fisher) Charlie Kelly, Geoff Apps and other important figures from the inception of the sport. Hearing Ruddock explain the timetable, it seemed like ‘retrobiking’ had arrived as a contemporary pastime.
After a personal homage to the Fairfax Repack Run in 2007 and organising several UK retro rideouts, it seemed only logical for Ruddock to try and spread the retrobiking word across the world, just, as he says, the sport knew no boundaries in the early 1980s.
Black Mountain Cycles owner Mike Varley met Ruddock after the Repack gathering, when the British cyclist dropped into Varley’s Point Reyes, California Black Mountain Cycles bike shop, itself a living museum of classic mountain bikes.
“New technology is fine, but sometimes the older stuff works perfectly fine for one’s given situation.”
“Neil visited in October of 2007 and promptly laid claim to my 1988 Mantis Valkyrie to be first in line to purchase it if I ever decided to sell it,” Varley told BikeRadar. “It would be great to have the 2011 Old World MTB Championships in Fairfax where the birth of the mountain bike took place. Brings everything full circle.”
With his newfound retrobike colleague Ed Edwards, Ruddock devised an event schedule that combined the restoration, the fashion, the competition and the Californian chill factor, to create a fat tyre festival format that would appeal not only to them, but to people like them, all with “strong and happy memories of those innocent days of mountain biking”.
“We decided very early on to host the event outside the UK in the first year; we didn’t want people to think we were only catering for a British audience – and met up with Dutch guys, Melvin and Roy, through the forum, to discuss the possibilities of holding the event in Holland,” he said.
“We travelled across the Channel to meet them and see some proposed areas where we could hang out and race. Bergen in north Holland turned out to be a perfect venue, with the cross-country course tough enough for the challenge without being too tough to damage historic and precious bikes.”
After agreeing the format for the weekend, including a retro fashion show, a retro paired trials competition and trials demonstration, and several parties, Ruddock set about communicating the event to the world, starting with the website and contacting the media. He and Edwards had already set a limit of 75 places on the start line for the first event.
“The most important aspect was diversity, of countries represented and of types of bike, so we were delighted that our web statistics showed real breadth, with initial entries coming from Denmark, Austria, Germany, France and the US, not to mention the UK and the hosts, Holland,” he said.
Varley understands Ruddock’s devotion to the retro bikes scene, something he missed during his Haro and Masi product designing days in southern California.
“It’s not necessarily ‘old’ bikes I like,” Varley said. “It’s the simplicity of the style of old bikes. A lot of the reason I like older bikes or new simple, old-style bikes centers on my ‘need’ for something new. I ride the same trails people do with full suspension bikes on my full rigid bikes because I can, and because I don’t feel like I need suspension. New technology is fine, but sometimes the older stuff works perfectly fine for one’s given situation.”
“Several years ago at the Keyesville Classic, a friend who raced in the vintage class with me did so on his 1986 Cunningham set up with drop bars, and of course, fully rigid,” Varley added. “His time in the downhill portion of the event not only beat all of his vintage class competitors, but he posted the seventh fastest time among all downhill competitors who were aboard their full-suspension bikes in the pro and expert classes!”
According to Ruddock, race entries in the first annual Old World MTB Championship are quickly being reserved and he expects more demand when the print media cover the story.
“The event takes place on the last Saturday of the Eurobike exhibition, so VIPs may well be in attendance…” he added.
Entry for OWMTBC is limited to classic bikes made before the end of 1995, so bikes Ruddock expects to see at the first event include Yeti, Klein, Bontrager, Breezer, Fisher, Pace, WTB, Mantis, and Salsa. For more information, visit www.owmtbc.org.