One of the founding fathers of mountain biking was in the UK recently, leading a demo day for Chevin Cycles of Otley. Carlton Reid took the chance to talk transport bikes with Gary Fisher...

INTERVIEW: Gary Fisher

Gary Fisher might have a free Subaru sitting outside his San Francisco home but he walks the walk and talks the talk: he bikes everywhere.

“I made myself a promise, I’m going to pick up everything on a bike. I’m going to run all my errands from the saddle.”

He started riding competitively in 1963, taking part in cyclocross races. In the 1970s he was a top roadie but got his kicks from knocking around on klunkers. With his CX background he knew it was a no-brainer to attach derailleurs to the beat-up Schwinn frames he and his friends were riding. Along with other pioneers – such as Joe Breeze, Tom Ritchey, Charlie Kelly, Otis Guy, Steve Potts, Jacquie Phelan, and Charlie Cunningham – Fisher was famously responsible for helping to create, and popularise, the sport of mountain biking, a form of cycling that went where cars didn’t.

Now, he still rides MTBs – he’s probably best known today for his passion for 29ers – but he’s a city dweller and gets around by bike. He helps out with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, a 10,000-member organisation that has political clout in this Californian city. He also feeds in ideas to the designers at Trek- owned Gary Fisher bicycles. His Superfly 29er is the flagship bike in the Gary Fisher range, but you get the feeling his heart now lies with the Simple City range. Sadly, we don’t get these bikes in the UK (due to problems with pricing; the bikes are made in China).

Simple City bikes are smart-looking town bikes. The Simple City 8 M has a Nexus eight-speed hub, rear roller brake and a natty front basket. It’s a sweet looking bike, a lightweight in its class. It’s based on much heavier Dutch models.

“When I go to Europe I often end up buying bikes I like the look of, bring them back and give them to the designers. I’ve also just spent time with the guys at Xtracycle. We’ll have an Xtracycle cargo bike soon,” says Fisher.

“Bikes are good for the body, good for the city, and good for your soul.”

Cars are wasteful of city space: “If you took the value of space by square metre, how much it costs us, how much we have turned our cities over to the automobile, deadly vehicles that spew toxins, you’d be shocked. And driving is the most dangerous thing people do voluntarily each day.”

He believes last year’s petrol price spikes will come back but that when prices went lower the newcomers brought into cycling did not all go back to their cars.

“I think a lot of them have stayed. Petrol prices are only part of the equation. Cars get dinged, cars get parking tickets, and there’s this really powerful thing: it’s faster on a bike. I was being interviewed by a TV crew the other week in San Francisco. I had to get across town to film another part of the interview. I was on a Dutch single-speed, a 50lb bike. I got there long before the TV truck. They took an extra half an hour to arrive and park at the place. That’s crazy.”

He’s thrilled that the pro bike message is getting through, is mainstreaming and is no longer fringe.

“Many of the executives in this industry came in during the mid 1970s. It was after the 1973 oil crisis. They had a dream to change the planet with bikes.”

It didn’t happen then, mountain biking took over and bikes left the streets. Now they’re back. Fisher believes now is the time for the bike industry to be adventurous, to reach out to the newcomers with fresh product, not just rehashed MTBs.

But he acknowledges that the trade is littered with good ideas that failed at retail: “There are many examples of companies who met with failure because the public didn’t buy their urban bike products. Things have changed now. In this industry we can be flexible. I have never seen so many happy people in the industry because, at last, wider society is now appreciating what we’ve known about bikes for years. We were right all along!”

He has seen a major shift in the retail scene. “Two years ago bike shops looked at cargo bikes and said, ‘Nah, we won’t sell them.’ Now, everything’s changed and shops are recognising there’s a demand for these kind of products. More and more people are wanting a bike just to get around on. This is shocking and joyful.”

But he warns that the bike trade mustn’t be late into urban bikes in the way many parts of the industry were late into mountain bikes. And it mustn’t fear innovation, new kinds of bikes, new customers:

“What’s the easiest thing to do today? Do the same as we did yesterday. That’s dangerous thinking.”

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