Gary Fisher

As many times as I’ve written about Gary Fisher, I’ve yet to actually talk about his vintage bikes. He’s often referred to as one of the fathers of the mountain bike, even though he didn’t actually weld the frames himself.  Even so, his bikes are highly sought after, innovative, and just plain cool as we’ll see.

Fisher Mt. Tam

Gary was an integral part of the Repack scene in California with Charlie Kelly, Joe Breeze, Tom Ritchey, and several others you probably wouldn’t know. In 1979 he started Mountainbikes with Kelly and Tom Ritchey. They only lasted until 1983, but Gary started his own company that same year. Unlike Ritchey or Breeze, he wasn’t making the frames himself, but he definitely knew what worked, so he got good people to make frames for him, like Tom Teesdale.

Fisher Montare

Things clearly went well for Gary, as he was importing frames from Taiwan by 1988. In 1991, he sold the company to Anlen of Taiwan, but stayed on as president. In 1993, Trek bought Fisher from Anlen, and ran them as a mostly independent line until 2010 when Fisher became just a name on a special series of Trek bikes. Then in 2014, Fisher the bicycle simply disappeared, with not one word from Trek – or from anyone else judging from the searches I’ve tried – to commemorate it.

A truly sad end to a truly cool company.

Fisher loved to push the envelope of bike design. In 1989 he introduced the Evolution headset which featured a 1 1/4″ head tube, rather than the standard 1″ head tube. I believe he did this because he wanted to make lighter forks from aluminium and titanium instead of steel, and needed larger diameter head tubes for the forks to be strong enough.

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Fisher RS-1

The 1991 Montare had a curved seat tube and elevated chainstays to improve climbing. The 1991 Mt. Tam came equipped with the revolutionary Rock Shox suspension fork. In 1992 the RS-1 blew minds with a Mert Lawwill (a motorcycle legend that would go on to design the Schwinn Straight 8 and Yeti Lawwill DH) designed rear suspension, disc brake, and linkage fork. There was really nothing else like it at the time.

Fisher CR-7

Fisher CR-7

Then there was the Richard Cunningham designed CR-7, with an aluminium front triangle bolted to a steel rear end. Meant to give you the best of both worlds; a stiff front end for maximum power transfer, and a resilient rear end for a much less punishing ride. Still, for me, one the coolest bikes ever made. Cunningham would use this design on his own Mantis XCR, and the Nishiki Alien.

It’s hard to know what exactly Gary did in the company after Trek took over. He appeared at trade shows and rode a lot – he came to St. Albert for a group ride not too long ago in fact – but who knows how much input he had on bike design.

Except for one thing.

One really big thing.

In 1981, Geoff Apps in the UK contacted Fisher and Kelly about a bike he had developed using a Nokian tire in 700c x 47 size. There were intrigued, but everything Fisher and Kelly worked on used 26″ wheels, parts for the bigger wheels just didn’t exist.

Fisher Supercaliber 29

Fisher Supercaliber 29

It must have made an impression though, because after using his Trek leverage to get WTB to make some fat 700c tires, he convinces Trek to bring the Supercaliber 29er to market in 2002. It took a couple years, but eventually, Fisher’s big wheel bikes take off. The rest of the market follows with better rims, lighter wheels, and more tire choices. And the rest, is history.

Literally.

26″ wheel bikes are now virtually dead. 29″ wheel bikes own the racing and recreational markets, and there are very good big wheel trail and enduro bikes too. And not long after 29ers proved themselves, companies looked at 27.5″ wheels, and found them to be a great compromise between the two sizes.

All serious enduro and DH race bikes have 27.5″ wheels now.

Gary Fisher didn’t invent the 29er, and he didn’t invent the mountain bike, but it’s hard to imagine where we would be now without his pushing the industry. It’s too bad Trek didn’t a bit more reverence for him.

 

2 thoughts on “Gary Fisher”

  1. 80–Thanks for posting this story. Others know more about this than I do, but I don’t feel Gary has received his proper due regarding his role in 29er development. Sure, it was Wes Williams who got the recent ball rolling toward 29 inches (back in 1988), but I know Geoff Apps’ got Gary’s big gears turning. Others helped out along the way (Don Cook, MBHOF former director, comes to mind). But Gary Fisher was the guy with the vision AND, with Trek, the ability to make it happen. Ever since Gary got WTB to open that $50K Nano Raptor mold in 1999 he battled Trek to keep GF niners alive. Eventually dividends would pay. That moment came when Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski won the US Nationals in 2009 on a GF Superfly 29er. All over you could here, “Oh, now I get it, you can WIN on 29ers.” Even in Waterloo. After Gary stuck his neck out for years toward advancement of a superior wheel size, to hear the boss say, “Okay Gary, we’ll take it from here” that bites. Everyone should heap a ton of thanks on Gary for his magnificent role in making the 29er come to fruition. It wasn’t obvious. It wasn’t easy. Gary Fisher has given extraordinary gifts to mountain biking, but this is one of my favorites. Thank you, Gary.
    –Joe Breeze

    1. What a pleasure it was to see your comment pop up here Joe – thank you!

      I’m obviously 100% in agreement with your assessment of Gary; things would be very different without his involvement.

      Your addition to the story reminded me that I neglected to mention in my post a great article from Adam Hunt on Mombat about the origin of 29ers. I don’t know Adam at all, but he’s really done his homework there.

      Thanks again for your input Joe. I’m really stoked to get feedback from someone who was there when it all started.

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