History Of Mountain Biking (18 Awesome Facts)

The incredible history of mountain biking is full of excitement, innovation, evolution, and furious competition. The story of the mountain bike is closely connected to the history of the bicycle itself, which is why many historians struggle to agree on who invented the mountain bike. To answer the question ‘who invented the mountain bike?’ you must first ask ‘what is a mountain bike?’ is it simply a bike ridden off-road? Is it a purpose-built bike? or, can it be a retrofitted or modified bike? Read through this story so you can make your own decision.

How Long Has Mountain Biking Been Around?

There is some debate on the history of mountain biking. Joe Breeze is often credited for producing the first purpose-built mountain bike in 1978. However, before these first-purpose-built mountain bikes, people made mountain bikes from retrofitted beach cruisers from the 1930s, and the Buffalo soldiers rode bikes off-road as far back as the late 1890s. So the real question is how do you define mountain biking? If you define mountain biking as offroad cycling then the Buffalo soldiers take it. However, if you think a purpose-built bike is required for riding off-road then Joe Breeze started mountain biking in 1978.

How Did Mountain Biking Start?

It is largely thought that mountain biking started in Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County in the late 1960s. It was started by a group of rebels known as the ‘The Larkspur Canyon Gang’. With that said, there are other people known to have ridden bikes off-road much earlier than this. For example, in 1953 John Finley Scott from the US made a bike called ‘Woodsie Bike’ which he made to ride off-road. Also as far back as 1886, the US army rode bicycles off-road.

How and when did mountain biking start is an ongoing debate, which probably comes down to what you define as mountain biking. Wikipedia definition of mountain biking is ‘Mountain biking is a sport of riding bicycles off-road, so by that definition, the US army started mountain biking in 1886.

The Evolution Of The Bicycle Into A Mountain Bike

The bike is a truly incredible feat of engineering. They’re good for your health, cost nothing to power, and have a low impact on the environment. The most popular reason why people love bikes is they give you pure freedom! No matter if you’re rich or poor, people from all over the world can experience the exhilaration of riding a bike! The humble bike’s evolution since its conception isn’t too dissimilar to the evolution of plant and animal life – with endless new designs and the latest materials, subdividing into new categories – with only the best ideas surviving to the next generation.

1817 – The Walking Machine 

Which was the first-ever bike?

The first-ever bike was ‘The Walking Machine’, designed by a German inventor called Karl Drais. This bike was initially invented as an alternative form of transport to the horse. He named his invention ‘The Dransine’. The Dransine was much closer to the scooter’, as it was powered by scooting. However, his vision didn’t catch on because the road surfaces were rough at the time, and his wooden scooter gave a harsh, unenjoyable ride.

1865 – The Velocipede 

The following generation was the ‘The Velocipede’ appearing in 1865. This iteration of the bicycle was much closer to a modern child’s tricycle. It had the cranks and pedals mounted directly to the front wheel, allowing the bike to be self-propelled. It was aptly named the ‘velocipede’, which in Latin means ‘fast foot’. However, the combination of the metal tires and rough cobbled streets provided an uncomfortable ride and quickly became nicknamed the ‘Boneshaker’. So, needless to say, this design never became popular for adults. 

1870 – The Penny Farthing

In around 1870, the famous high-wheeled ‘The Penny Farthing’ made its first appearance. This was the first metal-framed bike and was made possible due to recent advances in alloy metals at the time. The large front wheel, metal spokes, and rubber tires allowed for a much smoother and faster ride over the rough streets. The Penny Farthing quickly became popular due to its improved ride and its iconic looks. However, the penny-farthing rapidly gained a reputation for being a dangerous contraption due to the precariously high riding position.

1880 – The Safety Bicycle

In 1880 the stars aligned, and the safety bike was born. This was probably the most influential bike in history, as most modern bikes still carry a strong resemblance to this bike. This bike’s chain-driven drivetrain was positioned between the two wheels making the bike much more stable. This combined with metal wheels and rubber tires, made for a comfortable, and more importantly, safe ride. The Safely Bike was one of the most crucial turning points for bikes because it made people realize that bikes had practical uses, unlike the dangerous Pennyfarthing.

1886 – US Army Off-Road Bikes

In 1886 the US Army was the first to use off-road bicycles to replace horses. Bicycles had big advantages compared to horses as they did not get ill, need feeding, or die in battle. Furthermore, they were relatively inexpensive compared to horses. These bikes were made with a typical rigid frame and forks, their simplicity made them incredibly reliable and was popular with the troops of the day.

1902 – The Birth Of Off-Road Racing

In 1902 the road races of the day spawned the first-ever example of off-road bicycle racing. The road riders of the day would take shortcuts through farmer’s fields and forests to try and get to the finish line the fastest. This became so popular that it gave birth to the sport of cyclocross, and incredibly cyclocross is a very much growing sport still to the modern-day.

1953- Woodsie Bike

In 1953 most likely, the first-ever mountain bike enthusiast John Finley Scott from the US made a bike called ‘Woodsie bike’. He retrofitted a Schwinn World diamond frame with fat balloon tires, flat handlebars, derailleur gears, and powerful cantilever brakes. Being at least 20 years ahead of his time meant that he had nobody to share his passion with, none the less he was an avid mountain biker all the same. In 1979, John Finley Scott became one of the original investors in MountainBikes and greatly influenced the initial manufacture and promotion of mountain bikes.

mountain bike history

1955 – The Rough Stuff Fellowship

In 1955 the first-ever off-road cycling club was formed. It was formed on the Welsh English border, most likely by a group of intoxicated men and women. They named their club the ‘Rough Stuff Fellowship’. Being very British, it was common for riders of the fellowship to cycle in a shirt, tie, and a bobble hat, And of course, no ride is ever complete without a stop at the local pub. These quiet, well-dressed people are definitely unsung pioneers of the sport of off-road cycling.

The Birth Of The Modern Mountain Bike

1970s The ‘Klunker’

In the early 1970s, a group of wild hippies from California retrofitted beach cruises from the 1930s with fat balloon tires, motocross handlebars, and upgraded brakes. These bikes became known as the infamous ‘ Klunker’, which they enjoyed riding down fire roads as fast as possible, often ending in a broken bike or an injured rider, but they always had so much fun they didn’t seem to care!

As popularity grew, this transformed into the races aptly known “Repack races”, due to the grease in the hubs melting, then leaking out and requiring the hubs repacking after every run. The crazy popularity of these races sparked some fierce competition and in turn, gave birth to some of the very first mountain bike-specific products.

1981 – Specialized Stumpjumper

Towards the end of the 1970s, going into the early 1980s, road bike manufacturers started to see the growing popularity of mountain biking. They produced the first-ever mass-produced mountain bike to cater to this demand. However, mountain biking was still seen as a short-term fad and was still very much in its infancy.

The first mass-produced mountain bike was a bike made by the brand Specialized, called the ‘Specialized Stumpjumper’ in 1981 (a modern variant of this bike is still made by specialized today). The first Specialized Stumpjumper was a modified road bike frame with thicker tubing for strength, a wider frame for larger tires, and the first flat handlebars to give better stability over rough terrain. 

History Of Mountain Biking - 1981 stump jumper
1981 Specialized Stumpjumper (credit R0014938)

1985 To The Early 1990s 

In 1985 the big bicycle manufacturer Raleigh made their first-ever mountain bike called the ‘Maverick’. This was not an instant success and took a few years to catch on. In the late 1980s, mountain biking took the world by storm due to big mountain bike events being covered by the mass media. These televised events were exciting to watch and were viewed by millions.

Naturally, this attracted big sponsorship deals for the athletes, which sparked some intense competition among the top competitors. This elite-level racing combined with the vast media exposure pushed top-level bicycle brands to make innovative mountain bikes and, more importantly, increase the range of mountain bike products and components to help athletes get a competitive edge.     

Since this time, mountain biking has become a sport that is constantly evolving. It has split into many subcategories that require their specific bikes and have their own flourishing subcultures built around them. Despite mountain biking subdividing into many categories, there are some universal rules/etiquette which should always be taken into consideration. As bikes evolve, some ideas are left in the past, and other ideas pave the way for the future. The sport of mountain biking and the mountain bikes themselves will always be in constant flux.

However, I hope people’s love and passion for the sport will always stay the same. At the end of the day, we love to ride our bikes for the incredible feeling it gives us, sometimes this will be the feeling of freedom when on a solo mission out in the mountains, and other days it will be playing around in the forest with a group of your friends. Either way, it’s important to remember not to get too caught up in having the latest bike, or the latest shiny components, and just enjoy riding your bike.      

Is Mountain Biking Getting More Popular?

The data suggest that mountain biking is becoming more popular. The data shows there has been a huge surge in people buying and riding mountain bikes worldwide. Mountain bike trail usage has been showing on average a 100% increase in usage year upon year for the last decade.

When Did Mountain Bikes Get Suspension?

mountain bike history
Brian Skinner first full suspension MTB

The first-ever mountain bike suspension was conceived in 1982 by Brian Skinner. Brian Skinner was an influential person in the design and creation of mountain bike components, most famously for the development of Shimano Deore and Deore XT components. However, few people know he was responsible for the ever full suspension mountain bike called the MCR Descender.

However, the first production full suspension mountain bike did not come about until the year 1990 with Proflex Offroad by Serrota.

Where Was Mountain Biking Invented?

Traditionally mountain biking is thought to have been invented in California by a group of hippies with retrofitted beach cruisers. However, there is still much debate around who invented the mountain bike as there were many people that rode bikes off-road as far back as the last 1880s. The real question is what do you define as a mountain bike? Which is also an ambiguous question to answer.


The history of mountain biking is simply about man’s desire for freedom and progression. Nothing beats heading out into the hills with just your trusty metal steed, conquering climbs, smashing descents, and playing about with your friends. The humble mountain bike has never taken a breath, but yet has a rich soul, and endures many lifetimes of blood, sweat, and tears.

If you love mountain bike facts, and stats check out our post here: Mountain Bike Statistics (30 Interesting Facts & Numbers)

Peter Ballin

Pedro is the primary writer on the site. He’s raced downhill and enduro at a high level, spannered at mountain bike world cups, and also written a book called Mountain Bike Maintenance. He’s appeared in both print & online major media publications across the Uk, France, and Japan (and even appeared on French Television). He’s made his living from bikes in various forms, from mountain bike guiding in France and Spain, Trail building in New Zealand and Canada, and working as a bike mechanic in the French Alps for many years. Pedro loves a good adventure and is often settling random challenges like riding down Mount Fuji, swimming across Lake Geneva, and hitchhiking across America.