BERKELEY TRAILERS UNION – THE UNKNOWN DOWNHILL PIONEERS

By Zap

It started with a random Instagram post of an old favorite photo of mine from the MBA archives. The shot came from the summer of 1986 high atop the ski slopes of Mammoth Mountain and although I knew little about the actors portrayed, I loved the capture of such a primitive moment in Mammoth Kamikaze history. With their fists raised high, the photo featured members of a rag tag group of mountain bikers from the Berkeley Trailers Union reveling in their pre-descent moment in the sun.

Although any actual historical record of the BTU was scant, my IG post was soon rewarded with a comment from Jon Suzuki who was an actual member of the club, albeit in its later years of the late 80’s. Jon not only had some valuable first-person notes to add, but also led me to two BTU videos on YouTube which delivered some classic 8mm footage of the early days that were an absolute treasure to behold (below).

The best I could surmise from talking to John and watching the videos was that while the famous Marin pioneers like Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze and Otis Guy were doing their Repack downhill thing across the bay in a more thoughtful and organized way, the BTU was going about things in a cloud of chaos.  To me, it seemed like where the riders in Marin were riding to the mellow tunes of their NorCal friends in the Grateful Dead, over in the east bay the soundtrack to the BTU rides were more inspired by the raucous tunes of The MC5!

In addition to the one guy wearing the hockey mask, the thing I love about the photo is the specificity of the equipment being used. This would be the photo I would refer back to when listening to so many over-indulged modern day mountain bikers complain about the challenges of riding without tubeless tires,  dropper posts and six-inches of front and rear suspension!

Like so many other aspects of of the early mountain bike days, I wish there was more to know about the BTU and their wild, go for it exploits. At the very least, I’m thankful that (along with the likes of  Wende Cragg), as with so much of mountain biking’s early days, Mountain Bike Action was there to capture some of it.

BTU members in the early 90’s with thier (gasp!) Lycra outfits.

WHAT DOES JON SAY ABOUT THE BTU?
What is your background with the BTU?
Let me begin by saying that I would be considered a ‘second generation’ BTU member and not an “OG”! The group’s origins are said to have started in the ’70s when I was still riding a skateboard! I began my riding with the Berkeley Trailers Union in around 1987 in the hills above Berkeley, Marin, and Contra Costa. At that point, we weren’t really an organized team per-se, really just a group of guys riding off-road on everything from BMX bikes, single-speed cruisers, and early mountain bikes. In the early ’90s, we became a more team with sponsors and team kit, (to the chagrin of some anti-lycra members).

My time ‘official’ time with the BTU (’87-’95) again was really the ‘launchpad’ for my involvement in the cycling community including my relationship with the NorCal High School MTB League, working in the bicycle retail industry for nearly 20 years, and running a very successful team out of the Missing Link Bicycle Cooperative, in Berkeley, CA.

How would you describe the club?
For me I would describe the “Club” as my personal catalyst for my near lifelong journey in cycling. To others, we were considered a ‘gang’, rebels (for sure), hippies, and always outsiders. Our hey-day was in the ’90s when guy’s like Frank “Pepe” Merel would podium at Mammoth, and Steve Dalleske and Jimbei Suzuki (my brother) would be regulars at the ‘sharp-end’ of XC races. Eventually, we drifted apart as a team, but nearly every member I’m still in touch with continues to ride and is part of the cycling community they live in.

AND NOW FOR THE VIDEOS!

 

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