Looking Back 30 Years
Our August 1989 issue featured BMX Plus! then-editor Karl Rothe on the cover. Karl doubled as one of MBA’s test riders when he wasn’t working on our BMX magazine.
The issue offered a variety of interesting articles and ads, including some funny ones featuring John Tomac, who was quickly becoming one of the greatest stars in mountain bike history.
One of the biggest features in that issue was a test of five different mountain bikes priced under $500. None of them had any suspension, front or rear. The bike world would soon start changing, though.
Rock Shox (they spelled it as two words back then) had let us test its prototype forks a few months earlier, but the production units wouldn’t be available for purchase until later that year. All five of our sub-$500 test bikes were rigid bikes with 26-inch wheels. Four of them had 71-degree head angles; the only exception, a KHS, had a 70.5-degree head angle. All five of the test bikes had 73-degree seat tube angles. In those days, any bike that wanted to be taken seriously by the bike-buying public had to have geometry exactly like that, or very close to that, or it would be dismissed by the mountain bike community as an improperly designed bike.
In that August 1989 issue we also took a look at the cross-country racers we expected to be the top contenders that year. (Downhill racing wasn’t a big deal yet.) America’s top cross-country racers of 1988 were listed in the issue. The top men were (1) John Tomac, (2) Ned Overend and (3) Max Jones. The top women were (1) Margaret Day, (2) Cindy Whitehead and (3) Martha Kennedy; future stars Susan DeMattei and Julie [sic] Furtado placed seventh and ninth in the 1988 rankings.
Among the other riders shown in the issue were Hansjorg Rey (now better known as Hans Rey), who was a German trials rider whom GT had recently sponsored; America’s Greg Herbold, a future UCI downhill world champion, whom we cited as “the funniest rider on the circuit”; and Tinker Juarez, a rising star who had recently come into mountain biking from the sport of BMX. We said of him, “Tinker came on strong at the end of ’88 and appears to be getting even stronger this year.” Tinker, of course, went on to win multiple national XC titles in the next decade and is still racing in the Pro class now, 30 years later, concentrating on endurance races.
In another section of the same issue, Ned Overend named the riders he considered the best sprinters, climbers and descenders in the sport. John Tomac made all three lists. Tinker made the list as one of the best climbers and one of the best up-and-comers.
Joe Lawwill graced our cover 20 years ago with his sky-high air over a set of doubles. Joe, who won the downhill world championship in the Masters’ division in 2002, went on to work for Shimano, where he still works today. Joe’s dad is the legendary Mert Lawwill, one of the stars of On Any Sunday, the iconic motocross movie directed by the late Bruce Brown.
We also had an article about one of the strangest races in history, an underground mountain bike race that was held in a salt mine in eastern Germany. The race was held in the Glueckauf salt mine’s underground tunnels, 1/2 a mile below the earth’s surface.
Our story reported that the temperature inside the mine was nearly 30 degrees centigrade (86 degrees Fahrenheit) with zero humidity. The racers competed in the event using a time-trial format. The winner, Henri Lesewitz, completed four laps of the 3.2-mile underground course, a total of 12.8 miles, in 58 minutes, 9 seconds. There were 41 finishers in the race. There were plans to hold the race again the following year, but we don’t recall now if that follow-up race ever happened. In any event, the underground race we covered, thanks to the work of contributor Stephan Repke was definitely one of the most unusual mountain bike races ever held.
Our August 2009 issue featured an action shot of Todd Wells leading the Pro Men’s XC race at the Sea Otter Classic.
In covering the Sea Otter event, we revealed that Melissa Buhl won the Pro Women’s Dual Slalom title, knocking off the top qualifier, Jill Kintner; Sam Hill won the Men’s Slalom title. European Christoph Sauser won the Pro Men’s Cross-Country, while Georgia Gould won the division for the Pro Women. Todd Wells won the Pro Men’s Short Track, while Emily Batty won the Pro Women’s.
Elsewhere in the issue, editor-at-large Richard Cunningham wrote an editorial column in which he predicted that since 29-inch hardtails were so far superior to 26-inch hardtails, 26-inch hardtails would soon be a thing of the past. Richard wrote, “The 29-inch hardtail is superior to its smaller-wheeled cousin in all corners of the cross-country performance envelope. It rolls faster, climbs better, descends with a measurable improvement in control, and the larger wheel format nearly approaches the rough-terrain capabilities of a 4-inch-travel, dual-suspension 26er. In short, if you prefer a hardtail, your first and only choice is a 29er—unless you are too short to fit between two 29-inch wheels and maintain an ergonomic pedaling position on the bike.”
R.C. proved correct in his prediction, and the 29-inch hardtail—and the soon-to-be-popular 27.5-inch option—ultimately replaced the 26-inch hardtail for most cross-country racers over the next few years. As R.C. pointed out in his editorial, the European racers were the slowest ones to adopt the 29-inch wheel size, since many of them thought the 29-inch wheels were a ridiculous American fad. That all changed, of course, after Jaroslav Kulhavy won the 2011 World Cup XC title on a 29er.
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