THE FIRST FIVE YEARS

MBA cover highlights from the magazine's early years

As we looked back at the history of MBA, we decided to focus on some of the covers that graced the newsstand during the first five of our 35 years. More than any other cycling magazine, MBA has always taken the lead in testing and promoting the breakthrough technologies that would forever change the sport. And, looking back, it’s clear how some of the covers helped sharpen that important role. Of course, since racing had such a monumental impact in helping to develop both the new technology as well as the sport itself, for good reason we frequently relied on race action photos (most often featuring John Tomac) to help spread the message.

As you might expect, with over 400 issues printed since it all began, there have been a handful of covers that, in the attempt to broaden our reach beyond the “hardcore,” have left some of us shaking our heads in amusement. And so, for the sake of this quick look back at some of the covers that defined our 1986–1991 issues, you will find a collection of all the above.

MAY 1988: THE FUTURE ARRIVED TOO EARLY

If ever there was an MBA cover that had a particular prescient element to it, it was this one that captured a photo of the then-unthinkable Kestrel Nitro full-suspension bike that we shot at the Interbike show when it was located at the Long Beach Convention Center. It was so radical in the early evolution of both frame material (it was made from carbon fiber) and suspension (the Paul Turner-sourced fork pre-dated the RockShox name) that few of those in attendance gave the bike much credence of being anything beyond a crazy concept bike.

JULY 1986: KICKING THINGS OFF

Thanks to the vision of Hi-Torque publisher Roland Hinz and the enthusiasm and photo talents of original editor Dean Bradley, Mountain Bike Action arrived in the summer of 1986 chock-full of some great feature stories that truly reflected how young the sport of mountain biking was. Who knew that 35 years later we’d still be here looking back fondly on the pioneering effort.   

FEBRUARY 1991: THE SUSPENSION REVOLUTION ARRIVES

Each year at the annual Interbike show held in September we would gather up as many test bikes as we could before heading off to test them at the Moab Fat Tire Festival. Of the seven bikes tested in this issue (featuring a Mantis X-Frame on the cover), only two (the Boulder Gazelle and Scott CST) were full-suspension models.

TOMAC AS BOY RACER

Despite being chided by many in the industry (who called us “Tomac Bike Action”) for our reliance on covers that featured the former BMXer in the guise of both racer and MBA test rider, given the height of his popularity and race wins that he would eventually achieve, we look back on all our Tomac covers with a great sense of pride.

1. The January 1987 cover featured a still relatively unknown Tomac aboard his chromoly Mongoose at the NORBA finals in Durango, Colorado. Despite leading the first three laps, the fast-paced 18-year-old’s race came undone with a broken rear dropout.

2. During the summer of 1990 when he had returned to mountain bikes following a brief stint as a pro roadie with the 7-Eleven team, Tomac made a handshake deal with Yeti Cycles founder John Parker to campaign the steel bikes leading up to the World Championships in Durango. We weren’t sure about this shot of JT at the Park City, Utah, NORBA National, but it stands out for its head-spinning effect.

3. Although he came up empty-handed at the World Championships, Tomac was still able to parlay his talent and celebrity into a big-dollar contract with Raleigh. With his new sponsor came the Tomac Signature bike, which used carbon fiber tubes and titanium lugs.

SEPTEMBER 1991: THE REASON FOR BEING

Although as the name implies, MBA has always had a penchant for keeping things on the “action” side, we’ve never been remiss to remind readers that the most gratifying part of the sport is best found in the simple endeavor of just pedaling a bike within the reaches of the great outdoors. And while we remain fans of racing and new technology, we’ve never forgotten just how meaningful and uplifting a good trail ride among the trees can be—no matter what bike we’re riding.

MARCH 1987: TOMAC THE TEST RIDER

Of all the potential test riders we relied on for photo shoots, none had the high-flying talent of John Tomac. Since the “Tomes” lived near the old MBA headquarters, he was just a phone call away and always happy to head over to the jumps at Tampaland to click off a few shots. The SE Shocker we featured in this issue was the brainchild of one of the sport’s most visionary mad scientists, Dan Hanebrink. The early mixed-wheel “mullet bike” weighed 30 pounds and combined Hanebrink’s own air shock and linkage system that used an adjustable strut to adjust the damping. The 30-pound bike sold for $1100 complete. By 1988, Tomac’s team contracts would preclude him from being photographed on test bikes.

MAY 1989:  GETTING KINDA CRAZY

Every once in a while we would put our better instincts to the side and try something totally different. That was the case with this issue, which featured our then-editor of BMX Plus! magazine Karl Rothe getting “rad” aboard the Specialized Stumpjumper.

OCTOBER 1990: CUNNINGHAM’S MASTERPIECE

Richard Cunningham was a local bike builder/engineer whom MBA befriended for much-needed technical advice when it came to analyzing test bikes. Although in concept Cunningham’s Flying V shared the aluminum front triangle and bolted-on chromoly rear end with the Gary Fisher CR-7, it was unlike any other bike that existed at the time and remains a timeless classic.

THE THREE WE CAN’T TAKE BACK

SEPTEMBER 1988: THE O’SHOW’S DEBUT

Although by 1988 former MX national and Supercross champion Johnny O’Mara had appeared on many covers for our sister zine Motocross Action, as he was beginning his new career as mountain bike racer, we wrangled him into testing a Kuwahara tandem and used this outtake for the first of two covers that ever featured two-up riding.

OCTOBER 1988: THE CITY BIKE THING

Like many other brands in the early days that were unsure of the still-unknown future that mountain bikes represented, Shogun hedged their full-flung dirt bike gamble by producing a line of city bikes to accompany their line of serious mountain bikes. 

SEPTEMBER 1990: MUSCLE-BOUND

Possibly better as a concept than an actual cover, this was the image we used to capitalize on the broader spectrum of outdoor enthusiasts who cared more about getting in shape than in racing or the latest technology. Since no MBA editor had a muscular profile, we inducted resident big man Matthew Miles, who was an editor for our ATV mag, Dirt Wheels.