50 Years of Mountain Biking

Cycling through the history of a popular Santa Cruz sport

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From mountain bikes dating as far back as the 1970s to educational and interactive hands-on activities for kids, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH) had it all when it unveiled “Trailblazers: The Creative Story Behind Mountain Biking in Santa Cruz” on Feb. 7.

As soon as visitors set foot in the exhibition, they are faced with everything a mountain biker could ever dream of. This exhibition, which was a yearlong collaboration among local mountain bike framebuilders, bike companies and mountain bikers, encourages those unfamiliar with the high-altitude sport to learn about one of Santa Cruz’s most popular pastimes.

“I want people to feel empowered by the stories of experimentation, success, failure and growth that are really explored in the exhibition,” said Whitney Ford-Terry, MAH Exhibition Catalyst, “and to feel empowered to incorporate some of those aspects into their own lives, to really identify things that they want to see and make them happen.”

The majority of the mountain bikes on display are on loan by local Santa Cruz mountain bikers and the Marin Museum of Bicycling. Vibrant-colored bikes from the past 50 years give visitors an idea of how much the manufacturing of these bikes has changed and improved over time.

Visitors can hold pieces of the different metals that framebuilders have used to make mountain bikes over the years. From the cost effective, yet unsturdy mild steel tubing used in the early bikes to the strong and lightweight carbon fibre composite metal used today.

John Caletti, founder of local framebuilding shop Caletti Cycles, discovered his passion for mountain biking in the late 1980s when he was in junior high school, but his love flourished when he came to UC Santa Cruz and joined the cycling team.

“[Mountain biking] is a piece of Santa Cruz’s history in terms of creative thinking, making things and developing something in a kind of quirky, weird, small niche sport,” Caletti said. “Santa Cruz is on the international map when it comes to cycling destinations and a center of development.”

Santa Cruz’s beautiful mountainous and coastal terrain is one of the reasons Caletti chose UCSC in the first place, and why he has lived here ever since. 

Matt DeYoung, executive director of Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MBOSC), moved to Santa Cruz for similar reasons. MBOSC is an organization composed of mountain bike lovers who aim to support and preserve biking trails in an environmentally-friendly and responsible way.

“My favorite part of the job is being out on a volunteer day and seeing the satisfaction of people doing hard work to steward our lands and in turn seeing the public’s appreciation of that,” DeYoung said.

Complementing the bikes on display at the MAH is a copy of Jeremiah Kille’s geometric murals, which can be found in their original form at the painted barrels on UCSC’s upper campus, a well-known rendezvous point for many cyclists.

Whether you’re experienced, a beginner or someone who prefers to appreciate the sport from afar, “Trailblazers” has something for everyone.

“If you’re into engineering design, the show is very interesting from an engineering perspective. If you’re an artist, looking at the interplay between art and bikes and how they complement one another and how much of the artistic process Kille uses in the design process is really interesting,” said Whitney Ford-Terry, MAH Exhibition Catalyst. “Even if you’re brand new to mountain biking, it’s a bizarre and fun story to learn about because the pinpoint behind all of this is that if something doesn’t exist in the world that you want to see, you need to make it. And that’s what these people did.”

“Trailblazers: The Creative Story Behind Mountain Biking in Santa Cruz” will be on display at the MAH until Sept. 20.