Taken from Dirt 65, July 2007
“Young American, young American, she wants the young American,”
She cries, “Where have all Papa’s heroes gone?”
David Bowie – Young Americans
In our sport, we’re not used to having anything to look back at, it has always been about looking forward, now those old enough can wistfully reminisce about the old days with a “D’ya remember when?”
The early steps were mainly forged by those who had found themselves a new life over the pond, so in the formative years of mountain biking it was America that led the way. The Californian scene contained many a character to epitomise the sport.
When you were a teenage kid in the 90’s wearing out magazine page corners, constantly leafing through to once again ogle at bike parts and scrutinize every pro rider’s style, it was the yanks that were capturing your imagination. It was races like the Mammoth Mountain Kamikaze that were being raced in your dreams.
The fact it was all so distant added to the mystique, it felt unattainable. Therefore giving it a heaven–esque quality. The angels that played in this dusty paradise all had mystical names to match and characteristics that felt like they were pulled straight out of a fairytale book.
There was Missy ‘The Missile’ Giove, a lesbian who hung a dead piranha round her neck. Jimmy ‘56mph’ Deaton, who had obviously gone 56mph. Dave ‘Cully’ Cullinan who came back from heart surgeries. Myles Rockwell, the man was synonymous with the Reebok Eliminator and the cross country helmet with Oakley goggles combo. Names like Eric Carter, Mike King, John Tomac, Brian Lopes were plastered all over the place, with the team liveries always looking flashy. Maybe too lycra orientated looking back on it, but at the time it added to the strange glamour of it all. America had the big bike companies, therefore had the big money behind the riders allowing them to become the first professionals in the sport.
The companies of the time are as legendary as the riders. GT was always a huge force. Yeti seemed to create a heritage before there was even time to have one. When Cannondale came out with their early downhill bikes they glistened like nothing else. Bikes were developed, tested and built on US soil, the States became like an unsinkable independent battleship, within which anything could happen. I remember stories of how Cannondale pads were made in a small building in the company’s hometown by a load of old women. Don’t know if it was true but stories like this are genius anyway.
Things like Dual Slalom were what we were getting up to on our bikes anyway, racing your mates down a bank somewhere, but in the US they actually had organised races with big crowds and star riders. A modern day gladiatorial experience.
I never knew, and still don’t know, whether it was duel or dual? Was it; “a contest with deadly weapons arranged between two people to settle a point of honour” or was it simply because it consisted of two riders? The point was that it didn’t matter, the point was that is was taking place, there in that magic place again.
And then of course you had Shaun ‘Napalm’ Palmer who shook the entire barrel and made me personally realise just exactly what I wanted to do…ride my bike fast and have fun on it while shouting “F–k You!” to anyone who tried to stop me or got in the way. The man seemed almost to be a nation of his own, but he was always very much an American, with patriotism running thick in his veins and often all over his kit, and very memorably all over his Intense with a full Troy Lee crafted stars and stripes spray job.
These are the sort of things we grew up expecting from the Americans, a kind of crass loudness that would normally be sickly but because they cultivated the early years of this sport it felt acceptable and fitting.
The main mountain biking characters have obviously faded into the history books and have been replaced by the current entourage of ‘new’ world riders. On downhill podiums around the globe, of those riders that have replaced them, none are American. In fact I can’t remember the last time I saw an American on a downhill World Cup podium. Lopes is still amazingly there, near the top of the 4X scene, but he seems very lonely in the search for fellow patriots.
There is of course Jill Kintner flying the flag very elegantly and dominantly in women’s 4X, but not much else. Where are the US downhill mountain biking characters of today? It feels like the sport has moved into a new era. The riders of the 90’s have been replaced by a multi cultural crew mainly dominated by Brits and Aussies. Did the rest of the world start to resent America for its domination and want to knock it off its pedestal or did everyone else just get quicker?
The American companies still remain at the top, picking up foreign riders to represent them round the globe. Will the non–American bike companies step up to the level that their riders have? A few have proved they can and are now included in the worlds elite, but will they overtake in the way the riders have? Or does America have a renaissance coming, is fresh talent gonna re–ignite the torch lit so early in this sport by the heroes and legends of the Golden State?
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