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From the Mag: Roots – The Larkspur Canyon Gang

From the Mag: Roots – The Larkspur Canyon Gang

Following last week’s excerpt from issue 60 on the VCCP, here’s issue 61’s take on another possible site of the genesis of mountain biking. Editor Mike Rose did a series of four back in 2006/2007, which we’re putting up every week. Issue 61 was on the Larkspur Canyon Gang – and regardless of their impact, is there any cooler name for a bunch of mountain biking enthusiasts?! Anyway, here you are.

Larkspur Canyon Gang 

When you start looking into the history of the modern day mountain bike there are plenty of fascinating stories. After finding out about the Paris based VCCP last issue, I then came across the poetically named Larkspur Canyon Gang. In the late 60s and early 70s (dates are a little shaky but somewhere around 1968-1972) based in the small towns of Larkspur and Mill Valley, at the foot of the infamous Mt Tamalpais (Martin County, just north of San Fransisco), a group keen on having fun on their bikes formed a loosed gang. By all accounts they rode to have a good time, with their bikes being secondary, usually old pre-war, one speed, coaster brake bikes that came out of the local junkyard. They did hold a race from the top of Mt Tam to the town of Larkspur, with riders being allowed to pick any route down that they liked, with first prize apparently being some northern Californian ‘green tea’. As Klunkerz producer Billy Savage put it to me, “these were some really tough guys. It wasn’t easy pushing a 50lb bike up 2000 vertical feet.”

Following further investigation, and after talking to mountain biking legend Joe Breeze, we found out that this wasn’t the first time that Mt Tam had been ridden on a bicycle, He gave us a quick history lesson:

1885: First rider to ‘ride’ up Mt Tamalpais signs into the register at the summit of West Peak
1890s: During the ‘Golden Age’ of biking, Mt. Tam was a recognised destination in California cycling guide books.
1930s: Mill Valley riders. A group of kids were riding bikes up and down Mt Tam on the old scenic railroad dirt roadbed and over to Muir Woods National Monument.
c.1968-72: Larkspur Canyon Gang, Marin.

Eventually, much like the VCCP of the 1950s, the group slowly disbanded, but several riders did carry on alond the off-road path. Fittingly the Larkspur Canyon Gang have gone on to become local legends, and more importantly one of their members, Marc Vendetti, would go on in early 1972 to make a fat tyre bike with 24” wheels and derailleurs, which at the time was revolutionary. Was this to be the precursor to the mountain bike?

– Mike Rose

Next issue week we have a look at the Cupertino riders from San Jose.
Thanks to Billy Savage (www.klunkerz.com), Joe Breeze and Tom Slivka.

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