In June, the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame opened in its new home in Fairfax, a small city in Northern California’s Marin County. The Hall of Fame had moved from its longtime location in Crested Butte, Colorado, to become a part of the new Marin Museum of Bicycling.
The Hall of Fame’s move makes sense from just about every conceivable angle. I admit that. And yet, at the risk of sounding like a complete jerk, a part of me has a hard time feeling entirely at peace with the new location.
SHOULDN’T IT ALREADY BE IN MARIN?
Marin, as legend has it, is the birthplace of the modern mountain bike. So, why wasn’t the Hall of Fame there from the get-go? Well, while Marin gets the lion’s share of credit for birthing the mountain bike, the truth is that this chunk of Northern California wasn’t the only petri dish spawning bearded types in flannel shirts, riding Klunker-style bikes in the hills. Crested Butte had its own contingent of early riders and a great race/ride/drinking contest in the Pearl Pass Tour.
Eventually, the two groups of riders got wind of one another. In 1978 the Marin contingent joined the Crested Butte faction, riding that beastly climb from Crested Butte into Aspen.
As the years sped by and mountain biking began to boom, a few people began talking about putting together a hall of fame and museum to honor the sport’s pioneers and landmark innovations. Crested Butte seemed as good a location as any; it could claim its own chapter in mountain biking’s genesis story, there were locals who were willing to dedicate years of their life to run the operation, and, significantly, you could actually ride a mountain bike there. Marin County couldn’t claim all of the above, or at least that last bit, and thus the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame opened its doors in Crested Butte in the late 1980s.
IT STARTED AND ENDED HERE
Whether mountain biking actually began in Marin is debatable, but it most certainly came to a crashing halt there first. By the mid `80s, it was illegal to ride a mountain bike on more than 90 percent of the singletrack trails that laced Marin County’s public lands. The area’s hiking and equestrian contingent squashed the sport while it was still in its infancy.
If you lived in Northern California at the time, as I did, it’s hard not to be bitter about Marin County. We were locked out, shouted down in public meetings, given tickets for riding the trails, and dismissed as anti-environmentalists. Crested Butte, on the other hand, has plenty of trails and, most importantly, a commitment to sharing them equitably amongst user groups. If you were going to build a museum dedicated to mountain biking, would you plop it down in a county that had all but outlawed it or would you pick a place that embraced it with love?
But here’s the thing-a museum is meant to be visited and, let’s be honest, Crested Butte isn’t the easiest place to reach. It’s beautiful, sparsely populated, and remote, and that’s all well and good, but if your goal is to get people to walk through the halls of your museum, it’s probably not a recipe for success. Besides, Don and Kay Cook, who’ve run the Hall of Fame on a volunteer basis for awhile now, also have a restaurant in town to run and lives to live.
For so many reasons, a move to Marin makes sense. The Hall of Fame is now an integral part of the 3,000-square-foot Marin Museum of Bicycling. Its location in Fairfax means that the Hall of Fame is also now within an hour’s reach of the Bay Area’s booming population, as well as the 18 million tourists who flock to San Francisco each year.
The hall is also well staffed now and run by a board of directors that includes advocates such as Joe Breeze, Otis Guy, Marc Vendetti, Julia Violich, and Lena Estrella. Three of those people are themselves hall inductees and all of them are smart, capable types. Joe Breeze may not be the actual father of the current-day mountain bike, but if you were a court, you’d be giving the guy a paternity test.
BUT REALLY, MARIN?
In short, the Hall of Fame seems like it’s finally where it belongs. It’s hard, perhaps impossible, to argue otherwise. And yet one thing hasn’t changed: Marin County is still a horrid place to be a mountain biker. The trails are great, but most are still off limits to mountain biking. Advocacy group Access4Bikes notes that only 21 percent of the narrow trails in Marin are legal for bikes to ride today and that very generous tally includes trails on private lands, such as the Boy Scouts of America-owned Camp Tamarancho parcel. Many estimates suggest that closer to ten percent of singletrack on Marin public lands is open to bikes. No matter how you slice the data, it sucks to be a mountain biker in Marin.
Should mountain biking’s hall of fame call Marin home? Personally, I’m torn. The crusty, cup-half-empty side thinks that the hall should take residence in a place that actually embraces mountain bikes. Marin County has screwed the pooch for so long it seems a shame to add the hall to its laurels.
But then the idealistic side thinks, well, perhaps the new Hall of Fame is a good start on a new future.
Maybe what Marin County actually needs is to be saddled with a popular museum that showcases all the good that mountain biking has brought to the world over the years. Who knows? Thousands of tourists streaming to Fairfax to worship the mountain bike might make Marin’s policy makers wake up and realize that it’s time they stopped trying to kill the sport their county helped spawn.
Photos courtesy Mountain Bike Hall of Fame