The 1990s were the first golden era of mountain biking. Over the course of the decade, mountain biking earned its own UCI world championships, then a spot at the 1996 Olympics. There was a huge growth in technology, including the promising new technology of suspension, first front then dual, which led to the birth of freeride in B.C.

While many riders at the trailhead this weekend might not remember a time before tubeless tires, if you were riding off road in the ’90s you likely remember …

Ryder Hesjedal Ritchy P-21

1 ) Learning to ride on a rigid bike

Because it would teach you “proper technique” before you earned the luxury of suspension…

RELATED: Ryder Hesjedal’s ’90s Ritchey P21

2) Riding steel bikes

Heavy metal is making a comeback in the mainstream after years of being limited to boutique builders but for years it was aluminum, and then carbon fibre ruled the roost for frame materials.

Ryder Hesjedal Ritchy P-21
The good old days of triple chain rings. 26-36-46.

3) Running triple chainrings

Long before 1x all but killed double chain ring set-ups, there were triple chainrings. What, your bike only has a 500% gear ratio?

4) The scarred shins of learning to ride on flat pedals, or with toe cages?

OK, this probably still happens, right? Kids still ride flat pedals, so it must. There’s no amount of nostalgia that can make running toe cages off road seem like it was a good idea.

5) Watching North Shore Extreme (1997) on VHS

Grainy video from North Van exposed a new type of riding, brought to you by Digger, massive, helmet-mounted camcorders, and hucks to flat. If you were lucky, your local bike club would show the latest Kranked or Down movie on a big screen. Otherwise, you had to find a friend of a friend who would lend you a copy.

6) NORBA existed, and it was a big deal

Mountain bike racing was huge in North America, and NORBA rivaled the excitement of World Cup racing.

Skinsuits in DH and annual race guides in print

7) Racing downhill in spandex

Before the UCI and DH racers collectively decided that form trumped function in DH racing and banned lycra, there was a race to get aero on the World Cup downhill circuit.

8) Lights that barely illuminated your bars in front of you, but still weighed a ton

Before self-contained bar lights were measured in 1000’s of Lumens, they required a mass of wires connected to a Thermos-size battery. Organizing all of this onto bikes and into jersey pockets was half the “fun” of night riding.

9)  “Keep singletrack single” and “Ride don’t slide”

As others have argued recently, maybe these lessons – repeated to the point they became riding mantra – should make a return…


10) Five Ten was just for climbers

Long before becoming one of the best known names in moutain bike shoes, Five Ten was a pioneering brand of climbing shoes

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  • Sobiewan says:

    Oh man, what about suspending the rider, elastomer suspension, brake boosters, rim hydraulic brakes, I brakes and all the other good stuff?

  • Todd Nivens says:

    I still ride a ’96 Brodie hardtail with a Marzocchi shock. It’s got Avid SpeedDial brakes, Deore LX build, and Sun rims. It’s still amazing to ride.

  • Paul Lachance says:

    The pleasure for the eyes to have a look at that P-21…Brings back memories of riding my Ritchey without any suspension…your whole body was reacting to the trails. Of course my body was younger…could not do that now.

  • ROB NYGREN says:

    Raleigh Big Horn, centre pull brakes, oval chain rings,15 gears……….NORBA, forgot all about that, then I had a Kona Munimulla, and still own a 1997 Rocky Mountain Hammer Race.

  • Stacey says:

    Had a full suspension Proflex in the 90’s than switched to Amp B5. Sub 23lbs. With Conti 1.5 XC. super light race machine. Now a road guy.

  • James Cosgrave says:

    Don’t forget the elastomer full suspension Proflex! I had one and with no hit, top and down tubes cracked near head tube and I did one of the first supermans! They replaced it for free unfortunately.

  • Pete says:

    Still have my Trek Y-33! And forget dropper posts, back in my day all we had was a hite-rite!

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