The Scene: An Oral History of the early days of Mountain Biking and Racing in Utah…

scene059 copyRon Lindley
Racer, promoter, trail builder, etc. Park City

After purchasing my first mountain bike back in 1985, I immediately started dreaming about racing. Not having any bike racing experience, I had grandiose delusions about how I would just get out there and set the World on fire. I started asking around about mountain bike race opportunities but there were virtually none at that time. One exception was a thing called “Bike and Tie” that I believe was produced by someone out of Park City. They had one scheduled for the Provo area in the summer of 1986, but it fell on the same weekend that I was immersed in studying for Physics and a Chemistry final and decided to give the competition a break by postponing my racing debut. Later that summer, I found out about a mountain bike race that was scheduled for the Wasatch Mountain State Park in Midway and attended it with my riding buddy Brad Sorenson. Brad was literally the only other person I knew who owned a “mountain bike” at the time. I figured out early on during this race that I was not only a beginner at the sport, but that there were a whole bunch of really fast guys who were well equipped to leave me way, way back in the dust. I finished second-to-last in that first race (much thanks to my buddy Brad).

Even with that first dismal finish, I was hooked. I was also determined to get to a level where I could compete with all those aforementioned “fast guys”. My path to glory was made much easier the following summer as some really awesome people decided to promote some really awesome mountain bike races: most notably Tim Metos, Bruce Ewert, Charlie Sturgis and Brock (Hansen?). Tim started running the local Salt Lake City classic “Wild Rose” series, Bruce was responsible for promoting the unbelievably cool “Rustler Run” at Alta and Charlie and Brock put together Utah’s first really big-time mountain bike race Park City’s “Bonanza Bonzai”. These events really represent the starting point for the “golden years” of mountain bike racing in Utah.

Since I was a Utah County native, I naturally felt like there should be at least one race somewhere in the Utah Valley area that could draw the best Utah racers that these other events did. Working with Brad, I started looking for a good place to conduct a race. After lots of searching we found the perfect spot: a Boy Scout camp in Payson Canyon. Hence the “Bike-o-Rama” was born in 1988.

This Bike-o-Rama enjoyed a 4-year run and was a real turning point for mountain bike racing in Utah. After a so-so first year, the race just exploded in its second year and with that success a new partnership was formed. This partnership was between me and an opportunistic mountain bike enthusiast named Bob Walker. Bob’s vision was to develop and series of races in Utah that would rival the old C.O.R.P.s Series in Colorado. He got me excited about the idea and I joined Bob to help him create the “Utah Fat Tire Festivals” series. This was the first N.O.R.B.A. sanctioned, state-wide mountain bike series (which has eventually evolved into Ed Chauner’s very successful Intermountain Cup series). Bob and I promoted a few races ourselves but also formed a coalition of promoters from Logan to Cedar City to broaden the scope of the series. We even persuaded the Canyon Country Cyclists (mainly Bill and Robin Groff) to promote Moab’s first big time mountain bike race, “Moab Rocks,” and add it to the series. Things eventually fell apart with Bob and myself and Ed stepped in and saved the day…the rest is history.

My recollection of the “golden years” of mountain bike racing would not be complete without mentioning a few names of some really special racers who earned my respect and admiration for there incredible talent and strength. The top of the list would have to include the following: Martin Stenger, Glenn Adams, Mark Smedley and Jeff Murray. These four guys were the first super stars of Utah mountain bike racing. Other truly notable racers included Rich Perrier, Cyndi Schwandt, Todd Henneman, Tom Noaker, Scott Lung and Jeff Osguthorpe. I’m thinking of many others but they’re too numerous to mention here. These were the people who were making the podium not only at local races, but national races back when they involved thousands of athletes.

I hope this brief look back sparks some fond recollection for those who were there to witness the proud beginnings Utah’s mountain bike racing heritage. For those who weren’t there but love to race, just take pride in the fact that Utah has hosted some of the best local racing anywhere in the World, and it still does today!

Cyndi Schwandt
Mountain Bike Racer, Park City

How much fun it was racing at a sport that was just starting!  You knew everyone including all the best racers at a national level.  Sara Ballantyne was my idol.  In 1987 I won the national hill climb in the expert class and she won pro.  We were interviewed together.  I was so nervous but she was so nice.  She was the best all-round female athlete I had ever met, and she was so humble.

My boyfriend at the time, Rich Perrier, had an old 1965 station wagon that usually had 3 bikes on top worth about $12,000.

The first Fat Tire Festival in Moab was so fun because there were bikers from all over including many industry leaders.  I rode Porcupine Rim with Gary Fisher, Chris Chance, and Tom Ritchey.  I don’t know how we did it with no suspension!

For a while I was the only woman who raced locally.  I thought it was great I got the same prize as the winning man in the Wild Rose series. I had a bad habit of getting too excited and not seeing trail markers.  I got lost constantly since I rarely saw anyone else during the race.  One race I finished just as the awards ceremony was ending.  Then all the other women were named Julie.  You could count on 2 out of the top 3 women being Julie’s since I was the only one with a different name.

It was really fun exploring and finding trails we could ride.  We looked at maps for roads or trails and tried to ride them.  We also improved many trails to make them rideable and built new ones.  We built everything by hand – no little bulldozers.

Charlie Sturgis
White Pine Touring, Park City

In the beginning, mountain biking seemed like such an odd sport, why would anyone drag 38 pounds of steel into the backcountry? As a mountain runner it seemed so much easier to simply tie your shoes!

Nonetheless I tried my first mountain bike ride in 1982 riding a Specialized Stump jumper. I discovered that mountain bikes can’t go just anywhere and that-especially an unsuspended bike, required appropriate clothing that added much needed masculine support. Even though running shoes remained a part of my mountain biking adventures, running shorts did not.

Today’s mountain biking, albeit wild and crazy, lacks the out right adventure bought on by the absence of knowledge. The reason I kept riding in running shoes was because I had no freaking idea of where I was going! There were no guide books, no publicized trail info, and most people didn’t care. Riding on dirt roads was considered mountain biking!

Putting together rides like Bench Creek or Wallsberg required countless hours of trial and error- never mind the scrapes and bruises. When we did Sunday group rides we issued hand drawn maps and you came prepared to clear the trail. A hardy day in the woods!

Ron_Martin copyEd Chauner
Race Promoter- The Intermountain Cup, Salt Lake City

The first mountain bike that I bought was in the mid-80’s and it was a totally rigid Scott.  I thought it was so cool because you could ride across the grass in a low gear and it was no work at all.  The latest in technology at that time was index shifting in the rear.  It was very nice how the rider could just click the shifter and it would lock in another gear.  The front derailleur remained friction shifting for a number of years.  Of course we all had cages for our pedals and light hiking boots were the norm.

My first race was a Wednesday night above the avenues in a small series that Wild Rose was hosting.  It was a blast so I went back to Snowbird where I was working as an events coordinator and suggested that we have a mountain bike race.  That was the 1st Annual Mountain Bout.  This year we will be running the 22nd Annual Mountain Bout.

Tim Metos
Wild Rose Sports, Salt Lake City

So many great memories of early Utah Mountain Bike scene.  There were early races sponsored by the defunct clothing company Serac and the late Richard Barnum Reese’s Utah Runner magazine.  A typical event might draw 50 to 60 guys and maybe 8-10 women all starting together in a cloud of dust.  Course markings were limited and getting lost was a common issue.  There would be cases of beer or a keg at the finish line, a few prizes and great stories.  Morning races were sometimes just a warm up for the main event of the weekend, typically a 4-6 hour adventure ride fondly dubbed “Death Marching” by our Team Flowerchildren race crew.

In an era of maintained and marked trails, GPS and Google Maps, the concept of  dragging one’s bike for hours through brush or forest after descending a dead end drainage seems almost as quaint and remote as travel by donkey, but the only real way to find out if an area had riding potential was to go try it.  Hydration packs didn’t exist yet, so you learned to ration the last 3 ounces of water in your second bottle (assuming it hadn’t fallen off your bike somewhere a couple hours ago).

A random set of Death March memories:
Riding the Wasatch Steeple Chase running event with Martin Stenger and watching him drop his bike off the crags at top of Black Mountain.  It tumbled end over end for probably 12-15 seconds, came to rest maybe 300 vertical below us and took 30 minutes to retrieve.  What were we thinking dragging our bikes up there?

My wife sobbing after an 8 hour outing in Wyoming consisting of 5 hours ride time and a 3 hour uphill portage through Lodgepole forest full of bear scat and thousands of downed trees to climb over.

Finally hitting ridable trail after a two hour bushwhack (again with my partner in crime Martin) and him promptly snapping his derailleur off on the first pedal stroke.

Staring at the finish of Porcupine Rim trail a mere 800 feet below us in fleeting, early evening sunlight on Halloween day during one of the Moab Fat Tire Festivals in early 80’s.  We started from town early morning and included a couple of quick laps on the Slickrock trail as a warm-up to Porcupine.  Long out of water and food, we had another hour of canyon rim hiking before down climbing onto a Hoodoo (ever toss your bike off a cliff and then jump to follow it?) and riding the then primitive trail down Jackass canyon in pitch dark.  Still made it to the costume party by 9:00 PM.

I’m older now, and I look back at this era with fond memories of youthful adventure, but frankly I don’t really miss these outings.  Riding a modern suspended bike with an actual functioning drivetrain on a well marked network of improved trails is really quite a bit more fun.

scene058 copyMartin Stenger
Slingshot team rider, Salt Lake City, Moab, Boise…

On what was attractive about mountain biking early on:
“A lot of the community spirit and grass roots; racing was what you get, it was part of mountain biking. There was a lot of community spirit. Coming from a road racing community, where people were competitive and didn’t hang out much, there was a kind of camaraderie among good-natured people that attracted me.”

“There was no exclusiveness. Everybody was there together; the accomplishment was finishing.”

“That was part of the motivation, to get to the top before the beer was gone.”

On the Moab Rim Hill Climb:
Stenger held the record at 10:30 minutes for the mile ride, putting him at under six miles an hour. His record was memorialized on the kiosk at the base of the trail: “They only had a race up there once. I actually beat Ned Overend up that. He got second.”

On the growth of the recreational side of mountain biking:
“Depending on the era, earlier on, like in the ‘80s, racing was really the draw, it was just kind of what everybody did. As the sport kind of segmented into different sectors, free-riding and adventure riding became more of a draw.”

Kelby Groff
Rim Cyclery manager, Founders’ son/nephew

Kelby was 11 when his family started the shop in July of 1983. He’s managing it now. While he’s not exactly old (born in December 1972), he is an old-timer in the context of the young sport of mountain biking. He’s been in since near the beginning.

On his family starting a bike shop in Moab:
“I had a lot to learn about families owning businesses. When you’re a kid, you think, ‘If my dad owned that store, I could have whatever I want for free.’ That is not how it is.”

“They were making me sweep the shop, and I was kind of disgruntled. Now I’m thankful to have grown up in this place.”

On his father’s (Bill Groff, who founded the shop with brother Robin) interest in cycling, which was focused on road early on:
“You wouldn’t probably think it, seeing him these days, but he used to rage. He used to ride every morning, at least out to Big Bend and back.”

“Mountain bikes were just beginning to evolve. It was just kids’ bikes, BMX type bikes, and road bikes.”

“There really wasn’t a huge tourism niche. It was just that he was into bikes, and there was no bike shop in Moab.”

“They were all sort of unemployed at the time, they were looking for something to happen. Moab was on the downward spiral because the mining thing was over. There was Arches tourism, but not like people coming to Moab per se, just for Moab. So he opened a bike shop, and everyone thought he was nuts.”

On the ascendance of mountain bikes in Moab:
“It didn’t take very long. Three years later, it blew up. It wasn’t a gradual trickle, it was like all of a sudden the rains came. We were loving it at that time, for sure. We were the only gig in town. Of course, being the only gig in town, you probably end up pissing some people off at some point. Then they look at you and say, ‘Look at that line out their door—we’ll take some of that business.’ Obviously, the town now supports five shops.”

“Someone sent an early version of a mountain bike into the shop, and we were all like, ‘Wow, that’s cool,’ and my uncle Robin was like, ‘I know where we can take that.’”

On the sight of mountain bikers in lycra and day-glo:
“The cowboys made fun of that shit. People are used to it now.”

Got any great memories you’d like to share? Send ‘em to us at, we’ll pick the best ones for publication in an upcoming issue.

2 Responses to “The Scene: An Oral History of the early days of Mountain Biking and Racing in Utah…”

  1. Really enjoyed this article. Scanned a few flashbacks from that era to share from various excursions around Utah circa 1987:

    * Canyonlands Fat Tire Festival (1987, Moab)
    * Ride to Diamond Fork hotspring
    * Rustler Run (Alta)
    * Time trial races in Park City
    * Moab’s Slickrock trail before suspension (incl poker run at Fat Tire Fest)


    Team White Salamander representing featuring Ron Legend Lindley, Gabe Alps W. and a young hippie named Weed with cameos by Brad Sorenson and Pyper.

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