Avid rider turns passion into profession

SAN ANSELMO, CALIF. (AP) — Watching Gary Fisher try to contain his 6-foot-1-inch, 160-pound frame within the confines of a chair, it becomes quite obvious he's more comfortable in motion.

The man widely recognized as one of the founding fathers of the mountain bike keeps sliding off the chair in his San Anselmo living room and twisting his lanky limbs into various positions as he talks about his work, his philosophies on transportation and the history of the brand that bears his name.

His new model ''Sugar,'' which he describes as a ''happy little bike,'' is just hitting the stores. And Fisher, 48, has been training steadily for the past three years essentially living his product's lifestyle and winning races in his age group, both in national and international competitions.

''It went a long ways in reinventing myself,'' Fisher said of his return to racing. ''Down in my soul, I was a biker, but you still have to prove yourself.''

To many bike fans, who see Fisher as an icon of sorts, he doesn't have much to prove. The Oakland native, who has spent virtually his entire life in Marin County, gets plenty of mileage off his history. He helped turn a rogue activity started by a group of bikers in the '70s simply riding beat-up bikes down Mount Tamalpais into a bona fide sport.

That involved taking the old bikes which they called clunkers, ballooners or beater bikes and turning them into something that could not only ride down the mountain better, but go up the mountain as well.

''What made it revolutionary is that high tech came to heavy duty,'' he said, explaining how in 1974 he first made a bike with a wide gear range and strong brakes.

In 1979, after making all-terrain bicycles for friends and anyone else who wanted to pay for them, he formed a bicycle company originally called Mountain Bikes. While Fisher doesn't take credit for originating off-road riding (since people were essentially riding off road before pavement) he says he originated the phrase ''mountain bike'' and tried unsuccessfully to have it trademarked. es, who was part of the early pack of mountain bike riders and who owns the Velo City bicycle shop in San Francisco. ''It's like saying, ''Who invented the airplane? We did because we were the first to mass-produce it. The Wright Brothers? Never heard of them.'''

By Fisher's second year in business, he and his partner, Charlie Kelly, were selling more bicycles over $1,000 than anyone else in the country. But one of his goals was to make the bikes more accessible to people, so he kept pushing down the price points, a process that accelerated in 1984 when he started manufacturing in Japan.

John Thompson, an associate editor at Mountain Bike, said Fisher was able to break away from the pack of smaller bike manufacturers by producing quality bikes at reasonable prices and heavily marketing them. He said Fisher bikes appeal to a wide range of riders because he makes them for professional riders as well as relatively inexperienced weekend riders.

''Mountain bikes can sell for as much as $6,000, but Fisher makes very high quality bikes for a reasonable $1,500,'' Thompson said. ''He's a pioneer the real deal ... He's got the soul of an artist. A smart guy who knows what he wants to do and believes in his product.''

Fisher is credited with producing the first mountain bike to have shock absorbers on the front fork, called a shock fork; helping to design the unicrown fork, which has fork blades welded to steering tube; and for developing something he calls ''genesis geometry,'' which repositions the rider on the bike through shorter stem and chainstays, the pieces that connect the bottom bracket to the back wheel holder.

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