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Throwback Thursday: Fat Tire Flyer, Charlie Kelly’s Original MTB Mag
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Throwback Thursday: Fat Tire Flyer, Charlie Kelly’s Original MTB Mag

At this point, mountain biking media is pretty much web-only, with videos and reels taking the place of print and patience. For folks who simply want more in their feed, there’s no better time to be a consumer, but you’d be forgiven for feeling nostalgic about the simpler days when a few print mags ran the game. The very first of those early magazines was the Fat Tire Flyer, created by the one and only Charlie Kelly, one of the pioneers of the sport in California’s coastal mountains. I’m not going to attempt a full recounting of the history here, as there’s nobody better suited to do that than the man himself.

Charlie has been digitizing the entire FTF collection, with a great deal of the issues already available to view on his site. In the pages you’ll find a wonderful time capsule of mountain biking’s early days, back when things were really cool. The Flyer‘s full run of existence took place before mine even started, so it’s been a real treat to get to dig into the earliest history of this sport I love so much. Sometimes kooky, often rad, there’s no shortage of entertainment in the scanned pages, even if it’s just the ads.

There are plenty of instances where I’m reminded of how young mountain biking is, relative to other outdoor pursuits – considering skiing’s earliest days could date as far back as 8000 BCE. Though there’s plenty of debate as to when mountain biking really got going, but any time in the late 1900s is pretty recent in comparison.
One facet of the FTF archive that surprised me was how strong the local racing scene was back in the day, despite the sport being tiny in comparison to today’s scale. Take this race report from the Punk Bike Enduro, a fat tire race in the hallowed woods of Annadel State Park in Northern California. I grew up riding these trails, and they manage to still be plenty exciting even on modern bikes – it’s pretty impressive to imagine folks hurtling themselves through the rock gardens on their glorified cruisers.

Throwback Thursday: Fat Tire Flyer, Charlie Kelly’s Original MTB Mag

An ENDURO in 1984? Proof that time is indeed a flat circle.

It’s pretty cool to see that some of the brands featured in the Flyer way back then are still making bikes and components at the forefront of the industry. Say what you will about Ibis’ industrial design, but the fact that they’ve gone from the steel frames of yore to the curvy carbon creations of today is a pretty wild evolution.

If you dig around, there are plenty of indications of what’s to come as well, with people discussing tire clearance, geometry, brake setup, etc. all in the same way we do now. Sure, today’s bikes are more than a little bit better, but the way we discuss them hasn’t really changed since the get-go.

Charlie’s archive stops around 1990, as that’s the year that the sport really exploded, making the cataloging nearly impossible if you aim to collect every last piece of lore. In addition to the many scanned pages of Fat Tire Flyer, Kelly’s archive also includes publications and stories from other magazines and media of the day, with some other cycling history sprinkled in for good measure.

Sick.


I’ve just cherrypicked a few images that caught my eye, but if the history of our shared passion interests you, there won’t be a bad page in the Archive. Head over to the Fat Tire Flyer website to see all the digitized issues. If you want to support Charlie Kelly in his mission to preserve the early days of mountain biking, you can do so by becoming part of the Mountain Bike Legacy Project.