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Some might question why a book called Being Gary Fisher is featured on this website rather than our off-road sister site: surely he is of more interest to mountain bikers? Well, while he may be best known for his involvement with knobbly tyres, Fisher was also an accomplished road cyclist, is an advocate of utility cycling, has a major role in the industry, and is an all-round 'cycling visionary'. They don't make 'em like that anymore, and this individuality is reflected in all aspects of an unusual biography.
Like many others of his generation, Fisher started his cycling career on the road – because mountain biking hadn't been 'invented' yet. However, 'going off-road represented mechanical as well as mental freedom', and there were many around him doing the same thing. Fisher gives us the story of the development of the mountain bike from his perspective: 'pretty soon it was clear modifying existing bikes was always going to be really limiting', and from those small beginnings an industry was born.
Fisher's name may be inextricably linked to the arrival of mountain bikes, but he is not claiming all the credit; indeed, he agrees that 'not one single person 'invented' off-road bikes.' If you want a thorough analysis of the origins, I recommend The birth of Dirt by Frank Berto – the same man who brought us the incredibly detailed history of the rear derailleur.
Fisher wasn't the only one in the position to be able to spot and then exploit the opportunity, but he feels that he just did more about it than most: 'that was the difference between me and the other pioneers – I traveled and went and saw people and made those connections.' One of the more significant of those was to Shimano.
It's hearing about the highs and lows of the business side that appeals to me, in much the same way as To make riders faster did with the Cervélo story.
It may seem hard to believe now, but Fisher went to register the name 'MountainBikes' with his business partner Charles Kelly; astonishingly, he didn't then 'go after other folks for using the name mountain bike after that ... It didn't seem important at the time. Who knows what the whole industry would have been called if I had.'
He may not have got very far. According to Kelly in his own book, Fat Tyre Flyers, their lawyer made a mistake with the registration and 'the trademark was denied'. They feigned success, and went on to 'bluff the rest of the industry – for a while, anyway'.
Later on, competition led to Fisher lowering his costs with overseas production, and so he became involved in a 'Taiwanese mess'. As many others have found to their cost, one has to be paying attention to prevent issues of quality control or fraud negating the benefits; unfortunately for him, Fisher was concentrating on the (very successful) racing side, and 'whatever could go wrong did go wrong'.
This move also made him eligible to win an award from S.O.P.W.A.M.T.O.S., the 'Society Of People Who Actually Make Their Own Shit', a wonderfully irreverent bunch whose annual awards 'were not intended to flatter' – and were a highlight of the Interbike trade shows for many, including me. As was seeing Fisher's latest three-piece suit.
Although Fisher entered into the spirit of the awards and enjoyed receiving them, the Society would have approved of the later partnership with Trek even less, which was forced upon him because Fisher was about to 'lose everything I'd worked so hard on for so long and I was going to lose my living'. As he would later discover, once you have sold out, you have lost control of your brand – even if it is your own name.
The range of Gary Fisher branded bikes later became 'The Gary Fisher Collection by Trek', and eventually his name was removed altogether; both moves were apparently a surprise to him, and 'in all honesty I was fucking pissed at the time'.
However, he recognises that 'there's still a whole lot of Gary Fisher' in current Trek bikes, as the company has adopted many of the ideas that he had been advocating: 'Genesis Geometry, big volume tires, disc brakes.' He continues as an ambassador for the Trek brand to this day, no doubt proud to see his groundbreaking ideas present on a mainstream brand.
It is rare for a businessman to be quite so open and honest as Fisher about what he got right or wrong, but I welcomed it. I used to work for the distributor of those first Gary Fisher bikes from Trek, and I now have a better understanding of some issues that we experienced at the time!
It surprised me that Fisher said 'bike activism is something I've always been into since the oil crisis of 1973-74'. He may have a different audience to Peter Walker, but he has similar ambitions, noting that: 'not only is car-based transport inefficient and unhealthy for bodies and brains it makes zero sense financially.' He's another high-profile individual to help fight for the cause.
Like many of us, he wants us to 'take advantage of this incredible opportunity' that Covid-19 has presented to change the way in which we do things, such as implementing 'LTNs', so that 'cars should only be well behaved guests in your neighborhood'.
How ironic that it was his stepfather Robert Fisher who helped to 'create an environment where cars were king' in his capacity as an architect for Orange County, where 'he pretty much made the Californian suburbs'.
Fisher notes that e-bikes are an important part of this future, as 'they're opening up a totally new market of consumers who'd never thought of buying a bike before'. Anyone in the trade will tell you that e-bike business is growing fast, but Fisher goes as far as to think 'it's like mountain biking all over again, but with even more explosive growth and maybe even bigger potential'. That will be music to the ears of many if it proves to be true.
I feel that the best book covers should first attract your attention, and then give you some indication of what to expect inside. The very striking image of a sharply dressed Fisher, surrounded by some 'blotter art', succeeds admirably on both fronts. Blotting paper is often used to distribute certain drugs (such as LSD, or acid), and is often enhanced by such artwork. The cover acknowledges Fisher's own dalliance with drugs – surely inevitable, partly because of the time that he spent in the music industry, especially around the Grateful Dead, and partly because LSD 'was only made illegal in California in October 1966'.
There's a slightly zany style to the layouts inside as well, where it makes for a very strong (and appropriate) look. While I recognise that it fits with the subject, I found that it could sometimes detract from the reading experience. However, the presence of the magnificent images and illustrations is some compensation – there are a few familiar photos, but many more that you won't have seen before, often from Fisher's own collection. It's almost worth seeking out the book for those alone.
This is not a regular biography, which is fitting, because Fisher is not your typical cycling personality. He has stories to tell and is happy to air his views – about cycling, racing, business and, of course, mountain bikes.
Although first launched in the US in December 2020, it has only just become available in the UK.
A rare chance to hear from a true legend of the sport and the industry
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Being Gary Fisher And The Bicycle Revolution by Gary Fisher with Guy Kesteven
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Meet Gary Fisher. The maverick kid bike racer who cycled straight into the Acid Test scene and lit up the Grateful Dead gigs, the relentless tinkerer who transformed an industry and sold mountain biking to the world and the visionary who's still working flat-out every day to prove that bikes are the answer to a healthier, happier future for everyone.
A collaboration with cycling writer Guy Kesteven, Being Gary Fisher and the Bicycle Revolution is an autobiography of sorts. It's also a mind-blowing trip of ingenious innovation, dogged determination and boundless energy. Get caught up in Gary's crazy tales and his lifelong mission to invite everyone to the greatest dance on earth.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Title: Being Gary Fisher
Author: Gary Fisher with Guy Kesteven
Publisher: Trek Bicycle Corporation with Bluetrain Publishing
Date: December 2020
Format: Open-spine hardback
The format is described as an 'open-spine hardback': from the side it makes the book look almost unfinished, but it allows every page of the book to open out flat.
It's an expensive book, but you get a lot for the money: similar price to the 'Cervélo biography', but offers slightly more.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
There is so much here that you will not have seen or heard before, from the stories to the pictures.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Sometimes the striking design makes it harder to read.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
A book like this does not come along very often; it helps that Gary Fisher is a one-off, and everything about the book certainly does him justice.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,