Mountain Biking History: The First Purpose Built MTB? 1976 Andy Gilmour Cycle Truck

Mountain Biking History: The First Purpose Built MTB? 1976 Andy Gilmour Cycle Truck

Recently on one of the vintage MTB Facebook groups I frequent I came across a stunning bicycle and claim.... That a bike was a 1976 Andy Gilmour made mountain bike. 

We've all heard the story about how Joe Breeze created the first purpose built mtb's in the late 70's with his Breezer Series I's. From the Marin Mountain Bike Museum website: "His Breezers were the first all-new bikes built with rugged frames specifically for mountain biking (1977 and 1978)."

And here was a road racing frame maker in Tucson, Arizona beating the Marin boys to the punch by over a year. What's the deal? 

Well first, let's decide what makes something a purpose built mountain bike. The best delineator I've heard yet is the move away from drum and coaster brakes to rim brakes on a new construction 26" bicycle. 

I spoke with Andy regarding these bikes and he was very casual about the whole thing. I'm all "Holy shit, you invented the mountain bike!" and his response was "No one invented the mountain bike. The Italian army was off-roading at the turn of the century." It was clear that Mr. Gilmour couldn't care less about claims or the perceived glory that went with them. Which is pretty dang cool if you ask me. It's also likely why the popular Marin-centric narrative hasn't been challenged to a great extent. 

If you look at these two bikes, it's pretty dang obvious that they are most definitely mountain bikes. The yellow, which has been refurbished, utilizes bmx brakes and the green one, also having been refurbished, was built to use Mafac Canti's. 

The green bike was called by Andy a "Cycle Truck" as the term mountain bike didn't yet exist. Don't confuse that with the modern term "cycle truck" which is used most often for a front loader utility bicycle. However that massive rear rack was at one time brazed on, and later cut off and turned into a bolt on piece. 

Image provided by Andy Gilmour

Check that seat mast, and the parallel 73/73 head and seat tube angles. This bike was updated with the ability to run a Rohloff hub at the same time the rack was modified. Also note the multi-plane fork crown. This according to Andy was typical of the "cycle trucks" he was building at the time. The original owner still rides it. 

Now let's dive into the yellow one, owned by J Garrison. Photos provided by him. This bike has been refurbished and it's not clear to me what if any of the parts are original. According to Jack he purchased it from a long haul trucker who was the first owner.  

Notice the varying head tube and seat tube angles on this one, much more modern mtb looking than the above. If that's a 73 headtube angle, I'm guessing that the seat tube is around 71 or so. Also note the lack of the seat mast, bi-plane fork crown (which Andy indicated wasn't typical of the off-road bikes he was building at the time, as he was doing three or four plane forks as on the green bike), and of course the track end with added hanger (same as green one).  

So boom, there you go, two 1976 built Gilmour's that are most definitely, positively, mountain bikes that are earlier than the reported 1977 Joe Breeze built frames that traditional MTB history will tell you are the first. 

Did we just blow the lid off the whole thing? Is there a huge Marin-centric bias in the reporting that's been done over the decades? Was the modern MTB truly born in Arizona? Should they all be called "Cycle Trucks?" 

Beats me, but what I can tell you is that Andy Gilmour deserves some flowers because these are truly extraordinary and forward thinking bikes that should be much bigger pieces of the popular narrative surrounding the evolution of dirt-centric cycling. Friggin' 1976, man!