The origins of mountain biking can be easily pinned on natural human curiosity or desired practicality. We know that the Buffalo Soldiers, or 25th infantry, rode iron bicycles from Montana to Yellowstone in the late 1800’s. They were trying to be practical, which it wasn’t exactly. While they technically were the first to ride off-road, the originators of mountain bike style we use nowadays actually resided just outside of Paris in the mid 1900’s.
Between 1951-1956, a group of around 20 men from outside of Paris came together to ride bikes off-road and without limits. They called themselves the Velo Cross Club Parisien (VCCP). Cyclocross was often used to stay in shape in the winter, yet these guys wanted something a little bit more. Who could blame them? They began to modify the bikes and take them off of jumps and down obstacles.
Most of the bikes were 650B and had suspension forks which were modified from mopeds. They had derailleur shifting on the handle-bars, modified braking, and frame gusseting. In the few surviving photos, the bikes appear seriously unwieldy. These mountain bike races were held during breaks of motocross races at the time.
I also feel I have to briefly mention the Rough Stuff Fellowship of the UK, which, according to their website, “Was formed by cyclists who wanted to get away from roads and cycle off-road.” It’s impossible to truly say that one person or group invented the entire sport.
Recorded data of these things is actually kind of spotty, and there are scattered claims of other riders who took their bikes off road much earlier than this. Yet, I see something special about how the VCCP came together, and why. They didn’t ride for fame or glory, they were just bored with cyclocross and wanted something more. They rode with friends and were creative with their bikes, adding things like a suspension fork. For me, it seems like a good place to start the history of our sport and lifestyle. I don’t feel as much of a connection to the buffalo soldiers as I do to these daring Frenchmen. A lot of riders today would maintain that there’s more to the sport than simply taking a bike where it’s “not supposed” to go. There’s the camaraderie, the originality, the rush; the men of the VCCP clearly had a ton of fun.
In this video, you can see a couple clips of the VCCP riding, as well as some more photos at the end. They also show one of the bikes and the suspension fork.