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The Ricky Cha Interview

In 1996 I was nominated by Joe Breeze for the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. This unexpected burst of generosity caught me off guard. Back in 89 and 90 during the formation of the Hall of Fame it had seemed like a free for all of mutual affirmation in which all the local incrowders had nominated (or voted - I wasn't sure which) each other into the ranks. From a historical standpoint there were a few who might not belong. Clearly to me, at least, I was the odd man out. During that period of time I wasn't paying much attention to those guys either.
While I felt I was worthy of a cornerstone in the Clunker History Museum, I wasn't so sure about "mountain bike" or "fame" or whether it even cared about history. Then there was the uncertainty over whether in those next 5 years it had become a democratic process in which all the members could actually swing the vote - and to whom I was unknown. I didn't know.
In expressing these uncertainties to Joe the reply was: "well do something" I thought a little bit of history might help to introduce me. At the time Dirt Rag was doing half page BIO's on noteworthy readers. I thought, "why not me?" which led to the "interview" that follows. I needed a fictitious character to spice it up and who could be more worthy than local legend Ricky Cha? Ricky is the cartoon character "I always be cruisen" creation of local artist Anthony Martin. My thanks and apologies to Tony, really, I meant no harm.
So remember this is just my answer to some of the shameless self promotion that seemed common around here.


Rick: Before the first custom and production mountain bikes and frames became available from Breeze, Koski, Fisher and Ritchey, the Marin riders were found on pre and post war steel "newsboy" bikes. They all had one speed and a coaster brake which limited rides to shallow uphills and blazing downhills. Out in Fairfax, Gary Fisher and Charlie Kelly along with a core group of friends and believers rode the same frames but with multiple gears and front & rear drum brakes. This group may have been a growing movement or it may not - one thing is for sure; after Alan Bonds came along and got into it the whole thing grew and kept growing.

Rick: So Alan, maybe you can give us a time frame and how you fit into the story we've almost all heard enough of by now....

AB: It started for me in 1976 when I shared a house in Fairfax with friend Ian Stewart - he was a native of Larkspur, the home of the one speed downhillers who were somewhat notorious. Ian and his brother Roberts' home in Larkspur was the launch point for many shuttle rides on the mountain. He was urging me to get a one speed bomber like his and his friends, yet no one he knew would part with a spare frame or bike (or even had an extra). Back then these bikes were very rare. Within this period of months I had already met Charlie Kelly and seen the Fisher/Kelly version of these bikes: gears and drum brakes. I liked this idea better.
Word around Larkspur was that a bicycle junk yard In Oregon had hundreds of these frames. Details and facts regarding the place had already assumed a mystical quality. I decided to go find this cache and went with Ian one weekend. We found the place and picked thru the piles, bringing back 50 select frames and parts. I went again 2 weeks later and got 50 more, this time with Robert. My share totaled 50 and I then built up 2 bikes for myself and proceeded out around town. Bumping into Charlie Kelly again he was surprised as to how this could happen. At that time the Fairfax core group could have no more than a dozen of these geared hybrids. Total. I had copied the Fisher/Kelly formula exact and in a sense scooped them. In addition mine appeared as new with flashy 2 color paint jobs and plenty of chrome. Shortly after this I was offered the 3rd bedroom at their house and moved in. Soon after this a guy walked up to me and tried to buy the bike I was riding. I offered to make him one.... meanwhile Gary and Charlie were whipping me into shape up the hills and showing me the beauty of the cross country trail ride. Suddenly a lot of bike activity was buzzing: my arrival seemed to stir things up.
One of these things was a race called Repack. They showed me the way down and talked of perhaps an 'official' sort of race down it. The idea really landed with me. I had grown up racing go karts in Texas and then there were all these Larkspur guys who were amazing downhillers. I really stayed after the idea with Charlie. He in turn went with his close friend Fred Wolf to buy digital timers. As it developed it would be their race and effort, which was fine with me, I just wanted to see it happen.
At that time there was a gate halfway down the course: a single beam about 36" up. I practiced sliding under the gate at speed. This was what I did the day of the race and was quite surprised to win. This was not well received by the faster guys and another race was scheduled the next week to remedy the situation.
Coincidentally one of the Fairfax core group had found a set of keys on a fire road and one of them opened our gate. From then on it was full speed ahead.
After the second race it sounded to me like CK and Fred thought a yearly race was sufficient. I wanted to see frequent races. I made a phone list of around 30 riders to call - later it grew to over a hundred - and called everyone for each race whenever they would agree to have one. So Charlie worked the start, Fred timed the finish, Gary and Charlie both used their contacts to arrange prizes and I worked the phone.
Early on Gary set the fast time and to his credit backed off from racing every event and dominating. From then on it was just special occasions for him. This nurtured an atmosphere of possibility for the many repeat non winners and newcomers. Repack was beautiful: just you against the clock and if you bettered your own 'best time' then you still had a great day racing.

Rick: Remember the cross country race you guys put on? I heard that was wild!

AB: Yeah, it was my idea. The joke was that I was the only one who knew the course so I won. That's not true although several made a wrong turn or two. Up the big climb it was me, Joe Breeze, Robert Stewart and Roy Rivers (early NORBA champs) and we all knew the way home. This was probably the watershed moment when it became clear to Joe and everyone that gears were the way to go. The course was a 12 mile figure 8. It started at the top of a hill and included a scary singletrack downhill section; a brush busting cut across; a serious uphill and the 2 mile repack downhill to finish which was timed on the fly as a little added bonus. We were all just very lucky no one got hurt.

Rick: So you helped organize and won the first ever cross country race?

AB: Yes I suppose so.

Rick: So AB, what was happening with those frames you had hanging?

AB: I had them all sandblasted and primed them. Some, which I didn't want to build up, were sold to local bike shops which they then built for customers. The other 15-20 which I kept were all built up as geared klunkers for the steady flow of customers. There were many group rides and repack races at which up to 30% of the bikes in attendance were from me. This was common. I sold them from late 76 thru 78 when I ran out of frames. By then I was busy airbrushing album covers as billboards and production painting the Koski Pro Cruisers and later the Trailmasters. Our house sold in 78. We all had to move out and the house split up. This was when I gave Charlie my phone list for the repack race. By this time, between the Stewart brothers and myself we had added almost a hundred bikes to the local klunker population - which easily more than doubled it.

Rick: So Alan, you did keep riding, right?

AB: Of course Rick, it's the trail riding that I love. I rode regularly for the next ten years and more but gradually work and family dominated my outlook. I rode at Crested Butte 79-81 till it got too big, raced in the Victor Vicente Reseda to the Sea Race and the first NORBA Nationals in Santa Barbara: all in the early 80's.

Rick: Well AB, I see you've got some nice bikes leaning up - do you ever ride them?

AB: Yeah Rick, now that my life is a disaster and family ties a little looser I find time to hit the trail 2 or 3 times a week for 30-50 miles of single track. Its most of what I do or think about in my spare time. I also do a few paint jobs on bikes when they come up.

Rick: So what about this Hall of Fame nomination that's been hanging for the past 6 years or so. What's up with that?

AB: Well, it's like having rocks in my shoe every year at this time. In a historical sense its worthy and appropriate but its all so long ago and no one knows or cares any more. Besides no one has a clue who I am or how I fit into the picture. In 1991 the Hall of Fame presented me with a Pioneer award which I am proud of and quite happy with. A few years later the Bicycle Trails Council of Marin also gave me a Pioneer award. Pioneer seems to say it all. When wondering if I actually belong in the Hall of Fame I can only conclude that Fame was never my goal - I just wanted to see that it all happened. So hey Rick, we always be cruisen, right?

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Contact me at: RepackPioneer@aol.com