By Rob Story | Photograph by Tai Power Seeff
Were it not for the soft dirt of Northern California, mountain biking as we know it may not exist. From leftist Marin County north through bongwater-drenched Arcata, all the way to the flannel-shirted Oregon line, the trails are verdant, moss-weeping wonderlands carpeted in pine needles. They’re so appealing, ’70s hippies rode them on cruisers, frying brakes and cracking frames. So the hippies founded the original mountain-bike companies. Gary Fisher. Ritchey. And Wilderness Trail Bikes, the supergroup formed in 1982 by Mountain Bike Hall of Famers Charlie Cunningham, Steve Potts, and Mark Slate. When Cunningham was inducted into the Hall, he said something that could stand as WTB’s mantra: “Mountain bikes are a perfect way to combine technology and nature in a way that is friendly to life.”
WTB designed the first componentry specifically for the demands of off-road riding. Licensed designs include Suntour Roller Cam brakes and Grease Guard parts. Even simple WTB items like its handlebar grips inspire cult followings. While the company makes the best saddle on which you’ll ever sit, it’s best known for its tires, which engage our kinetic connection to the trail. They’re our composite-rubber, Kevlar-bead-equipped, knobby-lugged contact point with Mother Earth. For a long time, WTB designed Specialized’s tires. If you joined mountain biking around its early ’90s heyday, you surely remember the Specialized Ground Control. Later, you must have rode WTB VelociRaptors—a legendary knobby that’s believed to be the best-selling tire of all time.
Its latest all-star is the WeirWolf tire, introduced in 2002. The name is a pun on psychotic WTB tester Mark Weir’s name. An Enduro standout, Weir (see photo, above) won NorCal’s prestigious Downieville Classic downhill seven times. His Marin County spread includes a test track with violent uphills and wicked turns. The WeirWolf was designed so that the farther you lean over, the better the traction. WTB has also led riders to 21st century innovations like user-friendly tubeless tires (check out its Tubeless Compatible System) and 29-inch wheels. Before WTB came out with its Nano, the 29er set lacked decent rubber. In fact, the 29er movement—which has become a crusade—may have stalled and fizzled without WTB.
Patrick Seidler joined WTB as a fourth partner in 1988. (Potts and and Cunningham, however, left in 2002). Since Seidler arrived, the company has tirelessly advocated for cyclist rights. Especially in Marin County, where the old guard hikers and equestrians have long fought the silent, motorless sport that disturbs less dirt than a hiker’s boot. WTB, through a sister nonprofit, does way more than sponsor trails, though. Working with the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, WTB initiated a federal transportation bill that included $712 million in programs promoting safe and efficient travel for cyclists and pedestrians. Pretty impressive stuff for an outfit started by klunker-riding hippies.
From the Spring 2012 issue.