Creativity and Innovation of Mountain Biking on View in Santa Cruz

'Trailblazers: The Creative Story Behind Mountain Biking in Santa Cruz' runs Feb. 7 to Sept. 20, 2020, at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. (Courtesy of Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History )

Mountain bikes in a museum? Yes, and not just in Fairfax, home of the Marin Museum of Bicycling. The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) has collaborated with its neighbor to the north to recount the history and burnish the legend.

"Any bike can be a mountain bike if you ride it in the mountains," said Whitney Ford-Terry, the exhibition's catalyst for "Trailblazers: The Creative Story Behind Mountain Biking in Santa Cruz." The exhibit explores how Santa Cruz became a major mountain biking destination and home to several big biking brands.

"People kind of cross-pollinated ideas, and a lot of folks from Santa Cruz learned from people who had picked up things there or who had come down to Santa Cruz to really test out what they were making on the very unique trail system we have here," Ford-Terry said.

Off-road riding has been with us as long as bicycles have, but in the late 1960s, a clutch of guys in Marin County modified old Schwinn bicycles they called “clunkers” to race down Mount Tamalpais. It didn’t take long before they started modifying the bikes with stiffer frames, wider tires, multiple gears and so on.

In classic MAH fashion, the exhibition is not so much a collection of historical objects as it is a collaboration with a host of local people and groups like Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz. So, for example, "Trailblazers" encourages visitors to think about getting involved in the community, in this case, by focusing on the importance of trail stewardship.

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The exhibition also encourages visitors to think in a hands-on fashion about what makes for a good mountain bike. It's a sport, after all, born of tinkering to maximize delight traveling through the great California outdoors.

"What really makes this community special is our trails: how we use them, how we take care of them, how we built them," Ford-Terry said.

From the Flow Trail in Soquel Demonstration State Forest to the coastline of Wilder Ranch State Park to the campus byways of UC Santa Cruz, "It is a wildly popular sport in our county and community," Ford-Terry said. "So we looked to the experts to help us get a better idea of what should be in the show, but also, how to contextualize this history."

On a sunny day, it's hard to imagine why you wouldn't be out on one of those trails, but at some point, you're going to be downtown for an ice cream or a sandwich, and that's when this gallery at MAH beckons you inside to reflect and appreciate the "trailblazers" who came before you.