Gentle Riders: if you happen to be traveling into or out of San Francisco International Airport between May 5 and Nov 25, there is an exhibit of seminal mtn. bikes right in the lobby.
I know: who goes to an airport to see art?
Talk about yr captive audience, eh.
Well, we will have a couple of bikes in the exhibit, Otto, and Charlie’s own Protoham., which just arrived back home after a 25 year stay at the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in Crested Butte, CO.
Looking it over, Charlie confided that he’d forgotten just HOW advanced that machine was. He lovingly built it up (it had been shredded in transit, alas) and polished away the deep gouges in the down tube. As he worked, I asked him if any of the old school riders (Breeze, Guy, Kelly) had test ridden “Proto”, when it was the only alu job around.
“Nope. It didn’t look like a real mountain bike. It was under their radar.”
The bike remained ‘under radar’ until Noah Gellner, our very own almost-firstborn, created the Cunningham Bikes website.
This was because CC never advertised in the magazine of record (Fat Tire Flyer), and when other magazines came along, they offered to ‘review’ the bikes. IF he would send them one to test ride and keep. Did I already tell you this? I think I did.
I’m agittn C. Nile.
This letter arrived last week: “SFO Museum is very interested in discussing with you the possibility of borrowing the Charlie Cunningham-designed race bike you rode to consecutive national championships in 1983, 84 and 85. We would like to present this bike as an example of Mr. Cunningham’s visionary design and discuss your pioneering role as both a successful competitor and bicycling advocate. Please be assured that our facilities have state-of-the-art alarm systems and climate control, and that your loaned object will be carefully treated by a professional staff trained to exceed the standards established by the American Association of Museums. Attached are images of the secure galleries intended for this exhibition.”
In a way, it is impressive that he can trust an airport ‘museum’ with his bikes, since in 1989 he was the very unlucky winner of the one-of-these-dozen-machines-is-not-like-the-other sweepstakes.
In 1989, there was a bicycle art show at the domestic United terminal. This was the same year as the seminal show at Bronstein-Quay gallery in San Francisco.
All twelve hand-builts in the glass display cases were fine examples of framebuilder’s artistry. But in 1989 bicycle design was conservative….or more accurately, ‘derivative’.
Charlie’s bikes have been modern (i.e. rideable) since he built the first one in 1978 , since he wasn’t hewing to the design/shape/frame angles of the revered 1930′s Schwinn Excelsior that everyone else was using as a template.
It took almost two decades (and me winning a few races against all the men) to cause a shift in the fashion. OK, planned obsolescence and disposa-bikes also had a lot to do with the openness to new designs, but I’d like to cling to my tiny thread of cred for inspiring a few people to examine my bicycle frame, when they weren’t challenging my unfeminine riding style.
Oh, dear, climb back down from that platform, darling, it’s unbecoming.
Ah yes. About that sweepstakes.
Charlie’s bike, his personal machine–not an exhibition model–got stolen from the display. None of the others was ‘honored’ that way…
An unscrupulous United Airlines employee helped him/herself to the (obviously unprotected) bike…It was never to be seen again…In case you ever see an alu bike at a garage sale, just flip the bike upside down. Look for the serial # 29c.. I bet CC would happily buy it back!
It was unique– even the brakes were custom fabbed, there being no extant roller-cam that was up to his high standards. We sometimes wonder what ever became of it, and some of our friends think we’re crazy to agree to display again. CC built himself another, and has gotten over that loss.
Clearly I haven’t.
Now about this more pro show: If there is a gathering, I’ll share the details….the beer will have to be Sierra Nevada (they are brewers but also huge bikers), and the nosh will be catered by “Back Door Catering” (motto: Enjoy it if you dare”). It will be nice to have the full range of bikes so Charlie’s immunity to fashion, and clear devotion to simple functionality will be on display. The geometry says it all.