Airport Art Show coming

Bottom bracket of CC's very first bike, built in 1978, ridden and 'mollified' several times, and finally deemed Just Right in 1979

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.

A prior exhibit

charlie's first mountain bike!

~ by jacquiephelan on February 25, 2012.

15 Responses to “Airport Art Show coming”

  1. Sounds amazing. Is this new display insured?

  2. suoer super cool! my mom wendy just shared this with me. hope i get to see it!

  3. A good tale. Dave Moulton had some similar comments on frame design on his page this past week.

    Thanks for the tip about the Sierra Nevada. I’ll be giving it a try.

    Oh, and anytime you want to climb on board that soapbox is fine with me. You’ve earned it.


  4. The curators of the SF Airport Museum stopped by the Hall of Fame in Davis in January to see the special exhibit of vintage MTB’s on display, and to identify collectors & builders that they could pursue for their airport exhibit. They were painfully aware of the past unauthorized withdrawal from the bank of charlie c and assured us that any bikes loaned would be 100% safe. Of course, MTB’ers have long memories, particularly the ones from Marin… as the curators have learned… Nice of you & cc to forgive(?) and/or forget(?). It will of course be great for so many people to see such a cool piece of mountain bike history…. JH

  5. Since in 1978, I was 7 years away from quitting smoking and about to re-enter “That Wonderful World of Bicycling”, I think that this exhibit is neat. Hard to say if the 30 or 40 something with the Blue Tooth will get it, but that said, “Thanks for the history, Charlie.”

  6. Thanks Charlie, for all the fun and frolikin’ you’ve helped us all enjoy. And Thanks to you Jacquie, for a wonderful trip down that old singletrack of life. Wish I was flying into SFO myself.

  7. Excited to see it!

  8. Hey Jacquie! Sold my 1984 Salsa (unridden for , quite literally, decades), last summer, to a nice feller from Boulder, Tasshi Dennis. He tipped me off that it will be in this exhibit — and I oughta be passing through SFO in the early fall on my first visit back to CA since relocating to Raleigh NC in September. Life is weird in every way!

  9. i’ve seen the CRsteButte one in…crested itself!!! it was amazing!
    bu….shit so i need come back to SFOAirPort to see another one time it.
    concerning motorbikes, too easy for me go to bologna sone 40 km from my home, you said miles? conversion ratio is 1,6 or so!!!!
    truly: trip to Frisco now in winter- spring good idea!

  10. I can’t believe that bike! It’s still ahead of the curve, 33 years later. I’d love to see more of the bikes hanging around the Cunningham/Phelan estate.

  11. Hey ABT,
    Beautiful post. I know of the past horror, but I’m glad CC is down for giving the airport another shot. Tim is very excited about CC’s bike. I’ve been taking with the good folks there since early April of ’10 about this show. I spoke with Ray F today and secured public performance rights for his archival footage, so there will be some old school visual aids. We are talking about a proper screening/event. Hope to see you at some sort of shindig. 😉

  12. I so remember CC in the 70’s as one of the new idea in bike design guys, the other was Craig Mitchell. I had CC brakes and fork on my bike in 1980 – 81. The best.
    You show the parts and the bike, where is the guy? He is the best.
    Thanks Charlie, Thanks Lady Phelan and thanks to Joe Breeze for making it the best showing of bikes of the time. CC was hands down the highest tech in heavy duty for the 70″s, Charlie lead the way.

  13. Good read!

  14. Old post, but it would be really nice to see some close up pics of CC Proto. Are there any? The bike must have been really weird looker back in the days. I love it.

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