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Gary Fisher: An afternoon with one of mountain biking's founding fathers


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Only a handful of decades old, mountain biking is one of those sports where the inventors still walk this Earth. One of those inventors is 67-year-young Gary Fisher, who along with a similar group of fringe kooks in the 1970s, ventured into the woods on these two-wheeled vehicles—with plenty of libations and hallucinogens in tow—in order to "get away from the cops, the cars and the concrete." He attests that the birth of mountain biking wasn't about speed and adrenaline, but about freedom from societal norms at the time. That, and having fun. Fisher's career in the bike industry spans to this day, though he now splits his time between designing bikes and philanthropic missions all over the world.

As I walk into an East Vancouver recording studio, I immediately notice that Gary lives up to every depiction of his character. He wears a designer three-piece vested suit and shiny leather shoes, his wool overcoat and fedora neatly hanging on the coat rack by the entrance. The only hair on his head is a curled white mustache and an airy soul patch. He already commands the attention of the room. Breaking from one of his countless stories of working with Grateful Dead roadies in 1970s northern California, he looks up at me through his rimless glasses, gets to his feet and firmly shakes my outstretched hand.

I fail miserably at playing it cool as I sit and ask for the venerable biker's take on the world.


Gary Fisher: "In the U.S. right now, 18 per cent of GDP is spent on healthcare. That's crazy. All the other first world countries are between nine and 11 per cent of their GDP. We (the USA) are at a major disadvantage because our health is going south. We're at a crisis, and crises create change.

"Here's what's different compared to skiing and surfing and all these other things: the bike is also a utility piece, it's your transportation. It becomes this almost insidious form of exercise that keeps you going. If you like to mountain bike, you don't necessarily need a mountain, you just need a great trail. I want to have a trail available to every single neighbourhood in the United States and then, the rest of the world. Just like we have a baseball field in every neighbourhood. I'm talking about blasting right through buildings, going over streets and constructing a second storey trail network—like an indoor bike park—but safe enough to ride to school and commute. I don't want to have mountain biking only available if I put it on top of my car and drive for an hour. To me, that's not the ultimate solution."


GF:"You go ride, train or race with somebody, man, you find a lot about them right away. You have a common place to go and a common amount of work to get there. You see people's reactions and how they cope with it. It strips away barriers and you can't hide. You become really long-lasting friends that way... Or not. Haha!"


GF:"Be very, very careful of your habits and do not eliminate your celebrations. Eat a cake on your birthday. Do things that are not perfect, but make it a celebration. The more you spread it out, the bigger the celebration becomes. If you're doing it every single day, that's a habit. Like with the phone, man. You're whipping that thing out every spare second and we justify it by saying 'I need to be productive'? Nothing could be further from the truth."


GF:"Nobody knows how long you're going to live; it could be over in an hour. We don't know how much time to allot. That's really bizarre. It opens up a feeling of 'Well, I don't know if it matters or not,' which is totally in conflict of what the world wants us to do. When I was in my 20s, I could work for two days and pay my rent. It was easy for me to find jobs and things were cheaper in comparison to what you made. The world's become a tougher place. I don't want to go back to the '50s, but I want to go back there only in the fact that it was easier. Life was easier, especially in the States.

"You can't do everything at once. We think that the true path to success is taking on too big of a load. Some people can take on a tremendous load and do tremendously well, but many people can't, so you have to recognize where you're at there. It's not going to benefit you to crush yourself and become unhappy."

Our interview continues for a half hour with another dozen or so insights from Gary on everything from perceived pain barriers, staying young in old age and the best place in the world to buy the best suits (London, England apparently). On the drive back up the Sea to Sky Highway, I already feel smarter, and just a little wiser.

Thanks, Gary.

Vince Shuley felt under-dressed interviewing Gary Fisher. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider, email vince@vinceshuley.com or Instagram @whis_vince.


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