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Being Frank: Corduroy Riding In Marin

Brent Graves - CEO & President

June 2024

Right before we launched the all-new V-Link full suspension bike at Diamondback in 1995, I convinced my boss that my product manager and I should take a road trip to Northern California to visit bicycle dealers and show off the new bike. While we did do some of that, the trip was more fun than work as we got to ride some great trails with some great people. The pinnacle of the trip was riding with WTB co-founder and designer extraordinaire Charlie Cunningham. 

Up to the mid-90s WTB was more a design consulting business than a component brand. The guys at WTB had created and implemented a host of ideas like Grease Guard for SunTour. They had also been designing mountain bike tires for Specialized. The three WTB guys, Steve Potts, Mark Slate, and Charlie Cunningham, are absolute legends in mountain bike development and were key characters in the opening act of mountain biking in Marin County 40+ years ago.

When a new partner joined WTB, the group started to focus on their own products. My product manager, Chris Hilton, was taken with their new saddle and tires, but even more he was obsessed with the culture and lore of WTB. So when we started planning our trip, he reached out to WTB with the hopes of a short meeting – we ended up getting a bit more than that.

The day that we were slated to meet with WTB started with a ride in trails above Redwood City, CA with early Sea Otter promoter Rick Sutton, and the memorable moments started from the beginning. Coming from riding the sun-baked dust-covered hardpack trails of SoCal, the loamy tree-shaded trails of NorCal were as different as beer and bourbon – both intoxicating, but very different. Though the ride was a treat, the first big memory was of following Rick’s van down a steep, twisty road faster than a couple of vans had any right to be traveling. We had our bikes in our van, but Rick’s bike was on top of his van. Chris and I were laughing at the abuse Rick’s bike was taking from tree limbs hanging over the road when all of a sudden a massive limb knocks Rick’s bike loose to slam into the side of his van. It was like King Kong swatting a pesky zoo keeper from his path. Unfazed, Rick re-mounted his bike and pointed us towards his favorite taqueria.

While the morning temperature up on the ridge above Redwood City had been cool and comfortable, down in the valley it was baking. We made two mega sized burritos disappear in the heat and then headed for the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County beyond. When we got to Charlie’s place, the ride, food, and heat had us thinking about a nap. However, entering the world of Charlie Cunningham snapped our minds, if not our bodies, back to attention. Charlie was an absolutely amazing guy – he was like a mad scientist with the enthusiasm and inquiring innocence of a 12-year old bird watcher. Additionally, Charlie’s impact on mountain bike design and function reverberates to this day. I cannot do justice to his contributions, but this article provides a glimpse of Charlie’s genius:

So we headed out on a ride, with Charlie in his normal riding attire: tan corduroy pants that had been ripped and sewn back together in numerous places, a long sleeved white button down shirt, a massive fanny pack (called a hip pack these days) and if I remember correctly, a Bell V1 Pro helmet. Did I say it was hot? It was then over 100 degrees, and Charlie was dressed for a different climate altogether. And then… Charlie took off at light speed! Chris poked my competitive spot by jeering “are you going to let the old man drop you?” Mind you that “old man” was much younger than I am now, but nonetheless he had considerable years on us. So there we went in the heat with bulging stomachs chasing Charlie Cunningham up and down the fire roads and single track of Marin County!

Eventually we emerged on a grassy peak with an unbelievable view of the Pacific Ocean. We followed Charlie’s lead by dismounting and finding a spot in the grass. It seemed like a surreal moment: two young rednecks turned mountain bikers basking in the glow of a ride with legend Charlie Cunningham in the birthplace of mountain biking. But when Charlie started digging into his pack, Chris and I just knew Charlie was going to pull out some crazy recreational drug apparatus. Then we got a last surprise of the amazing day when out came a super pimp pair of binoculars to better take in the ocean and surrounding hills.

The bike has given me nearly everything in my life, and experiences like the one with Charlie and Chris nearly 30 years ago is just one invaluable example.

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