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The Bikes


In Marin County,CA, (north of San Francisco) a group of riders begin riding bikes on the local hiking trails. The bikes are called "klunkers" and are mostly pre-war balloon-tire bikes. Rider begin racing these bikes down a steep fire road descent near Fairfax, CA, called "Repack." Riders begin modifying bikes by adding better brakes derailleurs, shifters, etc. Winning (or doing well) in the Repack Race causes local riders to think about how to make better off road bikes.


In Marin County, Joe Breeze makes the first new off-road bike with new components. His bike lead directly to the creation of the "mountain bike." While many others have ridden bikes off road, it was the work of Joe and the other Marin pioneers that lead to the development of the current mountain bike indusrty.


Gary Fisher, another Marin County Resident, contacts Tom Ritchey to make him a mountain bike. Tom makes a total of 10 frames, one for Gary, one for himself, and eight additional frames that he hopes that Gary can sell in Marin. Gary Fisher and his roommate Charlie Kelly begin selling bikes under the name MountainBikes. Tom is the primary frame supplier; Gary and Charlie build the bikes with components that source locally. The Marin County riders have ridden off road for many years and know what components work, and which are durable.


Tom is making a single frame model. All of the frames are fillet brazed, and made by Tom. Gary and Charlie publish a catalog for their new company.


A second frame model is introduced. The original model is called the "MountainBikes I" frameset and the new model is called the "MountainBikes II" frameset. The "MB II" frame is less expensive to produce and comes with a standard set of features and colors. The "MB I" can be customized and is a "no expenses spared" frame. Gary and Charlie build the two frames in various parts combos to meet different price points.

The first large-scale competition arrives when Specialized introduces the StumpJumper mountain bike. Specialized reversed-engineered their frame from Ritchey frames (although they managed to make the fork length incorrect) and produced the frame in Asia to save money. The Marin County riders had spent years riding and testing components; Specialized copied the MountainBikes compoents spec saving them development costs.


Frames remained basicly unchanged. A new style of decal is introduced that featured "Ritchey MountainBikes" giving credit to Tom as well as Gary and Charlie's efforts to develop the product. Previous decals has only said "Ritchey." Both decal styles appeared on bikes in '82 and '83.


The Competition is introduced as a new model and offered a third frame option. The Competition is made from a lighter weight Columbus tubeset, and is given "faux lugs" at the seat cluster and head tube. The visual treatment is called bi-laminate lugs, and is made by brazing sleeves over the tube ends, and then fillet brazing the tube ends together. The effect is mostly for visual appeal but does offer an additional butt at the end of each tube. These frames are time consuming to build.

Charlie leaves the MountainBikes company and goes on to start the first mountain bike magazine. Later in the year Gary and Tom part ways as well. Gary will go on to create Gary Fisher Mountain Bikes, and Tom keeps his frame building business.


After separating from Fisher and MountainBikes, Tom no longer has a distibution network for his frames, nor does he have a company to build his frames into bicycles. He forms a relationship with Palo Alto Bicycles, a bike shop and bicycle mail order catalog company to address the distribution problem. Tom also works with Rocky Moutain Bicycles in Canada, as well as working with a builder in Japan to create a lower priced frame.

The unicorwn fork is invented and begins appearing on Rithcey frames. The fork is cheaper to make than Tom's previous forks whcih featured an twin-plate design.


The first Asian-built Ritchey frame, the Ascent, is imported into the US. The frames are TIG welded and built in Japan. As a general rule, all TIG-welded Ritchey frames are imported and all fillet brazed frames are handmade by Tom.


Tom produces his first high-quality "glossy" catalog describing each frame he offers in detail. A total of six models plus a tandem were built by Tom, and two frames were imported.


Tom inproduced the "Super Comp" frame which was his first use of Tange Prestige tubing. Tom and Tange woudl form a strong business relationship that would later result in Tom offering his own tubeset manufactured by Tange.


The number of fillet brazed models being offered begins to increase. The "Ultra" is introduced as the first "high end" race frame that was TIG-welded.


The numnber of fillet brazed frames offered as dropped to two (plus the tandem). Tom reintroduces road bikes into the mix by offering them for the first time in nearly 10 years. A filled brazed "Classic" model and a TIG-welded "Logic" model is offered.


The P-23 frame is introduced as the new light-weight offering. It's available in a standard TIG-welded version and a fillet brazed "Team" version made by Tom. The P-Series bikes would be the mainstay of Ritchey frames for most of the 1990s.

Tom Ritchey

Tom Ritchey began building bicycle frames at the young age of 15. During his senior year of high school he had progressed to building 200-250 frames. He continued building at the rate of about 250 frames per year until 1980 when he moved into mountain bike frame construction. By 1980, with approximately 1,500 road frames under his belt, Tom quickly became the number one builder of hand-built mountain bike frames.

In 1981, Tom's first full year of mountain bike production, he produced between 400 and 450 frames. In the coming years his production level remained constantly between 400 and 500 hand-built (by Tom) frames. Finally, in the early 1990's Tom began reducing his frame output, building 100 to 150 frames per year in the early 1990's and tapering from there.

Together, Tom Ritchey, plus the combination of Gary Fisher and Charlie Kelly, sold frames mostly labeled "Ritchey" until 1984. MountainBikes the name of the original company formed by Fisher and Kelly went on to become Fisher MountainBikes. Tom's work can be seen with Ritchey, MountainBikes, and Fisher logos.

The bikes pictures on this page represent his work prior to 1980 when frame production increased around the mountain bike demand. In his life Tom estimates that he personally has built 7-8,000 bicycle frames. The ones listed below are among the earliest.

Pictures and information on this page were provided courtesy of Tom Ritchey.

Early Road Bike
This early road frame was built by Tom for his dad. The bike has several unusual features, and is an excellent example of Tom's early work.
"Origin of the Species"
Tom built began building mountain bikes in the late 1970's. Pictured here is "mountain bike number 1" - Tom's first mountain bike frame. The bike currently located at the Ritchey warehouse in California, but may be destined for the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in the near future.
Early Track Bike
This early track bike hangs from the rafters in the Ritchey warehouse.
Bike Number 3
This road frame was the third frame built by Tom Ritchey. The frame was completed in 1973.