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Way ahead of his time

Mountain Bike 17 806

If you have any interest in mountain bikes, you should know the name John Finley Scott. Though he is not as well known as some of the other pioneers of the sport, J.F. Scott really was the first person to create a purpose built mountain bike. He built the “Woodsie” bike that you see pictured here in 1953 while he was a student at Reed College in Oregon. Notice that the bike has flat bars, multiple gears, good brakes, fat tires, etc. It is really not all that different from the “klunker” mountain bikes that would show up on Mt. Tam 20 years later. By the way, if you still haven’t yet seen the film Klunkerz, I suggest that make a point to do so. That excellent documentary about the early days of mountain biking contains some of the last interviews with the late Professor Scott.

I had seen pictures of the “Woodsie” bike before, but this drawing of a “Cow-Trailing” bicycle from 1950 was new to me. This illustration, found on Finley’s property after his passing by Vance Sprock of the Cupertino Bike Shop, proves just how far ahead of his time he really was. Check out the part specs too! This drawing is definitely an important part of mountain bike history. It was many, many years after 1950 before bikes like this would become a reality.

Unfortunately it will be posthumous, but John Finley Scott will finally be inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame this year. Billy Savage, director of Klunkerz, is putting together a short tribute film for Scott, which will be shown at the induction ceremony at Interbike this year. I am really glad to hear that J.F Scott is finally being recognized for his accomplishments (thanks to guys like Billy Savage, who featured him prominently in Klunkerz, and to Charlie Kelly, who originally nominated him to the MTB Hall of fame way back in 1989). It’s about time that Scott is recognized for his significant contributions to the development of the mountain bike.

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  1. Jeppe August 25, 2008 at 5:43 pm -  Reply

    After seeing this, I’m gonna put a cupholder on the handlebars of my MTB!

  2. Anonymous August 25, 2008 at 7:58 pm -  Reply

    Opps James, its Cow-Trailing, not Cow-tailing 🙂 Thanks for the posting. It will become part of my course work for students, along with the Kelly’s website and Klunkerz.

    P.S. Any news you can share on the Cannondale ON? I saw a photo in the recent Outside magazine. Interesting. No fenders on a commuter limits use, but I’d still like to see one first-hand.


  3. Champs August 25, 2008 at 9:13 pm -  Reply

    Yeah but he specified 26″ rims, so he did miss the 29 inch revolution… or is it 650B now?

  4. Anonymous August 26, 2008 at 1:13 am -  Reply

    Quite a lot of fiberglass on that design. I wonder how the weight, lateral stiffness and vertical compliance would have compared to a high end steel+aluminum construction of that time?

  5. Anonymous August 26, 2008 at 5:14 am -  Reply

    What about Vernon Blake’s “bad roads” bike from the 1930s? Fat tyres, cantilever brakes, flat handlebars….

  6. James August 26, 2008 at 7:20 am -  Reply

    Thanks David, I fixed that typo in the post.

    I don’t have any new news about the ON. I have posted about it a few times going back to the jackknife concept, but haven’t heard much in the last couple months. I’ll see waht I can find out.

    anon 6:14, I was hesitent to say first mountain bike because certainly others experimented with off road designs before. Besides before roads were paved all bikes were “off road” bikes. Vernon Blake’s bike does sound interesting though. I can’t seem to find a picture though. Can you point me to a link?

  7. Anonymous August 26, 2008 at 9:08 am -  Reply


    See page 64, Fig 4.14 of “The Dancing Chain” 2nd ed. Frank Berto. Incidentally, I would have thought that this book deserved a place on your recommended books list – it’s awesome!


  8. m e l i g r o s a August 26, 2008 at 11:50 am -  Reply

    nice post!
    I love mt. bike beginnings, and sketches :]

  9. jimmythefly August 26, 2008 at 1:47 pm -  Reply

    Nice! If we substitute “carbon” for each time he mentions “glass”-fiber he was right on the money! This would be around the time when FRP/GRP was being used for boat hulls, then sports cars, right?

  10. surf-the-arts August 26, 2008 at 4:10 pm -  Reply

    Great article – lots of bites!

  11. James August 26, 2008 at 7:49 pm -  Reply

    Thanks Miles, I have been meaning to get a copy of that book. I need to hurry up and do so.

    jimmythefly, yeah, pretty forward thinking for 1950.

  12. Nick Johnson August 26, 2008 at 9:55 pm -  Reply

    So, what’s going on below the chain ring? Is that some sort of front tensioner-jockey?

  13. Repack Rider August 26, 2008 at 11:34 pm -  Reply

    Thanks for the link. John Scott was a dear friend, and I wanted to speak for him at the HoF induction, but I have another obligation.

  14. bikesgonewild August 28, 2008 at 5:34 pm -  Reply

    …it's extremely disappointing that the 'hof' didn't listen to kelly about this at an appropriate time, especially considering what a pioneer & then a supporter of the early industry, john finley scott was…

    …fascinating man…i didn't know him but i'm now glad i got to hear him speak & had the opportunity to chat w/ him, if only briefly…

  15. Anonymous September 26, 2008 at 11:30 am -  Reply

    It was nice to see the late Professor’s friends and family at his induction in Las Vegas. His niece, Cathy, was there to accept. We had many emails over the last couple of years and it was nice to put a face with the name. Gary gave a very nice introduction. I will post the tribute film, in sections, on YouTube shortly. I will post a link here for folks that might be interested.

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