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Mountain Bike Pioneer Leaves Imprint

Published January 4, 2008


CUPERTINO, CA—Perhaps no one knew mountain biking pioneer John Finley Scott better than longtime friend Vance Sprock.

Sprock, current owner of the Cupertino Bike Shop in Northern California, met its previous owner Scott for the first time in 1974. Scott was serving as chairman of the Davis Double Century.

“I was a young 16-year-old and soon-to-be budding cyclist,” Sprock said. “When I registered for that event, I recall reading this beautifully crafted route description. I wondered about who had written this entertaining, witty and insightful guide.”

Thus was the beginning of a lifelong friendship, cut short last year when convicted felon Charles Kevin Cunningham murdered Scott. Cunningham was sentenced in early December to 31 years, four months to life for Scott’s death. Scott was 72 years old.

Scott is best known for creating his “Cow-Trailing Bike” later called “Woodsie Bike.” The bike was built with hard-to-find, off-the-shelf parts in 1953, closely resembling today’s mountain bike.

“The Cow-Trailing Bike drawing calls for fiberglass tubing for the frame,” Sprock said. “One could say that could be carbon fiber 55 years later. To have the vision of something that far ahead of its time indicates a brilliant or genius mind.”

Scott used the bike to bombdown mountains—like White Mountain and Mt. Evans—long before the Marin County “Klunkerz” crew consisting of such familiar names as Gary Fisher, Tom Ritchey, Charlie Kelly and Joe Breeze came onto the scene. “Klunkerz” is a mountain biking film about the origins of the sport.

Director Billy Savage said he didn’t sense any bitterness in Scott that the Marin crew gets much of the credit for having invented the sport of mountain biking—and that Scott’s name is left out of the discussion much of the time.

“I honestly think that he couldn’t have cared less,” Savage said. “He loved those guys in Marin because they took up the cause. He understood that with constant refinement and modifications to their equipment, and their competitive nature as racers, they really pushed this along.”

According to Sprock, proof of his love for the Marin crew came in the form of dollars that helped Fisher and Kelly get their mountain bike company off the ground in the late 1970s. He also helped Ritchey build his first frames for Fisher and Kelly.

“When Gary and I put together our first catalog, John let us use his word processor,” Kelly said. “A huge machine that had cost him $13,000.”

Fisher said Scott put his money where his mouth was. “He was totally into what we were doing,” Fisher said. “He was a great supporter—a big believer.”

Ritchey said Scott was astute when it came to business opportunities. “I was able to buy materials and make the first 100 bikes,” Ritchey said of his funding from Scott.

“He was somebody who previously had a vision for this kind of bike and its potential success in the United States, because he saw it in his own bike, in his own roots. I think John contributed a lot behind the scenes to the sport of mountain biking.”

Kelly found Scott, a former UC Davis professor, to be a smart man who had a keen interest in the sociological aspects of the subculture that the Marin crew brought to the dirt.

“He owned more bikes than any other individual I have known, about 60,” Kelly said. “And was very tight with his money in petty aspects, but generous in major aspects—kind of a contradiction.”

There was no contradiction, however, for Scott’s overall love for the bicycle. Scott was a cycling advocate long before bicycle coalitions existed in most cities. “He pushed for bike lanes and better planning for bicycle routes,” Savage said.

Scott perhaps never gets his just due because he led a very private life. “He was always busy with various projects and I don’t think he cared much for the limelight,” Savage said. “In the end, I found Finley to be a bit of an odd bird who didn’t mince words. He was a fascinating man who seemed to have little time for nonsense. It’s about time Finley gets in the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.”

Sprock remembers Scott as a friend with a quick mind and sharp tongue, never afraid to voice his opinion no matter what others thought. “Some people would have called him abrasive,” Sprock said. “And yet underneath all the brash and bold exterior was a soft, marshmallow person. He isn’t well known in the mountain bike world, but he had a significant impact on the sport as we know it today.”

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