A wonderfully quixotic and quirky read. A ramshackle recollection that skews closer to oral history than an academic tome, which makes it perfect for the subject at hand.
In the pantheon of sport (which is an awful phrase to heap on any activity that's supposed to be fun, evoking dusty accounts of Marquess of Queensberry rules for boxing and textbook synopses of the first Olympiads held in Athens...although, for those matches where the victor got the laurel wreath and the losers got, umm, death, those certainly stirred the blood and raised the bar), mountain biking is still a newbie. Most of the MB founders are not only still alive...they're still bombing down the single-track trails and tweaking their rides. Although nowadays, there's a bike company attached to their name and when they tweak, a new product rolls off the line six months later.
The Birth of Dirt resembles a rock-n-roll history, although these characters are certainly healthier than the Stones, The Who and their peers. And when blood's involved, it's because of an unplanned skid, not some transfusion that's needed in order to go on stage. But like the music, it was created for the most part by the counter-culture, ok, let's call them hippies, who rode in skinny jeans and T-shirts. Helmets occasionally.
MTB essentially started by taking forgotten Schwinns out of the garage and seeing if they'd stay in one piece while trying to make it to the bottom of the hill. The sport grew as the equipment was improved by the racers. Like Yvon Chouinard at Patagonia, these soon-to-be manufacturing legends would ride and race all weekend, then hole up in their shop during the week, welding this, hammering that. They'd then try out their improvements the following weekend at the test lab better known as Mt. Tam.
A couple examples that handily reflect the humble origins of MTB: the first regular race was called the Repack, because if you were lucky enough to make it to the finish line, you'd probably have to disassemble your hub and re-grease the bearings that were smoked en route. Also, one of the main guys was named Joe Breeze, and his bikes were called Breezers - how cool is that?
It's a quick read, a light read (certainly lighter than those original clunkers), and reading it will point you to a hill when you're done, as it should be - the birth of dirt might be in the Bay Area, but now it lives on the thousands of trails around the country.
Perhaps my favorite quote sums it up best: "Nobody started out to change the bicycling world. It just worked out that way."