Published Jan 1, 2007 8:00 AM

07. A Whole New Track

What: The first company to produce commercial bicycles for riding up and down mountains

Who: Tom Ritchey, Gary Fisher and Charlie Kelly of Mountain Bikes

Impact: Between 1980 and 1985, the big-tired mountain bike went from offbeat pastime for Marin County hippies to a 70-percent share of the bicycle market. Ushering in an era of "extreme sports," mountain bikes have helped change the way Americans view athletics. Rather than seeing outdoor sports as a distraction for the young, Western culture in the past 25 years has adopted a "sports for life" attitude, according to Gary Fisher, one of the founding fathers of mountain biking. Fisher traces this attitude to a motley group of off-road racers on the slopes of California's Mt. Tamalpais in the late '70s. Along with hydration bladders, uncomfortable spandex and concussions, mountain bikes have been on the rise ever since, even penetrating into politics. While some saw the 2004 election as a conservative mandate, others saw it as a triumph of a mountain biker over a windsurfer.

Eureka moment: "Taking out just regular folks from around the neighborhood — they got it," says Fisher, Mountain Bikes co-founder and president of Fisher Bicycles. "Everybody that we took out on a ride came back with these big, wide eyes saying, 'I've got to get one of these things.' When I started to recognize it really changed those people's lives just riding the bike, I thought, 'Eureka, this is it.' "

— Eric Vance