Bob Allen on the other side of the camera, shredding for Team Leisure Suit. Photo by Chad Kimm
It’s been a banner year for friends of AJ getting establishment recognition for their contributions to their sports. Last spring, Glen Plake was inducted into the Skiing Hall of Fame, and just recently photographer Bob Allen was voted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. Bob and I go back 20-some years — his imagery was a big part of our success when we launched Bike magazine in 1993, and over the years he’s continued to shoot soulful, honest, and very real pictures of adventurous mountain biking.
Here are two short stories that will tell you a bit more about Bob. The first is his profile for the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, penned by Tom Moran, and the second is by Bob himself, talking about polyester, $25 bikes, and racing after a 10-year break.
MOUNTAIN BIKE HALL OF FAME
‘Montana’ Bob Allen grew up in Bozeman, Montana. On a chrome plated Schwinn Stingray he explored the streets and trails near his home. The bicycle gave him the freedom to explore his surroundings under his own power and this two-wheeled passion still drives him today. Joining the Navy out of high school, Bob spent 5 years, 5 months and 27 days seeing the world on Uncle Sam’s dime. During those years Bob picked up a camera and began to capture on film what he was experiencing and seeing in his travels.
While stationed in London in 1980, Bob’s cycling passion was rekindled by a road bike purchase that led to many miles of hairball urban commuting. While plying the waters of the Pacific aboard the USS Tarawa in 1983 he purchased another road bike in Singapore and has fond memories of dodging rabid monkeys during high-speed road descents in the hills that surround the Subic Bay naval base in the Philippines. It was during the waning days of his naval ‘career’ that he was given a gift subscription to Mountain Bike Action was curious to give this mountain biking a try. It was in Okinawa, Japan, on November 15, 1984 at 10:15 a.m. that Bob bought his first mountain bike – a chrome plated Nishiki from a local Japanese bike shop. At approximately at 10:33, while dropping the steeps (as seen in said MBA magazine) between two terraced rice patties, he went over the bars for the first time.
Following the Navy, Bob spent a few years behind the Orange Curtain in Southern California attending Orange Coast College studying photography and racing road bikes. On a fateful Sunday morning while sitting on a curb patching tubes after a double flat on the Pacific Coast Highway just north of Laguna Beach, Bob watched a bunch of baggy short wearing, smack-talking mountain bikers blow by him. Wherever they were going, it looked like way more fun than another death defying road ride on the PCH.
It took some time to track those riders down but once Bob discovered the Laguna RADS, riding in the dirt has never been the same. During his time riding in those coastal hills, he learned to appreciate quick release seat posts, how to remove cactus spines on the roll, identify and avoid poison oak, drink beer off his forehead, and in 1989, became a card-carrying member of this twisted boys club. The moniker of Montana Bob was given to differentiate between other RAD Bobs. During this time he worked at Cook Bros. Racing building bike parts, getting a lesson in guerrilla marketing and attending his first Interbike trade shows. It was with the RADS that Bob learned the art of riding with camera gear and capturing the action as it unfolded.
On one RADS Wednesday night ‘confession’ ride in 1988 Bob witnessed a cheeky, foreign accented, longhaired dude in sweat pants pilot a mountain bike with unimaginable skill. This was the first time Bob heard of some guy named Hans Rey – and the sport of trials. Over the next year the pair got out frequently to photograph, refining their individual craft. Bob points to one photo shoot with Hans in particular that jump-started his photo career. Before a move back to England in 1989, and initiated by a dare, Bob and Hans plotted to capture a trials session on a gridlocked 405 freeway in Orange County. The location, timing and get-away route was meticulously researched and planned. With appropriate back up from the RADS, the 60 seconds of action captured Hans mid-air above 5 lanes of disbelieving commuters; and the rest is history.
Bob spent the early 90’s shooting World Cup and NORBA races in North America and Europe making many lasting friendships with the folks who made a living from all things racing. He learned the exacting photographic techniques involved in correctly exposing color transparency film and was one of the first photographers to experiment with supplemental studio strobe lighting in the field. In the mid-90s Bob quit chasing racing to explore and photograph the adventure travel aspect of our sport for the magazines and manufacturers. Bob’s photographic vision and involvement in the sport has contributed, and continues to add, to the collective memory and evolution of mountain biking.
Now living back in Montana, Bob has become intimately involved in the land access debate where public land mountain bike policies have closed hundreds of miles of singletrack, and threatens to close hundreds more, all in the name of protecting the resource. He is a founding board member of the Montana Mountain Bike Alliance that advocates for protecting bicycle friendly trail opportunities across the state. Using his experience, photographic skills and media and industry connections, Bob has contributed much time and passion towards maintaining bicycle access to backcountry trail systems. Getting out to rally on sublime singletrack still makes his pedals go round.
— Tom Moran
THE POWER OF POLY After nearly a decade-long hiatus from paying money to ride my bicycle fast, I returned to ‘official’ racing recently in earnest.
The Bohart Bash, a local annual cross-country event, was the last race I’d done in back in 2001 so it seemed appropriate to make my big comeback there. Since it had been so long between races – combined with my diminishing mental faculties – I’d plum forgot how to dress for such an event. Thankfully, at times like these I remember the words of my father: “Son, when in doubt seek polyester.” So that I did.
The thrift store in the basement of the local senior center offers a comprehensive selection of dead guys’ clothes from which to choose. I selected a snappy combination of flesh toned perma-creased trousers with matching shirt and tie that complemented nicely the golden color of my fully rigid Gary Fischer Wahoo, which I purchased at the bike swap this spring for $25. The sleek fit of the flesh-toned outfit gave that almost-naked sensation. Oh, baby!
Since I haven’t had a proper US Cycling License is years (I don’t need no stinking badges!), I made up a number so I could sign up for the Pro Cat 1 race of five five-mile laps with 750 feet of climbing per lap. Despite a few wardrobe malfunctions — I couldn’t keep my pants rolled up – and a broken saddle rail in the first lap – I finished seventh in that category (okay, only 10 entered, but I’m not letting facts get in the way of this story).
As predicted, the leisure suit kept me cool and stylish throughout the bone jarring experience!