Editor’s Note: In September 2015, Mtbr features editor Jason Sumner fled Colorado’s crowded Front Range and moved his family to Crested Butte, one of the world’s premier mountain biking destinations. Crested Butte Chronicles is Sumner’s on-again, off-again column about living and riding high in the Colorado Rockies.
Before you head out on your next ride, climb aboard your bike and pause for a moment. Peer over your handlebars and look at your fork. Unless you’re some kind of masochist, it is of the suspension variety branded with the logo of RockShox, Fox, MRP, DVO, or one of the several other current fork makers. It might even read, Manitou, which would be appropriate for the context of this article.
The reason for this exercise? To give a nod of thanks. Unless you were born in the 1970s or earlier, you’ve probably never heard of Doug Bradbury. But if you ride a mountain bike with some squish up front, you owe the man your gratitude because he’s the guy who helped usher in the age of suspension forks.
Bradbury, now 65, founded Manitou back in 1985 while living in Manitou Springs, Colorado. He started out building hardtail frames, stems, and hubs, but soon turned his attention to suspension. “It was around 1989 when I came up with my first suspension fork,” Bradbury recalled. “John Tomac and Juli Furtado raced on it at the world championships in Durango and Juli won. The next year Tomac won the world’s in Italy.”
Soon after, Bradbury licensed his fork technology to Answer Products and continued development work for the then California-based company. That was also when he started building his first full suspension mountain bikes “I was working hard developing the rear suspension, too,” he recalled. “All that happened under the Manitou name, which then became Answer Manitou. They had a good factory out in L.A., and they had all the sales and marketing. I just came up with the designs.”
Those designs were sound, helping make Answer Manitou a leader in early MTB suspension technology. By 1995, Bradbury decided he needed a change, so he teamed up with Tomac, looking to grow the famed rider’s eponymous bike brand and its accompanying World Cup race team.
“The experience was a ton of fun,” he said. “But we also proved the old adage that if you want to make a small fortune in the bike industry start with a larger fortune. We ended up selling to Litespeed.”
Read more about riding in Crested Butte and why you should tip your trail builder.
Around that time, as Bradbury puts it, the suits started taking over, and he’d soon had enough of the cutthroat business world. He retired in 2000, cashed out his various stakes, and moved to Crested Butte full time. Ever since his full time job has been volunteering for the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association.
The 1994 Mountain Bike Hall of Fame inductee served as vice president of CBMBA for a long time, and is now a board member and one of the advocacy organization’s top trail builders, recently serving as lead designer for Lupine 1, 2 and 3, as well as the Pointe Lookout trail, which happens to be right out the back door of Mtbr’s Colorado test headquarters.
“I love building trail,” he said. “I’m a hands on, on the ground kind of guy. These days they keep the CBMBA trailer at my house, and I’m the one who sharpens all the tools, goes out and cuts out downed trees, whatever needs to get done. It’s basically my full time job.”
His favorite part of the job is building trail, an act he calls as fulfilling and meaningful as any bike he ever built. “You are basically coming up with a way to surf the land,” he said. “ You find a little swale here or a place to put a kicker there. To build something and then get to ride it, and see other people riding it, is a really special process.”
Bradbury also builds bikes from time to time, mostly for himself. His home shop is outfitted with a mill, lathe, jigs, and various welding equipment. Design work is done on napkins, not computers. “When winter comes around I spend a lot of time in the shop,” he said. “I’m usually starting with a solid piece of aluminum and just whittling away at it until it’s where I want it to be. It’s all seat of the pants engineering.”