For the Love of Speed

Mert Lawwill (left) doing what he does best: keeping the throttle wide open and the bike sideways. In his 15-year racing career, he stacked up 161 AMA Grand National finishes, including 15 wins. Photo courtesy of the American Motorcyclist Association

For the Love of Speed The Ingenious Mind of Mert Lawwill

Mert Lawwill never really rode mountain bikes.

Perhaps this is because he was more used to doing 100 miles per hour on his motorcycle while racing flat track—the literal and historic definition of “foot-out, flat-out.” When that’s normal, riding something with pedals instead of a motor could understandably be boring.

The man is a living legend when it comes to motorcycles. He was at the pinnacle of his career in the late 1960s and won the American Motorcyclist Association Grand National Championship in 1969. The following year, he filmed for Bruce Brown’s documentary On Any Sunday. When it debuted in 1971, Mert was catapulted from a god among men on the racetrack to an American icon on the silver screen, right next to Steve McQueen.

But throughout his illustrious racing career, Mert also experimented in the then-burgeoning world of mountain bikes. Not as a rider, although he’d occasionally point one down the hill, but as a frame designer and suspension engineer. He’s someone who can’t help but look at something and think about how it works—and how it could work better. He also happened to have unparalleled knowledge and experience in the realm where physics and two wheels collide.

Living in Marin County, California, often celebrated as the de facto birthplace of mountain biking (although Mert might argue otherwise), it was inevitable that Mert’s path would cross with the vanguard of this rapidly developing yet technologically suppressed two-wheeled sport. And when it did, there would be no turning back. Through his love for tinkering, a handful of business ventures, a son who was dedicated to racing motocross, and his obsession with speed, mountain bikes would be forever changed.

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