A Southwest Cycle

The Yeti crew gone full Colorado. In 1991, John Parker and Chris Herting moved the company to Durango, Colorado, a small mountain town with a burgeoning bike scene. With epic rides in their backyard, and legends like John Tomac in the community, the move changed the company’s trajectory. Photo: Ben Gavelda/Durango Diner

A Southwest Cycle Yeti Roots and New Endeavors with John Parker and Chris Herting

It’s a drizzly gray October morning in Durango, Colorado as I walk down the slick concrete sidewalk of Main Street.

From the looks of things, the area’s prized high-country riding season will now be abruptly cut short as the moisture pours out of the sky, piling high in the mountains.

I make my way into the Durango Diner, a greasy white-bread staple slipped into a sliver of downtown acreage. John Parker, a grandfather of mountain biking, wanted to meet here to tell his story. He’s easy to spot, a bear of a man with thick-rimmed glasses, knuckle tattoos and a flat-billed hat.

The diner is familiar ground for the 66-year-old Mountain Bike Hall of Fame inductee and warden of the sport. On the wall is a photo of one of his old Indian motorcycles—and one of him, actually, past the worn-out John Wayne painting and Native American art. The group photo he’s in reads “Yeti Ranch, Durango, Colorado, Christmas of ’93” and was shot in black and white, everyone dressed in cowboy attire, some on old bikes, some on old motorcycles, some standing.

Our meal is not of the quality he remembers, save for the green chile sauce. A lot has changed in Durango since its fat tired heyday in the late ’80s and early ’90s, a time when John and friends were running Yeti Cycles here. John is back, two decades later, with a new project called Underground Bikes. Within these foggy windows, over eggs and hashbrowns and watered-down coffee, Parker spills about mountain biking’s past and the path that’s led him back to the Southwest.

Yeti began in borrowed shop space in Southern California with integral fabricators and mountain biking visionaries Chris Herting and Frank “The Welder” Wadleton. The idea of moving the business to a remote locale like Durango didn’t make sense, but the place did, with its loads of singletrack, claims of hosting the World Championships, and status as the home base of numerous pros such as Ned Overend and John Tomac. In this nook of the rugged San Juan Mountains beat an early pulse of mountain biking.

Known for its aggressive and stout builds, Yeti exploded during the late ’80s in California and early ’90s in Colorado. But its rapid growth eventually sent John, Chris and Frank down different paths, leaving them not on the best of terms.

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