This is a very rare and extremely cool vintage mountain bike with a great little side story to go along with it.
Some history to start things off. This was built in 1979 and it is the second Topanga bike that Victor Vicente of America built out of the 25 he made. In a way both him and Joe Breeze built the first mountain bikes as they both built them in different parts of California without knowing about what each other was doing. This bike has both 20 inch wheels which has some logic. Back in that time 26” rims were steel and low quality. BMX rims were light and strong. Also BMX tires were the best for off road. In the early days of mountain bikes builders were either influenced by 1930’s beach cruisers, BMX or even motorcycles to a lesser extent.
This frame still has its original camouflage paint job which VVA says most all of his bikes got. Some features that stand out from the others is the Campy shifter mounted suicide style on the top tube and caliper brakes. The other Topanga’s I have seen had cantilever brakes and Suntour thumb shifters.
Some history on Victor Vicente of America: He started out as Michael Hiltner and began racing at age 16. Right off the bat he became the southern California junior road champion. From there he started winning races almost everywhere he went. He even competed in the Pan American games and twice (60’ and 64’) in the Olympics. In 1975 he set the first double transcontinental record by riding coast to coast to coast. When he returned from this monumental feat he immediately changed his name to Victor Vicente of America to celebrate the accomplishment. By 1979 he went full bore into riding in the dirt and produced 25 of these Topanga bikes over the following few years. VVA also did a whole lot for the sport by promoting some of the biggest and most famous early mountain bike races and for this he got inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall Of Fame in 1989. In 2001 he got into the US Bicycling hall of fame too!
To top off his achievements he’s a writer, poet, artist, and he even made coins, shirts, beer and other items with his art and likeness.
Now, I mentioned when I started this that there was a great little side story to this. After being with my wife for 14 years her mother and father never mentioned anything about her father traveling across country with a guy that was touring on his bike in 1975. Two days after I get this bike her mother finally mentions something about it in passing. Then while researching VVA I find something on the web about VVA doing his double transcontinental tour and in that he mentions that he had a crew and one of those members of the crew was the photographer and videographer. He said he didn’t quite remember his name but it could have been Hideo Kazumi. Bells started going off. My father in laws first name is Kazumi. Maybe VVA just got it slightly wrong. Sure enough, it was her father that documented this record setting occasion. Below there is a photo of him holding a camera alongside VVA. If it weren’t for getting the bike, having her mother tell us the story, and finding that obscure message about the crew by VVA all in the matter of two days I would have never made the connection and this story wouldn’t have become so personal. Synchronicity at its finest I say.