John Tomac, the father of the gravel

john tomac

At the beginning of the 1990s, before the internet erupted and long before the birth of social media, the world of cycling had its first “influencer”. Many consider him the “father of gravel”, but he was much more than that. We are talking about John Tomac; mythical multidisciplinary American cyclist.

For context, John Tomac won the XC World Championship in 1992 and was the National Champion of the USA in each and every one of the modalities in which he participated, from road to track, up to BMX. Many consider him to be the best cyclist in the history of MTB because of his versatility to adapt to different modalities and for being a reference to innovation.

Although John premiered in BMX he decided to take the step to other modalities because BMX races were “too short” according to John himself. In 1989, while he was participating both in road competitions and the then never-heard-of cross country races, John Tomac decided to install road handlebars on his Yeti bike, in order to keep the aerodynamic position that is characteristic of road racing. And he did it well. A couple of years later, meanwhile riding a Raleigh, he would win the Cross Country World Cup in 1991 and was runner-up in the World Championship in the same year in downhill mode, on a rigid bicycle with road handlebars

The handlebar experience didn’t last long and wasn’t followed by other runners, and John Tomac continued to win titles with a more conventional mountain bike handlebar until his withdrawal in 2005.

However, John Tomac had thus entered the story as a cyclist ahead of his time, who planted the seed of what we today know as Gravel, or to be a little more specific, what would become: Cyclo-Cross.

If we take a closer look at the Raleigh bike, which is the John Tomac Signature with which Tomac won the Cross-Country World Championship in 1991, the road handlebars were not the only novelty or eccentricity of this mythical bike.

Mounted on a carbon frame with titanium joints, the rear wheel was also a real eye catcher. An impressive tension disc Tioga with the famous kevlar-indoor rays, which produced a very characteristic noise during the bearing. The Shimano XT components and the road derailleur Dura Ace 7400 with the levers on the ends of the handlebars have reduced the weight of the bike to about 12 kg. A bit heavy for the current level, but given the weight of the components at the time, that’s what it was.

In case you would be interested in becoming the owner of this incredible bike, we warn you that it is virtually impossible to get it. Only 10 or 13 copies (this is not very clear) of this Raleigh John Tomac Signature have been manufactured, and they are generally not for sale.

All Comments

  • Tomac won the xc world cup became xc world champion and finished 2nd in the downhil on flat mtb bars not drop bars (he switched them mid season in 91)

    AG 2022-03-15 4:17 am Reply
  • Today I learned John Tomac invented cyclocross.

    Atari champion 1982 2023-01-18 4:22 pm Reply
  • Drop bars on mtb were quite common in the ’90es. It was not a Tomac’s idea. Drop bars were so common that the UCI had to declare them out of rules and constrict every rider to flat bars. Also, Tomas as many others, used to prefer drop bar because he had been a pro cycling rider. He took part also to the Paris Roubaix.

    Stefano 2023-01-28 10:40 am Reply
  • Cyclocross pre dates John Tomac by about 70 years 😂😂

    M S 2023-03-18 1:26 pm Reply
  • This is such utter bull. Please explain this phrase: ”many consider him the father of the gravel” – who are the ”many” and what are their arguments? This was a bike for CROSS COUNTRY back in its day and has nothing to do neither with the gravel racing of today, nor with the gravel recreational riding that increases in popularity and is actually more of newschool randonneuring. The bikes above are MOUNTAIN BIKES, it’s pretty simple.


    Maximilian 2023-12-15 7:45 am Reply
    • If you make a quick search on Google with “John Tomac gravel” you’ll find out. We are not the first to mention it. Of course gravel has evolved in the last few years, but the essence of riding a bike with drop bars comes from decades ago.

      Santafixie Group 2024-01-24 3:49 pm Reply

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