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Wilderness Trail Bikes

WTB was founded in 1982 by a team of OG Marin builders: Steve Potts, Charlie Cunningham and Mark Slate1) Together they would put their WTB imprint on millions of components and only a very few bicycles. In fact, WTB has not officially made a complete bike in the 40+ years of their continuing existence. Many of Potts and Cunningham branded bike builds have been showcases of WTB components and their WTB collective effort, which will be highlighted in the timeline. A few bicycles bear the WTB logo and were sold as frames or were one-offs, such as the Swift (1984-5), WTB/Trek (1987), Wildcat (1988) and Bon Tempe (1997-2001). Their most famous bike, the Phoenix (1991-1998), was sold as a frameset only.

This WTB timeline will also pull in some associational MTBs, such as Mark Slate's individual efforts, which have no room elsewhere in the timeline.

Steve Potts started making mountain bikes in 1981 and soon partnered with Mark Slate, who helped build most Potts bikes starting from frame #6. Charlie Cunningham was another local Marin bike builder who was famously innovative despite a annual output of only a dozen bikes. Wilderness Trail Bikes (WTB) was founded to market components which each had developed separately while continuing to sell their own lines of bikes.

The running joke has been “Where’s the Bike?” WTB sold frames for a period of time, but has never produced a complete bike. Mark Slate marinmagazine

Potts and Cunningham left WTB in 2000 2) Patrick Seidler, the current WTB president, joined in 1988. Mark Slate continues to work for WTB as their director of product design.

WTB and their founders are collectively responsible for pioneering the following3):

  • The first use of toe clips on mountain bikes
  • Welded aluminum mountain bike frames
  • The original Speedmaster Roller-Cam Brake
  • 135mm rear wheel.
  • Rear hubs with 136mm rear dropout spacing with zero dish, and extra-wide front hubs with easily replaceable cartridge bearings
  • Toggle brakes for mountain bikes
  • Sloping aluminum top tube and large diameter seatpost
  • The Grease Guard bicycle component system
  • The original one-piece fork blade drawings which resulted in the Unicrown4) and Unifork
  • LD or Gooseneck stems for dropbars
  • Flared or Drop-style bars for mountain bikes
  • Chain guide and slap protector for mountain bikes
  • Toe Flips for quick and easy toe clip entry
  • Rear drop out with 45° slots and super strong derailleur hanger
  • Alloy single-strut stems for mountain bikes
  • Designs for Araya indicating the basic design and shape of the first modular section mountain bike rim, the RM-20
  • In-line cable adjusters for mountain bikes
  • Rubber chainstay protectors
  • Tire pumps mounted inside the seat post
  • Thumb shifter mounts for drop bars
  • Design of the Specialized line of off-road tires, including the Ground Control tire (named by Jacquie Phelan, wife of Charlie Cunningham)

WTB today:


WTB Founders +/-1
WTB Founders, photo by Mike Farias, 1995 WTB catalog retrobike

WTB Founders on a seat tube
WTB founders on Swift #21 5) mtbr

1982 Roller Cams

One of the first WTB products to make it to market and eventual licensing to SunTour were Charlie Cunningham's roller cam brakes, designed in 1982 and featured on all WTB bikes until the late 90's.

1983 Cunningham Roller Cams
Cunningham roller-cams from a 1983 Cunningham Indian mtbr

1984 SunTour Roller Cams
SunTour XC-Power roller-cams. “Cunningham Design”. From a 1984 Steve Potts. flickr

1987 Roller Cams
WTB Speedmaster roller cams from a 1987 Steve Potts instagram

1983 Potts Banana Slug

By 1983, WTB components began to regularly appear on bikes. This is Mark Slate's personal ride. Frame welded by Steve Potts, mitered & assembled by Mark Slate, tubes supplied Tom Ritchey. Originally came with WTB drop bars, SunTour ARX. Cunningham/WTB brakes. Potts frame #45.

1983 Potts Banana Slug
1983 Potts Banana Slug theradavist

1986 Swift

Swifts were a Potts & Slate production to produce a lower cost MTB employing only a limited number of WTB components. They weren't branded with Potts badges and some have WTB decals, perhaps later placed there by enthusiastic owners. Does this belong in a WTB timeline? Well, as they were only made for a year or two, and there's no room in the Potts timeline…

SunTour XC rear (1984-5), ARX front (1981-83), TIG welded with a fillet brazed head tube, (early 4-bolt Potts) stem and fork and SunTour? roller-cams (licensed from Cunningham/WTB). SunTour parts were used instead of available WTBs to keep costs down. Pressed in bearings with a possible Phil Wood spindle. The Swift was an attempt to make a low cost Potts but “because they were perfectionists, the Swift ended up being just as much as a Potts.” Only 42 Swifts were made6)

The parts say 1984-5, but the documentation says Swifts were made from 1986 → 1987. Perhaps old parts were used to lower costs?

1986 Swift
1986 Swift facebook

1987 WTB Trek

Bonded aluminum using WTB geometry. About 20 examples made for Trek's racing team. WTB type II forks, grease guard hubs, stem, Speedmaster brakes, Specialized Ground Control tires (designed by Mark Slate). WTB head tube badge, placed later.

1987 WTB Trek
1987 WTB Trek steelfightsback

1988 Wildcat

Prototype of a complete WTB bicycle which was never put into production. WTB headset, hubs, brakes, crankset, chainrings, tires designed by WTB, seatpost, seat clamp, saddle, grips. Cunningham frame, Potts fork, stem & steel dropouts (bonded to Al seat stays).

1988 Wildcat
1988 Wildcat theradavist

1989 Slate

WTB brakes, grease guard hubs, SunTour XCD-6000 team chroma issue (1988-89). Mark occasionally made his own bicycles, under the watchful eye of Steven Potts. Another 1987 Mark Slate can be found at the vintagemtbworkshop.

1989 Slate
1989 Slate facebook

1991 Potts Cross Country Racer

This Steve Potts is loaded with WTB goodies: WTB Speedmaster brakes, Ground Control tires, WTB Titan saddle rails, WTB classic hubs, WTB DKG bars, WTB Chris King headset. Plus a Potts type II fork & Potts stem (using Ritchey steel.)

1991 Potts Cross Country Racer
1991 Potts Cross Country Racer steelfightsback

1993 Phoenix

WTB's most popular and revered frame. The Phoenix debuted at trade shows in 1992 yet didn't make the WTB catalog until October 1992. No 1992 examples can be located.

Jacqui Phelan's personal ride. Drop bars, single speed & pink7)

1993 Phoenix
1993 Phoenix theproscloset

Lance Wyeth was a fourth co-founder in WTB, who left the partnership in 1984. Lance coined the WTB name as per: singletrackworld.
Potts states that he left in 2000. WTB gives a date of 2002.
List condensed from WTB's 1998 catalog.
Name coined by Charlie Kelly. See: mtbr
The Swift's WTB decals were likely enthusiastically added later.
Charlie Kelly states that 42 Swift frames were made in mtbr.
With three consecutive NORBA championships (1983-85) and four years on the US national team (1990-93), if Jacqui rides a drop bar single speed then it qualifies as a mountain bike.
wtb/start.txt · Last modified: 2023/09/01 11:35 by mtbtimeline