Dan Hanebrink did not make it to the new year, but many of his creations will be driving the evolution of two wheeled sport long after his passing. If you aren't up to speed on Dan, his aerospace background and passion for home-built engineering projects define "out of the box thinking."
His first newsworthy project was a road racing motorcycle which began as a concept sketch for a magazine cover in 1971. The design was crazy by any standard of the time, but Hanebrink figured he'd actually make the thing.
Dan Hanebrink, circa 1986. Dean Bradley photo
Dan's Monotrack Experimental's
monocoque chassis was welded from magnesium plate. The engine was a highly modified three-cylinder two-stroke from a snowmobile. The belt-driven drivetrain used a variable speed transmission. Dan even made the bike's air-sprung fork and shock, and its cast-magnesium wheels. Nobody understood it. Motorcycles had hand-clutches, oily chains, spoked wheels, manual gearboxes, coil springs - and proper frames that were welded from pipes. Dan's machine didn't check a single category - except that it was wickedly fast.
The Monotrack Experimental with its fairing removed reveals its unconventional belt-drive. Cycle Guide Magazine 1973
Mountain biking captured Hanebrink's attention early on, but it was a meeting with Brian Skinner, who needed assistance to perfect his "Descender" rear suspension bike that propelled him into the sport. Their partnership didn't last long, but shortly after, Dan was manufacturing his own version for BMX powerhouse SE Racing.
Skinner and Hanebrink were plastered on the pages of every mountain bike and BMX mag in the early 80's (there weren't that many publications, actually). Suspension forks were strangely missing from both designs, however - an error that would take a number of years for RockShox inventor Paul Turner to rectify.
The next time Dan made the news was his domination of GPV (Gravity Powered Vehicle) racing
. It was a cult-sport, for sure, but it captured some mainstream TV coverage. Imagine thirty or so competitors staging at the summits of steep, paved downhills for mass-start races. Their bikes were chainless and most sported fairings, and weighted frames. Hanebrink's ultra low-profile streamliners were dedicated designs that eclipsed the technology of most entries, turning most competitions into one-horse races.
Hanebrink backed up his penchant for inventing two-wheel speed machines with exceptional riding skills on both motos and mountain bikes - and he had legs and lungs to match. He spent most of his time on earth living in the mountains at Big Bear, California, where he honed his skills on the trail networks there, earning six national championship age group titles. I rode with and raced against him many times. Dan was a crusher.
Dan's inquisitive mind never took a break. It seemed like he had a different bike every time I saw him. Sometimes with a revolutionary inverted air-sprung fork. Then it would be different wheel diameters or odd tire combinations. There were weird bar/stem arrangements and any number of modified components. Oddly, however, he preferred hardtails and rarely rode dual-suspension bikes.
I figured that Hanebrink would have been all over 29ers, but just about the time that big wheel bikes were popping up at retail stores, Dan went completely in the opposite direction. Arguably, the father of fat bikes, Hanebrink's 20-inch wheel X-Bike
used modified flotation tires from motorcycle ATVs and weighed almost 35 pounds. Laugh if you will (and we did laugh), but the concept found a widespread following among riders who either chose to (or were forced to) ride in conditions that would be impractical on a conventional mountain bike. Hanebrink later added an electric-assist option that predated the present e-fad, and reportedly, both models are selling well today.
Dan Hanebrink was a fierce XC racer who crushed it well into his 60's. Vic Armijo photo
I knew Dan Hanebrink from the mid-1980s but knew of him long before thanks to the Motorcyclist Magazine article about the “Monotrack,” the 2-stroke-triple snow-mobile-engined, monocoque motorcycle he built and raced. When I finally did meet him it was my quoting that article that formed an instant bond between us. Much of what I know about how things are designed, engineered, prototyped and eventually produced, I learned from Dan.
It’s hard to say when Dan Hanebrink was at his happiest; when he had a pair of wheels under him (motor-powered of otherwise) or when he was dreaming up his next big idea. And Dan had many ideas over the years—many of which were dismissed as outlandish or wacky, only to be embraced as mainstream years later.
He was passionate about extracting every bit of performance out of whatever machine had his attention at a given moment and was just as passionate about extracting every bit of performance out of himself. The man loved to ride and race and posted many podium finishes well into his 50’s and 60’sVic Armijo, racer, promoter, editor and photographer, lived in Big Bear, California, where he and Hanebrink forged a 25-year friendship. Vic currently is the Media Director for the Race Across America.
Somewhere in this timeline, Hanebrink developed a series of high-mileage motorcycles, one of which topped 500 miles on only one gallon of gasoline. There was also a bicycle intended for a trans-Antarctica attempt and a DH streamliner he raced at the Mammoth Mountain Kamikaze. As long as it had two wheels and captured his imagination, anything seemed possible for Hanebrink. If he couldn't find a part, he'd make it. Disc brakes, suspension forks and shocks, streamlined fairings, hubs, wheels - the list goes on forever. And, he crafted most of it without the assistance of fancy CNC machining centers and 3D computer modeling.
One or two of Dan Hanebrink's mind-bending projects would have made an impressive resume for an aspiring product designer - but his portfolio of inventions is too large for this story. You'd think the man would have slowed down in his later years, but that was not the case.
His last opus was a screaming fast, water-cooled, electric powered street racing motorbike called the Hustler, which incorporated much technology from his original Monotrack Experimental road racer, including its welded monocoque chassis and smaller-diameter wheels. Hanebrink's Hustler
was race tested and ready for production, but fate did not comply.
Sadly, one of the most prolific and forward-thinking designers I have known died peacefully at home before he could bring it to market. He would have turned 80 in February. Good bye Daniel Hanebrink. You will surely be missed.
Hanebrink track-testing his Hustler electric motorcycle. Hanebrink photo