RIP Dan Hanebrink: Inventor, Competitor & Mountain Bike Pioneer

Jan 3, 2019
by Richard Cunningham  
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.
Taken at VVA s Puerco race 1986
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.

Dan Hanebrink 39 s Monotrack Experimental
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.
Taken at VVA s Puerco race 1986
Dan Hanebrink (left) and his SE Shocker with Brian Skinner sporting his MCR Descender at Victor Vincente's 1986 Puerco race. Dean Bradley photo




bigquotesHe was a mad scientist.
He welcomed me into his world.
He never stopped dreaming.
He never stopped innovating.
He never stopped creating.
He never stopped riding.
He Had A Good Ride.
And... I was just lucky enough... To ride along with him.
Dean Bradley, photographer, editor, industry vet.
Laguna Seca GPV Downhill race 1981
Laguna Seca GPV DH: (From left) Dean Bradley, Steve Boehmke, Dan Hanebrink, Bob Lebo, Andy Bains. Dean Bradley photo

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.

bigquotesArguably, the father of fat bikes, Hanebrink's 20-inch wheel X-Bike used modified flotation tires from motorcycle ATVs and weighed almost 35 pounds.
Dan Hanebrink
Dan Hanebrink was a fierce XC racer who crushed it well into his 60's. Vic Armijo photo

Vic Armijo

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’s

Vic 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.

Hanebrink X1
Hanebrink X1 Hanebrink photo
Hanebrink X3
Hanebrink X3 Hanebrink photo

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 Hustler electric motorcycle
Hanebrink track-testing his Hustler electric motorcycle. Hanebrink photo



66 Comments

  • + 153
 Thanks for this Richard. Your journalism for the Mountain Bike community is second to none. Sharing a story such as this, (which most would never know) makes me realize what an amazing sport we all enjoy.
Keep the creative minds flowing.
RIP Dan.
  • + 6
 Seconded... RIP Dan
  • + 4
 I had a Hanebrink that I put in grease ports into the legs for quicker regreasings, and I was so excited that they really worked I visited Dan during a race at big bear. He loved the idea and asked if he could steal it.Heck yeah you can He started adding them to his forks after that. I thought that was pretty cool. I really liked his "just do it" attitude. I always dig guys like that
  • + 30
 Back in October 2018, Dan was inducted into the Big Bear Legends, a local group of old school mountain bike pioneers, legends, and forward thinkers. A crowd of 100 or so of us saluted him and got to listen to some hilarious stories the past. It was a good time, set a positive tone for Big Bear, and retrospectively, was a wonderful way to publicly acknowledge a good man of our tribe in the last part of his life.
  • + 20
 Sad to hear. I always coveted a hanebrink fork. There's an old one sitting in a box in the bike store i used to work in I'm sure to this day. Would be cool for a retro build.
  • + 17
 Thank you @RichardCunningham . I will never claim to be smart enough or high-mileage enough to follow everything on PB but I do enjoy your stories...good, and in this case, bad (in a good way). These old names and old things I barely remember (or don't remember at all but you make me want to) are brought to life with a passion only someone with much self invested not only in the sport but in the people.

Best of thoughts of Mr. Hanebrink and to his family and friends. Out Of The Boxers are always missed.
  • + 11
 That video is worth watching. Really.
  • + 3
 Very cool video. You can feel the unique speed of a no peddle downhill run and almost smell 1980 in the air!
  • + 4
 Video was excellent. Glad you recommended.
  • + 2
 Yeah! I want that soundtrack to be used for every PB edit this year.
  • + 3
 RIP to the man with the initials DH. They spelled his name wrong at the end of the video but it was rad.I was on that same road last weekend, oddly. It was chilly in the Coachella Valley.
  • + 5
 RIP. I owned two different sets of those forks back in the day. They were lovely for a few rides after a rebuild! They were emblematic of boutique stuff at that time. Sexy as hell and a total PITA to keep working. Great stuff!
  • + 5
 No disrespect for any of the younger generation engineers - but guys like this are becoming more and more scarce by the year.....maybe it's the fear of failure or pressure from social media, not sure....but I envy and respect guys like Dan more than any other type of person. Thinking outside the box, failing often, but re-inventing the way we look at things....you just don't see this sort of "skillset" or determination from folks anymore.

The ability to not only 1) come up with an idea 2) think THROUGH the problems and 3) actually execute.....rarest of rare. Many people can get through the first two, but getting something into final working example is a true testament to his genius.
  • + 4
 Dan was a superb engineer and great innovator.
I had some G7's - today they would be considered an inverted fork for Enduro. They were the plushest forks I ever used - that PHD damper was the biz. Everyone rags on reliability but his forks were meant to be maintained in the field if need be - many of the parts could be gotten in the hardware store and the fluid in the forks was a mix of vaseline and 20:50 motor oil. Dan would always answer the phone if you called him up for help.
Sad to see him go.
  • + 3
 I heard about Dan's passing a few days ago. I live in Big Bear and have been a friend of Dan for 25 years or so. I would always see him around town and we would chat about machining and manufacturing, engineering and of course bikes and motorcycles. I too was at the Big Bear Legends meet where Dan was inducted into the first round of the BB legends. He told stories of the older mountain bike days, pre 1980, in which I had just learned about his exploits a month earlier. Dan will be missed up here in Big Bear......RIP Dan
  • + 6
 RIP Dan, well see you later where the trails flow like honey
  • + 2
 RIP Dan, to this day the coolest fork I have ever owned was a single crown invert from Dan that had insane internals. Dan had come across a suspension design from an older truck manufacturer for a damperless shock. Think englund total air but much bigger, the idea was that the balance of the two Chambers and the precisely sized hole in between would create a variable vacuum. I built up a bike with it and rode it in Moab....the fork just worked, never bouncy, never bottomed out. When I came home I disassembled the fork for figure it out, life got in the way and the fork is still here but I baby it because it's such a mindtrip.
  • + 2
 RIP Dan Hanebrink. I met him a couple of times and did a big group ride back in the later 80's that he was on up in Big Bear. He was an animal! While it is sad that he has left - as we all will - he lived an active life and will be remembered by many for his somewhat eccentric but innovative designs.
  • + 2
 He will be missed, his inventiveness and resistance to being limited by the status quo has benefitted all of us. Excellent write up, captures his persona in ways that most will never understand.
I remember when I met him for the first time while in Big Bear. Ended up buying one of his Easton tubed XC (the only thing that existed back then) frames and the head tubed based air sprung fork that day.
A simple effective system. Excellent platform, ability to stand and sprint with no bob, then it would quickly absorb a hit. I remember it fondly.
  • + 4
 The forks of Hannebrink drew attention in to pages of MBike Action Mag in 1996, an incredible and innovative product. R.I.P Bro...
  • + 1
 I had the pleasure to work with Dan just over the phone when prototyping a custom titanium DH bike as Dan set up a fork for the bike , a big black inverted fork. he had told me the story of his son on the speed run on the snow with the parachute on his body to slow him down, but it ripped him off the bike at high speeds,!!! So He said. We later attache the chute to the bike.!!! Awesome , thank you Dan Hannebrink. R.I.P. P
  • + 3
 Man this sucks dude was a legend and wicked smart Had the pleasure of his company and few times over the years God speed Dan
  • + 2
 truly this is sad. RIP Dan... your visionary approach to the industry will surely be missed. We thank you for your innovation and relentless pursuit of all-things-amazing on two wheels.
  • + 1
 I had one of the original Hannebrink ET monster bikes. Sure was a lot of fun Sold it to a friend who still has it. I remember him racing one at the Sagebrush Safari race that was just a mudfest. Glad I got to know him a little bit. Rest in peace Dan!
  • + 1
 Dan was my Nieghbor for the past 3 1/2 years we talked and walked our dogs daily. Dan was still thinking of the next idea , fully ingaged. Dan Always wanted to share his time and experience. He would take anyone who was interested for an off-road ride one his fat tire electric dirt bikes. I could barely keep up with Dan he was a stud up until the last couple weeks. R.I.P. Dan
  • + 4
 @RichardCunningham you have done the man proud, a great write up. Thankyou.
  • + 1
 Rest in peace Mr. H. Very sad news to start the new year. Indeed a pioneer in so many facets of 2 wheeled life. One that has touched and changed ours for the better, thank you you will be missed. Deepest sympathy to the Hanebrink family.
  • + 6
 F#$k cancer!! RIP legend
  • + 3
 No way, RIP. I didn't realise the history of the Hanebrink LT9 fork I have traced back to him.
  • + 2
 i have not heard that name in a long time, and i think it must have been in an article about those GPVs. RIP, and condolences to family and friends.
  • + 1
 Met Dan last summer while in Big Bear. He was running up the same hill I was riding up on my MTB. Super friendly an amazingly fit guy well into his 70s. Rest in Peace Dan.. you were quite the pioneer on many fronts.
  • + 2
 A real talent that brought style, personality and made imagination into something real, wild and gorgeous. Dan's creations were dreams coming true!
  • + 2
 DH always had two meanings to me - Dan Hanebrink and downhill. He changed not just downhill, but our entire sport. I hope he's got his perfect flow trail in heaven.
  • + 1
 Ran into Dan last summer in Big Bear. He was running the same climb I was riding. Amazingly fit guy (even well into his 70s) and super friendly. RIP Dan.. truly a pioneer ????????‍♀️
  • + 1
 One crazy dude. Good for the industry. His DH bullet "bike" in the 90's for the Kamikaze race was funny though. I remember in '95 watching him in practice and he didn't make it too far down before crashing that thing.
  • + 4
 RIP Dan. Amazing story, great writing, thanks for this.
  • + 2
 Here's to the people with crazy ideas that actually put in the work to see them come to light. RIP Dan Hanebrink.
  • + 3
 RIP. This article is a nice tribute to a life well lived.
  • + 2
 I've got an LT9 on display in my bike lair (workshop). Its the first thing that everyone picks up to examine.
  • + 2
 Dan was the right kind of crazy. RIP to a visionary... and a badass on two wheels!
  • + 2
 @BikesNBites: Dan Hanebrink designed and built the zzyzx forks for Bullet Brothers.
  • + 1
 Why put monochrome photos to make it look like it's super old, like someone mountain biking in 1886
  • + 2
 Rip. Remember many of his creations under dave cullinan
  • + 2
 Sad news. I always wanted a Hanebrink X1.
  • + 1
 Hanebrink is a legend. I actually have one of his old forks, forget what its even called.
  • + 1
 SE Shocker and MCR Descender kinda looks like an early versions of Paul Tuner's Mavericks. Cool guy! Godspeed Dan!
  • + 2
 I remember that photo of Dan and Brian when it first graced the pages of MBA. It was jaw dropping stuff at the time and remember having so many questions about the design. It fully inspired me, and I rapidly got into frame building because of it. RIP Dan you were way ahead of the curve with your brilliant mind.
  • + 2
 I remember the name from BMX Forks in the 90s
  • + 2
 You will be missed, Mr. Hanebrink!
  • + 1
 RIP. those hanebrink forks were sick
  • + 1
 Sounds like a true inspiration! Appreciate the article too
  • + 1
 Thanks for the passion for two wheels Dan...RIP to a LEGEND!
  • + 1
 God speed Mr. Hanebrink. A real innovator. A true pioneer. Thank you.
  • + 1
 Always great to see people pushing the industry, RIP
  • + 1
 A sad end of an era, no one can stop time. May he RIP
  • + 1
 Dan will be well remembered! Ride on!
  • + 1
 Would make a good biographical film. Did he race?
  • + 1
 What a man!
  • + 1
 Legend!
  • + 1
 RIP Dan
  • + 0
 DH rules RIP!
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