RIP Jeff Archer: Mountain Bike Historian and Pioneer

Jul 22, 2016
by Richard Cunningham  
Jeff Archer was a central figure in the development of East Coast mountain bike culture and a man who put together a collection of vintage bikes and historical memorabilia that is second to none. He was a hard worker who, if such a thing were possible, may have donated double his foreshortened lifetime to host rides and festivals and trail days near his North Carolina bike shop. Many riders got their start in the sport under his wing or on a First Flight ride. Collectors worldwide have used Jeff as a resource for vintage parts, information or introductions to like-minded fellows. I was stunned to read in Bicycle Retailer and Industry News that Jeff was hit by a car while crossing the street and died on the scene last Wednesday.
Jeff Archer
Mountain Bike Hall of Fame photo

My fondest memory of Jeff was when he showed me a Columbia racing bike from the mid-1800s that needed new tires. It was original - even the grease in the hubs and pedals was. He pulled out a dusty manual from 1886 and showed me how it was done. I told him that if he had all the stuff, I would put new tires on the bike - BUT, the deal was that I got to ride it. I had never ridden a penny farthing.

Jeff scrounged around the two story bike shop and in an hour or so, produced coils of rubber for both the large and the small wheels, a length of steel wire, the special winch used to tension the wire, silver solder, the correct flux and an acetylene torch. I had no choice, but to master this long dead craft in just one evening.

First flight was having a post festival party. Beers flowed freely and pizza appeared on the hour. I worked in a corner of the shop, with Jeff peering over my shoulder. Big wheel bikes have tubular rubber tires, held to the rims by an internal wire which is tensioned, then silver brazed together. When finished, the tensioning device is pulled free and the ends of the rubber tube, which is cut longer than the circumference of the wheel, snap tightly together. It took a few tries to find the correct wire tension - one that would secure the tire, but not stress it to the breaking point when it was heated for silver soldering. Oblivious to the time, I finished near midnight and when I looked up, First Flight was empty, except for Jeff and his employees.

Jeff rolled the Columbia out to the parking lot behind the shop and explained how to mount up.

"Grab the handlebar," he said. "Put your left foot on the step. Push off until you get some momentum and then, as the right pedal swings around, push your foot into it and it will hoist you up to the saddle."

In a moment, Jeff was gone. Speeding silently away on a bicycle that slept for almost a hundred years in some corner of a shop or livery barn, awaiting the moment when it was revived by a new set of rubber tires. In a few minutes Jeff returned, beaming with childlike joy. He handed the Columbia over to me, and I took a chance on his instructions, executing them exactly as I was told.

Jeff was about six inches taller than I. The Columbia Racer’s handlebars were nearly as high as I could reach from the tiny step brazed above the bike's diminutive rear wheel. I scooted along until I had mustered enough courage to stretch out my right foot to meet the up-swinging pedal. I stiffened my leg and was catapulted upwards onto the leather saddle. My unprotected head was over eight feet above the tarmac – I looked down upon alley fences and street signs. A few wiggles of the handlebar, and in three pedal strokes I was in the street. It was do or die now.

The Columbia was wickedly fast and smooth. Surprisingly so, and it cornered beautifully. The town was empty, so I made the streets my own. Besides slowing with the pedals, I had a brake: a single lever beside the wooden grip that articulated a steel rubbing spoon onto the front tire that I hoped I would not have to use. When I did return, Jeff's staff were waiting for their shot on the Columbia. I never rode it again, but each time I recall that evening it feels like I have just stepped off the bike.

Whether you had the good fortune to know him, or not, raise your glasses to Jeff Archer tonight. The sport lost an elder. We lost a friend.

Posted In:
Industry News



44 Comments

  • + 87
 2016 has been a shit year..
  • + 10
 So many two wheel brethrens taken this year...
  • + 54
 May this be a reminder to everyone, life is short. Revel in ever single day that you get to wake up and do something you love, and be around people you cherish. It is sad to see a good man taken too soon, but there is a lot of joy in remembering how much he loved every day he got to be alive. Rip.
  • + 1
 Couldn't have put it better myself, rest in peace jeff.
  • + 22
 that was a beautiful memory, thanks for sharing it with us. RIP
  • + 7
 Very well written, nice of you to honor him.
  • + 12
 MTB pioneer. job well done in the industry it sounds to me, look where bikes have gone since their early beginnings, huge respect. rest in peace brotha
  • + 13
 Pounding beers tonight, and riding hungover as shit tomorrow, for Jeff.
  • + 1
 Do that with a friend cuz alone is stupid
  • + 4
 Maybe not the best tribute since he was killed by a drunk driver.......
  • + 11
 RIP Jeff Archer.
  • + 11
 Bike Lives Matter!!!
  • + 9
 Sad to hear of a pioneer passing . Would be amazing to see his collection and revel in history . RIP Mr .Archer
  • + 4
 Such a sad loss, bought many nice tires off Jeff and remember ogling over Jeff's amazing collection 10 years ago, now it's on another level. Pretty much the first big collector of old mtb's and has inspired many. Hope his legacy will carry on and deepest sympathies to his family. Rest in peace Jeff
  • + 6
 Why is this year so bad??? Many great people from the MTB died and right now, one of my friend is in coma from a crash... That's not a good year so far
  • + 8
 Sorry to hear about that friend of yours. I hope things go well for you and yours.
  • + 6
 Sending warm thoughts and healing vibes. Your bicycle family is here for you.
  • + 5
 Thank you for repping our home state and pointing back to what God sculpted as the first lines we all rode
  • + 2
 Supersad to hear this. Great beacon in our industry will be sorely missed. Condolences to family and friends. Dont know the scenario but drivers need to pay attention to their surroundings...not their phones!
  • + 1
 So sad to hear about this. I visited the shop ~ 10 years back and was welcomed right back into the work area to check out odd bits on the walls and the bikes in back and upstairs. Great place and I have been trying ot get back ever since.
  • + 5
 Rest in Peace Jeff Archer, Rest in Peace...
  • + 4
 Good writeup of a gentleman. Thanks pinkbike.
  • + 1
 RIP Jeff Archer. Great write-up and by what I read, this is a guy I would've gotten along with just perfectly. My thoughts go out to his family and friends and I'm sorry for this lose.
  • + 1
 Jeff will be missed. An incredibly generous person, a passion driven sole, I am happy to have had the opportunity to share in his life. Ride endless wheelies in the clouds my friend.
  • + 2
 May you ride I peace upon any stead you choose. Thank you for... well being you, Jeff Archer. Cheers
  • + 1
 RIP Jeff. Thank you so much for showing us around the shop and taking us upstairs to your collection. It was a great memory of mine. Thanks. Will
  • + 2
 My sincere condolences to his friends and family. What a great way to remember him.......
  • + 1
 what a Legend ... Great story not enough words to put in o a few lines about a man that touched so many lives in our community Ride in Peace
  • + 1
 RIP Jeff Archer. We salute you. Just think, he's up there sharing knowledge with Mirra, McGarry and the rest of our well loved brothers and sisters.
  • + 1
 It was an absolute honor to have met this man and see his collection. Very knowledgable and a passion for bikes that radiated off of him. He will be missed for sure.
  • + 3
 rest in peace. more sad stuff
  • + 1
 Legends never die, l see you on top of that big wheel right now Jeff Archer. Ride in peace.
  • + 1
 What a nice guy. As a Carolinian, I always loved talking with him. So sad... RIP friend.
  • + 2
 RIP Jeff Archer Thanks for sharing your story RC
  • + 1
 A serious loss. He gave way more to the bike industry - especially the mountain bike industry - than he got in return.
  • + 1
 I am honored to share such a respectful hobby! Keep those cranks spinning in the after life.
  • + 2
 ffs... another Where droping like flies! RIP
  • + 1
 F!!! letting everyone die via motor vehicle collisions. It needs to stop.
  • + 1
 Such a cool write-up. Thanks, RC. RIPJeff
  • + 1
 Great story, thanks for sharing. RIP Jeff.
  • + 1
 Absolute legend. Totally gutted. Thanks for the write-up.
  • + 1
 Holy Hell. RIP brotha. Frown
  • + 1
 RIP Jeff... Ride In Peace!
  • + 1
 Rip jeff

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