Vintage Bicycles: 1985 MCR Descender

The MCR Descender was a bicycle ahead of its time. It was the first suspended mountain bike and dreamed up by Brian Skinner whose contributions to mountain biking would go on to span the entire sport. On the technology side, Skinner started with the Descender but later led development on innovations such as index shifting, trigger shifters, SPDs, Onza porcupines and Answer taperlites. His first passion in the sport of mountain biking was as a race promoter though, and it was from that passion that the other half of this bike’s name MCR — Mountain Cross Racing —was born.

Beginnings with the Fire Road Racer

In 1983, Skinner worked with the VVA (Victor Vincente of America) to build his first bike which was initially called the Fire-road Racer and introduced to the world in BMX Action. Eventually, Skinner would follow a friend’s suggestion and settle on calling the bike the Descender, a name that aptly referenced its intended purpose. VVA was Southern California’s mountain biking guru and his work building the early Descenders and introducing Skinner to mountain biking exemplify his clear influence.

The one-off bike generated so much interest that Skinner decided to produce more for sale the following year. VVA didn’t have the capacity to make the bikes in Skinner’s proposed quantities, so Skinner turned to Dan Hanebrink. The two worked to update the design, leading to a lighter and tighter build. In 1984, Skinner also began a partnership with SE Racing. Unfortunately, the terms of the partnership created friction between Skinner and Hanebrink, ultimately leading to them parting ways, after which each built his own Descender for a time.

1985 Catalog Images courtesy of MOMBAT

1985 MCR Descender

In 1985, back under the MCR brand, Skinner further revised the Descender design for its final iteration. Using the 1984 Kawasaki KX250 suspension as a reference point, Skinner adapted the ratio for the Descender. He also knew that the shock needed to be a gas shock rather than a spring which would have lacked the ride qualities he wanted. He ended up buying the shock from a company that was going out of business. In the background, Skinner struggled to finance the project and worked to juggle backers. Between 1985 and 1987 he found modest traction but, in the end, the Descender project was not fated for success.

In 1987, Skinner was faced with a choice: go full-time with Shimano or continuing trying to get his Descender project off the ground. Despite his enthusiasm for the bicycles, they never achieved sufficient commercial success. Skinner notes the final run of bikes – the 1985 bikes – only totaled 75 units. Consequently, in 1987, Skinner decided to focus on mountain bike components and events. He sold MCR and the Descender design. The bikes faded from the consciousness of the fast-moving mountain bike scene.

It took many years for 6-inch rear travel to return to mountain biking. Or, for that matter, for suspension to properly grow up and be accepted as a legitimate technology for rough riding. Skinner recounts a story where Tom Ritchey scoffed at the idea of mountain bike suspension, noting that he preferred the give to come from his legs. It wasn’t just time that was needed, millions would be spent on R&D. It is astounding to consider the groundwork Skinner laid by observing successful motocross design and adapting it for bicycles, essentially at his kitchen table. Mountain biking has been lucky to have an inventor of Skinner’s talent and vision. It has also been fortunate to have benefited from his passion and hard work for event promotion – legends including John Tomac, Cindy Whitehead and others came up through the races he ran.

This particular Descender came from one of Skinner’s business partners. He noted that he liked how the design allowed you to keep both wheels planted on the ground, a feature that provided significantly greater control when bombing downhill. The build shows Skinner’s prescient preference for stubby stems—a component choice that bucked the at-the-time trend of 135-150mm monsters—but the actual handling benefits of the shorter stem was undercut by the super narrow handlebar, another common trait of the era, which led to less control and twitchier steering. Still, this bike is a survivor and a testament to the visionary designs that animated the early days of mountain biking.


Year: 1985
Frame: TIG-welded Reynolds Cromoly
Fork: SE Landing Gear
Stem: BMX
Handlebars: Cro-moly
Grips: A’Me
Headset: Epoch GT BMX
Shifters: Shimano Deerhead M700
Front Derailleur: Shimano Deerhead M700
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Deerhead M700
Brake Levers: Shimano Deerhead M700
Front Brake: Shimano Deerhead M700
Rear Brake: Suntour XC-Power Cunningham Design
Crankset: Specialized touring
Bottom Bracket: Press fit
Rear Tire: Specialized Ground Control
Front Tire: Tioga [not original]
Wheelet: Araya RM-20 with Dura Ace 7400 hubs and quick releases
Seatpost: Suntour XC
Saddle: Avocet Touring II
Chain: Sedis
Cogs: Dura Ace 7400
Seat Quick Release: Suntour
Pedals: Suntour XC-II