Johnny T and The Lung

Things were always better in “the good old days”. That’s what my mate Johnny Klink always says, especially when we’re talking about mountain biking (which is 99% of our conversations).

We were turned on to the sport around the same time in the early 90’s, and even though we didn’t meet until the latter part of that decade, we’d witnessed the halcyon days of the sport. At least that’s how we viewed them.

It didn’t matter that bikes and components were heavy and clunky by todays standards, at the time a sweet steel hardtail with an undamped fork (if you were really lucky and/or rich) weighing under 30lbs was the epitome of a ‘dream machine’. I’d scour the U.S. magazines for the latest race results, even if they’d only make their way Down Under months after the fact, but the internet was still years away and it was all I had to go on.

Revelling in the glossy images of the stars of the day, two riders always were prominent at the top of the results in NORBA and World Cup racing: John Tomac and Ned Overend. The Young Lion and The Old Stager. The flairy, gifted bike handler and the gritty endurance machine. Johnny T and The Lung.

Their nicknames summed up their differing personalities, both off the bike, and on the race course. Different, but similar in the fact that they were head and shoulders above the rest, and never far apart.

I was always more of a Ned fan, though ‘The Tomes’  was also right up there in my MTB fandom. I probably leaned more towards Ned as my days of riding in the gung-ho style of Tomac were rapidly fading in the rear-view mirror, and I was advancing towards the veteran category which Ned could’ve easily been racing in, instead of laying waste to men a decade or more younger than him.

Johnny Klink gets so excited when he talks of those days, recalling the equipment they were using, the kit they’d be wearing, and the iconic images that they left inscribed on our psyches.

Tomac, hunched over the drop bars, the American Eagle emblazoned on his helmet, blitzing the technical sections, leaving everyone in his wake. Overend, in the pink and yellow Specialized Stumpjumper jersey, climbing the steeps of Durango or Big Bear, where he was king of the thin air, leaving everyone in his wake.


Even in their fading years on the circuit, when the Euros started to dominate and the Americans suddenly were pack fodder, they were never far apart. I remember watching them at the 95 and 96 Worlds, in Germany and Australia respectively, battling away for 30th or 40th place, yet still garnering some of the biggest cheers and support from the spectators.

They were the real stars, the riders of, and for, the people. Not many of them around today.

Ah, the good old days indeed.

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9 Replies to “Johnny T and The Lung”

  1. Awesome. I was with you, always slightly favoring The Lung, but Tomac was a badass. Check out those disc wheels! So cool! Those guys were always experimenting, trying to figure out ways to make the sport better. I also liked Thomas Frischknecht and Julie Furtado; but once Mountain Biking stopped being the sport of the Americans and the Euros took over, I agree the golden era lost its gleam.

  2. The Lung just scored second place in the 2009 New Hampshire Mt. Washington “Hill” Climb. He lost to a twenty year old but the fifty-something left every other youth far behind. He was heard to say “Why would I quit this race when I get faster every year?”
    Another in the massive stud category.
    I’ve done this race when I was younger and dumber, it is the worst. If there had been a groupetto I would have been in it or out the back of it. It’s awful.

  3. Great post – writing and photos.

    Being semi-old guy at 48 years young, and riding mountain bikes since 1984 – I’ve watched the sport grow, progress and change. It’s all too easy to look back with rose colored glasses and declare everything “back in the day” was better then now. A lot of times that’s not the case, however – the mid ’90s was an awesome time for mountain bike racing. It really was the heyday of it all. Great personalities involved, lots of coverage (in the bike world), and the development of the mountain bike itself. Very cool times indeed.

    I was involved with motorcycle motocross during the ’70s. Very similar feel to the growth of mountain biking during the ’80s and ’90s. I feel lucky to have been interested and involved with both sports during the so called “golden eras”.

    Dirt motorcycles long gone from my garage, but mountain bikes remain. I get a big kick out of people’s interest in the now vintage bikes. It’s great to reflect on the past and enjoy it – without losing sight of how far things have progressed and improved.

    Ride on.

  4. @Dan O
    Well put, Dan O! I have to say, the Zip, in it’s retro glory, performed absolutely perfectly out in Cle Elum this weekend. But, I learned very quickly not to follow Michelle’s lines on her 140mm of shock-absorbing suspension. The Zip is good at going around rocks – not over them.


    Welcome, and stick around: based on your all-caps post here, I’m thinking you’ll enjoy our next Velominati Six Days Of series.

  7. This thread is so old, but I have to add one thing:

    Johnny T in a black skin suit and american eagle helmet at the Kamikaze DH in ’95. Then decimating the XC while also competing in the dual slalom and hillclimb. Fucking Bad Ass. He should’ve just done the trials event for the hell of it.

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