Two Wheel Time Machines

By Adam Newman, photos by Jordan Clark Haggard

Almost as soon as mountain bikes burst into the public consciousness in the late 1970s, the bikes themselves began to stratify. Downhill, trials, cross country, enduro—the list goes on and on. But it wasn’t always this way. For a few glorious years, the mountain bike was just a bike, and all racers competed in all types of races with essentially the same machine.

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While there’s no disputing modern bikes outperform the bikes of a generation ago in every way, riders are rediscovering the simplicity and camaraderie of those heady times. For 28 years, mountain bikers have been gathering at the Keyesville Classic stage race in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The bikes that were cutting edge when the racing began are now organized into their own vintage category, competing on the same course as modern, carbon fiber wünderbikes.

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“This race always has a downhill and cross country [segment], and both are hard and challenging by today’s standards,” said Sky Boyer, who raced at Keyesville for the first time in 1990 and houses a substantial vintage bike collection in his bike shop, Velo Cult, in Portland, Oregon. “Back in the day, we [raced] them on rigid bikes so there’s really zero excuses for anybody showing up on a vintage bike. We did it back then, so you can do it now.”

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For Eric Rumpf, the passion to both collect vintage bikes and to race them is fueled almost entirely by nostalgia. He takes special joy in finding bikes he idolized as a kid.

“Once I got older, not only could I afford the dream bike from my youth, they were cheap! The challenge became how many dream bikes could I find? How many could I rebuild just as I would have as a kid? There’s great satisfaction in finding something you’d only ever seen in magazines, rebuilding it back to a running mountain bike, and actually getting to ride it.”

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Boyer saw that collectors had a passion for their bikes but were looking for a be er way to enjoy them, not just put them on a pedestal. He worked with the race organizers to start the vintage category in 2006. Now there’s such a diverse collection of vintage mountain bikes at Keyesville that the race has divided them into categories of “1986 and older” and “1987-1996.” The course itself has a variety of terrain to challenge anyone with a rigid fork, super long stem, rim brakes and sketchy tires.

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“There’s no arguing that modern sports and muscle cars are faster, but the soul of driving an early 911 or classic Mustang is something that can’t be replicated. It’s the same for vintage mountain bikes,” Rumpf said. “Vintage mountain bikes are more challenging to ride. You get the same thrill of being on the edge of control, it just comes a little sooner.”

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Despite the challenge, or perhaps because of it, more and more people are discovering the joy in simplicity, Rumpf said. Half are riders were barely even born when these bikes first hit the trails and are looking for a way to connect with a bygone era, he said, and half are folks who have been riding since these bikes since they were new and like things just the way they are.

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“The number of racers grows slightly each year, but there is always a core group of collectors who make their way back year after year. I think that’s telling of a quality event.”

Boyer cites the laid-back vibe of the weekend and the positive camaraderie as the biggest draw.

“The general vibe of the race is exactly the same as back then,” he said. “Seriously, this race has never changed.”

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Vintage Velo: 1996 Salsa Town Bike

Words and photos by Jeff Archer. This post originally appeared in Bicycle Times #6. 

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Almost everyone in the bike industry has a love of all bikes. Some prefer the road while others prefer the trails, but each rider can also appreciate the other. Many of the famous mountain bike makers, such as Jeff Lindsay, Gary Fisher and Ross Shafer, started out building and/or racing road bikes.

Most cyclists also appreciate the utilitarian possibilities of the bicycle. There’s something appealing about accomplishing some of your daily tasks on two wheels. Joe Breeze may be the best example of promoting the utilitarian bike. Back around 1977, Joe created a purpose-built mountain bike from scratch and is acknowledged as the first person to do so. His Breezer mountain bikes were available through 1998, when Joe quit distributing them. In 2003, Breezer came back with a full line of utilitarian bikes with the tag line, “transportation for a healthy planet.”

While Breezer became known for a wide range of transportation bikes, there was at least one earlier effort from another one of mountain biking’s founding fathers, Ross Shafer. Ross began building frames on his own starting in 1976. Then, in the early 1980s, he began building bikes for Santana during the day, while continuing to build for himself at night. These initial frames were sold under the Red Bush name, which was changed to Salsa Cycles in 1982. The Salsa frames were highly sought after, but many riders were more familiar with Salsa stems, which were available in an almost infinite variety of lengths and rises and seemed to be on nearly every custom bike of the era.

Manufacturers often liked to roll out special projects for the annual bicycle trade shows. In 1994, Ross had made a 24”-wheel frame for his son’s 9th birthday and took it to the trade show to present the concept. When attendees saw the bike, Salsa started fielding calls from people asking for a production version. Not wanting to let a niche go unfilled, a total of 10 frames were built and offered up for sale…to the sound of crickets chirping. The “demand” dried up before the paint had dried on the frames!

For the 1996 show, Ross, once again, wanted to have something new and unique for dealers. This show bike was the aforementioned town bike. The idea was to offer a complete bike with internal gearing, eccentric bottom bracket, rack, fenders, lights and a kickstand for well under $1,000. While the price obviously precluded the use of a custom U.S.-built frame, the show bike was made in-house using Columbus tubing. Many of the parts, such as the Shimano Nexus 7-speed internal hub and dual-leg kickstand, were production-ready parts, but others, such as the King headset and MAFAC cantilever brake, wouldn’t have been found on the production version. The prototype was finished in a unique metallic blue-to-clear-coat finish. Once again, the response from the show goers was very positive. Based on his previous experience with the 24” wheel, Ross asked buyers for deposits, which once again resulted in those chirping crickets. The prototype was the only Salsa town bike ever produced.

The next year, the Salsa name was sold to Quality Bike Parts and the town bike project never saw the light of day. With the recent popularity of similar bikes, it appears as if Ross was about a dozen years ahead of the curve.

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To see what Ross has been up to lately, check out his newest creations at Six-Nine Design. To see a virtual tour of the Museum of Mountain Bike Art & Technology, including one of the 24”-wheel Salsa bikes mentioned above, check out MOMBAT.org

 

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Vintage Velo: 1988 Ibis Mountain Trials Prototype

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Words and photos: Jeff Archer
Originally published in Issue #40

Since we don’t ride bikes on paper, the best way to design a bike is to ride it. The absolute best way is to have a series of bikes with small changes so they can be ridden back-to-back and compared. Get them into the hands of riders and then collect their feedback. It appears as if this bike is one of these test sleds.

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Trials bikes were popular in the mid-1980s, but they were single purpose machines. They were great at going over obstacles and hopping around, but not so great on trails. Scot Nicol, founder of Ibis, thought there might be a market for a bike that could be ridden as both a trail bike and a trials bike. Thus begat the Mountain Trials model, a “traveling trials bike.” Since it was a new type of bike, samples were ordered up. This one has a serial number of 0004 and some of the details, such as the cable routing and dropouts, are different from the production bikes.

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After this particular bike finished testing, it found its way into the hands of a trials rider and was modified to his preferences. It had a Fat Chance box crown fork installed along with Bullseye cranks, which included a homemade bash guard. When the frame was repainted, the crank and fork were painted to match.

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The brakes are from the first Campagnolo mountain bike group, Euclid, where one arm actually pierces the other. The other parts are from somewhat mixed eras and were based on the owner’s preferences, so they aren’t necessarily “period correct” but they are “correct” to this particular bike.

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A review from 1988 of one of the Mountain Trials stated, “The result is one of the sweetest riding bikes for technical riding we’ve tested.” Sounds like the prototypes did their job!


This bike can be seen at the Museum of Mountain Bike Art & Technology, which is housed at First Flight Bicycles in historic downtown Statesville, North Carolina. If you can’t visit in person, check out the collection at mombat.org.

 

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