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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Bicycle Times issue #19, published in October 2012. Words and photos by Josh Parker.
I wouldn’t consider myself a competitive cyclist by any means, rather a bike enthusiast. The day before I left for Afghanistan, my wife and I found an old, beaten Diamondback priced at $50 at the local used sports shop. A brief haggle and $35 later, we left. The next day, I proudly wheeled our find onto the transport jet and headed overseas with the rest of my unit.
I’m pretty sure everything on the bike was original, down to the tires and tubes. All telling the story of a past life spent under the Arizona sun. Classic lines, a lugged frame and forgiving steel. An actual leather seat long past its prime. This Ridge Runner was one of the first of its kind in 1983.
Scrounged from bits of scrap lying around the compound, I built a rear rack to carry my laundry. Two hose clamps and some bottle cage parts compose the cup holder mounted to the top tube, borne from necessity after a one-handed close call balancing an early morning coffee. New tires after the originals gave way in dramatic fashion one hot afternoon. A “borrowed” saddle from the deserted skeleton of a discount store special when the old seat clamp disintegrated on a rocky road. And plenty of TLC.
More than just a convenience or some easy exercise, this old machine transformed steel and rubber into freedom. A taste of autonomy in a place with precious little. Thanks for the inspiration.Tweet Print
Words and photos: Jeff Archer
Schwinn introduced the Sting-Ray in 1963 and it quickly became its best-selling model. As often happens in the bike industry, when a model becomes popular, there are various versions created to try and increase sales. Three years into production, the Sting-Ray was available with one, two, three or five speeds. There was also a Deluxe model with whitewalls, fenders and an optional spring fork. By 1966, it was time for a change.
Enter the Schwinn Sting-Ray Fastback. The Fastback was introduced as “All new, with the swift, clean lines of true sports car styling!’’ It used a lighter weight frame with narrower, 20 x 1 -inch tires. The rear tire was a slick and—along with a 5-speed Stik Shifter—mimicked the popular muscle cars of the day.
In 1967, another variation, the Ram’s Horn, was added. All Fastbacks received a new Mag sprocket and the Ram’s Horn wore all-metal rat-trap pedals. The most unique feature was definitely the ram’s horn bars that added a curled under section to the standard ape-hanger bars. The bars were wrapped in color-matching vinyl tape and gave the rider multiple hand positions.
This particular bike likely had an aftermarket Schwinn saddle with an offset racing stripe when it was new. The Ram’s Horn model only lasted one more year, but singlespeed and three-speed versions were later added.
The last year of the Stik Shifter was 1973 (thanks to Ralph Nader) and Fastback production ended in 1976. The regular Sting-Ray lasted until the BMX craze took over in 1981. Many of the old Sting-Rays were converted to BMX duty by adding a “10-speed” saddle, BMX grips and knobby tires.
Many of these early BMX participants became the first generation of mountain bikers and are now old enough to be regular Bicycle Times readers!
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.
PRESS RELEASE — Eroica California will take place April 8-10, 2016, in Paso Robles and surrounding cities. This event, originating from Italy, will draw cycling enthusiasts from all over the world to San Luis Obispo County as they gather to celebrate the history of cycling. Due to the success off its inaugural year in 2015, the event will expand to a three-day festival celebrating cycling’s historic roots.
This three-day cycling event will feature a vintage bike show and contest (Concours d’Elegance) showcasing vintage road bikes from early 1900s through 1987. In addition, there will be a designated bike swap tent for cycling enthusiasts and collectors to share and sell vintage bike parts, vintage clothing and other cycling gear. Additional highlights include an expanded assortment of vendors (featuring handmade bike frame makers, bicycle art, and cycling clubs and shops), cycling celebrity guests, special event dinners and much more.
The grand finale of Eroica California is the vintage ride. On Sunday, April 10, an estimated 1,500 cyclists will don vintage cycling apparel and set off on vintage bicycles (made in 1987 or earlier) on one of four scenic routes over gravel and paved roads that mimic the heroic days of cycling’s past.
Four routes are offered: 120 miles (the Eroica or Heroic), 85 miles, 67 miles and 38 miles. Each route offers unique geography and challenges. Just as in the golden era of cycling, each route has rest stops complete with gourmet food and drink for participants to refuel while taking in the quintessential California scenery of vineyards, mountain vistas and the Pacific Coast.
L’Eroica founder, Giancarlo Brocci, defines Eroica events as a means to “spread the authentic roots of an extraordinary sport with great soul. We want people to rediscover the beauty of fatigue and the taste of accomplishment.”
Eroica California benefits Hospice SLO. A portion of all proceeds (rider registrations, special dinner engagements and auction) are donated to the Hospice of San Luis Obispo County.Tweet Print
The white gravel crunches pleasantly underneath your steel frame as you roll over the beautiful Tuscan countryside where hilltops are dotted with ancient villas, vineyards, and small villages, like tiny fortresses built from stone against the blazing Italian sun. Passing and being passed alike by the colours and shapes of times gone by, you hardly need squint to imagine days when giants like Coppi and Bartali travelled these same roads. You challenge yourself up another epic climb, and find relief in the friendly hospitality of event volunteers, waiting for you and the other participants with much-needed refreshments. You made it to L’Eroica.
So began the description of L’Eroica that accompanied the invitation to attend as a guest of Brooks England, one of the main sponsors of the ride. Since prepping a story about this event for issue #11 (“Biking for Heroes” by Enrico Caracciolo), I’d been intrigued by this rolling costume ball in the Chianti region of Italy, and now I had a chance to go. Heck, it’s my birthright, after all.Tweet Print