Thursday, April 9, 2009

Still Retro-MTB Obsessing

Now that I've finally outed my unquenchable thirst for that old-school, all-rigid mountain bike aesthetic of the late 80s/early 90s, I can't help but pick it apart. It's the curse of having been to graduate school in a liberal arts field: You can't just "like" or "dislike" something, you have to analyze (in stomach-churning detail) exactly WHY you "like" or "dislike" that thing.

For retro mountain bikes, I think it's the way that their underlying shape never seems dated (I know, talking about "underlying shape" ignores the twin elephants in the room of hideous 80s paint jobs and 90s anodizing. My blog, my dodge.) Take, for example, this Bruce Gordon Rock 'n' Road Tour EX. Admittedly, it's not
really a mountain bike per se, but it's an example of a 26"-wheeled all-rigid bike you can buy in 2009. You don't have to squint much to see the direct lineage back to the brief era of late-80s drop-bar mountain bikes like the '87 Bridgestone MB-1 or the '89 Specialized RockCombo. And even though the Gordon in the photo is probably 10 years old by now (just judging by the vintage of its XT parts), it wouldn't look out of place up against today's Surly Long Haul Trucker (which owes a lot of its genetic code to Bruce Gordon's designs), save for the whole threaded/threadless steerer difference. Similarly, you could fire up the flux capacitor and send an '09 Novara Buzz V back to 1993 without freaking out the trail riders of 16 years ago with your crazy future bike. Heck, they'd probably call you retro for not having a suspension fork!

My more-purist pals on the iBOB list will claim the same sort of timelessness for a lugged road frame, but my eye doesn't see it. I really like the '71 Raleigh International I got from pal Steve, but it obviously comes from another era. Modern "frilly lug" designs (like those from Rivendell) strike me not as proof of the "timelessness" of that aesthetic but as desperate attempts to get back something that's long gone. And modern "Raleigh" (scare-quotes intentional) -- with its retro logos, 70s color palette, and sprinkling of Brooks leather eye-candy -- looks like a room full of marketers trying to add scratch-and-sniff "authenticity" to yet another lineup of generic imports.

I'm also willing to admit that maybe these preferences are just because I bought into the "rad, cool, extreme" marketing when I was an impressionable youth and never gave it up. Hey, my sacred cows tip over just like anyone else's!


OLD-METAL said...


i do like the old rigid mountainbikes, personally i am more font of the later,..early 90's styled bikes.
I always liked the slooping style, insteed of the contra slooping style for the late 80's bike frames but i would love a 80's ritchey or fat chance..


i have a blog about retro mountaibikes and was looking for similar blogs and found your post

Jason T. Nunemaker said...


Thanks for turning me on to your blog -- I see lots of eye candy over there for retro mountain bike geeks like me. I'll definitely add you to my blogroll.

I'm with you on the early-90s bikes. My biggest regret is missing out on the employee-purchase deal for rigid steel Stumpjumpers when I worked in a shop from 1994-1995. If I remember correctly, they were almost full Deore XT for something like $300. It was a lot of money on a mechanic's salary, but it seems like chump change now.

Then, the hot setup was to add Specialized's reworking of a Rock Shox Judy that had carbon fiber lower legs. I don't think it was any lighter or stiffer than a regular Judy, but WOW, did it ever look cool... and that's half the battle. :-)

I keep waiting to find one of those mid-90s steel Stumpys in a garage sale for cheap, but lightning hasn't struck yet. Someday...

OLD-METAL said...

Hi Jason,

yes those FSX Carbon Specialized Judy's are gorgeous.
And they are quite expensive these days.

Thanks for adding me to your blogroll...
i have no clue how that works but hope to find out soon and add you 2

keep up the good work



Anonymous said...

I remember reading about a Bruce Gorden touring/ mountain bike with bigger wheels than 26" 27" or 700mm back in the 80's .