Sunday, September 6, 2015

Rockhopper Reborn

Methinks it's about time for a (blurry) unveiling around these parts. I give you the latest Frankenstenian creation from The Cycle World Headquarters, the Retro Rockhopper All-Surfaces Touring Beastie:

You may recall that this specimen arrived as a badly beaten but mostly bone-stock mountain bike from the days of grunge (and the days when your humble narrator could grow a full head of hair). The trashed (cheap) parts, battered paint job, and dented downtube (who dents a downtube?!?) spoke to a long, hard life being ridden as an actual mountain bike. But, like Charlie Brown shopping for a Christmas tree, I saw something in this ragged, run-down wreck and brought it home.

Now, thanks to a deep parts box and a project-tolerant spouse ("You're STILL futzing with that thing?"), it's starting a second life as a pavement/dirt/gravel/commuting/whatever bike. I would say that the inspiration came from Bicycle Quarterly's recent embrace (and term-coining) of Enduro Allroad bikes, but I've been obsessed with critters like this since ol' Rocky up there was brand-spankin' new. The true inspiration was probably the drop-bar mountain bikes Charlie Cunningham made for his wife, the legendary Jacquie Phelan, or maybe the iconically weird drop-bar 1987 Bridgestone MB-1.

Putting aside the twisted connection of synapses that motivated it, here's how it's built up:
  • Frame 'n' fork: Specialized, chromoly, beat up but ready for more.
  • Wheels: Modern Deore hubs on Sun CR-18 rims (budget prebuilts with a bit of tensioning by yours truly to make them rideable). Tires are the folding Schwalbe Kojaks that were deemed too worn for continued tandem use this season.
  • Drivetrain: Sugino XD cranks (26/36/46), older Shimano XT rear derailleur, modern Shimano Deore front derailleur, all pulled by Shimano 9-speed bar-end shifters. Cassette is an 11-32 9-speed.
  • Brakes: Tektro CR720 wide-profile cantilevers pulled by Shimano aero levers.
  • Cockpit: Salsa Bell Lap bars on a low-budget upright stem (more on the stem later). Never cottoned to these bars before, but they feel right on this bike.
  • Other contact points: Platform pedals (keepin' it simple) and an old WTB SST saddle, which fits both the style of the bike and my ample posterior.

If you're interested in playing along at home and rescuing your own vintage MTB as a newfangled Enduro Allroad bike, here are a few tips/potential gotchas:
  • For my money, I'd stick to a post-1990 "source bike". As I blathered about in my original post about this Rockhopper, I think what became "NORBA standard" geometry in the early 90s is more suited to this sort of thing than the old "klunker" layout. But hey, if you know you like those Repack angles, knock yourself out.
  • If your source bike is from the era of 1 1/8" threaded steerers (like mine), it can be interesting to find a stem that brings the drop bars up and back far enough. I used this almost disturbingly cheap Sunlite stem, which has the added advantage of a pop-top bar clamp.
  • Similarly, some source bikes (like mine, again) will lack a rear cable stop on the top tube for brake cable housing, routing the bare cable around the seat cluster through a small welded-on tube instead. No problem if you want to use cantilevers (and kinda elegant in that application, actually), but V-brakes need a stop back there.
  • The Bicycle Quarterly folks will probably tell you that a true Enduro Allroad bike needs their Rat Trap Pass tires to reach its full potential, at an eye-watering $63-$84 per tire (a.k.a. more for a bikesworth of tires than I paid for my bike). As you might expect, this cheap bastard says "hogwash!" Having ridden Kojaks on our tandem for many years, I can say with some authority that they'll give you a heaping helping of go-fast fun at less than half the price (some sources have the wire beads as cheap as $25 per tire).

So, dear reader, thar she blows. She may not look like much, and I've yet to determine how fast she can make the Kessel run, but I smile every time I throw a leg over this little slice of 1995.