Friday, December 19, 2014

1987 Steve Potts Signature

I recently had the opportunity to restore/overhaul this lovely bike for a good friend of mine. I'm fortunate in that I usually get to work on some very nice bikes, but even among those awesome machines things can get a little stale. So, I was very happy to have something different and unique in my stand for a while. I just wish it was my size so that I could take out for a quick spin.

This is quite possibly one of the loudest and most ostentatious Potts ever to come out of Marin...

What Potts would be complete without a drop bar setup?? Again, this one was too small for me so I can't really get a feel for the ride, but it is unusual.

Original Specialized "Flag" cranks with Shimano 600ex chainrings. The bike came with mostly modern rings, so these were swapped in to make it correct.

WTB Grease Guard hubs with  Sepecialized quick releases, a very appropriate look for that era of bike.

About the only option missing from this bike is a Type II fork, but the Type I does the job pretty well!

WTB Toe Flips on Shimano M731 pedals. The Toe Flips were designed to help the rider get the pedals oriented properly to ease getting their foot into the cage.

The B cluster is a work of art. A seamless joining of 5 unique tubes that appears to have no other way of looking than like this. Why aren't all bikes this pretty?

Monday, December 15, 2014

1990 Merlin Titanium

I think I may have finally solved the Merlin equation for myself (not that others haven't)... These bikes are notoriously hard to build up such that they don't look boring. By design are they are very monochromatic looking machines and don't fare well with many custom and blingy parts people often attempt to dress them up. More often than not they look best with traditional grouppos like XT, XTR or XC-PRO. But the moment you start tacking on the choice components things go wrong really quickly. I think the following build represents what a pretty much fully dialed in Merlin can look like without going over the edge and making it look like a Honda Civic with a big wing on the back...

You just can't go wrong with Cook CBRs, They look great on any bike and even better with Action Tec Titantium chain rings.

One of the hardest decision for any Merlin is what fork to pick. Made easy here by using an IRD Titanium expedition fork. Damn near impossible to find, but works perfectly!

IRD macaroni stems is one of the more recognizable components made by IRD back in the good ole days.

Such a beautiful union of metal... really doesn't get a whole hell of a lot better.

I wonder who had the job of forming these little brake cable guides and were they all mandrel bent?

Lucky wondering when I'd be done...

Bike looks sharp from any angle!

IRD progressive U-brake. This is a very neat design which actually seems to work rather well.

Another great build comes to a close. I will admit that this one will be hard to let go, lots of amazing parts and all of them coming together to make something truly amazing!

Monday, November 10, 2014

1990 Klein Attitude ride report

It dawned on me a couple weeks ago that I've had about eight 1990 Attitudes come through my garage, and yet I have never actually ridden one.  Luckily I was just about to put the finishing touches on a wonderful example for my brother and so I decided to give it a spin, and then another... I really miss having a Klein in my lineup.

Before I get into this I feel like this review should be limited to just the following phrase : "This is a race bike." Everyone should just get it and not ask any questions and definitely not complain about the harsh ride. Also, this bike does't photograph well. Anyways, onto the review.

First impressions / Why do most Kleins have slicks?

The early fuselage concept Kleins (Attitude / Adroit) are pure and unadulterated race bikes. For any of you that have spent any time on a race track in an open wheel formula car or even a basic purpose built race car know what it's like to be pushing a machine to the limits of its performance. You can feel the car braking traction during cornering and yet it's predictable and controllable. It's a fine balance between going slow and being in control and going fast on the edge of control. Well, that sort of sums up this bike when you push it hard. Now, I'm not a pro driver or mountain biker by any stretch of the imagination, but I feel I can push the bike on a few sections of my local trails and get a brief glimpse of its true potential. It dances underneath you when you stand on it and if you lose focus for a moment it will kill you.

It's a long running joke that all Kleins end up with slicks or hanging up in garages never seeing any dirt. Much like driving we all want to believe we're all like Ayrton Senna and that we can drive a race cars to work, but then we realize that driving a race car with 900 lbs springs, a roll cage, 6 point safety harness and no air conditioning in daily traffic is really no fun. Same thing here, unless you push this bike to edge of its and your capabilities you're just going to think it's stiff, unforgiving and in the end you'll have no fun.

Take away - If you're gonna ride it, be prepared to work for it. Otherwise, hang it up like the rest of them.

Ride characteristics / how to make it work

Some of my favorite characteristics of this Attitude or any other MC1/MC2 fusealge Klein is the way it seems to make everything work better. The brakes are crispier, the drivetrain seems to shift better and each peal stroke takes all your energy and uses it break traction on the rear wheel. This bike just wants to move and every design element is there to help you achieve that goal. The steering is very sharp, it's very easy to get the bike to change direction, especially at speed. Traction out of the seat is fantastic, a testament to how you're expected to ride.

About the only bit of advice I can offer on making the most out of this bike is to use compliant grips and do your best to run 2.35 tires. I managed to shoehorn a pair of Ritchey Megabite WCS 2.35s into the relatively tight spacing in the rear, the front has plenty of clearance. The extra damping afforded by large volume tires is very much appreciated here.

I do believe that the box crown fork makes for a stiffer ride than a uniklein or Adroit/Strata fork. It's not much worse, but you notice the harshness a little more.

The fusealge concept coupled with a large diameter aluminum fork was a revolutionary step back in 1990. Stiffness was key and this design had it in spades!

In so many ways this design and paint scheme are the most iconic Klein and in that vein one of the most classic designs of the early 90s.

My verdict : I wish it came in large... I want one. It's just so bone crushingly awesome and it makes you want to be a stronger rider so that you can ride it like it was meant to be ridden and get those rare glimpses of how it must have felt to be Tinker Juarez back in the early 90s.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Grove Innovations Hard Core ride report

As I mentioned in the last post I've owned this bike for a while not, and yet never gave it the proper writeup, which I feel bad about. I spent the last two weekends and a couple rides this past week on it and wanted to take the opportunity to right that wrong. So here goes...

First impressions / proper fit 

On of the first things you have to get over when you throw a leg over this bike is how much higher you feel than on a normal bike. I have always been fanatical about ensuring I have proper leg extension and probably overdo it. When I first started riding this bike I had the seat jacked up and felt like I was on a big wheel. This made me feel very uneasy and consequently I couldn't really get comfortable with the bike. Lowering the seat a little bit made a huge difference. Now, you're still up there, but after two to three hours you forget about it and it starts feeling normal. I do think that having the ultra high rise Hothead bars is really the key here. Anything other than a high rise stem would not work. I can't really think of any advantage in this high ride posture, at least not from an analytical perspective. However, it doesn't seem to have any immediately obvious drawbacks either. 

My main point here is : if you're gonna ride an HC, make sure that the frame a good size for you and don't go for the racy, zero degree bar/stem, drop the seat a bit lower than you'd normally do and then try it out.

Ride characteristics / handling

I've said it before, others have said it, everyone knows it... this bike is really damn stiff. In some ways it's stiffer and less compliant than a Klein. The only difference is that while a Klein gets tossed around going over rocks and obstacles, the Grove makes them its bitch. Here is how I see it; a Klein is high end needle on a turntable and the trail is Beethoven's 5th. On the other hand, Grove is a pair of brass knuckles and the trail is the chin of the guy who insulted your girlfriend at the bar. Both have their merits.

One other thing that everyone says is that this bike is meant to go slow and only over highly technical terrain. Well, yeah ok... the high ground clearance means it's easy to clear logs, boulders, etc... but this not a one trick pony. Open up the taps and you'll find this bike has a lot of stability and imbues you with  sense of confidence, especially if the surface is harsher than a fire road. While on the subject of speed, the higher ride position and high-rise bars means you can really lean on the front end, and moving your weight around has more leverage. This means you can press the front wheel and lean and you'll hold a much sharper line, and get much better turn-in than on many other bikes. I find that I can attack much harder on twisty and narrow serpentine sections and keep my hands out of the brakes much more so than on my ARC, Adroit or Merlin. This could also be partly due to the aggressive 72.5 degree head tube angle.

Out of saddle sprints on smoother terrain are fine, but when you get back into the gnarly stuff sitting is nearly always the right call. Perhaps its the 20+ Fattrax giving up the ghost, but I felt an immediate, and more pronounced loss of traction whenever I stood to climb out of a creek bed or to get a little extra oomph up a slightly technical section. Time to bulk up those quads, this bike wants you to remain seated at all times and and obey all caution signs.

Last but definitely not least is the weight. This is one heavy beast, and you will feel it. This bike as built here tips the scales at 27.6 lbs. That's with Kevlar bead tires and fairly light weight wheels. You tend to notice that a bit. Moving the bike around is a bit more difficult, you have to work it to induce sudden change of direction or lean to keep a line through some tight sections. It could be worse, but it's not great.

Overall : This is in many ways a large trials bike with an extra gear. You can throw it at the harshest terrain and if you've got the cojones to hang on, it'll get you through with most of your cartilage still in tact.

Any bike that has a paint swath as a head badge better have good paint, good things Groves didn't disappoint

The one thing for me that sticks out like a sore thumb is the delicate nature of these dropouts. I swear that if it could the front triangle would break them off and replace them with something made of rocks and sticks and be happier. They are just too dainty... somehow it works.

Verdict - Keeper!

Even if I didn't grow up in PA, even if I didn't spend my after school hours with my palms and face glued to the window of the Bicycle Shop ogling the latest, brightest Grove in the window I'd own and ride this bike. Will it be my main go-to rider? Probably not. Will it get more use than 50% of my bikes? Definitely!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

1991 Grove Innovations Hard Core

This bike is actually one of my first vintage bikes when I got back in the scene, but it's never really had a great day in the sun. So here goes, dusted off, tuned up and ready to roll. The Grove Hard Core is the brainchild of Bill Grove and was designed to conquer the rugged, rocky trails of Central Pennsylvania. Perhaps the most noticeable design element is the 13.5" high bottom bracket. Ground clearance - you got it!!! The next thing you see if the 2" down tube, custom formed at the head tube and BB shell to ensure even mating.

Grove Innovations is a brand that is often overlooked by most mainstream collectors. The company wasn't in CA or CO, served a relatively small market and simply didn't advertise or sponsor riders like many other majors. I also think many people think the bikes are crude and unrefined, or have a harsh ride. I would really encourage you to take a second look and examine the details of the craftsmanship, the quality of the welds (especially when compared to say a TIG welded Potts or even Ritchey). The welds are practically invisible. Then there is the legendary paint, very few bikes on the market at that time could match the wild paint jobs found on Groves. Then there is the ride. I've only ever ridden a Hard Core, and so can only comment on that. I have an Assault and an X, but they are not up and running. I plan on doing a more in-depth trail review of the bike, but my quick summary is, it's stiff, really stiff.

The combination of the Hothead (thinner wall, heat treated version of the Hammerhead) bar/stem combo and the straight blade Hard Core fork, means you never have to worry about your bike going where you point it.

The build on this bike is rather basic, actually it's probably a bit more on the sexy side than 95% of Groves that ever left PA. Back in those days nearly all of Bill's production sold out of the Bicycle shop and from my recollection most Groves were built with DX componentry. The riding in PA was harsh and component durability was favored over lightness. This bike is largely built with Shimano XT, with a little flair courtesy of Hugi hubs on Mavic 261 ceramic rims, and IRD post and some Ringle QRs. I toyed with the idea of putting on some Grafton brakes, which would have looked great, but to be honest it just wouldn't have been done back then. So, why now?

Top tube cable routing keep the cables out of the way if you have to carry your bike over some really gnarly sections. Plus I just can't imagine what that would look like across the down tube.

Notice the subtle curve in the bars under the grips. The bars are actually shaped that way to offer a more ergonomically / or anatomically correct hand position. I do recall my hands getting less tired and not getting any numbness on long climbs like I sometimes do with normal bars. Neat feature.

The 1" head tube seems out of place among the considerably larger down tube and top tube, but it seems to do the job. I kind of think these bikes would have looked pretty cool with a massive 1 1/4" head tube and rigid fork.

Brake stiffener bridge helps keep the rear brake crisp and offers very positive response. Plus it's a great place to put another Grove badge.

The cranks on this bike are modern versions of the original Hot Rods. I didn't have a pair of the original cranks when I bought the bike, but have since found one. I may eventually have them painted to match and transfer them over to this frame.

The cross-section transition on the down tube is definitely something to behold, not seen on many other bikes.

Suntour track dropouts were a feature only found on the early Groves, later models have water jet cut, thicker plate dropouts. Notice the smooth transition from the stays, almost looks fillet brazed.

In my humble opinion, everyone should try a Grove at least once. It's a small production, unique design, made by highly skilled craftsmen bike that offers a different ride from the rest and gets a lot of attention on the trails.