Monday, January 26, 2015

Yeti history - 1985 & 86 Early California years

Early Yeti History: 1985 First production run

According to John Parker, upon taking over the reigns of Sweetheart cycles and beginning what would become Yeti he fabricated three bikes. One was built up and sold out of Emily K's Bicycle Clothing Store in Downtown Santa Barbara Calif (the first Yeti ever sold), another one was built for Russel Worley (as seen in MBA) and one for Linda Parker. He thought he may have built one for himself and maybe one other for Matt Sweeney (where the first Yetis ended up getting made), but those may have been later. Today only one of these bikes is accounted for, the bike that ended up being sold in Ventura.  I spoke with the original owner and she confirmed buying the bike in 1985 and sent a few photos of the bike when she owned it. It was sheer luck that she ran into John at a Motorcyle show he was putting on in LA and ended up giving the bike back to him.

Yeti #1

Although this bike was built and sold as a Yeti it’s basically a Motocruiser. JP incorporated many of the modifications he experimented with on Aaron Cox’s and his own Motocruisers (see Motocruiser history) prior to starting Yeti.

These include:
  1. Top tube routed cable routing (brake and rear derailleur on drive side and front derailleur on the non-drive side)
  2. Moving away from full length housing in favor of cable stops
  3. Adding a front derailleur cable stop on the chainstay wishbone
  4. Shortening the length of the wishbone
  5. Using a European bottom bracket 
  6. Using a 26.6mm seat post instead of 25.4 BMX style post
  7. Adding a 2nd water bottle mount on the down tube

According to John, when he took over Sweetheart Cycles he inherited a lot of bad credit left behind in Bicycle Bob’s trail. Among those companies that were trying to collect on Bob’s past due payments were Phil Wood. John wasn’t happy with the oval tubes used by Sweetheart and had his own ideas regarding the profile he wanted to us. However, Phil Wood was unwilling, at first, to make custom tubing for John.  It is because of this that the early bikes didn’t have what would become the landmark oval top tubes seen on Yetis for years to come.

Sourcing components was also a challenge. John ended up scrounging through whatever parts bins he could get his hands on to build this bike. The drivetrains is comprised of Campagnolo front and rear derailleurs, Simplex shifters with Shimano FC-6206 triple cranks running a Shimano Freewheel on Bullseye wheels. The cranks were loaned to John for testing and fearing that Shimano would ask for them back he painted them red to match the frame.

Originally this bike had a black and white ice axe decal on the down tube and a first generation Yetiman on the head tube. The original owner removed the stickers hoping that it would help prevent the bike from getting stolen. Here is a photo of the original down tube decal.

This type of decal was only found on a few very early Yetis and later on made a short lived comeback around 89/90.

The fork is essentially the same as a Yeti fork, the legs are XX OD (vs YY OD on Yeti forks), dropouts are Campagnolo and the steerer is BMX style, just like early Yetis. The one unique thing are the brake bosses which don’t look like anything else I’ve seen on any Yeti. FTW once told me that early on they could not get any brake bosses and ended up buying Dia Compe brakes that came with bosses, used the bosses and threw away the brakes.

One other thing to note is that this bike lacks any serial number.

Russ Worley's race Yeti

Russ’ early race bike has been lost to history and so these photos are about the only evidence it ever existed. At first glance it looks like a more modern FRO, but upon closer inspection you’ll notice the round top tube, the split cable routing, and the rack mount on the rear Simplex dropouts. It appears that this bike is pretty much the same as Yeti #1.

I measured the wheelbase on #1 and it came out to 41.5 inches, which is exactly the same as reported in MBA. The later FROs measure out at around 43" so there were some redesigns along the way it seems.

You can see in the 2nd picture that Russ was riding on BMX style bars at one point before (I assume before) switching to the Salsa stem as shown in the July 87 MBA article. According to JP and FTW Yeti had to modify MTB stems to use them on their early bikes due to the BMX sizes steerers they used early on. I’m assuming that the 2nd photo is and earlier depiction of the bike as Russ doesn’t have any of amazing Cook Bros parts which would become the hallmark of the early Yeti racing team.

Unfortunately I can’t find any more pictures of the bikes from the first production run. There are a couple bikes I have come across that share some similarities with the first production run bikes, but it’s hard to say if they were built at the same time or later on.

Matt Sweeney’s FRO?

I have not been able to confirm the true history of this bike. It doesn’t seem to have a serial number, however it may be hidden under two coats of paint (the bike was originally white). It has traits of later bikes and so I am a bit leery of whether this could really be one of those first 3-5 bikes. At one point it was said that this was Linda’s bike, but the size doesn’t match up with that theory as Linda was not very tall. Unlike #1 and Worley’s bike this bike has more traditional cable routing with all stops on the drive side, a trait characteristic of production FROs.

The ‘Team Shrew’ decal was something John gave out to his close friends and is only found on a select few bikes (John’s MC, Worley’s 411 FRO and this bike). The fact that this sticker is here lends credibility to the theory that this was Sweeney’s bike, just not that it was an early bike.

Early Yeti history – 1986 First FROs

Chris Herting and Jim Emerson had a shop in San Fernando (John used to call it a "Mexican watering hole" which was true) and Frank was doing their welding. Both Chris and Frank were in there when John answered an ad in BMX plus and wanted to make bikes. They built our first 20 or so bikes there. We then moved manufacturing to Burbank California and worked in the back of a special effects shop called First Take Production (some machining work was also done at Matt Sweeney's special effects shop). This arrangement continued for another year or two before moving to Agoura.

According to Frank, prior to the start of Yeti, the top tubes were made from the same Phil Wood material that was used for the chain stay mono tube which was tall and very narrow. It was in San Fernando that we started using the Redline tubes (the well known shape) for the top tube, purchasing a huge pile of them along with Dia-Compe canti bosses (along with the brakes which they tossed LOL). Frank recalled welding more than one round tube frame during that period in between the switch.

Frank figured out a way to put the cable stops all in a row by welding the backs of them together but John had the idea of placing them in a row. Chris rotated the dropouts and improved the frame in many subtle ways when they first started building them. The tooling was rough when they started and it was Chris who did a great job sorting it all out. Frank recalls it was a hoot working for John and with all those guys there!

As mentioned earlier early on Yetis used some tubing sourced from Redline tubes. Included in this were bottom bracket shells, which carried the XR designator (stamped by Champion). Hence the very early FROs (approximately 50 or so) have serial numbers that start with XR. Furthermore, the number sequence started with 300 because John wanted to make it seem like they already made a lot of bikes. According to John, Linda was very engaged in order fulfillment and production and therefore bikes are built in sequential order. So, for the sake of argument we can assume that a bike with a lower serial number predates another bike with a higher serial number.

Yeti FRO XR309

This is the lowest serial number FRO known to be in existence and was most like a team race bike. I don’t know who it may have belonged to, but judging by the size it may have been either Greg Dress or Rob Nielsen.

  1. Round top tube
  2. 2 o'clock cable stop location
  3. 26.8mm seat post
  4. BMX head tube
  5. Machined down stem to fit steerer
  6. Simplex dropouts
  7. 1st Generation Yetiman head tube decal

Here is a photo of Rob Nielsen with his Yeti. You just barely make out the shadow left behind by the same COOK BROS RACING sticker on the top tube of my frame.

This FRO features basic Yeti cycles decals on the down tube and a first generation Yetiman on the head tube. There is also a 100% sticker, which was a personal favorite of Johnny O’Mara and he was known to put them all sorts of stuff in the Yeti garage.  It also carries a small shark decal identifying it as a frame painted by Land Shark.


This is another very early example of the FRO and another probable team bike. Yeti had a fair number of racers across several classes at the time and the build on this bike points in the direction of a team kit.

Aside from slightly different cable routing this bike is virtually identical to XR309. Both have first generation Yetiman head tube badges, round top tubes but while this bike appears to have a 26.6mm seat post XR309 is 26.8. This bike is a stunning example of what a properly built, early Yeti team bike should look like. I actually think that this bike, with it's 26.6mm seat tube and the 3 o'clock cable stop location may have been built before XR309 as those features point towards an earlier build style. Also, it's possible that FTW did 2 o'clock and CH did 3 o'clock and they were going through left over tubing hence the variety in the early frames. We still see 26.6 seat posts used well into the high 300 serial numbers.

  1. Round top tube
  2. 3 o'clock cable stop location
  3. 26.6mm seat tube
  4. BMX head tube
  5. 1st Generation Yetiman headtube badge
  6. Simplex dropouts

This is another very nice example of an early FRO that is not a race bike, meaning not all XR numbered FROs were team bikes. This bike is virtually the same as XR309 and XR314 and originally came with a matching fork and stem.

Sadly, I don't know the owner of this bike so I can't verify too many details in person.

This is the sister bike to this lovely FRO (link, serial number unknown)

FRO XR 325 – Paul Thorson’s race bike

This is Paul’s actual race bike. The above photo is the only photo of the bike from his days on the team. It has since been repainted and stripped of most of the exciting components. However, the frame, fork and bar/stem remain together.

  1. Round top tube
  2. 3 o'clock cable stop location
  3. Simplex dropouts
  4. BMX head tube
  5. 26.8mm seat post


This bike appeared rather suddenly on eBay in 2014. The seller claimed that the bike was a team bike was belonged to Johnny O’Mara and was even used by Tomac at one point or another. None of those claims were substantiated and the bike changed hands a few times before settling in Europe. On the surface this seemed to be a regular FRO, however the presence of the Aluminum FTW stem and carbon seat post (similar build to Worley’s 411 FRO) lends some credibility to the theory that this bike was in some way connected to the factory team.


  1. Oval top tube
  2. 2 o'clock cable stop location
  3. 26.8mm seat post
  4. BMX head tube
  5. Simplex dropouts
  6. FTW alloy stem (probably added later)
Russ Worley's race bike 411

This is Russ' 2nd FRO that he raced on during the 1988 and 89 seasons. The bike has lived a hard life after that and is currently undergoing a mild restoration.

Here is one of the only photos of Russ (1989) I could find racing this particular bike. Notice the alloy FTW stem and blue/turquoise anodized bars. Also notice Slomac next to Russ on his Ti Mongoose!

  1. Oval top tube 
  2. 2 o'clock cable routing
  3. Simplex dropouts
  4. 26.8mm seat post
  5. BMX headtube
I included this particular FRO as it serves as a nice transition point between the early FROs and what we can start calling production FROs. Not that the early bikes were dramatically different and magical, but there were still variations and changes over the first year or so. But, by maybe mid to late 1986 things started settling down and the design remained largely unchanged until about 1989, which I will cover in the next chapter.


Based on my small serial number database (30 early bikes spanning first 400 builds) I can draw the following conclusions

  1. Round top tubes were predominantly used on the first 70-80 FROs (again for a short time around the low 600s)
  2. Cable stop location moved around a little bit in the early frames before settling down at the 2 o'clock position
  3. Seat post sizes on the early FROs seemed to vary between 26.6 and 26.8mm, there doesn't seem to be any pattern, maybe the reaming process wasn't very consistent
  4. Very early FROs had custom stems adapted for use with BMX style forks
  5. A majority of CA build FROs (up to S/N ~800) had Simplex dropouts and BMX headtubes
Essentially if you have an 86 FRO or an 88 FRO they are essentially the same bike. Sure it's nice to have one with a low serial number, or a round top tube. But, in actuality they are all virtually the same. Along the way some bikes broke and were repaired with seat post sleeves and wishbone reinforcing gussets, it's a common thing to see. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Early Yeti history, a photo essay - Sweetheart Cycles Motocruiser years

A couple months ago I had the fortunate opportunity to meet John Parker. I was helping him put some finishing touches on a Yeti ARC he was looking to sell when he told me he just bought back Yeti #1 from the original owner he sold the bike to back in 1985. Naturally my interest was piqued and I made the quick drive up north to meet up with him. Luckily I ended up coming home with the bike and that set me off a bit to dig up some early history on the Yeti brand and try to do some sleuthing around and documenting the first year or two of production at Yeti.

There is a lot of information and misinformation about the first batches of bikes to come out of the legendary brand and I for one am a bit of a fanatic when it comes to discerning fact from fiction. So, I pooled together some knowledgable friends and starting digging into it. This post will undoubtedly get some revisions as more info comes out and I'll do my best to update it.

Brief history of time

1981 : Sweetheart cycles is founded by Bicycle Bob in Southern California. The Motocruiser is available for purchase as a frame and fork. Design is heavily influenced by the Mongoose BMX Koz Kruzer, tubing sourced from Redline and Phil Wood (oval top tubes). Lindwall tool and die provide a lot of the tooling, jigs and even weld some of the bikes.

Mongoose Koz Kruzer - you might say this is genesis of Yeti

1982 - 83 : John Parker is working as a special effects welder for the movie industry in Hollywood. John gets connected with Bob via Lindwall Tool & Die (where he was also working/apprenticing as a fabricator) and begins to work part time welding @ Sweetheart cycles. John was an avid sprint car and dirt track motorcycle racer and an all around gear head. Wilson ends up in jail and John buys the tooling and inventory and continues to build the bikes under the name Sweetheart Cycles. Aaron Cox wins the "Reseda to the Sea" on a Motocruiser.

1984 : John has a big Sprint Car crash, forcing him into a long time hospital rest where he rethinks his future.  Along with his wife Linda they decide to make a living out of building racing mountain bikes. He sells his 1928 Indian Motorcycle and with additional funding from his father in law starts the company. Right around the same time the sleeping bag company folds and they buy the rights to to the name Yeti. A legend is born! The first three "Yetis" are built in the back Matt Sweeney's Special Effects Shop.

On the name Yeti : "A Guy named John made Beautiful Down Sleeping Bags out of his house in Topanga Cyn (not Santa Monica) was using the name YETI ...Years later when I got in touch with him he told me that he had stopped making sleeping bags & had gone back to teaching college. When I asked about the name, he told me he never registered it! When I asked about the chances of me using the name for a mountain bike he was kool with it! When asked about some compensation for the name, he told me not to worry about it & to send Him a Yeti T-shirt. Some Day - JP. 2015"

1985: Frank Wadelton and Chris Herting join John and Linda and become the first employees of Yeti cycles. They change several details of the frame design, including moving all cable hangers to the drive side (FTW). First Yeti race team is formed including Russell Worley. 1985 is the official starting year for Yeti cycles.

1986 - 87 : As business picks up production moves first to Malibu (86) and later to Agoura Hills (87), the team grows to include Russ Worley, Rob Nielson, Mark Langton, Johnny O'Mara, Paul Thorson, Greg Dress, Kye Sharpe and Sue Fish. First Yeti catalog is published, things start picking up.

I will discuss the later history of Yeti in subsequent posts.

So, let's start with Sweetheart Cycles. I've come across a few samples of the Moto Cruisers, however I don't have a really good way of figuring out which came first, the lineage to Yeti is obvious but coming up with a clearly defined timeline is going to be tough.

1981 / 82 Motocruiser (Link)

According to the owner of this bike this is one of the first two Motocruisers made in 1982, the other one being the bike that Aaron Cox rode to a victory at the Reseda Sea to Sea race. The assertion that this is one of the first can't be confirmed, but the bike is unique compared to the later MCs.

You can clearly see the makings of the FRO we all know and love in this bike. But there are some major differences:
  1. Massive rear dropouts - look like they were cut out of a steel plate, very beefy
  2. Full length cable housing, rear brake along the top tube, derailleurs along the down tube
  3. BMX style stem and bars, common to most MCs and seen on early Yetis as well
  4. Large oval top tube (bigger than what was seen on FROs later on)
  5. BMX style fork dropouts - unique to this bike
  6. BMX BB - large shell, common on early MCs
  7. Braze on mount for the FD
1981/82 Motocruiser (Link)

Here is this exact MC while it was owned by JP before he sold it in 2002/2003

According the the original owner of the above MC this one was also made in 1981 and was the second one built. Evidently the bike was raced to a victory in the Reseda Sea to Sea race by Aaron Cox. Apparently, John Parker modified the bike in 1984, which would explain why it looks more like a later MC than the camo model. This theory seems to hold up as both bikes have an oversize top tube, both bikes have the above BB cable guide for the front derailleur. However, it's hard to tell whether this was something that Bob only did early on, or if it was a standard feature. I'll go on to show a bike that was purchased in 1984 that also has this cable routing, as well as one that was supposedly purchased in 1982 that has top tube cable routing for the FD.

Notable features
  1. Full length cable housing, rear brake along the top tube, derailleurs along the down tube (later modified to add FD along TT)
  2. BMX style stem and bars, common to most MCs and seen on early Yetis as well
  3. Large oval top tube
  4. BMX BB - large shell, common on early MCs
  5. Braze on mount for the FD (covered up with a sleeve and clamp on style FD)

1982 Motocruiser

This MC lives in LA and according to the original owner it was purchased in 1984, although the frame design would lead me to believe it was an 82 or maybe 83. Although much of the bike is not stock a few key features are easy to identify and point towards an earlier production time.
  1. Full length cable housing, rear brake along the top tube, derailleurs along the down tube
  2. BMX style stem and bars, common to most MCs and seen on early Yetis as well
  3. Oval top tube
  4. BMX BB - large shell, common on early MCs
  5. Braze on mount for the FD (covered up with a sleeve and clamp on style FD)
  6. BMX seatpost (looks like a 26.4)
  7. Long chainstay wishbone
1984 Motocruiser (Link)

Although the original owner of this bike claims he purchased it in 1982, many of the features (cable routing, euro BB shell, fork design, top tube, 26.6 post) scream it's a later model, maybe a 1984. In fact I would theorize that this is one of the MCs built after John took over from Bicycle Bob and had not started calling the company Yeti. However, as most MCs were built to order and it's hard to say who within the company had more influence over the design at any point in time it's possible that it was really built in 82 and was simply built by John who was working there at the time.

  1. Round top tube
  2. Full length cable housing, rear brake along the top tube, rear derailleur along the down tube, and front derailleur along top tube (I feel this distinguishes it as a later model)
  3. Euro BB shell (requested by the original owner)
  4. BMX style stem and bars, common to most MCs and seen on early Yetis as well
  5. 26.6 seat post
JPs Personal Motocruiser

This particular bike was sold as a part of JPs sell off in 2002/2003 and has become widely known as Yeti #1 or the Prototype Yeti. I discussed the bike with John and he informed me that this is actually a Motocruiser, and it was his personal bike. He did in fact perform some extensive modifications to the original frame, and in that vein this could be considered a prototype for a Yeti.

Here to can see the BMX style BB and what looks like several attempts at picking an ideal location to anchor the front derailleur cable (in support of top tube cable routing).

Loos like John also experimented with a roller cam brake on this bike. I have only ever seen one another Yeti with roller cams, so clearly John didn't like it.

Motocruiser features:
  1. Oval top tube
  2. BMX style bottom bracket
  3. Braze on front derailleur mount
  4. BMX (26.4) seat post
  5. Long chainstay wishbone

Overall I don't feel like I have the Motocruiser thing all figured out. Sure, there are several things that appear to fall in line and serve as evolutionary steps along the way to becoming a FRO.

In general, a Motocruiser (at least an early one) can be differentiated from an early Yeti in the following ways:
  1. Use of a BMX style BB
  2. Use of full length cable housing
  3. Top tube and down tube cable routing
  4. Above the BB front derailleur cable routing
  5. Early MCs seemed to have longer chainstay wishbones (perhaps longer wheelbase?)