Sunday, May 24, 2015

The future of vintage mountain bike scene

I try not to present myself as any sort of expert when it comes to vintage mountain bikes (admittedly, I may not be that successful at this) as there are people who have forgotten far more than I'll ever be fortunate to know. In the end, I'm just a guy with a room full of old bikes and I simply do my best to keep them and myself shiny side up. Regardless, I often get asked for my opinion about where the vintage mountain bike scene is and where it's going. I must admit the question is one I think about often. At the risk of being cliche, in the words of Mos Def

You know what's gonna happen with Hip-Hop? 
Whatever's happening with us
If we smoked out, Hip-Hop is gonna be smoked out
If we doin alright, Hip-Hop is gonna be doin alright

I think it's pretty obvious that the current popularity of vintage mountain bikes is largely driven by nostalgia for the golden age of mountain biking. The age range of the vintage mountain bike enthusiast is between 33-48 (based on web traffic to sites and forums), which is about right given that many of us were in our teens or early 20s when the sport blew up. So, it makes sense that we're trying to capture or recapture a little bit of that wonderful time when the bikes were simpler and maybe more elegant and the sport itself seemed a little more approachable. Or maybe we just want what we couldn't have back then. Whatever our individual reasons, we scour the internet, pinch our pennies and spend countless hours working on, riding and in the end mostly just talking about the bikes and people that made the sport special in our time.

So, is all of this sustainable? Are we in a bubble? Does it really matter?? There is no simple answer to any of those questions - well, except maybe the last one. But that's mostly a personal issue anyway. 

Personally, I'm not old enough to have the experience of being part of any other group collecting vintage things. I've heard many stories and accounts of how cars, motorcycles or even cameras and calculators went through phases of desirability and collectability. Some have become mainstream, while others have faded into obscurity or altogether disappeared. Obviously the closest analog for vintage mountain bikes are other bikes- road or BMX come to mind. Both road bikes and BMX enjoy a vibrant collecting scene, with events, shows and a lot of resources for collectors.  But even then, bicycles in general do not have the same ubiquitous presence as cars or motorcycles. There isn't a central governing body that puts on vintage events, stages shows or otherwise promotes the hobby. In regards to mountain biking, that makes a fair amount of sense, as the roots of the sport itself were a countercultural movement, so celebrating that spirit by wrapping it in a blanket of classifications and formality seems kind of wrong. However, sometimes you have to evolve to move forward. 

I feel that some more structure would be a positive step forward. By structure I mean some classifications for what is considered vintage and maybe some delineation of subsets of classes. This has already been done in some areas, but rather informally. Many forums have a cut-off of '94-'96 for what they accepts as vintage, and some races with vintage classes make a break at '86-'87 to create two classes. So, the framework is there, but it could use some more clarity and definition. 

Why is this good? Well, in my opinion, this would create a guideline by which event coordinators for bike shows (like NAHBS, for example) or mountain bike races could stage classes for competition. Getting recognition for vintage mountain bikes at shows, races and in publications is an important step in teaching a new generation of riders about the background of the sport and possibly bringing a new cadre of collectors into the fold. After all, what will happen to all of our precious bikes in 20-30 years when we can no longer care for them? We need to have someone to pass on the torch. 

Going much further beyond that right away may be difficult and only serve to alienate people. While many of us may wish to own a fancy race bike, not everyone can - for a multitude of reasons. So, while some people strive to have the one bike they couldn't get back in the day, others are happiest re-acquiring their first bike. Who's to say one is better than the other? When it comes to measuring one bike against another, we have to remain objective, so our personal feelings can't play a part. This is less important in races, as someone can race on a fancy bike and get their ass handed to to them by someone hammering a Rockhopper. It simply comes down to "ride what you brung." However, if vintage bikes are to have a place in bike shows, then some further guidelines around classes of bikes or other means for judging one bike against another would be helpful. Potential classes could include: catalog spec (for the purists), race bike replicas (for the fanboys), or maybe a catch-all open class for those who feel that most bling is best.

The main problem with this is the lack of a central governing body. While there are several main forums where vintage bikes are shown and discussed, the opinions about what's right and wrong or good and bad vary dramatically, and I can't imagine all groups aligning behind a single voice created by one of the forums. Perhaps something like the MBHoF could pull together and curate more than a museum, but I don't feel that the will to do that lies within that organization. Alternatively, one of the larger publications could start the conversation and create a set of guidelines, but again I'm not convinced that any of the majors harbor that desire. We may need a new party to emerge with not only the will, but the respect of the broader community and the ability to evangelize the message. 

We've done fine for almost 20 years without any such organization taking hold. So, why now?? Well, maybe the period of nostalgia is running out of time. Many of the collectors who have been around for 10+ years have completed their collections, or are about to. Perhaps only now we are seeing a critical mass of people interested in vintage mountain bikes and the start of a broader recognition of the importance of the early bikes and their riders. If that's the case, then the time is right to take a step forward and ensure the continuation of the hobby.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Yeti Tree Frog trials bike

This little bike has caused me quite a few headaches over the past 2+ years. What seemed like a relatively straightforward project has ended up being one of the most complicated and involved builds I've ever attempted.

This is how the bike arrived

Relatively little is known about the Tree Frogs. According to some former Yeti employees maybe ten or so were made. Most were made for the team riders like Clint Knapp, but a few were built for paying customers. Although I don't know for sure, I feel that the number of custom modifications and the few parts that came with it indicate that it might have been a team bike, or at least an employee bike. It did come from a former Yeti employee, but I don't think he was the original owner.

Bike/frame details

No serial number
100/115mm hub spacing
Double wishbone reinforcement gusset
26.8mm seat tube
Front U-brake, rear cantilever mounts
Ovalized top tube, smaller than standard FRO
1 1/4" headtube
Round down tube, no braze ons
Rear wheel - Custom hub, unknown rim, 2.5" Pirelli tire on a 19" rim for an effective 20" wheel
Front wheel - Bullseye tandem hub, Monty trials 20" rim, Pirelli MT14 2" tire
Bullseye 135mm cranks with custom made spider
Shimano XT brakes and levers
FTW made stem and riser bars

I happen to have another Tree Frog here which I will show soon, but I just wanted to mention a few differences between the frames.

115 rear spacing on this vs 135 on the other
Double wishbone gussets vs none on the other
Rear cantis on this one vs U-brake on the other
No serial # on this vs T5 on the other (I know of T2 as well)
Rear stays appear to be two piece on this one vs. single on the other (perhaps to accommodate the wider 2.5" tire - I'll confirm)

Double reinforcing gussets. Only other bike like this is Chris Herting's personal FRO.

Reinforced brake bridge, not sure it really adds anything, but it looks cool.

Ovalized top tube like most Yetis, but this one is a bit shorter than the other TF I have, which is more like a FRO or Ultimate.

Custom rear hub appears to be a loose ball bearing hub that was converted to run cartridge bearings using a sleeve style adapter to fit 6001 series bearings into the shell.

This particular TF has taken some hits

Super cool brake setup allowing the use of a U-brake and increasing leverage

The stem is a replica of an actual Yeti trials stem

Super wide Pirelli tires were actually made for motorcyles

I'd like to find a more appropriate seat and maybe get some custom stiffener plates for the brakes, but for now this is pretty good!!!

Here are a few pics of another team bike in action back at the 1990 Worlds:

This is TF 2

This is the original prototype (no idea as to its current whereabouts)

Here is a Tree Frog that Yeti showed at the 89 Interbike

There are a couple more that I know of including two from Aaron Faust bikes and one more "production" bikes. I'm working on getting some pictures of those.