Monday, May 29, 2017

1994 Yeti ARC Team Replica

When I first started Second Spin, the first restoration commission I took was to build an early Yeti ARC. It only seems fitting that as I wind down the first chapter in SSC's history (moving east) I wrap up my run in CA with another Yeti ARC.

There are two bikes that come to mind when people mention the ARC. For me it's always been the gray and turquoise bike with a splash of 3DV, but for most people the images that are conjured up are of the yellow and turquoise version dripping with turquoise components. Ive now built almost 10 ARCs and nearly all of them have been some subtle variation of the latter color scheme.

This particular bike is a former team frame of an Expert class rider and friend of JPs, Jeff Redman. I got the bike directly from Jeff after it had sat around for a couple decades losing much of its former luster. Nothing a visit to Frank the Welder and a fresh powder coat can't fix.

The end result screams of 90s era NORBA paddock. The build is a replica of a team bike that the Yeti team campaigned successfully with names like Rockwell, Giove and Deaton just to name a few. Though many now long gone and forgotten in most circles, then the best of the best from Ringle, Grafton, Answer and Chris King were a common sight on many pro's bikes. Bikes this ARC serve not only as examples of a different period of technology but also as a window into the racing world of the time. Bright colors and neon were all the rage back then and nobody did it better than Yeti!

Some call them flimsy, some call them ultra light weight. In my personal opinion the Grafton Decelerators can be some of the nicer feeling brake levers if paired with the right brakes and set up properly. While not right on most bikes they feel right at home on most Yetis or vintage Manitous.

So strong was the might of Yeti in the 90s that they ever had branded tires!!

If any Ringle hub is a time bomb, the Super Duper Bubbas definitely had the longest fuse. While it's still most likely a matter of time before they blow, you can expect a little more from them than their Super and ordinary Bubba brothers.

Adding turquoise, 3DV or any mix of colors to a build is a fine art in my opinion. I think the newer the bike the more you can get away with. To me this Yeti represents the theoretical limit on what can be considered the 'right' amount of anodizing. I could have done matching straddle cable hangers, but decided not to. I've seen bikes with matching chainrings, grips, bolts, pulleys and even chain pins; to me that's the equivalent of gold teeth when you've already got the chains and rings.

Though a Manitou 3 may be a better color match I like the light splash of violet of the Manitou 2. I suppose doing the team style conversion of the Manitou 2 lowers with the teflon coated stanchions of the M3 would be a bit cooler.

I know I always rage against the L-bracket style Graftons, but on the ARC with wide 261 Mavic rims they work quite well. It all boils down to how much of a gap the brakes have to make up. The L-bracket style arms are well suited for narrow gaps, while the eye bolt style arms are good across the board, and are a bit stiffer.

A time will come when I have to rebuild my personal ARC (it finally cracked last year) and looking at an ARC like this one has me second guessing whether I'll stick with the original gray-tuquoise scheme to opt for this flashier version.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Ride Report - 1997 WTB Titanium Phoenix

I usually follow a fairly defined process with my restorations. First I build the bike up, dress it in fine vintage tires and photograph it against some cool background. Then I swap the show tires for a usable pair of vintage tires and do a trail photo shoot and then if I like the bike enough I throw on modern tires and keep dialing in the bike and add it to the rotation. Well, with this particular bike I skipped right to the end and never looked back.

In a way this really shouldn't come as a surprise. My two favorite bikes are my 89 Merlin and the 92 Cunningham. This Phoenix is essentially a combination of the best qualities of those two bikes with the added benefit (depending on your perspective) of front suspension. Take that and add in one cool front brake and combine it with the fact that this particular bike is the prototype Ti Phoenix and Mark Slate's personal bike and you've got a fine machine!

I've been on an on and off hunt for a Phoenix for some time. I love riding my Cunningham, but sometimes my concern about doing serious damage to it keeps me from pushing it too hard. So, I want something that has similar ride characteristics but won't give me as much pause about hitting technical trails. At the same time I had bought a Merlin XLM and was planning on doing a slightly more modern build with, by that I mean M950 XTR and maybe a custom Judy/SID fork. So, when the opportunity to buy this 97 Ti Phoenix came up I figured it would kill two birds with one stone.

I'll save the writeup on the details of this from and the before after photo shoot for a proper post, and instead focus on the ride characteristics this time around.

Before I get into it I have to admit that writing these ride reviews/reports is pretty hard. I tend to pre-screen bikes that are known to have a racing oriented geometry, are light weight and for the most part are similarly equipped. So, among those there is a natural bell curve distribution whereby a majority of the bikes fall in the all around good pile, a few are disappointments and a few remarkably standout. So, while the Phoenix is definitely not an average bike by any means it didn't leave me breathless like the Cunningham. I suppose that had I ridden it first things may have been reversed. I will say that I logged my fastest lap or segment times on the Phoenix, but that is largely due to the suspension fork. The thing this bike has going for it is that there isn't a set of conditions, at least none that I have exposed it to that it can't handle adeptly. Unlike say a Klein which is great for climbing but brutal for descents or maybe the Merlin which isn't an exceptional climber or descender, but is a great bike for longer rides the Phoenix is solid all around.

For starters the geometry is almost a direct take off of a Cuningham Racer, always a great jump off point. Take that and throw on low gearing courtesy of a Suntour Microdrive 20/32/42 crankset and an 11-28 8-spd Shimano XT cassette and I can pretty much go anywhere. Tack on some wide 27" bars and a tuned up Rock Shox Judy fork to give the bike a charge anything attitude. Then anchor it with the powerful, albeit finicky WTB Lever Link front brake and the reliable Toggle Cam rear brake. Lastly wrap the whole thing in some modern 2.25 Onza Canis tires and you have a platform that is really capable of taking on any trail I can handle.

You can't talk about this bike and not get into the front brake. I had it pretty well set up, I did... who told you I didn't? I mean, it was pretty good. But then it went away. I have much to learn... Anyways, it's a tricky brake to work on, no doubt about it. I felt like it was really hooking up at first, but then it kind of went spongy on me and I could never quite get it back. Hyperbole? I think not.

I got some good tips from the guys at Blackmountain cycles so I'll have to try and work on it once I get the bike back. Suffice it to say these brakes have shown tremendous potential for both power and modulation. Almost to the point that the fork was too soft because there was so much brake dive on fast sections. Just goes to show it's all connected.

I love the wide bars on this bike. Obviously I have more leverage and then there is the added comfort. I've started converting most of my riders over to 25-27" wide bars. Luckily many of my bikes are at home with a Ti bar and those are relatively easy to find. I think the Yo, Merlin, Cunningham and this Phoenix all have wide bars and I'm going to extend the MC2 bars on the Adroit shortly. There are sections of the Middle Merrill trail that I never ever ride, and even thought it's been a while since I've been on there and the trail had suffered some serious erosion over the years I was able to ride virtually all of it and with great confidence. A true testament to to the bike's ability to both inspire and reassure!

Mark had this bike built with Shimano's M737 XT grouppo which borrowed the gear ratios from Suntour and their XC-PRO grouppo. Not being a huge fan of the look of the M737 parts (I am coming around I think),  but wanting the spread I decided to attempt my own approximation of the setup and run MD cranks with a regular XT cassette. The resulting combo is quite versatile and leaves enough top end power while enabling me to tackle both short punchy climbs and spin on long burners.

Unlike the front brake this TC worked from day 1. The cam took a bit of tweaking to get the cable to lay nicely but in the end it all came together nicely and the brake is working great. Maybe a touch grabby, but I can get that dialed in over time. I think I wasn't expecting the frame to be quite so stiff and added the WTB stiffener plate somewhat redundantly. In the end the brakes have a solid feel which I really like.

All in all this bike is a treat. Super stiff under power, but forgiving on technical descents. There really isn't a hint of flex, unlike my Merlin which has visible BB movement under heavy climbs. This is quite impressive as I'm about #215 and am not known for being finesse rider. The traction while climbing is also impressive. Whether seated or standing the bike feels very well connected and lends itself nicely to powering up punchy and loose climbs. I also really liked the way I could maneuver it through tight and twisty singletrack climbs while attacking out of the seat. Mind you I didn't do this long or often, but a couple sections of Winter Creek and Brown lend themselves nicely to that approach and the Phoenix was great.

I think it was the bars. Yeah, it must have been the bars... Navigating tight and tight and technical singletrack was almost eye opening. I'm sure the fork helps here, but there is this lightness to it, the easy with which I can put the front wheel onto or over anything and get the rear to kick it over is something I keenly felt on every ride. Almost like I remember my first few rides on the Adroit, but smoother and more forgiving.

Thinking back on the rides I really can't recall any faults. To summarize it I'd have to say the best part of the bike is it's lively nature. Sometimes Ti can lack a little spirit, but not here. You get a really connected feeling while riding, there is a solid path between you, the bike and the trail. It's easy to get the bike to do what you want and in response the bike treats you well. I never came off a ride feeling abused and beaten down like I sometimes do. Of course the bike is a great size for me and I can stress enough that having a suspension fork is quite a luxury from my point of view. Steve really is a wizard with Ti. I'm sure there are some amazing modern Ti bikes from the likes of Moots, Seven, Eriksen and the like, but I don't think anyone was achieving these results back in the 90s. As for me I'm keeping this bike and am looking forward to getting to know it even better!

Friday, April 21, 2017

1992 Bradbury Manitou FS ride report

When I set out to write this ride review I figured it would probably be the only one done on an actual Bradbury Manitou, but I was sure I would find some reviews or writeups done on an Answer bike. However, much to my surprise there really isn't one out there, well aside from the original reviews in MBA and whatnot. Then again, more often than not people begin their post, or thread about a Manitou by saying "...and this one isn't even cracked, I plan to keep it that way so it'll mainly be a display bike". Ok, feeling of surprise rapidly dissipating.

This post will have to do double duty as a ride review of what I personally hold to be somewhat of a grail bike but also a bit of a retrospective on my time mountain biking in LA as this will be my last time riding there for the foreseeable future.

Let's roll...

Back in 1998 or maybe 99 my father and I bought a pair of Mantis Pro-Floaters and built them up as a father/son project. I had the first generation bike and built it up with a host of tricked out parts. Although I wasn't riding a ton back then I put some miles on the bike and remember loving it and resorting to words such as 'telepathic' and 'amazing' when describing it. I ended up having to sell it to pay for my last semester of college and always wanted to get another one. So, a few years when the opportunity to pick one up came up I snagged it. For some reason though I have not built it up. Why am I telling you this? Well, I feel that I have somehow elevated my memories of that first Pro-Floater above what it actually could have been and believe that if I built it up now I'd be disappointed. I would... I know that because a few months ago I bought just such a Pro-Floater to use a parts bike. However, before I stripped it down I took it for a ride on this very same trail that I reviewed the Manitou on. The verdict, it sucked something fierce!!! So, now you can imagine how I felt getting ready to climb onto THE bike I dreamt of as a teenager and had spent the last 20+ years building up in my mind. To me the Manitou FS is/was the equivalent of Stephanie Seymour or the Lamborghini Countach (Porsche 959 if I have to be honest) of my adolescent imagination, and we all know you're not supposed to meet your hero or fantasy or drive the dream car of your youth. You're bound to be disappointed.

Maybe it was a high level of endorphins, the great weather or just a bit of solitude in an otherwise insane week, but the bike and the ride were killer. Everything worked, the climb was easy, the descent was smooth and flowy and the bike wasn't the steaming pile of dog shit I was worried it might be. Seriously, it was a total blast!!! I am so impressed, even a full three weeks later I can still remember thinking that this was too good to be true. 

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a modern FS bike that can do anything. At best this is a modern hardtail with big fat tires and poorly set up disc brakes. But, if you put it in the context of 1992 and compare it to the bikes of that generation I bet it would shine brightly! As for me, it was all I could have hoped for. Going up the long five mile climb up to the Ken Burton saddle I couldn't help but feel a bit nostalgic. I recalled my first few forays into the San Gabriels back in 2003 when I moved to Los Angeles. I recalled hiking this area and marveling at the open vistas in the backcountry on one side and the expansive and shearly overwhelming views of Los Angeles on the other side. I never saw anything like it growing up in central Pennsylvania and now this was my playground. Over the years the hikes gave way to trail running as I get into long distance running and Brown Mountain and Ken Burton became my regular training runs. Then came the Station fire and my subsequent move to the South Bay trading the mountains for the ocean and running for sailing. It would be five years before I would come back to this area, this time mostly on a bike.

Fast forward another five years, one trail restoration and dozens of bikes I find myself one last time at the top of the mountain I had come to call home. I've been there in the dawn of many mornings, all the way into the late nights. In the scorching LA heat, in thick fog, pouring rain and even snow. It's been my rapid retreat into the quiet and peaceful space that over the years I've come to appreciate and seek out as often as I could. It's where I would meet some of my best friends and overtime become center of my newly rediscovered love of biking. Though not the most challenging climb or descent it offers a hard earned 15 miles of riding, packing great views, refreshing scents of wild basil and lavender and the occasional bobcat, deer or even mountain lion. It's everything folded into one neat package and it was five minutes from home. This is where I would come to test bikes and so it's only fitting that the last test I would do before leaving LA would be right here.

Back to what's important, the Manitou. As I said before this bike is really just a slightly more compliant hard tail. Yeah, it's got shocks and linkages and all that, and it all works... but you never really feel like the bike is moving underneath you, it just sort of takes the edge off. This is most obvious while climbing. Going up brown is for the most part a seated endeavour with a few opportunities for out of the seat climbing. However, I took every opportunity I had to attack the hill and try to prove to myself that this bike would squat under power and that I would have very little to no traction advantage. I was sure that the 2.1 tires (I normally ride 2.25s here) would be defeated and that I would come away saying "I told you so" to myself. Not the case. With every attempt to punish the bike for not being a hardtail I felt encouraged that it was actually trying to make my life easier and not take away from my efforts. It really made the climb easier and in a few spots where I know I can't stand lest I lose precious traction it allowed me to stand and power right through loose and steep sections like never before. I only remember being able to do that on my Cunningham and that may have been after some rain when the ground was pretty packed down. A couple times I did feel like the rear end was wondering a bit laterally while under load, almost felt like the tire was rolling over on the bead. I guess there is some inherent flex in the design. Going back and reading some reviews of this bike from BITD the magazines all quote Doug in saying he set out to design a bike that would be great all around and would excel at climbing, not just descending. They all pointed out that the bike was really stiff except under really heavy load and only most on hard pack. So, in retrospect my feedback on the climb should really come as no surprise.

The windy and tight singletrack of Ken Burton though was really the fun part. As good as the bike was going up Brown, it was twice as good going down the back side. Though it was my first time on the bike I felt I had more confidence than most of the time and my gaze was comfortably ahead of the bike and less focused on where exactly my tires would land. The two plus inches of travel may not sound like much, but when you spend the majority of your days on bikes with zero, it's infinitely better. You can pump the bike into a turn and use the compression to carve deeper and hold the line better than most bikes I can recall all the while the bike still feels stiff and under control.

Say what you will about the relative quality or difficulty of east coast vs. west coast trails, but you just don't get these vistas back east, nor do you get the epic 5k climbs. I think that's what I'll miss most when it comes to biking.

I've always liked Manitou forks. Going all the way back to when suspension was still a new concept, I still remember people describing the RS-1 as a fork that is slow but takes big hits and the Manitou 1 as a good all around fork, that won't soak up anything major. I guess I never quite needed to take the big hits and so I eventually ended up getting a Manitou 2, after spending two years on a Scott Unishock, yeah I said it... The trick with these forks is to keep them dirt free and well lubricated, otherwise the fragile stanchions get scratched and rust and then everything grinds to a halt. These rear forks received a dark anodized treatment, not quite as sophisticated as the teflon impregnated ones on the first generation Answer bikes but still a bit better than the polished legs used for the forks. So, the performance out of the gate on a freshly rebuilt setup is nice, but it'll no doubt degrade rapidly if not properly maintained. Still better than an early air/oil cartridge. I do recommend always running a stiffer elastomer than you think you should or do a bit of mix and matching. I've actually started running longer bolts in my shocks and using a larger rebound bumper than the 1/4 - 1/2" unit used in most early Bradbury and Answer forks. In some cases I've actually used the full 1 1/2" bumper from the main stack with good results. It makes the fork rebound a bit faster than normal which is good in most cases. A little damping would be great, but I'll leave that experimentation for later.

I tried to stay close to the builds that Doug did originally. He seemed to prefer Grafton brakes and Cook Bros cranks, so that's what I went for here. As I've mentioned before I always recommend using eye bolts on Graftons, and specifically if you're running narrow rims as you can get the pads good contact with the rims without going past center on the arms. Leverage is your friend when trying to setup cantis.

People (Eric) always complain about Merlins or Manitous being all monochromatic and boring, I say keep it classy! I enjoy a good black and white movie and in turn love a classy and simple bike. Sure a splash of color can be fun, but on these bikes I always tend to go with silver or black components. 

Look at all that travel!!! I was flying too, so you know this fork was giving it all it had.

I wish more companies would re-issue some of the vintage tire designs. The Smoke and Dart are cool and all, but not my preferred combination under most circumstances. Still it was fun getting this pair dirty and I guess they're at least better looking than some modern blackwalls.

All in all this turned out to be a great bike. Something I think you can easily ride all day or just turn in a short shred session. While it doesn't excel at any one thing in particular, broadly speaking it's a great bike. A good all around combination of performance in terms of power delivery and suspension capability, combined with light weight (24.6 lbs as build) and all wrapped up in a pretty exciting package. So, while you can have most of that in an Answer made bike and for less than half price, you get none of uniqueness and special qualities that make this bike stand out above a sea of other suspension offerings. I say if you can, go for broke and snag one of these!

Much like my time in CA all good things must come to an end, and so this bike must also go to it's new owner. Unlike the Pro-Floater I am very excited to get my personal Manitou FS done and I think I may actually ride it. It may not become my go-to bike, but I can see it getting into a regular rotation. I sure hope FTW can slot me in for a head tube replacement as my FS #1 won't get away with a little bead.