Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Ultimate vintage MTB shootout Part 1 - The introduction

I've had this idea to write a traditional bike shootout ever since I started this blog, I just never thought I'd lead with three bikes I never even heard of when I got into vintage MTBs. I always figured I'd compare a Klein, Yeti or Fat Chance, but seat time, experience and a bit of fortune has led me in a slightly different direction. 

I've written at length about each of these three bikes before, you can check out the photo galleries and ride reports for each of these if you go back a few posts on my blog, but I recently got the idea that comparing them to each other would make for a good time and a fun read. 

I suppose the big question is why compare three seemingly similar bikes rather than a more diverse representation? Over the past several years I've had the chance to ride a good number of what many would consider great riding vintage mountain bikes. That list includes heavy hitters like a Fat Chance Yo Eddy, Yeti FRO/ARC, Klein Adroit, Bradbury Manitou, Grove Innovations Hard Core and Mantis Valkyrie to name a few. All of these and several others have spent a fair amount of time in my regular rotation until these bikes arrived. I still love the Hard Core and Valkyrie but I tend to reach for one of these three more often. Maybe one day I will do a broader comparison or shootout featuring those or other bikes. While it may be news to some, I and many others consider the Cunningham as one of the best rigid bikes ever made and arguably THE best vintage mountain bike. The Phoenix was meant to be derivative of that design that were available to the public, so it stands to reason that they should also be amazing bikes. So, at the moment the thing I want to investigate is whether WTB improved on the Cunningham design in someway and was there any further improvement in going from steel to Titanium? Each of these bikes has a unique character and disposition on the trail and my experience with them thus far leads me to believe that comparing and contrasting them by riding them on the same trails and capturing not only the objective differences such as segment time or speed etc, but also getting into the more subtle and subjective aspects of how each bike dealt with the terrain should yield a clear winner. Not saying it's going to be easy, but I do think it'll be fun.

Over the next couple weeks I plan to ride each bike twice on a loop I'm very familiar with and one that has a lot of diverse terrain including, punchy climbs, tight and fast single track, couple technical sections and a few longer climbs to boot. I'll log times for each bike and take some notes on how they managed each part of the trail and then report on the results in as concise of a way as I can.

Obviously I'll need to find a way to normalize for the Judy fork on the Ti Phoenix, but other than that the bikes are equipped similarly enough that the comparison should be fair across the board.

1992 Cunningham Racer

Key Specs : Front and rear WTB TCs modified by CC, 118/140 hub spacing, CC made Type 2 fork, oversize FASP, Cunningham stem and 28" Ti bar, blend of Shimano M900 XTR and M735 XT with an 8-spd 12-32 cassette and 26/36/46 front rings on Specialized cranks, Onza Canis 2.25 tires. 

Weight : 24.56 lbs

Quick summary : One of my all time favorite bikes, fits me like a glove and probably the one bike here I have the most hours on. The ride is stiff though comfortable for long hauls, handling is precise and predictable, not as toss-able as the others.

1997 WTB Phoenix Ti (original prototype)

Key Specs : Front WTB LL and rear WTB TCs, 100/140 hub spacing, RS judy fork with speed springs and Risse GEM cartridge, oversize WTB post, WTB stem and 27" Ti bar, blend of Shimano M900 XTR and Suntour XC-PRO with an XT 8-spd 11-28 cassette and 20/32/42 front rings on Suntour MD cranks, Onza Canis 2.25 tires

Weight : 25.73 lbs

Quick summary : My most modern bike, and consistently the one I log my fastest times with regardless of terrain. Extremely compliant frame with probably the most versatile drivetrain combo I've ever assembled. 

1994 WTB Phoenix SE (lightweight prototype)

Key Specs : Front and rear WTB TCs, 100/135 hub spacing, Potts made Type 2 fork (suspension corrected), oversize WTB post, WTB stem and 27" Ti bar, Shimano M900 XTR drivetrain with an 8-spd 12-32 cassette and 26/36/46 front rings, Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.25 tires

Weight : 24.89 lbs

Quick summary : The newest addition to my WTB lineup and my recent go to bike. Not as stiff as the Cunningham, whippy handling that makes for a very easy to throw around bike.