Wednesday, August 28, 2019

1992 Mantis XCR EC

  1. 1.
    made up of various parts or elements.

The Mantis Composite XCR mountain bike was one if not the first composite mountain bikes ever made. Well, maybe not composite in the way we might think of it today, but still no less true in the sense of the word. The original XCR released in 1983 as a fillet brazed steel frame was one of the first bikes made by Richard Cunningham under the Mantis brand [You can see two of the few known 83 XCRs here and here].  Then in 1984 Richard upped the ante and released the composite XCR. The idea behind this bike was the use two dissimilar metals where their specific qualities were best. Aluminum in the front for a stiff pedaling platform and chromoly steel in the rear for compliance. Since you can't weld the two metals the natural solution was to bolt them together. The early XCRs had a traditional double diamond frame design and it wasn't until around 1989 that the elevated chainstay design first pioneered on the Valkyrie made it over to the XCR. The elevated chainstay version of the XCR debuted at the 1989 Interbike show and stayed in production almost until the sale of the company around 1994. Towards the end of Mantis Richard started experimenting with full Aluminum construction on the XCR and a few prototypes were made for the race team. Though more rare and by that measure possibly more collectable those bikes were hastily made and in my humble opinion fall by the wayside when compared with the earlier composite XCR and lack a lot of the uniqueness that make this bike so fascinating.

What I really think is great about this bike is just the sheer creativity and in a way simplicity in it's execution.Sure you might say it looks all complicated, and weird but really if you think about it it's not. Let me explain, if you wanted to build a steel bike and make it really stiff, you'd have to get large tubing which for one wasn't available in a great many sizes and then it would be heavy. The opposite goes for Aluminum (which was rarely use on mountain bikes were rare in 1984) if you want it to be compliant you need to get fancy with butting and custom drawing of tubing which wasn't doable in those early days. So, if you want compliance you take normal thin gauge steel tubing and if you want stiffness you take straight gauge, oversize Aluminum tubing. The problem though comes when you want to marry the two. In case you didn't know, you can't weld dissimilar metals. So, you could glue it, but who in their right mind would do that on a mountain bike (turns out people did), or maybe make some sort of high tolerance press fit, or you could use the oldest trick in the book and bolt it together. Which is exactly what RC did in this case, using Sugino seat binder bolts no less. Can you imagine that order coming in??? I need 3000 seat binder bolts... the person on the other line would think you're really doing well selling that many bikes, only to find out you were using 4 bolts per frame. Then again, RC was known to use Sugino binder bolts as chainring bolts, so maybe they weren't surprised at the volume order. [Side note : anyone know the other example of a bi-metallic mountain bike built later on??? Hint : It's not a duck] The final result is really quite impressive if you take it at face value and rewind the clock to 1984. The bike actually rode pretty well, they weren't known to fail and were quite light by the standards at the time (this bike weighs 25.8lbs). The front fork is steel as well which in a way balances out the rear and makes for a fairly predictable ride characteristic.

The elevated chainstay version of the bike is a bit more flexy in the rear than it's non elevated counterpart, but it's not terrible. At the time of writing this piece I've done a couple laps on the local trails and found the bike pleasant, thought not immensely exhilarating in any way. These were shakedown laps and on old weathered 2.0 tires so I took it quite easy. I plan on putting bigger, modern tires on it soon and properly putting it through its paces. I'm not sure I expect to be surprised but I think it will go down as a bike that captures a point in time very well and basically does its job.

The build is full Suntour XC-PRO with Grease Guard, thought does not feature Micro Drive. When I first got the bike it actually had MD on it, but the rear hub was completely rusted out and I had to replace it with a freehweel version and I didn't have any MD freewheels around so I converted it to the standard or Power Ring version. Aside from that the only other notable feature on this bike are the Suntour made Pedersen Self Energizing rear brakes. These brakes used the motion of the rear wheel against the pads to twist an internal spring which effectively gave you more stopping power... or rather more power applied to the rim, what the tires did with that is a whole other story. In this case the rear stays are a bit soft for these brakes and the result is somewhat squishy and grabby non modulating feeling. Maybe it needs more tuning, somehow I doubt it.

One last thing I like or rather find uniquely interesting about this frame is the contrast between the beautifully brazed and formed rear end and the somewhat crudely welded front triangle with its massive reinforcing gussets. Richard was used to working with Aluminum (he built light weight airplanes) but his technique was not much more than practical, whereas he was quite skilled with the torch when it came to steel and was well known for his un-filed fillet brazed frame.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

1992 Grove Innovations Assault

Grove Innovations are mostly known for their shall we say more unconventional bike designs. In my experience most people tend to bring up notions of heavy, overbuilt or quirky bikes like the Hard Core or X-frame when discussing the brand. If you've read any of my previous posts you may have caught that the Hard Core is one of my favorite bikes, though I can't deny that it does take some getting used to and it's not the lightest bike by any stretch. Unlike a lot of vintage bike collectors, I'm not a big subscriber to the "Steel is Real" motto and tend to prefer Aluminum and Titanium bikes for my style of riding. That being said I've been trying some more of the ferrous made bikes recently, with mixed results. Building on my affinity for Grove and my desire to try a more conventional design I set my sights on finding an Assault. Although I could wax poetic (and have) about the craftsmanship, innovative design or the hometown angle as the main reasons why I love Groves, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the paint jobs. Groves had among the wildest and most outrageous paint jobs of the late 80s and early 90s. While I've had many Groves pass through my hands, for some reason the ones that were in my size were more subtle. So, as I set out to find an Assault I really wanted one of those wild ones. Unfortunately I couldn't seem to find one in my size and in a cool color, so I nabbed the first one in my size and decided to make it my own.

I found this Assault frame in Florida back in 2015 or so when a fellow mountain bike collector  picked it up in trade and didn't really know what it was. He reached out to see if I could help identify it and we got to talking. The original color was long gone and although the fuselage was complete, it was painted rattle can green and devoid of any decals. We figured out it was an Assault but as it was too big for him and after some horsetrading I picked it up for a fair price. As usual personal projects end up taking a back burner and it wasn't until around 2018 that I finally decided to get this bike repainted and built up. I originally wanted a Neon Solar System Grove and so started working with Ollie from Dark Matter Finishing on recreating that paint job. Turns out the crackle effects have chained over the years making the task of faithfully duplicating the original nearly impossible. So, Ollie and I decided to change course and went for broke with neon fades and splatter. The result is nothing short of amazing and I think one of the coolest bikes I've ever had!

I saw this paint job on an early Hard Core and really fell in love with it. There is so much going on, but it all works, well at least in my opinion. This Assault features the full complement of Grove Innovation parts including an Assault unicrown fork, Hammerhead bar/stem combo and Hot Rod cranks featuring an externally greasable reactor core bottom bracket. As was the custom in those days this frame includes a pair of painted to match Specialized water bottle cages. 

The split top tube cable routing is a unique feature on the Assault model and reminiscent of the very early Yetis.

If you've been following my builds for a while you've probably noticed that I am fairly formulaic and tend to swim a fairly narrow lane in terms of component selection. For the most part I'm partial to Shimano and then tend prefer the M730/735 7-spd XT or the M900 XTR groups. That being said, I've wanted to do a Suntour build for some time (last time I used suntour was on the 1991 Potts CCR) and was planning on doing so with my 1994 Phoenix, but complications with compatibility made that impractical. I've been sitting on this near NOS XC-Pro MicroDrive grouppo for a little while now and decided to use it on this bike. Aside from a short term setback in the form of non MD compatible Hot Rod cranks (new spider in production at the time of the first post) it all came together nicely and should make for a fun bike. I really like Suntour and the XC-Pro group is really amazing. I particularly like the ergonomics and the feel of the shifters. The brakes are nothing to write home about, but get the job done adequately well. This particular set is an early version and does not feature Self Energizing rear brakes. This group was Suntour's first to feature the Grease Guard system which Suntour licensed from WTB and really makes overhauls very simple. Given I'm using Grove cranks I wasn't able to use the Suntour BB and in the end decided to forego Suntour's headset in lieu of a stylish Chris King 2Nut. So, that leaves hubs and pedals as the only GG enabled components carried on. In keeping up with how most Grove's that left The Bicycle Shop in State College the rims, tires and toe clips are Specialized and grips are Oury. IRD seatpost and Selle Italia Turbo saddle round out the build.

Small touches like forward facing seat binder, sculpted seat tube nicely complement the svelte brake bridge and brake stop and make for a tidy seat cluster. As with nearly every Grove made the welds are just gorgeous and practically invisible.

As I built this bike I realized that there were several versions of Hot Rods and this appears to be one of the later styles with a grease port integrated into the axle on the drive size. Earlier version had a hollowed out axle with an insert that served as grease port, while the first generation simply had a hollow axle. The Reactor Core bottom bracket features double bearings on each side and unique triangular interface between the spindle and non drive side crank arm. These really are some of the coolest two piece cranks ever made and in my opinion far superior to the much more popular Bullseye cranks.

Matching water bottle cages FTW!! Now I just need some Grove branded water bottles.

I have a bit of tuning to do and am still waiting on a MD compatible spider for the Hot Rods before getting this thing dirty. A quick ride around the neighborhood confirms the bike is a good fit and seems to be pretty comfortable. A ride review will be coming shortly!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Fat Chance Team Comp

I've had a somewhat strained relationship with Fat Chance bikes over years. The first few Fats I restored all suffered some damage during shipping, mechanical faults while riding out to do photo shoots or the like. Fearing an imminent curse, I put my personal Fat projects on hold. A couple years later I did finally complete a nice 1990 Yo Eddy (see link here) which I rode for a while living back in California. Ultimately it wasn't a bike I reached for above other steel bikes in the quiver and it was relegated to loaner status, and ultimately I ended up selling it back in 2017. I still have a Wicked I use as a commuter and for that purpose it's really a great fit, however I don't think I would like it as much a dedicated mountain bike. Since then I haven't had the opportunity to work on any of the famous New England made whips. I did hold onto a Team Comp frame for a long time but finally decided to throw in the towel earlier this year when I realized it would be another couple of years until I would get around to it. I'm still hanging onto a couple suspension correct BOI forks in hopes of someday finding a late model (1999-2000) Yo frame or an early Fat Titanium to marry them to. I really liked the idea of the Team Comp and was a bit remorseful about selling it, and so when a good friend offered to loan me his bike for a while I jumped at the opportunity

For those of you unfamiliar with Fat Chance, you’d be hard pressed to throw a rock into the showroom at NAHBS without hitting a bike whose lineage can’t be traced back to Fat Chance. Chris Chance and his newly born-again Fat City Cycles brand are hailed by many as not only responsible for some of the best riding, and most desirable vintage mountain and road bikes, but have directly or indirectly inspired dozens of others to start out on their own, many of who still churn out some of the best bikes in the world. As kid I wasn't a huge fan of Fat, chalk it up to the fact that they were not very common in central PA or that they didn't have a huge presence in the then burgeoning racing scene. Either way I didn't have a chance to experience them in my formative years and so the bikes don't resonate as much with me today. That being said I've come to appreciate the craftsmanship and the point of view that Chris brought to the scene with his brand and how it served as a counterpoint to the then dominating NorCal way of doing things.

With models like the Wicked, Yo Eddy, Slim Chance or Fuckn Fat Chance, and a myriad of vibrant paint jobs featuring wild geometric patterns and multi color transitions, Fat Chance was not your average bike manufacturer. Though committed to quality and performance the brand was always out on the fringe of the fledgling sport of mountain biking and did their best to stave off the mainstream trends.

The Yo Eddy and Wicked are perhaps the best known Fats these days and collectors often times have multiples of each bike in various paint schemes, just because you know… why not? However, if you want one of the coolest and rarest Fats, look no further than the Team Comp. Made only for a short time in the mid to late 80s and in small quantities the TC stands out among an already pretty sweet lineup. Probably best described as a cross between a Wicked and Yo Eddy the TC was Fat Chance’s top of the line race bike prior to introducing the Yo Eddy.  The frame borrowed the Wicked’s geometry (71/72 angles, 17 1/8” stays) but used Tange Prestige tubing on the main triangle and fork vs the True Temper 4130 chromoly on the Wicked. This particular frame has the optional roller cam mounts and GP Wilson forged dropouts on both the frame and the optional box crown fork.

I just love this derailleur. Seriously, if I could find one and some cranks I'd run them on my Wicked in a heartbeat... just about the damn coolest derailleur ever made!

I have yet to actually get this bike dirty, but I've heard it is a lively ride with a fair bit of compliance. I plan to pull of the NOS Ground Controls soon and get it out on some local trails soon, so check back for that ride review. The thing that I want to talk about right now is the drivetrain. There isn’t a rarer or more odd set of components than Mavic’s short lived Dakar off road group. Most know Mavic for their rims, wheels or hubs but very few people know that they made drivetrain components.

At best these parts had the same success in the mountain bike market as Renault did in the US automotive market, ok maybe not that bad. Their main claim to fame was getting spec’d onto Greg Lemond’s mountain bikes in the early 90s. I’ve always liked Mavic hubs and bottom brackets, they had some of the smoothest and reliable sealed bearings available back then. The headsets were nice as you could in theory tighten them on the trail with just an allen wrench, which was a nice feature. The main marketing angle for their components was the fully serviceable design. Mavic had always done this on their road bike components and I guess they had hoped that this would play well in the rugged and dirty world of mountain biking. Another interesting part was the virtually infinitely adjustable, under bar wishbone shifters. You could adjust the location and range of motion of the paddles to suit your specific needs. In practice this was actually quite difficult to setup and not so much a feature. Mavic never offered brakes or levers (cassette hubs and cassettes did come out later) so this bike has Shimano brake levers and WTB roller cam brakes. In the end these parts proved too heavy and couldn’t compete with Shimano and Suntour in terms of performance and usability. After maybe two years Mavic dropped the drivetrain and focused on rims and wheels, probably for the best.

Unlike similar options from Stronglight which used needle bearings Mavic used traditional ball bearings housed in plastic races. Though not as smooth as their hubs or bottom brackets the Mavic headsets were known to be reliable, and quite striking to behold.

Mavic cranks were made out of forged Aluminum and boasted one of the lowest Q factors on the market. Aside from the Lemond bikes there were notably featured (alung with Mavic hubs and BB) on the eclectic Bridgestone MB-Zip, the brainchild of Rivendell's Grant Petersen.

The Fat Chance box crown fork is one of the more classic designs from the 80s. Though not known for their strength and reliability they were touted as having a very pleasant ride and are sure easy on the eyes, especially when combined with a WTB roller cam!

The cockpit on this particular bike features a Salsa Moto stem and an early Fat Chance Titanium handlebar. Unlike today's bar which have smooth, crease free bends these early bars are quite rough in their execution.

The Mavic front derailleur came in one size only and used a series of shims to accommodate smaller seat tube diameters. God help you if you lose those shims...

Although this particular bike has a integrated bottom bracket Mavic did make their own unit which was equal in quality to the hubs. Most notably their design accommodated bikes with stripped out BB shells as it would slide in and was secured with threaded on external shells. This required that the edges of the BB shell get chamfered to ensure a proper fit, a small price to pay to keep a bike out of the scrap pile.

Bikes like this Team Comp may not have been ground breaking or innovative in any particular way but it perfectly summarizes what’s so great about this era. Builders and manufacturers pushing forward with materials, construction, geometry and components, in some cases resulting in a winning mix and other times in historical footnotes. I’d like to think this bike is more than a footnote, but rather an entertaining chapter.