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.

1 comment:

  1. Try it on technical singletrack and you will experience what fat Chance is about: planted but lightning quick at the same time. Their body weight distribution is very different from everything else. Low at the front and your tusha placed far back on a short wheelbase. Slightly tall bb and a stiff drivetrain platform which is perfect for instant acceleration on tight trails. NOthing beats them on root infested tight switchback trails.