Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Vintage Mountain Bike Racing

Tales of the rigid mountain bike
The vintage mountain bike race

Vintage Mountain Bike Race on my 1990 GT Karakoram

Mountain bikes have been around since the late 70's and mass produced since the mid 80's. Therefore, it's fair to say that some of those early mountain bikes can now be considered classics. Lately, people are reminiscing about all things 90's. Even mom jeans tried to make a short lived comeback. What's next, acid washed jeans, neon and the like? One cool trend that I have been noticing, at least in the world of mountain biking, is an appreciation for old school mountain bikes, like the ones I grew up riding as a kid.


It was probably 1997 or 1998 when I first got my Huffy rigid mountain bike, with grip shifters and cheap brakes that imitated a much earlier but more functional U-brake design. It was about 98' or 99' when that bike hit dirt for the first time at a flat trail then known to the locals as California Crossing. By then, good suspension systems were just being developed and we dreamed about doing the things that we can do today on our modern suspension 29ers. We lacked the skill and the equipment to be good at mountain biking, but the motivation was definitely there. 


Mountain biking was on experimental territory back then and so were mountain bikers. It wasn't unusual to see people riding in cut off jeans, flannel shirts and gardening gloves. Lycra as common as it now is wasn't the norm back in those days. Sure, some people wore Lycra in mountain bike racing. Most people however didn't buy their clothes from a bike shop and wore whatever exercise clothing they could find or make themselves. That's right, even exercise clothing had to some extent, be made because no one really wore exercise specific clothing aside from Richard Simmons and a bunch of suburban Mom's doing aerobic workout routines in front of a TV.   


A few weeks ago, I had the chance to relive that old 90's feeling to a certain extent. The local mountain bike racing association decided to host an exibition vintage mountain bike race, only accepting bikes that were made before 1999 with no modern modifications. I had found this 1990 GT Karakoram on Craigslist that I'm sure I only paid 20 bucks for. The bike needed to be stripped down to the frame, cleaned, re-greased and needed a couple of new parts. All in all I think I added around $100 to that original $20 purchase price. I lined up against guys with some pretty iconic 90's bikes that where real contenders in their day. The winner of the race had a Schwinn Homegrown with a Rockshox SID fork and lightweight Mavic Crossmax wheels. The guy with the Schwinn posted a lap time that could have easily put him in a top ten position in the regular races. The guy in second place had a titanium Merlin mountain bike that probably weighed nothing, as he ended up modifying it with carbon cranks ( I seriously don't know how he didn't get DQ'ed from a 90's themed mountain bike race).  I came in fourth, with my friend Nathan taking third on his 90's Ironhorse with Rockshox Quadra forks that he engineered to turn them into rigid forks. There were other cool bikes that were way lighter and more responsive than mine, so 4th place out of 11th was a good ride for me. I received a cool participation award for most vintage bike, and a lot of kudos from other riders for having the guts to show up and narrowly miss the podium on a nearly 30 year old, rigid bike with a front shifter that dropped the chain. I did, in fact have a mechanical which caused me to fall 3 places back and I had to overtake 3 guys to get back in 4th position.

Here's a couple of more pictures of the vintage mountain bike race...

Nathan on his Ironhorse with modified shocks.




The only other rider who had a bike older than mine







I hope to see more races like these as time goes on. I appreciate the nod DORBA gave to us former 90's kids and mountain bikers. In a world that is ever more serious and focused on tech, nutrition and other nuances, it's nice to get back to our lighthearted roots and more innocent times. I will still continue to ride my modern mountain bikes because I'm not a curmudgeon or a retro grouch. I will nevertheless look forward to the next event like this and hopefully this one won't be the last!

Possibly to come on my blog; I will try if time allows to showcase some of my recent vintage mountain bike findings, write more point of view articles and try to revive this blog a little bit. My goal is to go from a roadie to a mountain biker and come full circle with myself. Let's see if changing the format up a little bit will bring life into a bike blog that is nearly a decade old.


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