Top five hardtails

What is the greatest hardtail of all-time?

This is a hard question to answer, and I don’t think that even I can say for sure what I think it is. I can come up with a top five though, with the caveat that the five bikes are pretty interchangeable.

So, let’s get right to it shall we?

I’ll be honest here; I’m totally winging it with this post. I usually come up with an idea, think about it for a week or two, then take a couple days to create the post, after I discover just how much research I need to do to find all the pictures I want.

But not this time. I literally came up with this idea 2 minutes ago, finished my list of five hardtails 60 seconds ago, and here I am, ready to hit you with number 5…

1992 Specialized Sumpjumper M2

5. Specialized Stumpjumper M2. For a lot of people, the Stumpjumper was the first hardtail – which of course it wasn’t – but it was the first that was readily available. I like this Metal Matrix version from 1992 though that the legendary Ned Overend rode to a ton of victories. The funky aluminium oxide alloy was light and strong, but it was hard to weld and paint.

I had one, and I really liked it. It handled well, didn’t punish you like the Klein that Dr. Stu had, and they looked good in sky-blue, green, mango orange, and black.

Yeti FRO

4. Yeti FRO. The steel For Racing Only model was the bike that really cemented Yeti’s legacy in it’s trademark Desert turquoise. It was best paired with an Answer ATAC fork and stem, and featured the (also) trademark loopstay rear end (the seatstays and chainstays were actually one long bent tube), ovalized top tube, and extra slack geometry. It ruled fire roads and fast open downhills, and didn’t like tight singletrack. Or so I’m told anyway.

The aluminium ARC was probably sexier, and “what about the C-26??” I hear you say.  Sure, yes, the C-26 is awesome. Go ahead and sub it in here if you prefer. But I always liked the steel FRO – it’s unpretentious and it works.

30th Anniversary Rocky Mountain Blizzard

3. Rocky Mountain Blizzard. Yes, I’m biased here. My favorite bike made by my favorite mountain bike company. But as I’ve written previously, the Blizzard was produced with no fundamental changes for 27 years, from 1984 to 2012. That is crazy. And it’s pretty clear proof that Rocky was doing something right here. When someone says “mountain bike,” this is the image that appears in my mind. Sloping top tube, extended seat tube, maple-leaf fade paint. It’s the very definition of a Canadian hardtail mountain bike.

2. Schwinn Homegrown. It’s not number one?! The hell man!!

Look, I get it; everybody loves the Homegrown. Not many bikes have their own website – hell, their own society – going into such terrific detail on the bike’s history. But please, just wait till I get to number one before you go crazy, because it’s a beauty.

Homegrown Factory XTR

Anyway. The most distinctive homegrown were the awesome “bass boat” ones. Their metalflake paintjobs were simply beautiful, and they came loaded – like this XTR model. Grey Michelin tires, crazy XTR remote shifters, Rock Shox SID, titanium Titec stem – it’s the 1927 Yankees of OEM parts spec.

I never read anyone say “I had one, but I didn’t like it much.”

Santa Cruz Chameleon

1. Santa Cruz Chameleon. Surprised by this pick? You shouldn’t be – the Chameleon was exactly as advertised. It could morph into nearly any kind of bike. Put a 6″ fork on it and DH race it. Bolt a single speed hub on it and you’re one of those new edgy singlespeeders. Put a SID and some XTR on it, and you’re cross country racing. Or, put a regular old 100mm fork on it and tear up singletrack. It excelled at all of these tasks, and it looked great with it’s square section chainstays.

Chameleon disk tab

There was one problem with this bike though. The design of their modular dropouts allowed them to retrofit pre-disk brake frame with disk tabs. But, in order to do this, the adapter had to go under the chainstay. This was a real pain in the ass to deal with, because no disk caliper was designed to have the hose/cable exit this way.

The white Chameleon above belonged to charter TeamCow member Jack in the Box, and you can see the hose for the Hope brakes exiting the caliper just in front of the rear derailleur. We had to loosen it on the caliper and twist the fitting around because it was facing in the other direction. It was design to sit – literally – 180 degrees in the other direction from where it was on the Chameleon.

Even with that design shortfall, this is still the best hardtail ever made.

But I’m willing to entertain arguments for other bikes, so go ahead and tell me what you like.

2 thoughts on “Top five hardtails”

  1. I like the list. I can appreciate that maybe you were trying to present a list with some variety. But I would bump the Specialized SJ M2 to #6 in favor another Rocky Mountain … Hammer! In my circles, aka mtb dirtbags, there were more Hammers being ridden. They were affordable and took a beating. I can’t put a finger on it … but something about Specialized bikes has just never really appealed to me.

    Re: dirtbags … if you have any old BIKE magazines, I’d like you to check for something. There was an old article in a mid 1990s issue called “song of the dirtbag” or maybe “flight of the dirtbag”. Or something like that. I would love to get my hands on a copy of the article. I posted up on MTBreview forum some time ago and no success. I seem to remember a picture from that article of a rider flying around a corner, cut up legs, cut off shorts, baggy old sweatshirt and maybe on a old steel Specialized SJ. The caption that said something about CDN dirtbags even get free healthcare! I used to love 1990s BIKE magazine.

  2. I used to buy a lot of those BIKE magazines in the 90’s. I wish I still had the one with the Dekerf Team ST test, and the one with the Rhygin stainless steel. Maybe that was the same issue even?

    And I *love* the Hammer. I have a ’90 that I’m hoping to build up again this summer, I just have to decide if I want to go with hardcore patina – rust, scraped decals, severely faded paint – or get new decals and repaint. The odd one pops up for sale here, and I have to hold myself back from buying it because I just want all of them. I got my neighbour to buy the last one I saw!

    You know, I think the Hammer deserves its own post here, so keep an eye out for that.

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