Old Skool is the Coolest Skool

I’ve been a fan of bicycles since I was five years old. I always loved to ride, and I always had a great ride.  From the fake flat-tracker I had when I was seven to the Raleigh BMX with Skyway composite wheels when I was twelve and the first mountain bike I had when I was fifteen.

But, it wasn’t till 1989 when I met other mountain bikers that I truly appreciated a cool bike.  I met guys riding Specialized RockCombos, and Nishikis with custom Sharpie graphics.  I bought and devoured Mountain Bike Action Magazine.  And when I finally got a job and some money, I was ready to buy a good bike.

Those years – from 1988 to 1996 – were my golden age of mountain biking.  And you could argue that those years were mountain biking’s golden age too.  Mountain bikes made cycling so much more accessible to the average rider, who probably found “ten speeds” uncomfortable.

So, fast forward to 2014, and I’ve realized that after years and years of keeping up with trends, that those old bikes are just so much cooler than today’s bikes.  I have a 2010 Rocky Mountain Altitude 29er, and it’s fabulous – but I’d trade it in a heartbeat for a period-correct 1991 Rocky Mountain Altitude.

In fact, I just stripped the frame of that 29er so that I can rebuild my ‘05 Blizzard.  It’s not really retro, what with its suspension corrected geometry and “disc” brakes, but it is a 20th Anniversary model, so I’ll forgive that it’s just so … new.  Besides, even in 2005, the Blizzard was pretty retro, given that it was a steel frame.

The real reason that I’m selling off this modern frame is to fund the pursuit of more vintage MTBs. Some of you probably think that’s crazy.  How can I forsake trigger shifters, electronic climb/descend shocks, carbon fibre frames, rims, forks, and “disc” brakes?

Easy – the old ways were just cooler.  And here’s why;

1. Skinwall tires and polished rims.  Spend a few moments on the Redbike.ca homepage, and you’ll see an image of a Surly fatbike with polished rims and skinwall tires.  I’ll bet a lot of people saw that bike and thought how cool and unusual it was.  But that used to be the way all bikes were.  But today, it’s all black.  Which is not bad, but it just feels like the industry got lazy; “Just make it all black, it doesn’t matter.”  It’s too easy, and it’s just not as cool.

2. Mad experimentation.  Because mountain bikes became so popular so fast, people from non-cycling industries got in on the party.  And we benefited.  Aluminum and carbon frames, elevated chainstays, v-brakes, rear suspension.  It was a very exciting time.  Yes, a lot of these innovations didn’t really work that well (if you’d like to know just how bad a 1992 suspension bike was, drop me a line, and we’ll go for a ride with my Trek 9200) but they all led to things that did work, and eventually reshape cycling.

3. 3D Violet anodized parts.  I’m sure that some of you old enough to remember these trend are groaning right now, but everyone else, hear me out: Adding a purple anodized skewer or water bottle cage could really set off your bike.  And give you the opportunity to personalize it, because the purple anodizing led to all other colours.  Of course the problem was that people went way overboard.  A bike with purple anodized everything is stupid, but people did it. There was a backlash, and it became out of fashion to have anodized bits on your bike – especially purple.  It’s slowly coming back though.  RaceFace even recently showed some prototype cranks with a fade anodization.  Further proof that Old is cool.

Now I could go on complaining about all the fancy new things that don’t really work, like tubeless tires.  Or the new things that are just plain ugly, like hydro-formed aluminum.  But the slow return of lugged steel, the rise of Gaulzetti’s simple, elegant – beautiful – aluminum frames, even the return of skinwall tires, tells you what I already knew.

Old skool is the coolest skool.

Vintage – sort of – road bikes

If you didn’t already know, there is a Lance Armstrong film in the works, and in order to make realistic scenes of the peleton hammering all over France, the film makers needed a peleton’s worth of vintage bikes.

So where do you find nine copies of one of the most desirable 90’s road bike ever made?

You make them yourself;

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Condor cycles of London made a whole team worth of the iconic Eddy Merckx Motorola bikes, Saeco Cannondales, and T-Mobile Giants.

As per the article, they are admittedly good enough replicas, but wouldn’t fool a vintage bike expert in person.  I especially enjoy the Dura Ace shift/brake levers pointed to the sky just like Armstrong did.  And the fake Cannondales, which Condor made from steel, and would of course have much smaller tubes than the real deal.

Who knows if this film will be any good, but I like that they’re making the effort for realism.

Vintage Trek

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that I’ve never been a fan of Trek bikes.  They go way back of course, but they’ve just always been really bland, and have never made a bike that I’ve lusted after.

Here’s an old one from eBay that I do like;

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This is an ’88 900, and it’s a pretty modern ’88, as back then, a lot of bikes still had chainstay mounted U-brakes.  Even though it says “Pro” on it, it’s got Mountain-LX parts, rather than XT.  I can’t make out if there is a sticker identifying the frame tubing, but I think Trek liked True Temper.

What I like about this bike is that it’s far more interesting visually than just about every other Trek in the vintage period.  All of their bikes were always one colour and the frames had level top tubes.  This 900 though has a nice purple/yellow fade with the stem and bar painted to match the purple.

It’s a really good and unified look – like they really cared and made an effort to make a good looking bike.  Why they stopped doing stuff like this, I don’t know.