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Late 80s - early nineties mountain bikes: the pinnacle of practical bike design?

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Late 80s - early nineties mountain bikes: the pinnacle of practical bike design?

Old 11-28-20, 11:12 AM
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Hiro11
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Late 80s - early nineties mountain bikes: the pinnacle of practical bike design?

Whenever I ride around here, I notice a trend: seemingly everyone in my area went out in 1992 and purchased a $500-$600 rigid mountain bike that has since sat in a garage and been passed around a family. This bike is taken out every summer with zero maintenance. It's been ridden in rain, mud, and dust. Zero maintenance has been done: chain lube, tires barely inflated. It doesn't matter, these bikes just keep going.

Similarly, I recently discovered Old Shovel's YouTube channel ( https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzr...x2JFfJb-ipGk8A ). He specializes in buying old mountain bikes, in some cases for less than $20, and restoring them on a budget. He reuses almost all of the parts, generally repaints the frame, replaces all of the cables and tires and these bikes are good to go for another 30 years. There's something desirable about the results, you start to understand what these old bikes have some qualities that modern bikes lack:

1. Every part is user servicable with basic tools. Square taper loose ball BBs, threaded headsets, cup and cone hubs etc. This stuff on Old Shovel's finds have clearly been used and abused for decades... but disassemble them, clean and lube them up and they are good as new. Even shifters from that era could be easily disassembled and overhauled. Cantilever brakes are extremely easy to align and service. Alloy cranks look brand new after a light sanding and quick polish. Etc.

2. Every single component is standardized and tried and true design: the seatposts are round and simple and effective two bolt affairs. The seat clamp and axle QRs are 100% reliable steel covered cam designs. Quill stems are easy to work with and height adjust. If anything does loosen up, it can be quickly re-tightened with a 3,4,5 allen key. If anything breaks, standard parts are for sale everywhere for cheap and installed in minutes.

3. Everything back then was made to last. Thick chains, cogs and chainrings. Everything is made out of polished metal. Even the nastiest looking component can usually be hammered straight and polished. For all the hype around rust and steel frames, these things are 100% fine with a new coat of paint.

These old mountain bikes were nowhere near as capable offroad as something modern. Bikes these days are way better to ride, but I feel like we've definitely lost a lot from a practicality perspective. Let's see how a 2021 $10K Santa Cruz looks after 30 years.
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Old 11-28-20, 11:45 AM
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90’s mountain bikes kind of sit in the same niche as 80’s road bikes. I remember chuckling at all the people buying “mountain bikes” in the early 90’s and the closest any of them got to dirt was riding through a puddle in the bike lane.

I was only riding road bikes back then and could not understand the attraction of riding upright on pavement into the wind.

I didn’t even get on a mountain bike until I was in my 60’s and mistakenly built a couple of vintage bikes. By mistaken, I mean it was so tough to ride trails at that age with such old technology. I took a lot of bumps and bruises and never got beyond a low intermediate level. But boy did it give me an appreciation of the skill level of the “real” mountain bikers.

Now some years later, they serve their purpose for light trail (low technical) use and they fit that bill quite nicely. And they are fun.

John
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Old 11-28-20, 01:40 PM
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Ehhh every bike can be durable and long lasting. I like sealed cartridge bearings over loose ball unless I am on the Track or racing and need every last bit of speed.

I do like old MTB stuff though and OldShovel is awesome and it is always fun seeing what they do with a bike.
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Old 11-28-20, 02:24 PM
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Was the pinnacle of practical bike design attained in the late 80s - early nineties?


Probably not. What practical bike design means to me might different from you.


While I agree with the sentiment and opinions in the OP, they tend to idealize attributes of the era.


As for bending or hammering parts back together, stamped steel shifter clamps, which were common, are an example of something definitely not the pinnacle of design.


These parts, not only heavy, would deform rapidly and dysfunction terribly. Sure you could bend them back, and then they would deform faster than the last time you bent them back. It would drive a real mountain biker towards Suntour's XC pro shifters.


Another design from the era, hailed as a good thing in the OP, are threaded headsets. This kind of headset has been abandoned for a lot of good reasons. I too can romanticize these, but come on. they weren't that great. As far as mountain biking goes, they wouldn't hold the steerer tube and bearings properly adjusted for long periods of time on rugged trails. We would have to bring large wrenches on rides to address this problem. Eventually, in that era, aftermarket clamping nuts were designed and sold at reasonable prices to solve this problem, and became widely available just before the Ahead-set system arrived.


Quill stems can be most elegant and aesthetically pleasing I agree.


Maybe the early 1" Aheadset mountain bikes are in the pinnacle bubble.


Another thing I do not remember so fondly are the threaded freewheel clusters, and going further back, the five speed thread-on sprockets. Servicing these was much more difficult than the XD and HG and newer designs of today.


Cup and cone bearings, multiple cone wrenches, etc. vs cartridge bearings, for things like bottom brackets and hubs are functional and readily adjustable, I'll give you that. But as anyone can usually tell, cartridge bearings of various types roll smoother and bear the forces applied to them better when properly installed.


Cables and housing on the surface don't seem to have changed that much though. I did mess around with Gore cables for some time (which are not of the era), and there are expensive rigid housings made of machined aluminum pieces, and teflon coated cables, and pulleys to go on the rear derailleur and rim brake arms to overcome cable bend friction. The reason these aftermarket products existed was because there was something left to be desired in the way cables operated. And that fact is evidence that this is not the pinnacle of bike design.


Now that 1x drivetrains are mainstream, to point out in passing, observe that most shifter cables are in one long piece of housing which is carefully routed through the frame and minimizes bends that cause friction. It's better compared to the older segmented exposed cable routing of the era. I remember having to change cables and housing many times more frequently than today.


Cable routing schemes were an arena for great variation in the era. Originally most were routed under the bottom bracket with exposed cables dragging against a screwed on plastic guide. These really sucked balls in my opinion. The smarter riders back in the day gave up on these and did their own things to the bikes. There were also pulleys that hung from stems, and holes in the stems for the front brake cable. Front brakes always benefit from the proximity to the handlebar, so that wasn't a big issue. The problem was always the cantilever rear brake circumstance, which sometimes went through brazed on tubes around the seatpost or hangers suspended from the seatclamp or brazed onto the seatstay bridge etc. All of these solutions and others had their advocates, but the whole thing was a pile of it. There's no way this holds a candle to the good hydraulic brakes of today.


Even grips, handlebars, pedals, and saddles are better today. These points of contact, simple as they may be, have a huge market of cyclists readily interested in incremental refinements.


However, I will not argue against the frame designs, their geometry, materials, and construction. It is a testament to these bikes that they still work and may outlast the human race itself.


Long live old bikes, and long may they ride.
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Old 11-28-20, 02:44 PM
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Oh, I remember plenty of lousy bits and bikes from the late ‘80s/ early 90s. Lots of people bought MTBs when they came out: it was the 3rd American bike boom period, so there are lots of them around. There a still a ton of ‘70s bikes on the road, too, from the 2nd bike boom.

I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about those MTBs, and I don’t think they are the pinnacle of practical design. I think today’s bikes will be just as adaptable in 30 years.
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Old 11-28-20, 03:06 PM
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Hi, I don't own any bike that was made this millenium and ride an old steel framed hardtail mountain bike. The one I rode for 8 years developed a frame failure which caused its' unexpected and sudden retirement. These bikes are fairly common and not expensive, which is why I go that route. Also, they are robust enough to withstand being laden with cargo and a heavier rider. Although, if you are tall a decent one can be much harder to find depending on where you live. Even so, I am looking for something newer in a bike, perhaps a 2005 and younger. In terms of these bikes hanging in peoples garages lingering around forever, it's maybe a case of the dreamer in the owner taking a trip to "Someday Isle". That is, "someday I'll ride that bike like I used to and if I just hang onto it for another 20 years I will". I wonder how many thighmasters and ab-rollers litter peoples garages still.

Guys who have websites or channels like old shovel don't help in pushing up prices on everything as everyone who sees such a channel thinks they have a small cromo-goldmine hanging on their garage when they really don't. I always think of the Tulip Craze in comparison.
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Old 11-28-20, 05:30 PM
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I did a ton of miles on-road and off on a 1988 Bridgestone MB-4 .... an excellent machine. Tange chromoly frame, 18 speeds, canti front brake and rear U-brake … not great for off-road. Really good bike. Sort of a road bike with a highish BB and stable handling.

I’d buy another one just for nostalgia …. Except I have a 2018 Fuji Sportif with 105 and mech discs which, with wider wheels, would do almost everything the Bridgestone would and weighs about eight pounds less.

Yes, I love old rigid MTBs for do-it-all knockaround bikes .... but I don't really need a do-it-all, knockaround bike. If I could only have one bike .... I still wouldn't go with on old rigid MTB because there are newer bikes that do all the same stuff and weigh less. And if i did buy an old MB-4 just because I loved the bike so much .... i would update it eventually with a Hollowtech BB and maybe look into a threadless CF fork.

I'd keep the Biopace 48-38-28 crank set though ... in fact, I did.
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Old 11-28-20, 06:05 PM
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This is what I did with my 80's mountain bike. Drop bars & 2 x 10 SRAM Rival.

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Old 11-28-20, 06:08 PM
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pic examples.....
or it just ain't real.

Most practical?
Maybe Yes, maybe No.

Pics make it specific.
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Old 11-28-20, 06:10 PM
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I just finished modernizing a 1995 Trek 930 for my better half. 1x drivetrain with Microshift Advent, fork is refurbished and working well again, and new different wheels than stock(some old quality ones I had stored).

I love steel road frames from the 80s and mtb frames from the early 90s. They are really fun platforms to build multiple different ways.
I have yet to find a late 80s or early 90s mtb frame that is properly sized for me though. So from a personal perspective, no this period of mtbs is not thr pinnacle of bike design.


My Black Mountain Cycles Monstercross frame is significantly closer to the pinnacle, at least for me.
Gravel road frame with a threadless headset, classic frame look with smart tube butting, can fit up to 2" tires, can be run singlespeed, can handle front and rear racks.
It can be built to be ridden on the road, on gravel roads, on singletrack equal to late 80s mtbs, for commuting, and for touring.



Pic of the Trek 930
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Old 11-28-20, 06:12 PM
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Originally Posted by 02Giant View Post
This is what I did with my 80's mountain bike. Drop bars & 2 x 10 SRAM Rival.

Not sure if I've commented before on this, but I don't think so.
Fantastic build.
Mtbs can be tough to convert to drop bar and still look good- you nailed it here. Really great lines.
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Old 11-28-20, 06:24 PM
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Originally Posted by mstateglfr View Post
Not sure if I've commented before on this, but I don't think so.
Fantastic build.
Mtbs can be tough to convert to drop bar and still look good- you nailed it here. Really great lines.
Thank you! I appreciate that.
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Old 11-28-20, 07:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Hiro11 View Post
Whenever I ride around here, I notice a trend: seemingly everyone in my area went out in 1992 and purchased a $500-$600 rigid mountain bike that has since sat in a garage and been passed around a family. This bike is taken out every summer with zero maintenance. It's been ridden in rain, mud, and dust. Zero maintenance has been done: chain lube, tires barely inflated. It doesn't matter, these bikes just keep going.
Back in those days, even the $200 rigid MTBs would have been quite good already with half the components authentic made in Japan, very good, long-lasting quality if maintained properly.

Just give them wide road slicks and they're actually very good for the road. The wide tires and more upright position are comfortable and you can just run over the potholes, never worry about pinch flats, peace of mind... If you don't need to go very fast, these bikes are the best for just about anything on-road or off-road. They also make great gravel bikes too.

I agree with OP. I have an early 90's MTB. Loved it but unfortunately, was stolen. Quit cycling after that. Only got back to cycling due to Covid. Now, I have a gravel bike because I still like fully rigid + ability to fit wide tires.
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Old 11-28-20, 07:47 PM
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Hiro11, I complement you - you present a fascinating argument with this thread.
As someone who loves and rides vintage MTBs, allow me to reframe this argument just a bit.

In 1990, a good mountain bike was a versatile ride-anywhere, do-anything bike that appealed to a wide variety of cyclists, casual and enthusiastic. You could ride to the grocery store on it. You could tour the country on it. You could ride fire roads on it. You could ride singletrack on it. It was comfortable. It had mass appeal. It got a lot of people into cycling. A good one retailed for about $500-600, the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $900-$1,000 today.

In 2020, a good mountain bike is a do-one-thing, 1x10, don't-waste-your-time-with-this-thing-on-pavement full-suspension beast marketed largely to an audience of "extreme dudes", retailing for $2,500-$5,000.

Hybrids are the new mountain bikes - that is to say, the good ones resemble the multi-functional MTBs of old.
Or maybe gravel bikes are the new mountain bikes.
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Old 11-28-20, 08:02 PM
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If we are doing pics...




John
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Old 11-28-20, 08:10 PM
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When I'm out riding, I take pictures of the various abandoned bikes I see.... I've shot hundreds of them. Some stay locked up for years; some get taken away by the city because they become eyesores, rob useful space at the bike racks, make snow cleanup difficult, etc.

Interestingly, probably 90% of them are mountain bikes of various kinds. Good brands, cheap brands, pretty much anything. What does this mean? I don't know... Either the usefulness of the mountain bike spills over into commuter duty in fine fashion, or they're the leftovers of the 90s MTB boom which ran out their last miles hauling Dad down to the train station until eventually they get left behind forever... I don't know which.

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Old 11-29-20, 08:19 AM
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Originally Posted by 70sSanO View Post
If we are doing pics...




John

gorgeous,
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Old 11-29-20, 10:41 AM
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If I were to pick an "attainable" bike from this era, I'd take an early 90's Kona Hot. I love Konas from that era and they pop up frequently on Pinkbike for reasonable money. The Hot had a Tange Prestige frame fabricated by Tom Teesdale ( https://redkiteprayer.com/2014/07/to...a-remembrance/ ) in California. XT/XTR everything, including the hubs. Here's a nice rebuild:
https://cog.konaworld.com/kona-dream...uilt-kona-hot/

You can get a nice Hot for $500-$800 these days, I might have to at some point.

It's crazy to think back in the 1980s and 1990s, lots of high end bike fabricators like 3 Rensho, Teesdale, Waterford, Ibis, Serotta, Landshark etc were all doing series production frames for big brands. You could go to a local shop a buy a Waterford-made, Columbus SL Schwinn Peloton with full Ultegra for less than $1,000.

Also, here's my favorite Old Shovel rebuild, a $15 Ibis-made REI:

One last point: my primary road bike is a 2020 mainstream-brand carbon bike with Di2, tubeless carbon wheels, hydraulic disc brakes etc. My main mountain bike is similarly modern with slack geometry, 1x, wide rims etc. I love those bikes, haven't had any issues with them and wouldn't ride anything else. I'm not a blind nostalgist, I just see value in these older bikes.

Last edited by Hiro11; 11-29-20 at 10:55 AM.
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Old 11-29-20, 10:41 AM
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Thanks for the tip on The Old shovel in YouTube. Just got up on this Sunday morning and watched him do a resto-mod on a 1996 Voodoo Hoodoo.

I'd never seen one of these videos before and I really appreciate the wordless show and tell format with underproduced audio. Great for my morning tea and toast.

There are a lot of nice things I could say about the channel, and I've only seen one video so far. I liked how there was a good shot of the Ritchey dropouts. I also like the fact that he showed how he checked and correct the rest dropouts and derailleur hanger.

My wife rides a Voodoo Wanga single speed. We have friends who used to work at Voodoo when they were in Sunnyvale CA. There are some great 90's Voodoo bikes in this world. Maybe Voodoo is just another brand to most, but yes I can relate to the sentimental aspects of vintage bikes.

Putting that old Voodoo Wanga together for my spouse about a dozen years ago was a very happy time. It was when I had come to appreciate single speeding in all its limitations and beauty and wanted to introduce her to what I was experiencing.

Her first ride on it was up the Old Railroad grade on Mount Tamarancho. It took at least a year before she really craved riding it. Today it is just a regular ride.

That bike has an aluminum steerer and dropout carbon fork I put on there to save weight. It works good, but I'm still a little bothered with the way it looks.

Sometimes I watch Jay Leno's garage and I can relate to the nostalgia and strict restoration, and at the same time the over the top resto-mods are exciting builds. Of course, cars are coffins; moreso now than ever. But really bicycles and motorcycles are entrained in the sa continuum.

I'm glad I watched The Oldcshovel this morning. It helps to know that there are others who share the fascination with old bicycles. I have built bikes because I want to ride them, and continue to refine them as I find parts I want to replace them with, on bikes that I know really fit me, or my wife.

The idea of just building a bike just to build it and make it beautiful and functional is a luxurious pursuit, unless it becomes a business. Then I would have to store the bikes and my wife and I would wonder about this behavior and question it - is it hoarding, greed, some misplaced projection of an unfulfilled need - an expression of control in am out of control world and existence?

Well, that would be too complicated.for me.

As others have said, "build'em and ride them."
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Old 11-29-20, 05:47 PM
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Those old mtbs definitely make great commuter bikes. My wife and I both have awesome townie-errand-commuter bikes built on rigid MTB frames from the 90s.

IMO these work better for this purpose than newer MTBs.

However....

1- there are very good purpose built commuter bikes available now.. The offerings and options for utility bikes has gotten really good in the past 10 years. At least as good as the old MTB frames.

2- As far as actual mountain biking...... those old mtbs don’t even come close to newer designs. Heck, even designs from the 15 years ago were way better.. MTB design has come a looooong way since the early 90s.
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Old 11-30-20, 10:12 AM
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To me the late 80s bikes with their beautiful lugged frames with down tube shifters were great simple bikes. With down tube shifters and the brake cable wrapped under the handle bar tape, the bikes were totally free of cables flapping in the wind. Also they didnt have big ugly brifters hanging off the handle bars.
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Old 11-30-20, 10:18 AM
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Originally Posted by rydabent View Post
To me the late 80s bikes with their beautiful lugged frames with down tube shifters were great simple bikes. With down tube shifters and the brake cable wrapped under the handle bar tape, the bikes were totally free of cables flapping in the wind. Also they didnt have big ugly brifters hanging off the handle bars.
If you like that aesthetic, then you must love Di2!
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Old 11-30-20, 10:22 AM
  #23  
bikemig 
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Old MTBs

I like old MTBs. I own four of them. A late 80s Specialized Stumpjumper Comp, a 1992 Trek 950, a 1992 Specialized Stumpjumper, and a 1993 Bridgestone MB 1.




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Old 11-30-20, 10:47 AM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by RandomlyWest View Post
In 1990, a good mountain bike was a versatile ride-anywhere, do-anything bike that appealed to a wide variety of cyclists, casual and enthusiastic. You could ride to the grocery store on it. You could tour the country on it. You could ride fire roads on it. You could ride singletrack on it. It was comfortable. It had mass appeal. It got a lot of people into cycling.
I do tend to agree. In the 90's I used to ride 16 miles on the road to the trail head, ride for 20-40 miles and ride 16 miles back. The thought of doing that now on one of my mountain bikes makes me shiver.
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Old 11-30-20, 02:35 PM
  #25  
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There's nothing wrong with a little bit of nostalgia, but arguing that 30 year-old hardtails were the pinnacle of design is just plain silly. Modern hardtails are better bikes.

Last edited by tomato coupe; 11-30-20 at 07:20 PM. Reason: Typo
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