Friday, May 13, 2011


(Note:  This is the story for May 12.  Blogger was down for 24 hours.  I wrote this, yesterday, but was only able to post it today.)

When I started mountain biking, there were no modern-style mountain bike suspension forks available.  The RockShox was a few years away from hitting the market, and the Manitou was being developed in a garage, basically.  So, there were no suspension-equipped bikes available, at that time.

Yet, the sport was booming.  People raced cross-country and downhill on the same bike, on the same day.  Most frames had eyelets for racks, and the sport of off-road bikepacking was getting started (what some people refer to as "Adventure Touring", now).  Oddly, even in those pre-suspension days, mountain bikes were a lot of fun.

Then, the suspension revolution began.  Aftermarket sales of RockShox, Manitou and Marzocchi forks went stratospheric for a short time.  The only reason that the aftermarket sales dropped off was that, after a few brief years, almost every mountain bike in the stores came from the factory with a suspension fork.  Speeds went up, on the trails, because the equipment helped even mediocre riders, such as myself, go faster with no increase in skill.  The crashes started being more common, and more serious, too, due to this.

Brake technology had to advance to keep pace with the new, higher, speeds.  V-brakes hit the market in 1997, and revolutionized the art of deceleration.  Disc brakes became more and common until, today, most mountain bikes come equipped with discs, or at least have the mounts on the frame and fork so that they cam be upgraded.

This is all very good for the people who want to go fast.  I was one of those people, for years, and I went through a lot of bikes, forks, brakes, scabs and broken bones during that time in my life.

These past few years, however, I have wearied of the high-speed, and of the high-tech which makes it both possible and, to a degree, necessary.  I started riding fixed-gear off-road because I found those rides, as slow as they were, to be very fulfilling.  Riding with finesse, and trying to get the timing right to be able to climb over obstacles on a bike on which the cranks are constantly spinning took me back to the early days, when every ride was a learning experience, and an adventure.  But, I still had suspension on my "real" bike, and still rode in that mode quite often.

When I designed the frame for my titanium bike, I reverted to the dimensions and form which were common in the "old days".  It is designed around a rigid fork, 29-inch wheels (to roll over obstacles better than the smaller wheels), disc brakes and drop bars.  It is, essentially, a 29er-wheeled Bridgestone XO-1.  Vintage mountain bikes are coming into vogue, in some circles, and similar bikes are being built up for "Gravel Grinder" races, like the Trans Iowa race, in increasing numbers.

Hard-core mountain bikers, racers and free-riders are still rocking the long travel suspension.  But, I am done with $1000.00 suspension forks and plastic frames.  Give me a good steel or ti frame, and a rigid fork, and I am happy.

I don't have to worry about worn seals, fork pumps, spring rates, etc.  I just get on, and ride, and I suspect that, 50 years from now, someone will still be riding this ti frame with its steel fork.

They may not ride as fast as someone on a new nano-carbon, full suspension 40-speed rig (or whatever they have then), but they will ride.

I hope...


1 comment:

  1. Great perspective. Totally with you on this.


As always, sorry about the word verification. It's a necessary evil, unfortunately.