Coveted MTBs of yore

March 24, 2023 § Leave a comment

The Bike Radar Podcast had an episode lately that addressed “retro” mountain bikes they wished they had owned. Naturally, because I was sort of out of the bike lust game for many years, I had no resonance with most of the bikes they called retro. It got me thinking though. There have been many times in the past that I wished I could have afforded a different bicycle, sure. IIRC, this was most acutely tied to my road racing days and the very early stages of my MTB racing when I started on a entry level steel Mongoose IBOC Comp. Listening to the podcast folks wax enthusiastic about bikes of the past, I tried to remember if there were any bikes that I really wanted. Specifically, i.e., beyond mere idle speculation about a generic “better” bike.

Casting my memory back to the early 1990s, I’m thinking probably I liked the look of a Moots or a Merlin titanium. And titanium was definitely a thing to hanker after. I would have taken one of either if offered, but it just seemed kind of pedestrian at the time. A general belief such a frame would be lighter and better, but no real enthusiasm. They seemed like a bike for slow old guys with too much disposable income. Some of the Wednesday night crowd had super light Mammoth bikes but they seemed to all develop cracks. My “steel is real” nerve had a little bit of tingle at the thought of a Ritchey P22 but I think I thought that super light steel, in pretty normal tube widths, was not going to be stiff enough for me.

The one that I do remember wanting was the Yeti A.R.C., circa 1992, pictured here in Team Issue yellow and blue. Isn’t she gorgeous? The Cantina shop race team used these at least one year, I recall. They were seemingly super light, built of properly dimensioned aluminum and looked perfectly suited to my then purpose of going fast, fast, fast. I definitely wanted one.

The problem was that they also came with a premium price tag and there was no way I was going to be able to afford that. This piece at pro’s closet claims the frame and a rigid fork alone would run $1,800 in 1992. My contingency plan aluminum Mongoose cost me something like $250 at the time and my original entire bike cost something around $700. I recall some of the boutique welded aluminum frames more in the $500-$800 range. So the Yeti was ridiculously expensive.

Next up was a small-builder steel beauty called the Rhygin Racing Juke. A riding friend I met hailed from out East and had a Rhygin. I was captivated by the clean lines and the rasta paint job available on some of them. It was a small builder and presumably that meant really pricey.

Those are the only bikes I remember ever really wanting from the racing era.

At some point, apparently several years after I had stopped racing, and even riding very much, I had a bit more money and was intrigued by the development of dual suspension bikes. It was several generations in by 1999 or so and there had been many designs hit the market. Mostly, I was highly suspicions of these downhill focused squish machines. They would involve too much of a hit on pedaling power, thought I. Until GT came out with their i-Drive design which they swore was made with XC racing in mind. The press seemed to eat that up and mostly agreed. So I thought if I was going to get a new MTB, it would be one of those. I remember thinking hard about getting one, at least for a time. The problem was, I liked my 1995 carbon Mongoose IBOC Pro SX just fine.

That’s about all I can come up with. I think this is because the carbon Mongoose was such a perfect fit for me. It was light, stiff in the right places and any desires I had for a “better” bike mostly were thoughts of hanging better bits on that frame. Maybe the Mag21 was tired and old news once Rock Shox was deep into the S.I.D. models. One always dreamed of affording XTR, but I had the Mongoose mostly outfitted with XT which works great. The bike just plain worked well for me. And then I bought the carbon framed Sette with disc brakes and XT in 2008 and also loved that ride.

Another aspect of the podcast, I guess, is thinking about what I’d like to have now, if a pristine old bike was available on eBay for a reasonable price. The Yeti would be a strong draw, as would the aluminum Mongoose I own. Why the latter? I’m curious about how that frame would perform relative to my memory and my current hardtail. I suppose I’d be curious about whether I missed a trick with the i-Drive but this is more of a desire for ride than to own. The picture I used came from an ad asking $2,150 for it. That’s not a try-it price to me. There is one outfitted with XT, that is too small for me listed for $495 plus $180 shipping which is *almost* at the try it level.

Flash forward from retro to the present and to my Return to Ride looks to be pretty similar in terms of wanting other bikes. I got the mountain bike I wanted and it works great. It wasn’t a cost-is-no-object selection but it certainly hit my sweet spot. At best, a “cost is no object” dream would have me selecting the top of the line model of the same platform, which has a lighter frame and fancier parts.


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