It is not often that, in fact it is closer to never, The Re-Cyclery gets a Ritchey Bike donated. I’ve only been around, oh, I don’t know… the whole dang time the Re-Cyclery has been open and I can remember it happening twice and that includes this one! I think that’s because once you get a Ritchey, for the most part, you don’t let it go. The reasons are many. Scarcity and expense are the most obvious but, the true reasons go deeper than basic supply/demand economics. When you ride a Ritchey it is as a result of a great process of refinement, by both you, the rider and Tom, the maker. For my lack of a better analogy, I liken a Ritchey mountain bike to a Porche 911. There is a lineage of innovation, honed over years in competition and in the minds of inventive critical thinkers, which shapes the product in a logical, elegant evolution. A Ritchey rider appreciates the provenance of relevance and refinement over mere novelty. Ceding possession of a bike, or anything, that is the physical manifestation of one’s journey of refinement may be difficult. That bike is a funereal urn, holding the ashes of memories earned over many dirty miles. Donating it in support of Trips for Kids bike programs should earn the donor an indulgence at the Chapel of Madonna del Ghisallo.
Tom Ritchey’s journey of refinement as a bicycle maker started at age 11, learning how to build wheels and repair sewups from his cyclist father. Instead of a lemonade stand, an entrepreneurial young Tom made money repairing racers’ flats. Tom’s dad taught him a new skill, how to braze and that was that. Repairing sewups became repairing bike frames, then building frames, all before graduating from high school.
As a young racer in Palo Alto, CA Tom joined rides with Jobst Brandt who would dart off a perfectly good paved road onto a single-track trail to mix things up. Right about that time, in January of 1979, a couple of goofs named Joe Breeze and Otis Guy come to Tom to have him build a tandem for some sprint across the entire USA. Joe brought along the 26” balloon tire bike he made up in Marin. Peter Johnson, another excellent frame builder happened to be there, too and was immediately impressed with its features, as was Tom. Tom recognized the significance of the concept, having been a veteran of of Jobst Brandt’s road bike cowtrail forays in the Santa Cruz mountains. So, liking what he saw, Tom said he’d build for himself. Breeze gets back to Fairfax in Marin, tells his buddy Gary Fisher that Tom’s going to make a 26er. See where this is heading? Ground Zero for “Mountain Bikes”. Gary asks Tom to make one for him and another one to sell. Later on, Tom made a few more of the mountain bike frames but couldn’t find enough dirt enlightened takers in the stodgy (“perfectly happy with my road bike thankyouverymuch”) PaloAlto/Woodside area. Tom calls up Gary, asking if he’d like to take them of his hands. Gary pools a few Franklins with fellow Klunker rider, Charlie Kelly, and together they buy Tom’s frames. Gary and Charlie build Tom’s frames into bikes and sell them to other like-minded mountain bike nuts up in Marin. Thereby, Ritchey becomes the first commercial manufacturer of mountain bike frames. You can trace the DNA of your mountain bike, however crazy it looks now, to a conversation in a one-man workshop in Woodside, CA.
The 1997 Ritchey P-20 is the rolling definition of the classic hardtail xc-racer. It was the evolutionary successor to the P-23 that was introduced in 1990. As indicated in the title, the “P” stands for Project and the number following indicates the weight of the finished bike. The P-23 weighed 23 pounds. The P-20 got a little leaner (losing 3lbs!) being made with the innovative, lightweight, Ritchey designed, Tange made, Prestige Logic tubing; sleeved seat tube, fastback seatstays and forged Ritchie vertical rear dropouts. The frames were TIG welded in Japan by Toyo in Japan and shipped in raw, bare frame form back to California. Team versions would receive the final touches by Tom himself: Inspection, alignment and signature fillet brazing. Then it would go across the Bay to Bob at D&D in San Leandro, CA for one of the best paint jobs around. The seatstays on our bike do have that elegant smooth fillet braze finish so, it is likely to be a “Team” frame. It is built up with full Top-O-the-Line Shimano m950 XTR gruppo, save for a Ritchey Logic headset. The ‘97 Richey Catalogue indicates Grip-Shift componentry spec’d so, most likely this was purchased as a frameset and built up by the owner, not Mr. Ritchey. Still, it is a top notch, spare no cost iteration. The Manitou MARS SL fork used a slider/brake arch formed as a single piece of carbon fiber. The Thompson stem was likely swapped in a little after the initial build. Light and fast, “screw the rent” were the guiding principles for this bike. Cost?…Easily over $3,000 1997 bucks! I like to imagine it arriving at a NORBA event on the roof of a car worth half the bikes' price, displaying the owner’s clear priorities in life. Not likely, but one can dream.
It is well ridden, as befits such a purpose-built bike. It stands head-held-high, wearing its’ scarred and dusty Red, White and Blue paint nobly. Come by the Re-Cyclery, pay a visit and your respects to your bike’s forefather. Just don’t be surprised if it challenges your current bike to a race ...just to show that “whipper-snapper” what’s what.
Archive Post from June 9th, 2020
A 30 year old artist, Rene Magritte, created quite a stir by challenging perceptions of images with the above pictured painting of a Pipe, captioned in French below “This is not a pipe.” He explained, “it's just a representation, is it not? So, if I had written on my picture 'This is a pipe', I'd have been lying!" The painting is a metacommunication. It communicates a subtext of how the viewer interprets, specifically in this case, an image of a pipe. However, the concept applies to other symbols or representations, visual or otherwise, which we encounter in our daily lives.
Living in the San Francisco Bay Area one can get the impression that “Meta” was created here. Seemingly as the nutrient rich after-birth of every Silicon Valley product launch and Instagram meme. The term has become modernly ubiquitous through corporate and pop-culture conscription into commercial use. It has become “monetized” and devalued through overuse.
That is why I am encouraged when I encounter a Meta concept that is incorporated to give value back to our lives, even if it is delivered in a commercial context. Witness: Public Bike.
Artist: Rob Forbes
Model: i7 (7 speed internally geared hub)
Is your bike made by someone who’s given a TED Talk? I hope so.
Rob Forbes: Former ceramicist (he may be one but he was one, too); Internet furniture salesman (creator of Design Within Reach); Bicycle Salesman (creator of PUBLIC Bikes); TED Talk speaker.
“I started PUBLIC Bikes at a time in the world (2009) when we consume 15% more goods than we produce (or need). I asked myself: What could you sell that if you sold more, it would improve the quality of our lives? Bicycles are one solution. Getting people to reduce their dependency on private automobiles would do a lot for our environment and to improve connections with our communities.”
Ok, Forbes wants to make some money selling bikes. How and why he does it is a little bit different. He doesn’t come to the industry as a sporting enthusiast but as a designer. This may be the Digital Age but we live in the Analog World. “We are alerted to things physically” Forbes notes in his TED Talk. It is certainly no stretch of the imagination to say, how we experience something through our five senses affect us. Either as the direct user or as observers. The way something looks and functions communicates to us and affects us, even if we don’t necessarily know how or why. If done well, it can bring a secret smile to our faces.
The Grand Tours are still impressive feats of athleticism and the bikes and clothing are beautiful in fulfilling their purpose to the racers. But, think of how popular The Eroica events, randonneuring or Tweed Rides and their ilk have become. Why? They recall an aesthetic, an idea of how things were made, the materials with which they were made, the way people looked when using them. It is not simply nostalgia. They are distinctly different riding experiences that are all valid and enjoyable, or torturing, in their own way. Forbes gets this “design matters, the right chair can put a smile on anyone’s face”. He knows an Eames chair hits entirely different from an Aeron. Forbes applies that sensibility to bicycle design.
Public Bikes take their design cue from the bikes of Amsterdam. Simple clean lines make the bikes look as if they could have been made decades ago. Modern metallurgy improved the properties of the steel used so they are still sturdy but lighter, so portage up a flight of stairs or two isn’t out of the question. Gears can be had because life has hills. Rubber topped flat pedals are as suitable to Vans as they are Wandlers or the occasional bare foot. Dual pivot brakes stop you. Fenders help you navigate, literally or otherwise, that occasional rainy day. Our bike has a seductively curvy rack that invites you to bring stuff along. One of my favorite design aspects of a PUBLIC bike is the restraint in the use of logos, “urban spam”, the visual noise is muted. The riding position is heads up, “Hello”, I see you, I hope you say hi back.
PUBLICs are not race bikes. They are bikes to be ridden by anyone, to work, the store or a friend’s house. PUBLIC’s blog says they, (I assume the bikes and the company) “celebrate community, accessibility and inclusion…optimism”. I can’t help but agree. But that is the intrinsic quality of a bicycle.
Anywhere there are bikes being ridden, people feel better. There is less separation and more connection between people.
What we ride, how we ride, heck the mere fact that we ride, matters. To us and those around us. A bike may be a means to convey us from one place to another but, it can also be a flag that declares our tribe, our accessibility, our intent. During this trying time of our history, there is one clear fact we must make manifest, Black Lives Matter! There are many ways to achieve this. Many people are mobilized. Many are frozen by the enormity of the task. I don’t claim to have the answers to solve this complex societal problem. I do hope to conduct my life with purposeful acts and encourage you to do the same so that combined our acts move us all forward. I resolve to: See Something Say Something to stop injustice or to foster kindness, that’s a start. And if something so simple as riding a bike, in some small, way helps my community be a more welcoming place, I will do more of that, too.
How we move through this world conveys a message that may contain subtext. Right about now, Celebrating community, accessibility, inclusion and optimism sounds pretty good to me.
Archive Post from May 30th, 2020
What I am learning, is that every bike has a story to tell. If you slow down a bit, put down your phone and pay attention, the bike will be happy to share it with you. If you don’t, the bike doesn’t care, it has no ego, it will be there when/if you do. Or not. Bikes by their very nature are transitory if properly engaged. And someone else may engage it properly. But if you do stop and visit a while you will be the better for it. Maybe the story will be selfless, about it's rider; or it could be an origin story telling you how it came to be; perhaps a Hero's journey complete with harrowing abduction and redemption; an epilogue of abandonment after crippling abuse; or even an eulogy that recounts a tragic final crash. Or, it could be as simple as recalling that day’s happy trip to school. Working at the Re-Cyclery, I have heard a bunch of these stories and look forward to hearing more. I just have to remember to slow down a bit. This pandemic is forcing me, all of us, to slow down.
I think the stories are why so many people hold on to unridden bikes. I know I do.
You might dedicate space in a garage where it will be comfortable. The bike becomes a welcome guest, so to speak, that recalls the same, good story that never fails to entertain you. Every now and then while you're just going about your business, you'll catch a glimpse of it, like seeing a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Maybe the garage is like a crowded cocktail party where you bump into each other as you shimmy by on your way to catch up with someone else. You smile genuinely or a little sheepishly, depending on how you last parted. You can ignore a little dust and slightly sagging tires, greet it with a “You look great! You haven’t aged a day”, hoping the same can be said of you. “It’s been too long we should get together, soon.” “Yes, let’s.”
Sometimes, your welcome guest becomes an inconvenience to someone else. “Other People” in your life may have other guests with stories of their own, whom “Other People” would like to welcome over for an extended visit. Or maybe, “Other People” are just not as socially inclined as you. Sharing space can be a touchy thing. In the interest of domestic tranquility it becomes obvious that you must have a serious conversation with your long-time pal.
“Hey, what’s up? I was just thinking about that time we were on vacation. That trip to the San Juan Islands, remember? We should do something like that again.”
“Yeah, that’s kinda’ what I came here to talk to you about. I don’t think that’s going to happen. ‘Other People’ and I have been talking about you and me. And we think it’s time for you to maybe find a new place. I still think you’re great. It’s just maybe that time. We haven’t gone out together in years. I’ve totally ignored you. You deserve better. You deserve someone who’ll be excited to see you and want to spend time with you.Really, it’s the best thing for all of us.”
“Wow. This is comin’ outta’ nowhere. I thought we were solid. We had a good thing going here. Where will I go? What’ll I do? You can’t just dump me on the streets! Or worse, pimp me out to some stranger on Craigslist."
“C’mon, that’s not fair, you know I would never do that to you. ‘Other People’ and I have given that some serious thought. It’s not like we’re heartless. We truly want the best for you. We found a place. It’s perfect. It’s called the Re-Cyclery. You know it. I’ve talked about it before. I used to go there to buy you things. You always liked it. It’s great. Well, it turns out that the Re-Cyclery is not a regular store. Its purpose is to save bikes like you. They take you in fix you up and introduce you to the right people. It’s kind of a matchmaking service for bikes of all ages, not just those flashy new things about town. They get you back in the game. Your part is showing up, the fee gets paid by the person who wants to incorporate you into their life. You’ll be new to each other. Discovering everything together for your first times. And the whole service is set up to get more kids on bikes! Spreading the love. Look, I know it’s going to be hard on both of us in the beginning but you know it’s the right thing to do. . Who knows, maybe in the future we’ll bump into each other. I know I’ll smile if we do. Come on, let’s go over there right now. One last trip together.”
It really is for the best. Bring the Re-Cyclery your unused but good condition bike or equipment, even clothing. We’ll pair it up with someone who will love it as much as you did. All the proceeds go to support Trips for Kids Marin Programs.
Archive Post from May 23rd, 2020
Giovanni soldiered on as a professional cyclist without any further fireworks until his retirement from racing in 1984. However, before that, in 1981, capitalizing upon his spectacular season, Battaglin anticipated his post racing career. Following in the footsteps of Cino Cinelli, Giovanni “Nani” Pinarello and, many other racers, he started his own bike building business, Officina Battaglin. Just as suits from great Italian tailors like Brioni and Isaia, bicycles from Officina Battaglin would be bespoke.
Officina means Workshop in Italian. My stream of consciousness mental images of an Italian “workshop” is unabashedly romantic: a single room dimly lit by the natural light filtered through dusty, peaked, lead glass skylights which are perhaps, cracked and mended with tar in a place or two; wooden workbenches butt against stone walls that are functionally adorned with storage cubbies and organized tools of a trade; all cloaked in a quiet sense of purposefulness…Well, until the actual work begins. Then the soundtrack can get loud with hammers and metallic clanks or the resonance of a rasp drawn against a rough surface soon to be smooth. All sounds breathing with life in proportion to an artisan or few doing the handiwork. Much like in an orchestra, the violinist limited by her fingerspeed and bowstroke or a tubaists by her breath. There is an organic, human scale to the goings-on in a workshop. As opposed to the constant drone of a busy but lifeless factory. It is in the workshop setting that something personal, something soulful, can be made.
All of the bikes Battaglin raced were custom built to his specifications, Pinarellos and Colnagos. He had plenty of exposure to the purpose, the process and the art of bike construction. With his bikes Battaglin *“sought to put as much of the master framebuilder’s skill as he could into machines. He had one CNC milling machine built for him that makes three cuts at once, of exacting tolerances, to a down tube held in place by pneumatic vises. (Working by hand, a framebuilder would have relied on experience and a sharp eye to make the cuts, and would have needed to remove the tube several times from the jig.)” Art and precision would distinguish a Battaglin.
*With gratitude to Bill Strickland for his May 16, 2017 article in Bicycling
His bikes were a hit in Europe. Racers especially appreciated what Giovanni was able to craft to help them win. One racer in particular would add a new chapter to the legend of Battaglin, not as the racer but as the bike builder.
Stephen Roche: An Irish “all-rounder” who in 1987 had a good year. Roche won The Giro d’Italia, The Tour de France and The World Championship in 1987. I think his biggest problem that year was not his iffy knee but, how to wear three crowns. Maybe he asked for advice from Eddy Merckx, the only other racer to have done so. Hmmm, this story sounds a little familiar. Care to hazard a guess as to who made Roche’s bikes? Yeah.
Our particular bike was donated to Trips For Kids Re-Cyclery several years ago. It was in poor shape. A benevolent Prince in exile, existing in humble anonymity. The current owner, I’ll call him Mark because that’s his name, was at the Re-Cyclery kicking tires. He has a thing for older beauties of the three triangle sort. Mark was on a search for an appropriate mount to squire to The Eroica. The search ended when he spotted it.
The Bike. The Battaglin’s raiments were threadbare. Everything that was hung, bolted, taped or clamped to the frame, cradled grit, sagged or was just plain worn out. But to Mark’s eye, the elegant angular lines belied its noble origin. Even though Mark knew nothing about the make, he took it home. A little research later, Mark finds out what he has and treats it to a full, what in the automotive world is called, rotisserie restoration. Stripped naked, powder-coated, completely re-equiped with period correct top of the line new old stock parts. When done, one could envision riding it to a stage win in 1987. One Eroica later, Mark has moved across the country and needs to find a suitable home for his Battaglin. It is on consignment with 25% of the price going to Trips for Kids.
This bike was made a year or two after Roche’s Triple Crown. When new it was decaled “World Champion ‘87” with the rainbow stripes. Its tubes are Columbus SLX. According to Columbus, SLX is a “Superbutted tube set specially designed for professional cyclists, featuring five spirals for greater rigidity in the joint area or the bottom bracket.” The main tubes meet at a Cinelli manufactured bottom bracket that also looks beefy and more than up to the task of handling pro-level out of the saddle attacks. The bottom bracket is also drilled for internal derailleur cable routing, rather than looping them around the outside, a nice touch that is repeated on the top tube for brake cables.
Of course, nice touches abound on this frame. Thick chromework on the forks, dropouts and driveside chainstay is as protective as it is gorgeous. I ran out of fingers and was unwilling to remove my double knotted Stan Smiths to finish counting the enamel filled pantographs that remind you who made this bike. Let’s just say it keeps up with a Masi (which incidentally is the only other bicycle maker to have built a Triple Crown winning bike). So there’s that. Period correct “as-new” full Dura Ace gruppo; Mavic hubs (a personal favorite I myself use on my Merckx Corsa Extra). The icing on this beauty is white bar tape and WHITE Selle TURBO saddle. I’m sorry I raised my voice, I got a little excited.
“But, how does it ride Jonnie!?” you ask.
To quote Wayne and Garth: “We’re Not Worthy!”
Efficient, lively, stable and yeah, sexy, are words that come to mind. I am pretty bad at hands-free riding. This bike had me practicing my head back, point to the heavens, as I cross the finish line at pace fantasy. But this time it didn’t end in embarrassment (other than this public confession).
Great Instruments are more than the sum of their parts. What makes one violin or piano a masterpiece fit for virtuosi? They are all just wood and string. This bike was built when every bike in the pro pelotons were made of the same materials using the same parts and the same basic processes. Plenty of people made good, very good, even excellent bikes. Officina Battaglin made a great instrument. Battaglin made The Bike.
Archive Post from May 15th, 2020
Gruppo: DuraAce; Mavic wheels (hubs and rims)
Condition: Altoid-level Minty
Consignment price: $1000. No wiggle room. This is a steal.
I once read a question asking whether the aura surrounding certain legendary bicycle makers and their bikes arose from their Midas-like touch or was it shone upon them by the brilliance of their star riders? Il pollo o l’uovo?. Good question.
In this case, I can unequivocally answer, yes. Am I joking? Sure, a little. You can’t answer this question with a yes or no. But, I’ll try to explain.
Honest to god, Where to Begin? Researching this bike drew me deeply into its story.
I’ll divide this article into two parts:
I’ll start with the name, Battaglin.
If you didn’t grow up watching Il Giro, perched upon the knee of a Tuscan Nonno, who could teach you how to pronounce it, the closest I can get is “Bahttah-yeen”. It is the last name of a bicycle racer/bicycle maker, Giovanni Battaglin. He is alive and well in his home town of Marostica, Italy. Retired from racing, Giovanni with his son, Alex, is making what cognoscenti aver to be some of the best bikes in the world at Officina Battaglin. If you aren’t surprised to hear this, I should probably address you as Dottore, because you should have a Phd. in Cycling history.
As an amateur, young Giovanni was a cycling fenomeno. His pedaling quickly elevated him to the forefront of national prominence in a nation where such a thing is taken very seriously. Much later, as a seasoned professional he achieved what only one other man before and only one man since, have ever done in the history of cycling
But I don’t want to leapfrog to the end. Because his greatest racing feat occurs at the end of his long career. Giovanni’s story is more complex than a simple supernova talent storyline arc. This short blog cannot do justice to its full telling. Just know his story, yes, does recount a rakish Italian racer (one recent writer anointed Battaglin as one of the 20 most stylish racers in cycling history)
with world class talent, attaining success. More, though, it is really a saga that unfolds over years, teaching us all the moral value of perseverance.
1973, his first year as a professional, Giovanni raced in the Giro d’Italia. Unfortunately (and I mean this only in the most sarcastic tone possible) he was only able to come in third. Oh, but who edged him out, you ask? Just some guys named Merckx and Gimondi. The Maglia Blanca, Best Young Rider classification, didn’t exist yet, otherwise it would have been awarded to Battaglin. Consider notice served to the cycling world by this rookie. Over years of competition Battaglin achieved many, many highlights: a Tour de France (TDF) stage win one year, TDF King of the Mountains Champion another, and many other stage and race wins, or podiums. But, he also faced significant challenges; tragic crashes, injuries, fatigue, a doping scandal; any of which could have ended a lesser man’s career.
Winning a Grand Tour however, had eluded him. But this is what shows the true mark of a champion. Rising to challenges, never giving up. For at the very end of his career: after 9 straight years competing at the highest level; in the world’s most grueling contests of physical and mental endurance; in an era when the pelotons had racers whose ferocity earned them nicknames like Cannibal and Badger: came Battaglin’s greatest triumphs.
The world’s three most famous cycling races are:
The Tour de France
The Giro d’Italia
The Vuelta a Espana
No single racer has won all three Tours in the same year. Ever.
Until 1981 only one man, Eddy Merckx, had won two.
The Vuelta a Espana.
April, 21-May, 10
19 stages; 2141 miles; Zero rest days
Champion: Giovanni Battaglin
May 11-12: 2 days between Grand Tours
May 13 Brescia-June 7 Verona; 22 stages; 2421mi; 2 rest days
Champion: Giovanni Battaglin
The stark facts are stunning.
In 1981 Giovanni Battaglin became the second racer ever to have won two Grand Tours in a single year. Schedules of the Grand Tours has been changed. The Vuelta is now run in late summer. There is more time between Tours, so Giovanni’s achievement will never be able to be duplicated exactly. But even allowing for more rest time between Tours, in the 39 years since Battaglin’s Double-Tour championships; only one other racer has joined Merckx and Battaglin, Alberto Contador. This is a very exclusive list.
The Giro win was nothing short of a Gladiatorial triumph. OK nobody died but…
Battaglin, battle weary from the Vuelta campaign, was nowhere near considered a favorite. The racing in the Giro was extremely close. The Maglia Rosa (leader’s pink jersey) was traded eight times, mostly between favorites Francesco Moser and Giuseppe Saronni. Giovanni only got to see the back of the Pink Jersey until he won the 19th stage. Doing so by unceremoniously dropping the other racers on, in Giovanni’s words, the “brutal ascent of the Tre Cime de Lavaredo”. He held on to the lead for the next two stages by a mere 20 seconds. The final stage was to be a 26 mile individual time trial. Battaglin was a climber, not a time trial specialist. He could fall behind a mere fraction of a second each mile and lose everything. The championship was still up for grabs on the very last stage.
Stage 22, the last stage: Soave to Verona, with the finish line inside an ancient Roman amphitheater, the Arena di Verona. The racers would enter Verona’s colosseo like gladiators. Battaglin grew up, and presently lives, nearby. I can only assume that Battaglin had dreamed, as any Italian boy whom had ever thrown a leg over a bicycle saddle, of winning Il Giro. It’s easy to imagine the stadium filled with rabid tifosi ready to exult in this home-town boy’s glorious victory or groan in agony at his dream crushing failure. This one stage would be the culmination of his boyhood dreams and professional aspirations. The single most important of his life. There would be no team to protect the leaders, set the pace, draft behind or reel in a breakaway. The individual time trial is cycling’s equivalent of hand to hand combat. Each racer on his own. Only the cold face of the clock would serve as Emperor, decisively giving the thumbs up or thumbs down. No pressure.
No spoiler alert. As shown above there was a happy ending to this story. Battaglin did rise to his moment of destiny. He did ride into the ancient stadium, wearing the Maglia Rosa. The crowd did rise up with a roar cheering him to the finish and erupt in joyous celebration as the clock crowned him the victor. Everyone then knew Giovanni would never be stripped of the pink jersey he wore on his back.
He was I’Uomo.
Archive Post from May 7th, 2020
Bike: Intense Uzzi VPX
Year of Manufacture: 2006-ish
MSRP: Not really sure (Google algorithms let me down) but discussion boards said “pricey”
TFKRCP (Trips for Kids Re-Cyclery Price): Tagged $900 but offer ‘em $600 cash and see what happens.
Mountain biking is like jazz or basketball, it is an American treasure shared with the world. Mt. Tamalpais (yeah) and Crested Butte (nope, according to my purely partisan vote) are considered the delivery rooms for its birth. The proud Mamas and Papas were young, long haired, waffle-stomper wearin’, hippies who passed out joints not cigars. They were 1970’s “Disrupters” of the cycling industry who cobbled together bikes they could and would ride anywhere.
Word got out and “Mountain Bike” popularity and sales exploded in their own cycling boom. Everybody, and I mean, ev-er-y-body, ditched their sturdy, skinny-tired, Schwinn Varsities for sturdy, fat-tired bikes that they, too, could ride ev-er-y-where. MTB populism soon spawned competitive elitism. Outlaws racing each other in Levis down dusty, rutted mountain trails, became rule-riddled processions on groomed courses, with racers shrink-wrapped in sponsor crowded rainbows of Lycra. XC Champions came to look more like sinewy Olympic marathoners who thought riding a bike on a trail would be a nice holiday.
But that iconoclastic, sparked-roach soul of Mountain biking was still out there, smudging away the bad juju. It smoldered in the hearts of cycling’s next generation of disrupters who were, you guessed it; young people, who liked riding (and apparently, crashing) wherever they could, while wearing anything-but-lycra. Gen-Xe’rs who raised Mountain biking’s fragrant torch and lit an epic maelstrom of healthy hooliganism. Freeride was born.
Freeride is a “Can’t be done? Hold my beer” attitude on two wheels. The cycling horizon became vast again. It shapeshifted easily from Rural Northshore-Drop into Urban-Huck mutations. Pics of guys like Richie Schley and Wade Simmons riding seemingly impossible routes, in impossibly photogenic locations, started to find their way onto Magazine covers. Suddenly everyone knew where Kamloops was. The paved Los Angeles River basin became a sweet place to drop-in. The Olympic Rainforest determined bike specs. Those that wanted to raise a one-fingered salute to stopwatches and rulebooks, smiled at what they saw. The riding this inspired resulted in frequent and massive “Fails” both mechanical and physical. Engineering took care of one and ERs took care of the other.
For your consideration, I present what I consider an apex predator in the Freeride bike engineering evolution: The 2006-ish Intense Uzzi VPX.
Intense, the bike company, started 30 years ago in Elsinore CA. Until then, Elsinore had been famous for one thing, Motocross racing. Wild, free-for-all, anybody can race motocross racing. The kind of racing that you saw Malcom Smith and Steve McQueen do in On Any Sunday. With that setting as an incubator, it is only natural to spawn an MX bike with pedals. Intense caught the MTB bike “Establishment” by surprise. Seemingly, out of nowhere, this little independent bike maker had their (unfortunately rifle monikered) M1 bikes on podiums at downhill (DH) events.
DH bikes and their racers need to do three things well: 1. Go downhill fast 2. Survive a Crash 3. Go downhill fast again. Intense bikes and their racers were very good at doing those three things very well. Freeriders noted the similarities in their DNA. But they had evolved/regressed(?) needing to be able to pedal their bikes UP hills, too. 60lb+ DH rigs didn’t cut it. Solution? Simple. Put DH bikes on a Paleo diet, drop some weight, keep the strength. And that’s how the Uzzi VPX was created.
First iterations of the VPX were released into the wild in 2005. Our example is a later year spec’d out with Easton Aluminum tubes (custom drawn for Intense), gusseted and braced, in case you get rough with it. Fox DHX 5.0 coil-over rear shock with 8.75, “double-dog-dare-ya”, inches of travel. Up front you’ll find a Fox 36VAN R fork with 6.3” of buttery coil-over shmoosh. Virtual Pivot technology (the VP part of the name) so that all of your uphill pedaling energy doesn’t get absorbed by the Foxes. Mixed componentry: some huuuge Shimano disc brakes a thoughtful Deore Double crank, so you can go low on climbs; SRAM X9 shifting stuff; Mavic 26” rims and hubs with through-axel quick releases rolling on 2.5" Kenda Knobbies, which make the wheels strong for hard landings yet ever so willing to roll over trail not-so-niceties; finally, a Thompson stem adds just the right touch of elegantly functional neck bling to the package.
Do you have a little wild side and your gravel-bike just isn’t quite scratchin’ that itch? I think we both know what you might be missing. You need a little spark to get back in touch with your Freeside. Grab this Uzzi VPX, find a gnarly patch somewhere, hold your phone up high with a concert lighter app flickering on the screen and shout to the canyons “FREEEERIDE!”
Archive Post from May 3rd, 2020
My name is Santiago Contreras, and I am a Trail Ride Leader for Trips for Kids Marin. You can usually find me at the back of the group, as an assistant or sweep Ride Leader on Trail Rides supporting the kids who might need a bit more help. I am a fairly new Trail Ride Leader, but I love working with the kids and seeing all the fun and silly ways they express themselves. When I am not riding bikes with Trips for Kids Marin, I work as a Park Steward in Marin County Parks.
I love working for TFKM, because my position allows me to make space for those developing their inquiry mind-frame in relation to the outdoors. Because our participants come to us from either a classroom or other structured setting, helping them experience and enjoy the trail while riding is rewarding and brings out their curiosity about the world around them.
Another thing I love about working for TFKM is being goofy with our kids, especially through body language. Acting out how something feels is a fun and silly way to have the students flex their freedom of self expression. We often like to try and express or act how a participant felt before, during, and after a 'grueling' session. Even when we are just relaxing and holding space after a difficult section of the trail, being goofy as a group develops camaraderie among our bikers that I find deeply memorable. That being said, I am not talking about when participants exclaim, “Hey! Mr. Santiago look at this No Grip Bunny Hop I can pull off!” Rather, I mean the small moments fresh in your head after a ride that leave you with a feeling of satisfaction about an amazing afternoon and unforgettable moments with peers.
Archive Post from April 28th, 2020
Bike: BIANCHI SUPER GY
Year of manufacture: 1997
MSRP in 1997: $2099
Trips for Kids Re-Cyclery Price: $300
What is Italian and goes boing boing?
No, not a kangaroo at Bioparca Di Roma.
In 1997 the answer could have been this bike, The Bianchi Super GY.
As a reminder, in 1997, Clinton (the Bill one) is President, the DOW year end close is 7908, average monthly rent is $576, Tyson bites Holyfield, Titanic was THE date movie, and Mountain Bike Action Magazine (in print!) was a real big thing.
And most notably, 2 Italians, Paola Pezzo & Hubert Palhuber, were the XC mountain bike champions of the world.
The mountain bike boom was in full swing. Hardtails were already retro with almost every bike manufacturer launching dual suspension bikes. Plus, every single one you’d look at was quirkier than the last one you saw. Weird was the new normal. Bianchi, arguably the most famous Italian bike manufacturer, was not going to be left out of the game. That brings me to this bike.
The Bianchi Super GY sounds normal enough on paper. Tig welded aluminum frame; Rock Shox suspension front and back; Shimano parts mixed with some White Industries bling; Panaracer knobbies. But just look at it. It is a rolling Mullet, normal up front but what the heck is going on back behind the seat tube? A raised chainstay parallelogram rear suspension? This does not seem like it comes from the land of Pininfarina. Oh, look there is a sticker, not the Campione del Mundo rainbow on the down tube. Look back towards the wonderful weirdness, hidden in the jumble of welded tubes, linkages and pivots, that would usually be called a downtube, is “Designed in the U.S.A.” framed by jagged shards of red, white and blue.
ow I understand this bike a little better. Bianchi, wanting a piece of the booming American market, appropriated some American culture and got a little “Rad”. I wonder how that worked out.
I will simply leave you with the awesomeness of the GY’s ad copy in 1997.
Archive Post from April 21, 2020
Quick. Name 3 historic French bicycle brands that have been ridden to Tour de France wins.
“Easy,” you say: Peugeot (10), Motobecane (1), Mercier? Nope. Look (1)? Nope, not historic. I’m going to save you some time: Gitane. “GITANE! Of course,” you say. Cycles Gitanes has won 11 Tour De France victories. 11! 10 of these were won from 1963-1984. Ten wins in 21 years, they dominated the Tour. Who rode them? Anquetil, Van Impe, Hinault, Fignon, and LeMond. Woof! Why is Gitanes off the radar? Well, they were purchased by Peugeot, left the US Market and stopped sponsoring teams for Le Tour. Out of sight out of mind. At this writing, there are only 11 Gitanes offered on Ebay, but the legacy is there to be remembered.
In 1925, Marcel Brunelière manufactured bike parts quickly progressing to full bicycles in 1930. He named this new bike company Cycles Gitane (Gypsy Woman). They were first imported to the US in 1958. Five years later, the Tour de France wins started rolling in.
In 1985 you could get a Gitane “Professional” Team Replica with butted Reynolds tubes and high end parts. Or, if your talent was greater than your pocketbook, you could get a Gitane “Performance” with straight gauge tubes and a modest but perfectly good French gruppo. If you rode fast enough casual observers might mistake your “Performance” for a “Professional”. The Performance certainly had the Euro-Racer look with a key lime pie colored frame, flashy yellow Selle San Marco saddle and matching colored bar tape and extremely steep geometry.
The French have the word "Terroir" to describe the undefinable yet unmistakable quality that time and place impress upon a wine. I think bikes need such a word and I’m going to coin it. Roueage (Roo-Ahj). Roue the French word for wheel and Age, the French word for age, time, or era.
The Roueage of this bike is purely Euro ‘80’s. Even though it is 35 years old, ridden hard, and lost the original fork it still seems to challenge all comers in a thick French accent “You think you can ride?!” Undeterred, throw a leg over the saddle and take it for a spin. You’ll notice it is willing and eager to go. But, you had better know what you are doing because it has that quick, twitchy, almost dangerous ride meant for experts that is equal parts exhilarating and scary. Bikes like this aren’t made any more, much like vintage sports cars. This bike will transport you to another time and give you ride sensations you may never have had. You may even start speaking in a thick French accent.
Archive Post from April 14th, 2020
What we have here, my fellow bike geeks, is an:
Albert Eisentraut "Limited"
Size: 53cm x 53cm
Color: Metallic Green
Frame#: 75L355 (made in 1975; "L" Limited; #355)
If you don’t know right away what this is, as I didn’t, pay attention, because you’re going to love it.
Albert Eisentraut is an Oakland based custom bike builder. A true bicycle blue-blood if ever there was one. Born into a Chicago bike racing family, cycling was omnipresent throughout Albert's young life. Apparently, Albert started toddling around bike shops at age three. As a young man, he raced and worked at famed Schwinn Paramount maker Oscar Wastyn’s shop, his father’s racing buddy. Oscar’s work first put the idea in young Albert’s head that he could make bikes. In 1959, Albert followed in Oscar's footsteps making his first bike frame in his father’s basement with a jig he welded at a local ironworks. A swift timeline of the next twenty years includes: joining the military, moving to California, partnering up with Peter Rich, opening Velo-Sport in 1970 in Berkeley, taking a life changing trip to visit European bike builders, and eventually opening his own eponymous shop in Oakland.
Today, Albert has come to be considered “The Dean” of modern (post-Korean War) U.S. custom frame builders. He did this by building impeccable frames that were highly sought after by racers including John Howard and Connie Carpenter. More importantly, he taught his craft to the next generation. Like Rembrant’s studio, Eisentraut opened up his work-space to students who were inspired by the master. Notable students are Bruce Gordon, Joe Breeze, Mark Nobilette and Bill Stevenson.
Demand for Eisentraut custom frames grew, straining the production capabilities of a one man bike atelier. To seize upon this opportunity and provide handmade frames to those pining for an Eisentraut but unable to afford full custom prices, Albert launched a “Limited” line of production bikes. These “Limited” bikes were, like his custom bikes, hand crafted beauties that were made in standard sizes. Production was still all in-house but actual construction was entrusted to skilled builders whom he trained. It is rumored if you ride a “Limited” you most likely are riding a Bruce Gordon hand built frame. Not too shabby for a second label brand.
This particular bike was donated to Trips For Kids by an older gentleman who had purchased it for his wife to tour mainland China during Deng Xiaoping’s “Open Door” policy. This example looks to be all original including the nice bright metallic green paint. The mixed Suntour Pro gruppo, bar-end shifters, clincher rims, fender and rack eyelets all show clear touring intent. However, the scroll cut lugs with spade cutouts, semi-fastback seat clamp, and Campagnolo dropouts nod to its' clear thoroughbred race lineage. This is a true example fine American craftsmanship.