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.