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Dirty Innovators

Dirty Innovators

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Ok all you roadies, listen up. You’re not gonna like what I’m about to tell you, but it’s the truth. And sometimes, the truth hurts. You ready?

Road cycling owes a lot to mountain biking.

“You what?!” I hear you screaming at the monitor in disgust. “Road cycling has been around for more than a hundred years, and the mountain bike for about thirty!” Well, nice theory, but bikes were ridden on dirt long before their tyres ever saw a sealed surface. But this isn’t about the chicken or the egg, it’s about the way technology crosses over from one discipline to another, and how similar, yet different aspects of the same sport inter-breed, cross pollinate and spawn innovations that better the machines we ride and the kit we wear. And I hate to be the one to break it to you, but that sleek road machine you’re riding now probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for our dirtbag cousins.

It all took off in the early 90s; the mountain bike was undergoing its own metamorphosis, rapidly dropping the ‘klunker’ heritage and becoming lighter, stiffer and racier. The geometry was changing from slack and raked-out head angles to more sharply handling, longer and lower front ends. A little like road bikes, granted. The first big change up front though was the oversized headset and steerer tube combo, dubbed the Avenger by Tioga, the first company to bring it to market. The steerer increased from 1 inch diameter to 1 1/8″, giving the front of the bike more precise steering and a more solid feel over rough terrain. Soon, Dia Compe came up with the AHeadset, doing away with the threaded steerer and headset in favour of a threadless system held together by a stem clamped over the smooth steerer tube. There’s not a road (or mountain) bike to be seen with a threaded front end these days.

Having a bigger steerer attached to rigid fork blades made some difference to the mountain bike, but even more was needed up front to tame the terrain and reduce the pounding that riders’ arms would take on proper off-road trails. While some weird and wonderful contraptions briefly held court (like the Girvin Flexstem, as terrifying as it was), the obvious solution was to borrow technology from the motocross crowd, and the first suspension fork for bicycles was born. The Rock Shox RS1 was as rare as hen’s teeth, but when one was spotted in the wild the geek-out factor went through the roof, and any rider lucky enough to have one bolted to the front of their bike would be accosted for twenty minutes and bombarded with questions about “how it works”. In the space of a year, there were three or four different iterations of suspension forks on the market, most of them completely unaffordable to the Regular Joes that rode in the dirt.

Looking back at the suspension tech of those days now, the word ‘archaic’ springs (pardon the pun) to mind. The modern mountain bike is an engineering marvel, and I’m as amped on new technology now as I was in the early 90s. The sport has continued to push the boundaries and is constantly evolving. And road cycling has benefitted greatly. We’ve all seen the Rock Shox Ruby forks that appeared on the bikes of Paris-Roubaix for a few glorious years, even taking a couple of wins in the Queen of The Classics. The MTB forks of the day were mostly heavy, elastomer sprung and undamped, giving the effect of a pogo stick on the front of the bike. To try and put one on the front of a road bike was preposterous at best, a blasphemous disaster at worst. Then there were the failed attempts at rear suspension which disappeared as quickly as they came. But riders and teams were willing to try anything to tame the brutal cobbles of the Hell of the North, and if you didn’t have a Ruby fork then you were behind the 8-ball straight away. The fact that the bike would bounce around under pedalling load on the smooth roads was outweighed by the comfort and control on the cobbles.

But roadies being roadies, the extra weight and inefficiency soon rendered the Ruby detrimental to the performance of the bikes… but that comfort was welcome. How to get some shock absorption and keep the weight low? Carbon fibre forks were conceived, giving a smooth ride up front on the stiff yet light aluminium frames that were taking over the peloton at the time (another innovation gleaned from the mountain bike). If it worked up front, then why not at the rear too? Carbon seatstays were bonded onto the back ends of just about every bike that came out in the mid 90s. If it worked for the fork and stays, then why not the whole frame? The carbon bikes so ubiquitous today were spawned from the need for a smoother ride, without the weight and complexity of suspension. Thanks, mountain biking.

Now, check out Hodgey’s helmet in the lead photo. Look kinda familiar? Well, helmets pretty much came from mountain biking, and the early examples looked just like that; round, few vents, not pointy at the back. And what do we have now? Round, sparsely vented, not-too-pointy ‘aero’ road helmets, that we are all crying about being ugly and unnecessary. But how cool does Hodgey look? Badass! It’s only a matter of time before we’re all wearing them, and possibly with visors. (In the 1999 P-R, several riders wore helmets with visors, including 3rd placegetter Tom Steels and Frank Vandenbroucke.) Okay, maybe I’ve gone too far there, but I saw a guy riding in an Air Attack the other day, and by Merckx did I think he Looked Pro! These helmets will be the norm sooner rather than later; after all, don’t we take our cues from the Pros?

There have been numerous advances that have come from mountain biking and are now seen as standard on road bikes; removable face plates on stems, wider profile rims, lightweight saddles, tapered head tubes, integrated headsets, external cup/press-fit bottom brackets, oversize bar diameters (and let’s not forget road disc brakes. You can’t fight it!). Black socks. Tall socks. If it wasn’t for the mountain bike and the innovators working in that industry, we might still be riding lugged steel frames with downtube shifters. Which would be ok with me, as long as I can still have my off-road wonderbike.

// Accessories and Gear // Mountain Biking // Racing // Technology // The Bikes

  1. I can climb anything so far with my 34/23. I prefer the 34 and keeping my 23 to a 25 or 28. The 10 would be nice for being able to keep the 50.

    If you’re talking mountain bike, my trance has a 22-36. I have gone up some pretty steep walls with it.

  2. @Chris

    +1. There’s no way I could ride 1×11 with a 10-32T cassette; I get pissed off if I don’t have a 16T sprocket on my block now, the gaps in 11-32 would tip me over the edge.

    @Weldertron

    No to the SRAM 10T sprocket as well. It’ll just wear out faster and that’d be 3 free hubs to change. No thanks.

    @ChrissyOne

    Nice Manitou, a very shiny blast from the past. Is it an original one or the Mk2 that used the Manitou2 forks at each end? Looks like the later so must be…1994? I have a Cannondale Super V from the same year hanging in the garage.

  3. @ChrissyOne

    Nice Manitou, a very shiny blast from the past. Is it an original one or the Mk2 that used the Manitou2 forks at each end? Looks like the later so must be…1994? I have a Cannondale Super V from the same year hanging in the garage.

    The bike was originally the Manitou 3 front and rear. The M2 was the purple fork, this was the blue one, and yes it was 94. Later on I replaced the front with a Mach 5, because, speed racer. That one has a oil damper and a little bit longer travel, too. I also replaced the elastomers in the rear with Speed Springs. I had originally put Magura hydraulic brakes on it, but I was never very happy with how they worked (they felt very wooden), so around the same time I did the fork, I put XTR V-Brankes on it.
    The front wheel is still the original I built 20 years ago, a Mavic rim and a Pullstar hub, when straight-pull spokes were a curiosity. The rear hub was originally a Nuke Proof, but it turns out Nuke Proof wasn’t Chrissy Proof, so when I spoke pulled out of the flange, I built a new one with an XT hub.
    Other bits include a Chris King “NoThreadSet”, which I have never serviced since I built the bike, a White Industries titanium floating BB, which I just replaced the bearings in over the summer. Answer Hyperlite bar and Hyperends, and that gorgeously CNC’d Manitou stem (with it’s now irreplaceable 1 1/4 steerer diameter).
    I still adore this bike. It fits me like a glove and tracks like a samurai sword. I put slicks on it and road it over 2,400 km on the road over the summer.

    Loved that Super V! Very nearly bought one around that same time. Never let go of it! =)

  4. Live USA CX championships streaming online today. It’s a great time to be into niche sports!

    http://www.cxmagazine.com/elite-cyclocross-nationals-live-coverage-2014

  5. @andrew

    @piwakawaka Forgive my ignorance, but if you’ve got the 32T ring for the 10+% grades on either set, why not the 53T big ring?

    This from a Pedalwan who owns one old steel bike with a 52/42, 12-28 cassette 1055/6 Group-san, so I’m genuinely trying to learn… your DA cassette sure is purty.

    We’re talking a single ring up front, hence a 10t out back and a 50t as the single up front, although as @Weldertron says

    “I hope SRAM introduces the 10 tooth for the road.

    (Frank can look away now) a 10-23 11 speed to a 50-34 sounds might nice to me.”

    The 10t makes a compact group set viable.

    I am now riding 52-36, from a 53-39, and have gone from a 12-28 to 11-25 on my climbing wheels and the 11-23 seen above on my 404’s, 11-19 is a straight block and very sweet then it’s a 21 and 23.

  6. Watch the move at 1:04 and on and slow mo at 1:50………

  7. @ChrissyOne

    @ChrissyOne

    Nice Manitou, a very shiny blast from the past. Is it an original one or the Mk2 that used the Manitou2 forks at each end? Looks like the later so must be…1994? I have a Cannondale Super V from the same year hanging in the garage.

    The bike was originally the Manitou 3 front and rear. The M2 was the purple fork, this was the blue one, and yes it was 94. Later on I replaced the front with a Mach 5, because, speed racer. That one has a oil damper and a little bit longer travel, too. I also replaced the elastomers in the rear with Speed Springs. I had originally put Magura hydraulic brakes on it, but I was never very happy with how they worked (they felt very wooden), so around the same time I did the fork, I put XTR V-Brankes on it.
    The front wheel is still the original I built 20 years ago, a Mavic rim and a Pullstar hub, when straight-pull spokes were a curiosity. The rear hub was originally a Nuke Proof, but it turns out Nuke Proof wasn’t Chrissy Proof, so when I spoke pulled out of the flange, I built a new one with an XT hub.
    Other bits include a Chris King “NoThreadSet”, which I have never serviced since I built the bike, a White Industries titanium floating BB, which I just replaced the bearings in over the summer. Answer Hyperlite bar and Hyperends, and that gorgeously CNC’d Manitou stem (with it’s now irreplaceable 1 1/4 steerer diameter).
    I still adore this bike. It fits me like a glove and tracks like a samurai sword. I put slicks on it and road it over 2,400 km on the road over the summer.

    Loved that Super V! Very nearly bought one around that same time. Never let go of it! =)

    I agree about the Maguras, never did like them – heavy too. My ‘dale had XT V-brakes and they were excellent. Eventually got replaced with a set of brakes and levers I machined at Uni – they didn’t work any better but did look quite nice.  Pulsate hubs were well ahead of their time, both my MTBs have nigh-on identical Hope straight pull hubs on at the moment, much better than J-bend spokes For strength although it does make the hubs a bit heavier. The rest of the stuff (CK headset, White Ind. BB, Manitou stem) very nice as well.

    I did sell my Super V once to fund my first proper DH rig*. Found it years later on eBay still owned by the guy I sold it to. It’s mine again now and it’s staying that way!

    *Don’t worry, I’m over it now.

  8. @Fausto

    I did sell my Super V once to fund my first proper DH rig*. Found it years later on eBay still owned by the guy I sold it to. It’s mine again now and it’s staying that way!

    *Don’t worry, I’m over it now.

    The big reason I moved on from the Manitou was for disc brakes. I bought a Santa Cruz Blur in 2003 that’s still my main mountain bike. Also a great machine, but I didn’t build it, so it doesn’t have quite the same romance for me.

  9. CX racing has also now had an effect on the road. Even now hydraulic brakes also from the mtb brothers. CX has given us disk brakes and tubeless tires.

  10. @The Pressure

    @scaler911 LOL Is the customer @Steampunk?

    Nah, Steamy would never wear his bolo tie with flip flops.

  11. @Pedale.Forchetta

    A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

    Somehow I miss this shot of Johnny T earlier. Was a scrolling too fast? Drunk?

    No matter, thank you for the Awesome. This is the guy that made the whole thing happen for me.

  12. @ChrissyOne

    Twenty years ago, I built the masterpiece you see before you. In a world of sketchy full suspension designs (Trek’s ‘diving board’ bike was still a thing) this frame was special.

    You had me…

    Doug Bradbury-designed and honed to production perfection by Answer, the frame was (and is) a historic work of art. Gorgeous welds, intricate CNC machining and suspension travel that was neutral enough for cross country yet long enough to win the 1993 UCI World Downhill Championship in the hands of Jürgen Beneke (on an identical design produced by Marin).

    Then you lost me…

    It served as mymain mountain bike for a decade, then becoming a casual bike for many years, until

    Then you had me again

    finally it did a heroic tour as a ridiculously inappropriate road bike all last summer.

    And then a part of me that can never come back to life died. Seriously, WFT? Pray tell you have photos of this.

    1993 Manitou System FS, XTR / GripShit X-Ray

    That thing is the ultimate 90’s MTB Kule, minus the disc wheel.

  13. @G’rilla

    One way to respect the rainbow stripes: win the Belgian national championships while wearing them.

    http://www.cxmagazine.com/nys-wins-belgian-national-championship-european-race-roundup?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+CyclocrossMagazine+%28Cyclocross+Magazine%29

    …and then Ruin it all by violating Rule #95. At least he’s wearing black shorts.

    (And yes, while Rule #95 is already in the US edition of the manuscript for The Rules, it has not yet been formally announced here. But I bet you can guess what the Rule says.)

  14. @G’rilla

    Live USA CX championships streaming online today. It’s a great time to be into niche sports!

    http://www.cxmagazine.com/elite-cyclocross-nationals-live-coverage-2014

    It was fun watching Katie win her VVth National Title. Unless my math is wrong, that means that in the last decade, she has ridden in her standard team kit exactly once per season – during the championship race itself.

  15. @frank

    That thing is the ultimate 90″²s MTB Kule, minus the disc wheel.

    Sadly, I didn’t know how to build a disc wheel, Tomac have mercy.

  16. @frank Hmmm…

    No half and half bar tape job?

    Empire waisted skinsuits are no allowed?

    Rider should stay on top of the bike, not the other way around?

  17. @G’rilla

    @frank Hmmm…

    No half and half bar tape job?

    Empire waisted skinsuits are no allowed?

    Rider should stay on top of the bike, not the other way around?

    +3

  18. @frank

    And then a part of me that can never come back to life died. Seriously, WFT? Pray tell you have photos of this.

    The road conversion was not extensive. I couldn’t change the bars, because that’s a 1 1/4 steerer, so I can’t change the stem. And with a simple pinch bolt to hold the bars in place, there was really no option to add drop bars.
    Really all I did was put slicks on her and crank the seat up as high as I could.

    Foothills trail, South Prairie WA

    Gig Harbor WA

  19. Wheels Mfg just developed a threaded bottom bracket that fits into a PF30 bike and doesn’t require adapters to work with a 24mm crank shaft.

    It’s more expensive than either a comparable quality threaded bottom bracket or a press-fit bottom bracket, but it might solve some of my bottom bracket problems (easily removable and replaceable for cleaning).

    http://wheelsmfg.com/pressfit-30-to-outboard-bottom-bracket-for-24mm-cranks-shimano.html

  20. Holy Cockrings!

    Mountain Biking can give you an erection! …………………. for 5 weeks

    Mountain Bikers Priapism: A Rare phenomenon  http://www.imj.ie//ViewArticleDetails.aspx?ArticleID=11789                                                          

  21. I enjoy mountain biking as well, but removable face plates on stems, wider profile rims, lightweight saddles, tapered head tubes, integrated headsets, external cup/press-fit bottom brackets, oversize bar diameters, and even shock absorbers had all been used on BMX bikes long before they were experimented with in mountain biking,

    So Road cycling owes much to mountain biking, and mountain biking owes more to BMX. 

  22. @G’rilla.   http://praxiscycles.com/conversion-bb/

    If you’re running Shimano Hollowtech 24mm this is worth a look

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