Vintage Bicycles Done Proper :: Portland, Oregon
Some bikes are worth painstaking restoration. Repainting. Color matching. Period components. Some bikes are worth getting on the road to do their job.
Perhaps one of the most undervalued and overlooked vintage genres seems to be the era of the all-terrain bicycle (ATB), or mountain bicycle (MTB). Late 1970s and early 1980s models were mostly just altered or retrofitted versions of conventional bikes with a few small tweaks such as longer chainstays, wide upright handlebars and high bottom brackets. This made them better suited for off-road use but also set them up to be incredibly suitable for all-around riding, trailer pulling or modified into burley, long-distance rigs with drop bar conversions.
Not only are these rigs built to work but they are astonishingly inexpensive compared to their road bike equivalents of the same vintage. Along with a reasonable price tag, a number of highly respected manufacturers got into the game. Shogun, Panasonic, Specialized, Peugeot, Miyata and Univega to name a few. They produced scores of high quality frames with excellent components, such as Shimano Deore and SunTour XC. Those components we now realize were stable, reliable and have passed the test of time to be considered legendary equipment.
My goal for this High Sierra was a neighborhood runner. An urban rambler.
Something I could use to ride comfortably and upright to the grocery store, pick up a few items then take a detour home going through the nearby park then maybe even a short cut through the rock-rutted, hard-packed dirt ally that would chew up most 700c tires. ATBs from the 80s are supurb for this exact purpose.
The most questionable piece of equipment on the High Sierra are the controversial SunTour roller cam brakes. These brakes are built tough and look the part. I took the liberty of filling in the drilled areas with black paint but even without it, these are simply wonderful looking brakes.
After roller cam brakes were released for mainstream production, they received poor reviews due to their complicated setup. Since the posts on the High Sierra frame will not accept traditional cantilever brakes, I looked past the slightly daunting and rumored, involved setup and decided to give them a shot. Even with a special SunTour tool to help align and keep the calipers perfectly spaced (which the tool ended up being more trouble than it was worth), it still took me an hour on the first caliper alone. Although, I found that when roller cams are set up properly, these are exceptional brakes. They are strong and controllable and have a firm pull and satisfying snap when you release them. With Kool Stop pads installed, these have been a delight to operate. To give advice for those looking for it in the future, be patient when you tune your first set. The second caliper goes much faster once you figure out the adjustment nuances.
ATBs have been in production for decades and have clearly evolved into their own separate category. What surprises me most is how these bicycles are not more coveted. Perhaps this write-up is the injection for what the genre needs to expose how incredibly versatile these vintage ATB/MTB frames are. My hope is that others realize the potential, value and plentiful nature of this golden era of bicycle and snatch them up to use as their own neighborhood rambler, trailer-toting grocery getter or rock-solid touring rig. These fantastic frames deserve the respect and chance to perform their hardworking purpose.
Color: Corvette Yellow
Frame Size: 58cm (C-T) seat post & 60cm (C-C) top tube
Frame/Drop-outs: Tri-Oval (Triple butted), Tri-Caliber 4130 Chrome-Moly; Suntour
Fork: 4130 Chrome-Moly steel
Bars: Nitto Bullmoose B90 with integrated stem
Bar Grips: Ritchey; Black
Headset: Tange Levin
Saddle: Brooks Cambium C17; Black
Seat Post: Sakae; Fluted
Crankset: Shimano FC-B124; Sugino 46/36/26; 175mm
Front Derailleur: Shimano Deore
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Deore
Shifting: IRD XC-Pro; Thumbshifters
Brake Levers: Dia-Compe
Brake Calipers: SunTour XC Sport Roller Cam; Kool Stop pads
Cable and Housing: Jagwire L3; Black
Freewheel: 9-Speed Shimano (11/13/15/17/20/23/26/30/34)
Chain: SRAM PC-951
Hubs: Shimano Deore LX; Parallax 110
Wheels: Sun CR18; 26″; 32 hole; Shimano skewers
Tires: Soma New Express; Skinwall; 26″ x 1.75″
Pedals: Velo Orange Grand Cru Sabot
Special Features: Double eyelets front/rear; Two bottle mounts; Brazed-on mounts for front/rear rack; Pump peg
To further the utilitarian nature of the High Sierra, I felt it necessary to show its evolution into the all-around bike I had imagined. Added are SKS Commuter II fenders, a Soma Deluxe Porteur rack and an Inside Line Equipment (ILE) Porteur waxed cotton canvas rack bag.
The Soma rack is built like a tank but not bulky or heavy due to it’s CroMo construction. It is wide enough for a large cycling bag, a few pizzas or, as the Soma site states, “a box full of kittens.” As I hope you can see, it fits wonderfully on a frame built for 26” wheels.
The ILE Porteur bag is big. No doubt about it. According to ILE, it straps down securely to hold up to 42 liters. That means a cavernous opening with the potential for mass quantities of groceries or beers or… kittens. Its build is sturdy and unforgiving when it comes to the elements. “Don’t wash it, just hose it off” states the tag. This is a product, much like the ATB frames of the 80s, meant to be used, not sit on a shelf.
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