Vintage Bicycles Done Proper :: Corvallis, Oregon
A lead for an “old bike on the curb” proves once again how one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure.
Above is a Twitter post I put out the day I approached the hot mess spilled onto the sidewalk and overflowing into the street. A 1988 Specialized Rockhopper Comp. In pieces. Next to a massive piece of cardboard with the words, “FREE” scrawled by multiple passes from a pencil, turned on its side, to make the line thicker and still not nearly adequate for the job. Even though I couldn’t load it up quick enough, there is no sugar coating this bike. Yes, it was free but, nothing good comes easy as this little fighter clearly needed quite a bit of help to get back into a ridable condition.
1988 Specialized Rockhopper Comp
Putting the pieces of the bike back together, shown above, is the package deal received. All for the cost of a walk. Some see well-loved bikes like this as headaches that need to be purged from their spot carved out in the garage, freeing up premium real estate. But if everyone turned their backs on them, then these classics would eventually all end up in the scrap heap. Sure, there are some challenges in this project but they aren’t insurmountable and besides, there is also a lot to love when you look closer. But even before a detailed inspection, I immediately saw the final vision in minds eye and perfect for a specific rider. It happened so quickly that I nearly couldn’t contain myself from getting this back to the shop.
To get any bike ready to begin its restoration journey, everything has to come off. I gladly removed the time trial inspired, Scott aero bars that immediately brought me back to the early 90s and the peak of triathlons. Another component quickly removed was the funky, and collectable, Softride suspension stem which fetched a fair bit on eBay. Funds ready to be reapplied to the project. The remaining pieces, including the Shimano Deore drivetrain, was cleaned and tucked away for another day and another build.
What I noticed, almost immediately upon walking up, was the wheel size. These aren’t 26″, standard mountain bike wheels. They are 24″. And with a diminutive frame size of 40cm (center-to-top), it screams out for an exceedingly small rider. And that is precisely what gave me my inspiration. This bike will be absolutely perfect, in a few more years for my son, who is 5 years old at the time of this post, as he grows bigger, taller and stronger. This fame is right on path to intersect with his growth and his mobility needs at a beautiful crescendo. At least, that’s what I’m banking on. But, I should be honest. It is so much more enjoyable to have a goal and purpose to create something wonderful. And to have him help as my advisor on what he may want, I can see no higher ranking impetus for going all in on the build.
Other lovely elements to this frame is its strong, classic chromoly steel frame, perfect for a boy bashing around town. Also, its versatility. These 80s and 90s mountain, or “all terrain”, bikes are the Swiss Army knife of being malleable, ridable objects. Build them up as a gravel or classic mountain bikes, urban ramblers, school commuters, small camera haulers, winter slop monsters or add stronger racks and make it a simple, grocery-getter constructed for utility. Or bolt on a drop conversion and you have a built-tough touring bike. Whatever one can think up, this bike can almost always be purpose-built to handle it. So it can change as his needs evolve.
Last, notice those chainstays? See how far away they are from the seat tube? Well, they are also nice and wide in between those chainstays allowing them to utterly swallows massive 2+” tires. The stock tires alone were 2.2″. Only now are we starting to really take advantage of those larger sized tires with incredible modern compounds making them lighter, stronger, more resistant to punctures and with superior rolling resistance. Back in 1988, you didn’t have much choice other than big, knobby, aggressive trail tires. Our modern tire renaissance is more than they could have dreamed of back in the day. You can bet I’ll take advantage of that for the final build sheet.
Another delightful historical anomaly this frame comes stock with is the rear brake mounted under the chainstays. At the time, from 1986 to 1988, this was the cat’s meow. It was one of those white-hot fads that numerous manufacturers went all in on, then quickly backed out of, rendering the concept as dated as steel wheels. And neither of those has since returned.
But, I can respect their quirkiness, even if they aren’t the best solution for most riders or terrains. They do clean up the look of the rear triangle and make identifying a date on a vintage mountain bike a breeze because of their incredibly distinct years in production. And there are likely more reasons but I couldn’t imagine them being nearly enough to advocate for bringing the concept back to the mainstream.
So, why did this become standard issue for a handful of years? Mostly because chainstays are stiffer than the seatstays. If one wants snappy, powerful brakes then a stiff mounting place is necessary, otherwise the result is brake lever mushiness—a major buzzkill. Other reasons, though to a lesser extent, was that the cable run was straighter, thus less housing was required. All together these elements theoretically made for better performance… until the brakes got muddy. And since these were sold as mountain bikes, that happened rather quickly, especially if you lived in a wetter climate. This added to the excessive wear of rims with grit and water mixing together, with the caliper mere inches off the ground, having the brakes act as extra aggressive mini sanding blocks each time the brake lever was squeezed.
With this frame’s pros and cons, I ultimately keep coming back to its eventual recipient—my son.
I can’t help but imagine this being his beast mode bomber allowing for cushy, on-street travel or easy curb-crushing to cut through any number of our local parks, scattered around the city. Even though the surfwear fashion style of rippin’ pink and purple, along with (faded) neon yellow script is tops, I can’t promise the frame color will stay the same after I’m through with it due to significant paint damage. What I can see is this one built up with tried and true, low maintenance, yet easily serviceable parts, a dynamo hub for always-on lighting (because kids rarely think, nor care, about that stuff), a 1x setup for just enough gearing range to go off, and on, road along with an ulterior motive of getting him used to shifting. A rack or basket up front for the small carries and of course, oodles of originality to stand out from his buddies modern bruisers.
Sounds like a decent plan on screen, doesn’t it? Now, let’s see how it actually turns out.
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