Often overlooked in favour of the lighter titanium models, Raleigh made some really nice bonded steel Dynatech frames during the late eighties and early nineties.
The innovation made by Raleigh for this range of bikes was the bonding together of the main tubes, often from different materials, to build a frame that is light yet strong. The Raleigh brochures of the day boasted that bonding gives stronger tube joins, compared to welding or brazing.
I really love the very visible engineering on these frames in the form of lugs, and the absence of messy welds (although the rear triangle is still welded). Let’s have a look at a couple of the bikes.
Mountain biking has a rich and varied history, and this richness was at its zenith during the 90’s. That era saw a big-bang of innovations – some of which are still with us today, while others, including some that seemed like fantastic innovations at the time, have fallen out of favour and slipped into obscurity and ridicule.
This iconic design of frame (said to have been invented by Richard Cunningham) started to appear around 1988, and lasted well into the mid 90s, the elevated chain stay (or e-stay) gained a cult following, but never came close to replacing the classic double-triangle frame design.
E-stay frames allowed for greater clearance for the rear wheel, a shorter wheel-base for better climbing and manoeuvrability, elimination of chain-slap, and the ability to remove a chain without breaking it.
For many, these advantages outweighed the downsides, which included additional weight, and some extra lateral flexibility and weakness in the bottom bracket area.
A fair few e-stay frames eventually snapped or cracked after sustained but not excessive use – particularly those built from aluminium or titanium. It’s still possible to find e-stay frames for sale on ebay or retrobikes, mostly in steel, but with the odd uncracked aluminium or titanium specimen.
The rise in popularity of 29″ and 650b wheeled mountain bikes has rekindled interest in elevated chain stays, as a way to have a shorter wheel-base when using big wheels: There are already e-stay 29er prototypes going around. It would be rather ironic if a modern innovation like large wheels were to now lead mountain bikers back to an extinct design like the e-stay.
The 90’s also saw the arrival of the Slingshot, yet another eye-catching and quirky frame design. With a hinge where the top tube and seat tube join, and a steel cable on a coil spring replacing the down tube, the manufacturer claims the design provides some suspension and more efficient use of energy. I’m not entirely convinced of its positive effect, but it doesn’t appear to do any harm. Nonetheless, it’s telling that it has remained sufficiently popular for its manufacturer to remain in business even today.
3. Lawwill Leader suspension fork
Designed by Mert Lawwill, this incredible looking suspension fork benefited from a single shock unit, constant fork rake during compression, and stiff steering.
These features would have been valued during the 90’s, especially when most other suspension forks were about as stiff as a soggy noodle.
Another innovative linkage fork, this usually came as standard on the K2 / Pro Flex range of full suspension bikes. Like the Lawwill, these forks gave stiff steering and a unique look – some loved them, other hated their look.
5. Suspension stems
Before the advent of suspension forks, suspension stems were a cheap way to dampen trail-buzz. Some riders complained of sore wrists as a result of the change in angle of the handlebar. Others found the substantial side to side flex unnerving, when using bar-ends and sprinting out of the saddle.
Curiously, at least one company (StaFast) is now manufacturing suspension stems for modern mountain bikes. It’ll be interested to see if suspension stems make a come-back.
6. Pro Flex full suspension bikes
Photo credit: Pro Mountain Biker by Jeremy Evans and Brant Richards.
With a Girvin fork and split seat tube frame design, Pro Flex full suspension bikes looked pretty awesome. The pro XC riders of the 90s usually preferred to have the rear suspension locked out to avoid wasting too much energy bouncing up and down – not that they admitted it in public, of course.
Using what may have seemed like a good idea on paper – placing the rear suspension pivot on the top tube – the Klein Mantra was pretty awful, by most accounts.
A few riders liked the absence of suspension bob while pedaling, the main issue for most reviewers seems to have been the way the rear suspension only works when the rider is seated. Unsurprisingly, these are among the cheapest of vintage the Kleins.
8. Cannondale Headshok
Another cool looking suspension fork, the Cannondale Headshok gave steering similar to a fully rigid fork, but with a couple of inches of suspension travel. It worked fine in dry, Californian conditions, but in muddy northern European conditions, the seals just weren’t enough to keep the moving parts clean and functional for very long.
9. GT RTS
At one time I was considering buying one of these frames, as they were deemed among the best XC full suspension frames, because the rear suspension system stiffened up while pedaling. Fortunately, more sensible designs have now taken hold in the world of XC full suspension!
I still might get hold of one, though!
10. Glued frames
Around 1990 Raleigh UK and Raleigh USA developed a new range of mid to high-end mountain bike frames, partly constructed using aerospace bonding technology. The three main tubes were glued into steel or aluminium lugs, resulting in frames that were lighter and stronger than welded or lugged and brazed frames.
Initially the frames were made from steel, like the example below:
But later, Raleigh UK started using titanium main tubes and an aluminium head tube, to reduce weight and give some of the benefits of titanium’s resilience. The examples below (M Trax 300 and Dynatech Diablo STX) come from my collection.
Note the bonded steel and aluminium fork on the Dynatech Diablo SXT.
Instead of titanium or steel, Raleigh USA opted for aluminium main tubes in the Technium range, which gave slightly different ride characteristics and weight.
Way back in the early 90s, before real suspension was invented, Girvin came up with the innovative Flexstem. Designed to soak up a bit of trail buzz, which would otherwise be transmitted to the rider’s upper body, the Flexstem was little more than a normal stem with a hinge and an elastomer. Some riders complained that when using a Flexstem, the constant rotational motion of the handlebar would irritate their wrists. Nonetheless, the Flexstem plugged a gap for a few years until real, fork suspension arrived on the scene, and was then forgotten by nearly everybody.
The StaFast suspension stem
Now fast-forward to Fall 2014, when sta-fast announce they have developed an innovative suspension stem for bicycles, retailing at the hefty price of $350 United States Dollars.
Although unlikely to pose a threat to fork-based suspension on mountain bikes, one might expect the StaFast to find its niche in the touring and commuter bike scenes, where rigid forks are the norm.
The good old Girvin Flexstem
Little more than a hinge and a bit of rubber added to a quill stem, yet a huge innovation in its time.