Tag Archives: Reynolds

How to buy a vintage mountain bike

OK, so you have some idea about what model of vintage mountain bike you’d like to have. How do you go about buying it?

By far the best place to buy a vintage mountain bike (or any kind of vintage bike) is retrobike.co.uk. Prices are generally fair, and the sellers are almost all honest. Ebay is a bit of a mixed bag: prices tend to be higher that at retrobike.co.uk, and borderline fraud is not uncommon, unfortunately. Gumtree can also serve up some gems, if you’re able to collect from the seller.

Retrobike doesn’t just have a for sale forum, there is a also a forum for posting ‘wanted’ adverts, of you’re looking for something specific. More often than not, somebody who has the item (or bike) you’re searching for, and will reply to your advert. There is also a handy forum where the retrobike.co.uk community can be asked for honest valuations on any bike or component.

Things I look out for

A rule of thumb is that buying a complete (or nearly complete) bike is more cost effective than buying all the parts separately. Of course, if money’s no object, or you have a specific set of components in mind, then by all means do the latter!

Similarly, sometimes it pays to buy a ‘donor’ bike to get a full set of components to turn your bare frame into a complete bike. Some even buy complete bikes for a single part, and then break down the remains to sell separately, to cover the cost of that single part.

I’ve found that the level of wear on moving parts usually makes little difference to the price of a vintage bike. A bike with a nearly worn out drive train could sell for the same or a similar price as an identical bike with very low mileage. The key to detect a low mileage bike is to look at the parts that wear out fastest: tires, chainrings and cassette. It helps to know beforehand what the original specs of the bike were.

What I try to avoid

I try to avoid bikes with evidence for having had a hard life, or which haven’t been looked after. For example, a little bit of rust is not necessarily deal breaker, but it would be pot luck as to whether the rust is just skin-deep, or has gone all the way through the tubing. In the event of there being more than a little bit of rust, I would not touch the bike with a barge-pole, unless the frame is something really special and/or cheap.

It sometimes happens that a seller tries to sell a decent frame, but built up using low grade parts, to an unsuspecting buyer. I’ve seen frames go cheaply on ebay, only to get relisted a week or so later at an inflated price, having been built up with inferior parts. Imagine a Zaskar built up with a Shimano SIS pressed steel and plastic drive train!

A seized seat post is another ‘gotcha’ that occasionally crops up. Although not fatal, it does take a fair bit of work to remove (or dissolve) a seized-in post. Similarly, beware frames that have been stripped down, with the exception of the bottom bracket, which could be hinting at a seized in bottom bracket.

Suspension can be a thorny issue, as it can be hard to tell whether they still work. For suspension forks that use elastomers, it’s common to find the elastomers have disintegrated. Oil forks may require new seals. If you really want suspension, it may be best to buy separately a set of forks that you know are in good working order.

Finally, beware adverts or listings with no photo of the item, or only limited photos. A good seller will show the bike from all angles, and will show and describe honestly the condition, and any damage to the item.

Which bikes to choose?

Tastes and budgets differ, so there is no clean answer to this question.As a general rule, it’s hard to go wrong with a double-butted cromoly steel frame with a Shimano LX or DX groupset, which should cost somewhere in the region of 75 to 150 pounds (100-200 Euro; 120-230 USD) in good working condition.

But also check out my highly subjective list of some of the best vintage steel or aluminium mountain bikes. If you’re up for a less conventional bike, then perhaps an elevated chain-stay (e-stay) mountain bike might hit the spot. I also highly recommend Raleigh Special Product Division’s titanium and steel composite frames, which are usually very good value for money. For more refined tastes, hand-built Reynolds 853 frames occasionally come up for sale.

My Rides: Raleigh M Trax 400

The 1993 Raleigh M Trax 400 was my first serious mountain bike.

Its ‘Duo Tech’ frame featured an aluminium head tube, Reynolds 501 cromoly rear triangle, with titanium top and down tubed bonded into lugs. This unconventional design made for a frameset that is lighter than it looks, with some of the benefits of titanium, and a rear triangle with a great balance between compliance and stiffness.

The specimen above is owned by another retrobiker (see this thread, and amazingly, it looks almost all original). Photos rarely do justice to its paintwork, which was black with coloured metallic flakes.

Below is a page from the 1993 M Trax catalogue, hosted by retrobike.co.uk.

m trax 400 catalogue

My only regret about its appearance is that Raleigh didn’t badge their M Trax range as the much cooler Dynatech instead. It’s been said that Raleigh thought ‘M Trax’ would sound more 90s and appealing to the youth of the day than ‘Dynatech’. However, as a teenager at that time, I just thought it sounded naff – perhaps among the worst named bike brands ever.

For all intents and purposes, this was a Dynatech frame with Dynatech components, with a (mostly) lower groupset than the contemporaneous Dynatechs.

I liked this bike so much, I bought two more like it, both of which I still ride regularly – my M Trax 300 and Dynatech Diablo STX.

M Trax 400 Spec List

Raleigh Special Products Division Duo Tech titanium – cromoly frame. Top tube and down tube are commercially pure titanium, while the rear triangle was Reynolds 501 cromoly steel. 19.5″ centre to top. Black with glitter.

Cromoly fork, 1-1/8″ threaded steerer. Suspension corrected for ~40-50 mm travel forks.

Dynatech steel seat post (Kalloy). 27.0 mm diameter.

Steel quill stem and steel handlebar (ripe for upgrade to aluminum!)

Shimano Altus A10 derailleurs, chainset, and 7 speed cassette.

Shimano Deore 7 speed thumbshifters.

Dia Compe SS5 brake levers.

Diacompe 986 brake cantilevers.

Wheels: Rigida Laser aluminium rims on Shimano Exage hubs.

Saddle and tires – no idea.

Upgrades made over the years

Green Control Tech bolt-up titanium skewers.

Panaracer Smoke and Dart tires, kevlar bead.

Sram Gripshift X-ray shifters.

Hope screw-on rear hub, with Sachs 8 speed cassette, built with Mavic ceramic rim.

Rockshox Quadra 21R, in judy yellow.

Retro Raleighs: a trip down memory lane

A rather nice, vintage Raleigh mountain bike came up for sale recently on retrobike, which set me tripping on nostalgia via google image search.

Raleigh did some excellent mountain bikes back in the day – see my titanium Dynatech Diablo and my titanium M Trax 300, for example. But by the early 90s, Raleigh’s steel framed bikes had come to be seen as a bit naff, unfairly some might say in hindsight.

Their Dynatechs were still a bit cool, but other UK brands or imported American mountain bikes were the new must-haves for the coolest mountain bikers. At least this is how I remember things as a teenaged mountain biker…

However, twenty years on a bit of digging on google and retrobike yields some great examples of surviving 90s Raleighs. And while they don’t have the overt XC racy looks of rival brands like Marin, Cannondale, or Orange, I still find them visually appealing in a way that’s hard to explain.

Perhaps this is partly down to details like the lugged frame design and the Raleigh head badge, which hint at the heritage of bicycle manufacture at Raleigh and give a vintage feel to an already retro bicycle.

Reblogged below are a just few of the fabulous Raleighs I’ve come across:

Raleigh Thunder Road.

Pure awesomeness in the form of a Reynolds 531 mang-moly steel frame. Photo from a retrobike thread dedicated to Raleigh MTBs. I’m now currently building one of these myself.

Raleigh Yukon

… from the same retrobike thread as the Thunder Road. Another 501 frame.

Raleigh Moonshine

… again, from the a retrobike thread. Reynolds 531.

If you like what you’ve seen, then please do go and check out the ‘get ya raleighs out for the lads’ thread on retrobike.

Karbona KTB-19 Stem – First Thoughts

For those who’ve already seen my Rourke 853 build, I’ve felt the need to swap out the slightly long Salsa stem for something a bit shorter and more comfortable for my poor back … being tall is not always as good as you’d expect.

During a trip to my local bike shop, I picked up what appears to be a cheap Aluminium and carbon ahead stem from a Taiwanese manufacturer I had never heard of before: Karbona. Quite why I did this, when known-branded stems were available for a similar price, I do not know. Below is an image of the KTB-19 stem, taken from the Karbona webpage.

I’m not quite sure what to make of “3D forged CNC machined design, AL + 3K carbon tube wrapped”. I can only guess this a combination of forged aluminium to make the main body of the stem, with some CNC machining to finish some detail, then with carbon added on to the main tube of the stem.

My hope is that the use of some carbon will result in extra damping of some trail buzz. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that vibrations transmitted up to the stem through the steerer tube will bypass the carbon section, by passing through the aluminium under the carbon wrap.

In terms of cosmetics, the finish looks OK when new, but not quite up to the offerings of some top brands. Once home and starting to be fitted to the bike, I noticed the paint flakes off very easily. Moreover, this 1-1/8″ stem is a very very tight fit on the steerer tube, which caused a bit of a headache when the time came to put the top cap on and tension the threadless headset. I can only guess that the designers failed to account for the thickness of the paint. If Karbona ever bothered to test whether this stem actually fits the intended steerer diameter, they would have noticed this. This lack of attention to detail doesn’t bode well, and I feel this stem will merely be a placeholder until I manage to find something that inspires more confidence (preferably another, shorter, steel Salsa).

But now the only thing left to do is to try the stem out on a real off road ride, and if the weather permits, that’s exactly what I plan to do this weekend. So watch this space!

Rourke 853 first ride

Finally built up and ready to ride, this is my Brian Rourke 853 mountain bike. 20150206_125313 After collection from the bike shop, I couldn’t resist taking it for a spin around downtown Porto for a little test ride. 20150206_132106 I love the chrome together with the polished aluminium of the Shimano Deore DX rear mech. 20150206_125432



Overall it rides like a dream, most things work as they should. The Deore XT thumbshifters provide surprisingly crisp indexed shifting across the cassette, and the XTR V-Brakes stop exceptionally well. The Pace RC 36 suspension fork looks great, but will need a bit of tuning to get the sag and damping set up to my satisfaction. And the long stem and narrow bar are going to need changing for something a little more practical!

Rourke 853 mountain bike build

And now for something special in the steel mountain bike department – my ‘new’ Reynolds 853 Rourke frame.


The frame seems to have survived its journey over from the UK, and once unpacked it’s clear I’ve landed a truly stunning frame.

Hand-made from Reynolds 853 tubing sometime slightly after 1995, this is a real work of art.After the tubes were welded together, legendary framebuilder Jason Rourke (son of Brian Rouke of Brian Rourke Cycles) added finely crafted, decorative lugs, and other sublime details such as the wrap-around chain stays (see below for a close up from Brian Rourke Cycles’ webpage).

The red and black paint job is awesome enough, but the chrome-plating on part of the rear triangle is the icing on the cake. Cosmetics aside, I have high hopes for how this frame is going to feel.

My build philosophy for the Rourke takes what I hope to be the best aspects of 90s and modern mountain bike technology, with a mix of Deore DX, XT and XTR groupsets, and other parts (Hope, Salsa, Middleburn, Titec etc.) I had lying around the man-cave begging to be attached to this splendiferous frame.

Photos of the final build and first thoughts from testing riding to be added soon!