Tag Archives: specialized

100 of the best vintage mountain bikes

This is something I thought would be interesting to share. It’s adapted from a list I’ve written myself in recent years, as I’ve  searched for interesting vintage mountain bikes for my own collection.

As one might guess, there is an obvious bias towards the following:

  • bikes from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s, principally 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995
  • MTBs with steel frames
  • mass-produced MTBs
  • MTBs that won’t cost an arm and a leg
  • MTB brands that were available in the USA, Canada, and the British Isles

It’s not exhaustive, and it’s not especially objective either. It’s simply a list of what I consider to be the best 100 vintage mountain bikes. These are all bikes I’d like to own, and would consider buying for myself, in the right size and condition.

I plan to add links to photos or catalogue scans for each of the listed bikes, in the near future.

The list

Alpinestars Cro Mega (e-stay or normal)

Alpinestars Alu Mega (e-stay, without cracks)

Alpinestars Ti Mega (e-stay, without cracks)

Bontrager Race / Race Lite

492Bonty1

Breezer Storm

91breezerstorm

Bridgestone MB-1

mb1

Brodie Sovereign

93-brodie-sovereign

Cannondale Killer V series

Cannondale M series

Diamond Back Axis

Diamond Back Axis TT

Diamond Back WCF / Vertex

Giant ATX

Gary Fisher Montare, or any pre-Trek steel Fisher

GT Psyclone

GT Zaskar and Xixang

GT RTS

GT STS

Haro Extreme

20150806_093418

Ibis Mojo

KHS Montana Comp

Klein Attitude (pre Trek)

Koga Miyata Ridgerunner

Kona Hei Hei (Titanium)

Litespeed Titanium (without cracks – lifetime warranties no longer valid after buyout)

Mantis Valkyrie

Marin Rift Zone

Marin Eldridge Grade

Marin with late 80s to early 90s splatter paint

Merlin Titanium (without cracks – lifetime warranties no longer valid after buyout)

Mountain Cycle Moho

Mountain Cycle San Andreas

Muddy Fox Courier Comp

Nishiki Alien

Orange Clockwork

Orange P7

Orange Vitamin T (or T2)

Overburys Pioneer

Pace RC200 (and other RC frames)

Panasonic MC Pro (rare but awesome)

Pro Flex 855 (and similar)

Raleigh Dynatech Torus

Raleigh Dynatech Diablo LX, DX, or STX

Raleigh M Trax Ti 3000 or 4000 (1995 model with UGLI fork)

Raleigh Special Products Division 853 (hard-tail or full suspension)

Raleigh lugged and brazed 531 frames from the late 1980s (Moonshine, Thunder Road, White Lightning, and others)

Raleigh USA Technium Chill

Ridgeback 704 XT (and similar)

Rock Lobster / Amazon

Rocky Mountain Fusion

Rocky Mountain Blizzard

Santa Cruz Heckler

Saracen Kili

Schwinn Paramount

Scott Team or Pro

Slingshot

Specialized Stumpjumper (steel)

Specialized Stumpjumper (M2)

Specialized FSR

Trek Singletrack series (steel)

Trek 8000 Series, bonded carbon composite

Trek Y33

Univega Alpina 500 (and similar)

Yeti Ultimate (steel)

Zinn (anything)

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Ten of the best vintage – retro steel mountain bikes

Steel is arguably the best material for building mountain bike frames. Despite being somewhat unfashionable these days, what with carbon becoming nearly as strong and new aluminium alloys becoming more robust, steel is still the choice of frame material for cyclists who desire a bike with a ‘soul’.

My bias in favour of retro steel bikes should be obvious by now, but I hope most would still agree that the past few decades have seen a great many truly awesome steel mountain bikes over the last few decades, some of which are still in production in some form, while others are defunct but live on in our memories, or better yet, live on in the collections of retro-bikers.

This is my top 10 vintage steel mountain bikes, in no special order. It’s entirely subjective, based on little more than my personal tastes and my memories of reviews or gossip from back in the day.

1. Team Marin

During the nineties, Marin’s range of MTBs was spectacularly beautiful. The zolatone paintwork with neon fork and stem went together perfectly, and I think look great even today.

Below is a page from an early 90s Marin catalogue, showing the Team Marin with its superb cro-mo frame, kitted out with Deore XT.

team_marin

Looks aside, these bikes rode really nicely – of course.

2. Trek Single Track

Trek’s Single Track ranges of the nineties were a true benchmark in mass-produced steel MTBs, with great handling and judiciously chosen specs.

Next to the frills of the Cannondales, Konas and GTs of the same era, Treks were often considered a bit staid and boring. Yet the Trek 970 shown below (from the 1994 Trek catalogue) still looks incredible, even today.

singletrack

3. Kona Explosif

One of the benchmarks of mass-produced, but mid to high-end steel mountain bikes. And about as cool and edgy as one could get without putting up the cash for a hand-made boutique frame.

1995 Explosif size 19 catalogue

From the 1995 Kona catalogue (see this thread).

4. Diamond Back Axis

Although never particularly stunning at first sight, the Diamond Back Axis (and the Apex, a lower-spec bike using an identical frame) was a no-nonsense all-rounder, and arguably the best that could be bought at that price point.

Photo from the 1994 Diamond Back Catalogue (in Spanish!). The little brother of this model was the Diamond Back Apex, which I and my best friend both used to own, and which had a very similar or identical frame, but slightly less expensive components (STX and LX instead of Deore XT).

5. Raleigh Special Products 853

Considered by many to be hugely uncool back in the day, at least when compared to mainstream US brands like GT or Marin, Raleigh UK’s high end mountain bike frames were somewhat underrated back in the day. Although better known for their innovative titanium offerings (see, for example, my M Trax 300, the M Trax 400 or my Dynatech Diablo STX), Raleigh’s Special Products Division also turned out some particularly fine hand-built Reynolds steel mountain bike frames in the 1990s (see the Dynatech Encounter), up until the end of that decade until the company got bought out and ruined by a group of money-grabbing executives.

Shown below is an exquisite example of a late 1990s Raleigh Special Products Division, hand-welded Reynolds 853 steel frame (photo credit: retrobike.co.uk).

Also worth looking at are the 853 full suspension frames from the same era:

rsp300cat

… not to be confused with the truly awful Raleigh Activator range of MTBs!

6. Rocky Mountain Blizzard

One of the legends of the North American mountain bike scene, Rocky Mountain have more than 30 years experiences designing and building awesome bikes, tested and refined in the wilds of British Columbia. The Rocky Mountain Blizzard really stands out from the crowd as a retro classic, with its unmistakable styling and superb handling.

Photo taken from here.

7. GT Psyclone

Fillet-brazed steel goodness, this is arguably the finest GT frame of all time.

Photo borrowed from this blog.

8. Orange Clockwork

Classy British designed, Taiwan-built, cromoly steel bikes. Light, responsive, and with racy styling, Oranges were popular with image-conscious MTBers who wanted to buy British, and who had a little extra money to spend.

orange1

9. Specialized Stumpjumper

 stumpjumper

10. Nishiki Alien

After Richard Cunningham invented the first elevated chainstay frame in the late 80s, a number of other brands also jumped on the band-wagon, including Yeti, Haro, Saracen, and Nishiki, with the Nishiki Alien being one of the most iconic. E-stay frames typically benefited from having shorter chain stays, leading to noticeably superior climbing ability, faster handling, and elimination of chain-slap. Their appearance is also radically cool.

nish_alien

Check out the Haro Extreme range from the early 90s as well.

Expect e-stay designs to be explored all over again, but this time for 29er designers looking for shorter chainstays.