Tag Archives: vintage bike

Are Vintage Mountain Bikes Faster?

Common sense tells us that the more expensive and modern a mountain bike is, the faster it is.

Otherwise the pro’s would still be winning XC races on rigid steel bikes with 21 gears and 26″ rims, instead of big wheeled carbon rigs decked out in M9000 and various other boutique components. Right?

However, the reality is probably not quite this simple, and I’ll tell you why.

Are vintage (or retro) mountain bikes faster? The answer to the question really depends on how you ride. In an all-out cross country or downhill race, there’s little doubt that you’ll be faster on a modern bike. The better traction, lower rolling resistance and superior suspension will all add up to faster laps, especially on XC courses that seem to be tailored to exactly the kind of bikes pro XC racers ride these days.

But most mountain bikers are not pro racers. So, what about the ‘normal’ rides that ‘normal’ mountain bikers do? I think its fair to say there’s probably no such thing as a ‘normal’ ride these days, what with all the different tastes and styles that have blossomed in recent years, from old school XC to hardcore free-ride; from trail centres to epic wilderness expeditions. Clearly, it’s a case of horses for courses — different bikes will excel under different conditions.

What do vintage mountain bikes do best? Aside from their obvious advantages of low purchase and low maintenance costs, the stretched out, head-down riding posture of your typical 90s vintage bike helps significantly when climbing. This posture allows  rider to make good use of those powerful lower back muscles, thus bringing significant extra power to the pedal stroke — as is the case with the typical road-bike riding posture.

And if your ride takes in some road sections to link up different off-road trails, a vintage MTB is going to be faster here too, thanks to a more aerodynamic rider posture, allowing one to make-up time (or save energy) for the more technical down-hill trails on your route.

It’s certainly no surprise that some top pro MTB racers now go for the old-school, head-down riding posture. To give one example, olympic and world champion mountain biker Jaroslav Kulhavý famously prefers to ride this way – albeit with a thoroughly modern bike, of course!


Image credit: http://www.geo.tv/olympics2012/NewsDetails.asp?id=55322

Ten of the greatest vintage aluminum MTB frames

I’ll never trust any bike component made of anything with atomic number lower than 22, and that’s why I still ride steel instead of aluminium. Well, at least that’s the tired joke I tell on the Sunday rides with my mountain biking club.

Aluminum mountain bike frames have come a long way since the old days. But Jesus Christ, aren’t modern frames boring? Back in the 90s, bikes were made to be as cool and flashy as possible, and despite my general distaste for aluminum frames, I did (and still do) have a soft spot for several of them – particularly the ink blue Zaskar.

Here’s a run-down of my ten favourite old school aluminum-framed mountain bikes.

1. GT Zaskar

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2. Kleins (pre-Trek)

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3. Yeti Ultimate

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Edit: Thanks to Anthony for pointing out the above frame was actually steel. However, this doesn’t detract from the objective fact that its a freakin awesome bike!

4. Alpinestars Alu Mega

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5. Cannondale

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6. Nishiki Alien


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7. Mantis Flying V


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8. and 9. Mountain Cycle San Andreas and Moho

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10. Amp full suspension

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Ten of the Most Awesome Boutique Vintage Mountain Bike Parts

The 90s saw an explosion of boutique aftermarket parts for upgrading or adding style to your mountain bike. Usually CNC-machined from aluminium (aluminum) billet and finished with brightly coloured anodizing, many of these products were the must-have add-ons for any 90s mountain biker. Or at least for those who could afford the often exorbitant retail prices!

Ironically, while their high prices implied superior quality compared to mass produced, forged parts from the likes of Shimano and others, the reality was rather different: CNC-machining often resulted in comparatively weaker, or shorter-lived components, as many long-term user of Hope’s titanium hubs (like me) or Ringle’s Zooka stems will attest. For a deeper discussion of the merits of CNC-machining versus forging, see here.

Here’s my entirely subjective list of the top ten boutique components from the 1990s:


Hope Titanium Hubs


Grafton Speed Controller Brakes

Machine tech


Chris King

Paul’s Components

Is XTR FD-M9050 the new SL-MT62?

Some mountain biker swear by thumbshifter gear levers, such as the Shimano Deore SL-MT62 lever shown below. Renowned for their reliability and functionality, these components can command surprisingly high prices when in good working and cosmetic condition.

Shimano Deore SL-MT62 thumbshifters.

One of the main advantages thumbshifters have over the more common, modern trigger shifters, is their ability to easily trim the front mech, in order to find its ideal position for each gear. The same can be said for throttle gear shifters, such as those produced by SRAM, Sachs and others.

Fast forward several decades, and we find that Shimano has finally realised that trimming a front mech can be useful, and that the 2015 XTR range will include this. According to Shimano:

The FD-M9050 uses computer controlled auto trim as the chain moves up and down the cassette to keep the drivetrain running smoothly.

In other words, Shimano have finally found a way to allow users of trigger shifters to trim their front mech, to avoid the annoying rubbing chain sound that can happen when the chain is at one of the extreme ends of the cassette. Albeit an extremely expensive and complicated way, that may take some time to trickle-down to more modest groupsets.

But I’ll be keeping my Deore thumbshifters for the time being.

Raleigh Dynatech Diablo STX

Out of my entire collection of bikes, the Raleigh Dynatech Diablo is probably my favourite. With essentially an identical frame to my M Trax 300 – a cromo steel rear triangle into which titanium top and down tubes are bonded – the Dynatech is fairly light for its era (25 lbs), and has a responsive, yet comfortable feel when ridden.



Added shock absorption, albeit nothing in comparison with a suspension fork, is provided by a titanium handlebar, cromo steel stem, and my favourite detail – a pair of lightweight and rather rare UGLI forks. UGLI stands for Uncle Gerald’s Latest Invention, after their inventor at Raleigh, Gerald O-Donovan. The crown unit was bulge-formed from aluminium by Japanese outfit Eisho Seisekusho, into which  steel or titanium blades (depending on the Dynatech model) were bonded, and with aluminium dropouts from Spinner being bonded onto the blade ends. Their design gives them noticeably more flex than ordinary steel rigid forks (particularly the titanium-bladed variant), which becomes quite obvious under hard braking.

The STX groupset works well enough considering it’s 20 years old, with the only problem being the left hand shifter that occasionally misfires when shifting up to a larger ring. The STX cantilever brakes are surprisingly powerful when correctly set-up, and give more than enough stopping power in dry conditions (disc brakes would be better in wet conditions, naturally).

Is there anything I would change?

At various times I’ve been tempted to fit a suspension fork to gain some speed on technical and downhill sections, but I could never bring myself to retire the UGLI fork, because apart from its handling characteristics, it makes the bike stand out from the crowd. The colour of the frame is perhaps my only significant dislike. White with black does have a sort of modern classic look to it, but I really prefer the original 90s Dynatech paintwork. Colourful, ostentatious designs really made the Dynatechs stand out from the competition.

5 Ways Mountain Bikes Were Better In The 90s

Modern mountain bike technology is incredible. The arrival of decent suspension, hydraulic disc brakes, tubeless tires, and many other innovations all help today’s hard-core mountain bikers go faster than ever before, for longer, over more challenging terrain.

The contrast with the technology we used in the 90s couldn’t be any stronger. It’s actually quite hard to believe we rode off-road with rigid forks, cantilever brakes, and so few gears, and lived to tell the tale.

Few would seriously argue that modern mountain bikes are not better overall than their 90s ‘retro’ ancestor, but here are some ways that 90s mountain bikes were better…

1. Low maintenance, low cost

One of the great things about mountain bikes during the 90s was their simplicity. No shocks to tune up, no hydraulics to bleed. Keeping your bike in good working order was pretty easy, and rather cheap by today’s standards.

Thinking about going out for a ride? Just grab the bike, check the tire pressure, squeeze the brakes, double check the most crucial bolts are tight enough, and off you go.

2. Just one wheel size

When everybody used 26 inch wheels, borrowing a suitably sized replacement inner tube from a riding buddy was a heck of a lot easier than today, what with 26 inch, 650b and 29 inch. A single size of wheel also made thing simpler when upgrading to the latest frame – just fit your existing wheels to the new frame, without worrying about whether to make the jump to a trendier wheel size.

3. Steel bikes, built to last

As a material for frames and cycling components, steel is hugely under-rated. Steel is cheap, strong, fatigue resistant, and easy to repair. Rear mech hangers can be bent back into alignment numerous times before they are ruined; damaged or rusted tubes can be removed and replaced; disc tabs can be added easily to usher a retro steel frame into the 21st century.

It’s true that steel frames and components are not the lightest, yet they aren’t overly heavy and some would argue the strength of steel is worth the slight weight penalty compared to aluminium or carbon. In any case, weight doesn’t matter much these days, judging by the 28-30 lb weights of most mid-range modern mountain bikes.

There is also an argument to be made that steel bikes are the ethical choice. A good, hand-made steel frame will last a lifetime if cared for properly. Choosing this over far-eastern aluminium or carbon will significantly reduce the ‘carbon footprint’ of your bike, and as such will help the environment – you know, the wilderness and countryside we ride in.

4. Shifters that allow you to trim your front derailleur

I’ve never understood the need for having indexed front gears. Not only are shifts between chain-rings much less frequent than shifts on the rear cassette. But indexing also forces you to use a single front derailleur position, which can take a lot of tuning to get just right. When not perfectly tuned, the chain can grind noisily on your front derailleur’s chain-guide when using gears at the extreme ends of your cassette.

This is (or was in the 90’s) easily solved if your gear levers are thumb-shifters or grip-shift, because both allow micro-adjustment of your front derailleur. Goodbye grinding chain, hello perfect front derailleur alignment!

5.  Bikes were lighter despite all that steel

Back in the 90’s, a mid-range mountain bike would have weighed in at somewhere around 24-25 pounds – significantly lower than the 28-30 pound weight of a typical mid-range mountain bike today.

However, concerns about bike weight seems to be more about vanity than performance. Dwarfed by a rider’s body weight, the weight of your mountain bike is barely worth worrying about. Unless you find yourself regularly carrying the bike over obstacles, or your bike is super-heavy, just lose some body weight instead.

My 1993 M Trax Duo Tech 300

Way back during the early 1990s, Raleigh’s Special Products Division (or RSP for short) came up with the novel idea of bonding titanium or cro-moly steel tubes into steel or aluminium lugs, to build mountain bike frames that had a fairly low weight, a rigid rear triangle, and some of the damping and flex of titanium.

In its day, this was something of a genius idea, insofar as it allowed ownership of a hand-built titanium bike, with prominent ‘Titanium’ decals, for a fraction of the price of a welded, full titanium framed bike. While there’s little doubt that some clever marketing, along with a generous sprinkling of ‘titanium aura’ tinged hype, played a role in the relative success of RSP’s ‘Duo Tech’ framed mountain bikes, their performance and ‘ride quality’ was also usually quite highly regarded by those who rode them.

Originally branded as part of the Raleigh Dynatech range until 1994, and part of the Raleigh M Trax range from 1993 to 1995, the demise of the Duo Tech frameset came when the cost of materials and fabrication rose to such a level that the frameset stopped being profitable — at which point Raleigh switched to more conventional designs and materials.

My 1993 Raleigh M Trax 300 Duo Tech

As the bottom of the range model of the newly introduced M Trax brand, the M Trax 300 was the cheapest titanium framed mountain bike you could buy, retailing at about £350 back in 1993. Bought for the princely sum of £50 from retrobike.co.uk, this is my best value for money bike purchase to date. It’s getting common to rebuild retro bikes to their more or less original specifications using parts collected from ebay, but my M Trax is a true survivor: all original parts (down to the tires, grips, and brake pads), very little use at all, and carefully stored for 20+ years, albeit with some conspicuous rust on the bottle cage bolts and brake bolts.

Raleigh M Trax 300
Raleigh M Trax 300: unpacked and ready to ride

After removing the reflectors and adding modern SPD pedals, at 27.5 lb it is not unduly heavy by modern standards, but is close to the upper weight limit that a self-respecting 90s mountain biker would be able to tolerate. The bike has potential for some easy weigh savings, such as replacing the steel stem, bar and seat post with lighter aluminium versions, and fitting lighter tires.

The good

  • The bike feels lively and springy (less so than a good all-steel framed bike, however), with noticeably more trail-buzz being soaked up by the steel controls and titanium tubing than I would usually expect with the 90s standard set-up of aluminium controls and an all-steel frame.
  • Steel controls and seat post give added confidence (at least for a taller/heavier rider like me).
  • The Shimano Deore II thumbshifters and hyperglide cassette shifted between gears remarkably smoothly, which some may find surprising for a bike of this age. The ability to shift across the entire block or chainset in a single movement was appreciated.
  • Reasonably light in weight.
  • Metallic turquoise paint job looks the business.
  • Titanium at the price of far-east steel.
  • Ostentatious decals on the top-tube emphasize that this frame has TITANIUM.
M Trax 300: destination Nun's Cross
M Trax 300: test ride, destination Nun’s Cross

The not so good

  • The gear ratios are a little on the high side for the steepest off-road riding, with its lowest ratio being 1:1.
  • A design fault in the Altus chainset’s non-replaceable inner ring makes chain-suck episodes all too frequent.
  • The plastic four-finger Dia Compe brake levers look ugly and lack power.
  • The bar is just slightly too narrow to steer the bike properly over technical terrain.
  • RSP’s Duo Tech frames were known to de-bond, and there are anecdotal tales of having a tube pop out of its lug mid-ride, in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully, this seems not to be an especially common problem.