January 23, 2006

Old and in the Way 4 - Old's Cool

Written by Nelly
Photo by Wes Stearns
The mountain bike of today has evolved much since pioneers of the sport grafted gears and brakes to vintage balloon tire bicycles for off road fun. Hydraulic disc brakes, suspension once the realm of motocross bikes and exotic materials found on mountain bikes prove that the sport will be constantly evolving and innovating. But for the real innovative days of mountain biking, you need to look back. Waaaay back.

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Via the modern day wonders of the internet, I had the good fortune of communicating with Jeff Archer, owner of First Flight Bicycles in Statesville, North Carolina.

Not only is First Flight Bicycles a top notch shop, it is also home to Archers' personal collection of mountain bikes that date back to the early days of the sport. While not a museum per se, what is available to view deserves hushed reverence. Over 250 mountain bikes dating back to the early 80's are in Jeff's personal collection.

Jeff Archer got his first mountain bike in 1984 and had been collecting vintage bikes for some time. As he and mountain biking grew up, he started collecting bikes from the early days of fat tires. At the time, collecting vintage MTB s was easy. "I looked around and you could buy up older mountain bikes pretty inexpensively since most people considered them obsolete since they didn't have suspension, disc brakes. A lot of the bikes we get have slick tires and baby seats on them and have been relegated to town use."

So what is it that makes a bike shop owner stack his shop, garage and every other available space with names like Fat Chance, Breezer and the legendary Mountain Goat?

Jeff has a pretty solid opinion on this one.

"It sounds nostalgic but I miss the simplicity. We used to hop on a bike with sneakers, shorts and a T-shirt and just ride. Now, we strap on helmets, special shoes, plastic jerseys, shiny shorts, fill the Camelback, air up the shocks... just to go on a simple ride. I think that is some of the appeal, it goes back to the simplicity of the older days. So many of the interesting companies have been bought or went out of business. These guys were making stuff by the seat of their pants and would try to find enough like-minded people to make a living by selling their goods. Companies took on the personality of their owners: Scot Nicol with Ibis, Jeff Lindsay with Mountain Goat, Chris Chance with Fat Chance, Robert Seals of Retrotec, Rod Moses of IRD... these guys had opinions on what would work, would weld up a couple of prototypes, give them to their friends ("test crew") and go back to the shop and make improvements until they had a product to sell. They made some beautiful products and more than a couple of bombs but they tried. Now it seems like there is a "product manager" who sits down with the guy from Taiwan and tells them what color and decals to use on their generic Taiwanese aluminum suspension bike. These products will serve the rider better than almost anything built in the 1980's and 90's but it seems "soul-less".

While Archer has a spot deep in his heart for these bikes, he's also a realist. He knows that todays' bikes offer far superior performance and riders can take the bikes of today to limits previously unimaginable. If you are old enough to remember trying to climb with 17.5" stays you know what he's talking about. But keep in mind, many of technical innovations we take for granted came out of this era. Hyperglide cogs, linear pull brakes, disc brakes and suspension originated from guys in their garage trying to build a better mousetrap.

Jeff Archer not only wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to the classic names in mountain bike design, he's putting his money where his mouth is and has resurrected the Mountain Goat line of bikes. The new line of Mountain Goats will feature the classic elements that made them an icon of intelligent mountain bike design. Features like the famous "wishbone" seat stays that allowed for shorter chain stays an unequaled climbing performance. And don't forget the "steel is real feel" of Reynolds 725 tubing for the main triangle and Columbus tubing for those wishbone stays. The bikes will also feature all mod cons like disc brake tabs and geometry suited for a suspension fork.

First Flight Bikes also sponsors their annual Crossroads Bicycle Festival and are trail advocates putting considerable efforts into trails in Lake Norman State Park.

If you ever get the chance to get down to North Carolina, it would be worth your while to take a peek. For the rest of us we can hop in our time machine and see Jeff Archers' collection of historic mountain bikes online.

Just leave your purple ano at the door.

Check it out online at:

www.firstflightbikes.com
www.mountaingoatcycles.com

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