The best bike is the bike you ride!

My overwhelming philosophy since I started in the retail cycling business is that a bike is only as good as the amount it gets ridden. Whether an issue of fit or practicality, a bike needs to make its owner want to get out and use it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

An interesting new acquisition

Over the weekend, I had the good fortune to have my Dad help me get a new mountain bike off of CL.  I found an old Raleigh, listed as a "Mountain Tour", and I immediately recognized the SunTour thumb shifters and a Nitto bull moose bar/stem, so I was super excited to get the actual bike.

My dad picked it up for me and had it ready on Sunday, so after my cyclocross race, I got to see it in the flesh for the first time.  I had acquired a Raleigh Tamarack - a steel, fully rigid mountain bike, originally designed as a "mountain style 10 speed."  It had bolt on wheels, the aforementioned SunTour shifters and the bar, plus an apparently brand spanking new Shimano mega range derailleur (Tourney, I believe) and some really old, cheap looking mountain cranks and dry rotted tires.  In all honesty, my initial impression was a vague disappointment - the bike appeared to be cheaper than I had expected and lacking a dereailleur hanger and with the bolt on wheels, I was concerned that it might not even be off road worthy at all.

Usually, the arrival of a new bike is cause for much celebration, and the bike is immediately subjected to a complete once over, a thorough cleaning, and then some idle speculation on what the best use/upgrades might be, but in this case, being as I had just finished a cold, icy cross race and was trying to get some lunch and still make the Bronco game on TV, I merely unloaded it at home, putting the front wheel on finger-tight, and let it sit.

Today, having recovered a bit more from the weekend, and having a bit of time on my hands, I started to read some more about the bike on line - using google and reviewing old Raleigh catalog scans to find out that it's a 1984 model, and that it also appears to be a bit higher quality than I had expected.  Apparently, mountain bikes in 1984 had some substanitally different standards compared to the road bikes of the same era, and what might at first appear to be an indication of low quality (e.g. bolt on wheels) was actually compensation for the lack of a high quality quick release that was acceptable to use mountain biking. 

So, as I read more, I found out that my bike was initially sold with a leather portage strap.   I had observed a bolt in a brazed on hole towards the top of the seat tube, but I really had no idea what it was there for.   It was used as one end of a leather strap, about like a section of a belt, that ran from the seat tube to the top tube, so it'd be comfortable to carry your bike over obstacles.  Clever!

In addition, mountain bikes in the early/mid 80's were also designed to be a cross between a touring bike and what we think of as a true mountain bike - they have lots of braze ons for fenders, racks and so forth (and, as it turns out, carry straps!), and as I had thought that a good use of my new-to-me bike might be bike camping off road, it appears that I inadvertently made a really good choice of bikes for it.  It already has a nice older Blackburn rack on it, too - so I don't even need to buy a rack for my panniers.  Bonus!

And the biggest surprise, and, actually, an intersting twist, is that the bike rides on 650B wheels!  650B wheels are an odd size - in 1984 they were not uncommon as a touring bike size - but they are actually 27.5 inches in diameter, which puts them solidly between the 26 inch "standard" mountain bike size and the 29 inch size that is rapidly taking over the market.   In fact, there are currently more 650B mountain bikes being made - something that hasn't happened in some time - as the 650B wheel size is making a comeback.   Funny how my 27 year old mountain bike is suddenly more cutting edge - or at least is something that is being revived!    It's also oddly appropriate for me, as I've been a big fan of 29ers and an exclusive 29er rider now for several years, so having a 650B vintage mountain bike is perfect.

In any event, I'm in for a fun experiment.  An older MTB seems like it'd be great to ride with some of my less extreme riding partners, like my daughter or my sister, and that it might also be a fun bike to take on the trails of a place like White Ranch or Golden Gate to get to a backcountry camp site.  I can get some nice new tires for it, and get a good VO saddle, too, so it's comfy, and I can goof around on the trails in my blue jeans and hiking boots on my old six fiddy!

PS:  as a little inspiration here's a picture of the same model bike, dolled up by someone else.  I'm leanning towards a similar build for mine, only I'll have a nice rear rack!

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