Monday, November 10, 2014

1990 Klein Attitude ride report

It dawned on me a couple weeks ago that I've had about eight 1990 Attitudes come through my garage, and yet I have never actually ridden one.  Luckily I was just about to put the finishing touches on a wonderful example for my brother and so I decided to give it a spin, and then another... I really miss having a Klein in my lineup.

Before I get into this I feel like this review should be limited to just the following phrase : "This is a race bike." Everyone should just get it and not ask any questions and definitely not complain about the harsh ride. Also, this bike does't photograph well. Anyways, onto the review.

First impressions / Why do most Kleins have slicks?

The early fuselage concept Kleins (Attitude / Adroit) are pure and unadulterated race bikes. For any of you that have spent any time on a race track in an open wheel formula car or even a basic purpose built race car know what it's like to be pushing a machine to the limits of its performance. You can feel the car braking traction during cornering and yet it's predictable and controllable. It's a fine balance between going slow and being in control and going fast on the edge of control. Well, that sort of sums up this bike when you push it hard. Now, I'm not a pro driver or mountain biker by any stretch of the imagination, but I feel I can push the bike on a few sections of my local trails and get a brief glimpse of its true potential. It dances underneath you when you stand on it and if you lose focus for a moment it will kill you.

It's a long running joke that all Kleins end up with slicks or hanging up in garages never seeing any dirt. Much like driving we all want to believe we're all like Ayrton Senna and that we can drive a race cars to work, but then we realize that driving a race car with 900 lbs springs, a roll cage, 6 point safety harness and no air conditioning in daily traffic is really no fun. Same thing here, unless you push this bike to edge of its and your capabilities you're just going to think it's stiff, unforgiving and in the end you'll have no fun.

Take away - If you're gonna ride it, be prepared to work for it. Otherwise, hang it up like the rest of them.

Ride characteristics / how to make it work

Some of my favorite characteristics of this Attitude or any other MC1/MC2 fusealge Klein is the way it seems to make everything work better. The brakes are crispier, the drivetrain seems to shift better and each peal stroke takes all your energy and uses it break traction on the rear wheel. This bike just wants to move and every design element is there to help you achieve that goal. The steering is very sharp, it's very easy to get the bike to change direction, especially at speed. Traction out of the seat is fantastic, a testament to how you're expected to ride.

About the only bit of advice I can offer on making the most out of this bike is to use compliant grips and do your best to run 2.35 tires. I managed to shoehorn a pair of Ritchey Megabite WCS 2.35s into the relatively tight spacing in the rear, the front has plenty of clearance. The extra damping afforded by large volume tires is very much appreciated here.

I do believe that the box crown fork makes for a stiffer ride than a uniklein or Adroit/Strata fork. It's not much worse, but you notice the harshness a little more.

The fusealge concept coupled with a large diameter aluminum fork was a revolutionary step back in 1990. Stiffness was key and this design had it in spades!

In so many ways this design and paint scheme are the most iconic Klein and in that vein one of the most classic designs of the early 90s.

My verdict : I wish it came in large... I want one. It's just so bone crushingly awesome and it makes you want to be a stronger rider so that you can ride it like it was meant to be ridden and get those rare glimpses of how it must have felt to be Tinker Juarez back in the early 90s.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Grove Innovations Hard Core ride report

As I mentioned in the last post I've owned this bike for a while not, and yet never gave it the proper writeup, which I feel bad about. I spent the last two weekends and a couple rides this past week on it and wanted to take the opportunity to right that wrong. So here goes...

First impressions / proper fit 

On of the first things you have to get over when you throw a leg over this bike is how much higher you feel than on a normal bike. I have always been fanatical about ensuring I have proper leg extension and probably overdo it. When I first started riding this bike I had the seat jacked up and felt like I was on a big wheel. This made me feel very uneasy and consequently I couldn't really get comfortable with the bike. Lowering the seat a little bit made a huge difference. Now, you're still up there, but after two to three hours you forget about it and it starts feeling normal. I do think that having the ultra high rise Hothead bars is really the key here. Anything other than a high rise stem would not work. I can't really think of any advantage in this high ride posture, at least not from an analytical perspective. However, it doesn't seem to have any immediately obvious drawbacks either. 

My main point here is : if you're gonna ride an HC, make sure that the frame a good size for you and don't go for the racy, zero degree bar/stem, drop the seat a bit lower than you'd normally do and then try it out.

Ride characteristics / handling

I've said it before, others have said it, everyone knows it... this bike is really damn stiff. In some ways it's stiffer and less compliant than a Klein. The only difference is that while a Klein gets tossed around going over rocks and obstacles, the Grove makes them its bitch. Here is how I see it; a Klein is high end needle on a turntable and the trail is Beethoven's 5th. On the other hand, Grove is a pair of brass knuckles and the trail is the chin of the guy who insulted your girlfriend at the bar. Both have their merits.

One other thing that everyone says is that this bike is meant to go slow and only over highly technical terrain. Well, yeah ok... the high ground clearance means it's easy to clear logs, boulders, etc... but this not a one trick pony. Open up the taps and you'll find this bike has a lot of stability and imbues you with  sense of confidence, especially if the surface is harsher than a fire road. While on the subject of speed, the higher ride position and high-rise bars means you can really lean on the front end, and moving your weight around has more leverage. This means you can press the front wheel and lean and you'll hold a much sharper line, and get much better turn-in than on many other bikes. I find that I can attack much harder on twisty and narrow serpentine sections and keep my hands out of the brakes much more so than on my ARC, Adroit or Merlin. This could also be partly due to the aggressive 72.5 degree head tube angle.

Out of saddle sprints on smoother terrain are fine, but when you get back into the gnarly stuff sitting is nearly always the right call. Perhaps its the 20+ Fattrax giving up the ghost, but I felt an immediate, and more pronounced loss of traction whenever I stood to climb out of a creek bed or to get a little extra oomph up a slightly technical section. Time to bulk up those quads, this bike wants you to remain seated at all times and and obey all caution signs.

Last but definitely not least is the weight. This is one heavy beast, and you will feel it. This bike as built here tips the scales at 27.6 lbs. That's with Kevlar bead tires and fairly light weight wheels. You tend to notice that a bit. Moving the bike around is a bit more difficult, you have to work it to induce sudden change of direction or lean to keep a line through some tight sections. It could be worse, but it's not great.

Overall : This is in many ways a large trials bike with an extra gear. You can throw it at the harshest terrain and if you've got the cojones to hang on, it'll get you through with most of your cartilage still in tact.

Any bike that has a paint swath as a head badge better have good paint, good things Groves didn't disappoint

The one thing for me that sticks out like a sore thumb is the delicate nature of these dropouts. I swear that if it could the front triangle would break them off and replace them with something made of rocks and sticks and be happier. They are just too dainty... somehow it works.

Verdict - Keeper!

Even if I didn't grow up in PA, even if I didn't spend my after school hours with my palms and face glued to the window of the Bicycle Shop ogling the latest, brightest Grove in the window I'd own and ride this bike. Will it be my main go-to rider? Probably not. Will it get more use than 50% of my bikes? Definitely!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

1991 Grove Innovations Hard Core

This bike is actually one of my first vintage bikes when I got back in the scene, but it's never really had a great day in the sun. So here goes, dusted off, tuned up and ready to roll. The Grove Hard Core is the brainchild of Bill Grove and was designed to conquer the rugged, rocky trails of Central Pennsylvania. Perhaps the most noticeable design element is the 13.5" high bottom bracket. Ground clearance - you got it!!! The next thing you see if the 2" down tube, custom formed at the head tube and BB shell to ensure even mating.

Grove Innovations is a brand that is often overlooked by most mainstream collectors. The company wasn't in CA or CO, served a relatively small market and simply didn't advertise or sponsor riders like many other majors. I also think many people think the bikes are crude and unrefined, or have a harsh ride. I would really encourage you to take a second look and examine the details of the craftsmanship, the quality of the welds (especially when compared to say a TIG welded Potts or even Ritchey). The welds are practically invisible. Then there is the legendary paint, very few bikes on the market at that time could match the wild paint jobs found on Groves. Then there is the ride. I've only ever ridden a Hard Core, and so can only comment on that. I have an Assault and an X, but they are not up and running. I plan on doing a more in-depth trail review of the bike, but my quick summary is, it's stiff, really stiff.

The combination of the Hothead (thinner wall, heat treated version of the Hammerhead) bar/stem combo and the straight blade Hard Core fork, means you never have to worry about your bike going where you point it.

The build on this bike is rather basic, actually it's probably a bit more on the sexy side than 95% of Groves that ever left PA. Back in those days nearly all of Bill's production sold out of the Bicycle shop and from my recollection most Groves were built with DX componentry. The riding in PA was harsh and component durability was favored over lightness. This bike is largely built with Shimano XT, with a little flair courtesy of Hugi hubs on Mavic 261 ceramic rims, and IRD post and some Ringle QRs. I toyed with the idea of putting on some Grafton brakes, which would have looked great, but to be honest it just wouldn't have been done back then. So, why now?

Top tube cable routing keep the cables out of the way if you have to carry your bike over some really gnarly sections. Plus I just can't imagine what that would look like across the down tube.

Notice the subtle curve in the bars under the grips. The bars are actually shaped that way to offer a more ergonomically / or anatomically correct hand position. I do recall my hands getting less tired and not getting any numbness on long climbs like I sometimes do with normal bars. Neat feature.

The 1" head tube seems out of place among the considerably larger down tube and top tube, but it seems to do the job. I kind of think these bikes would have looked pretty cool with a massive 1 1/4" head tube and rigid fork.

Brake stiffener bridge helps keep the rear brake crisp and offers very positive response. Plus it's a great place to put another Grove badge.

The cranks on this bike are modern versions of the original Hot Rods. I didn't have a pair of the original cranks when I bought the bike, but have since found one. I may eventually have them painted to match and transfer them over to this frame.

The cross-section transition on the down tube is definitely something to behold, not seen on many other bikes.

Suntour track dropouts were a feature only found on the early Groves, later models have water jet cut, thicker plate dropouts. Notice the smooth transition from the stays, almost looks fillet brazed.

In my humble opinion, everyone should try a Grove at least once. It's a small production, unique design, made by highly skilled craftsmen bike that offers a different ride from the rest and gets a lot of attention on the trails. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

1985 Mountain Klein

Over the years I've had the opportunity to buy several mountain Kleins, but like most Klein fans (I assume) I was only drawn to the big fork, wild paint job, 90s Attitudes/Adroits. However over the past year I've grown to appreciate the bike. I mean, this bike largely represents genesis for every other Klein I've ever owned or wanted to own. It's where it all started.

So, a couple weeks ago when this stunning Sky Blue 85 Mountain Klein showed up on eBay I decided to go for it. The bike looked stunning, a perfect time capsule. I was very excited to have won it, and for a rather reasonable price. I think the rack and the jacked up stem shown in the eBay listing helped keep the bike under the radar.

A couple minutes in the stand and the real bike emerged!

The build is as follows

85 Mountain Klein frame with matching fork (medium)
Suntour XC Stem
Specialized Aluminum rise bar
American Classic 27.4 seatpost
Avocet Touring 2 saddle
Shimano FC-6206 cranks
Shimano M700 rear derailleur
Suntour XC shifters
Suntour XC front derailleur
Shimano Dura Ace hubs and quick releases
Suntour Roller Cam brakes
Shimano M700 brake levers
Grab-on grips
Specialized Ground Control tires

Cunningham designed stem. Interestingly, Gary used Charlie's early stems on a few of his early road bikes, so it's nice to see he chose the licensed version of the stem for his early mountain bikes

Double down tube internal cable routing for the rear derailleur and chainstay mounted roller cam rear brake. The very early MK prototypes had a beautifully sculpted cable entry for the rear derailleur. Although very nicely executed on this bike, it's crude compared to Gary's first MK.

This is the only MK I've seen with a front roller cam brakes. Although not many are accounted for in my registry 100% have cantilevers in the front. Even the prototypes and MK001 have cantilevers in the front. In fact Gary's prototype has cantilevers front and rear. The RCs on this bike are the early design with drilled out arms, as opposed to the later dimpled versions. No expense was spared to build this bike back in the day.

Dura ace hubs were commonly used on mountain bikes of that era, but were not common on MKs. I've only seen one other MK in my registry that came with DA hubs from the factory.

6-spd rear cluster was the pinnacle of technology at the time.

The sovereign blue color is simply stunning. The welds just disappear into the paintwork, this bike may be rapidly becoming one of the favorite Kleins in my collection.

The Biopace chainrings on this bike are a bit new (date coded verify 03/86 production) so the bike received some cutting edge parts when it was built.

One of the more recognizable traits of a Mountain Klein are the square chainstays with internal cable routing for the rear derailleur. Gary started out with running the rear derailleur cable on his first prototype for the Mountain Klein and continued that design for the first two years of production. Sometime around late 86 early 87 he switched to an external cable stop and and a more conventional routing on the outside of the chainstay.

The junction between the BB and the chainstays is definitely overbuilt. It makes for a very stiff braking platform and provides some nice shielding for the roller cam brake. Unlike the prototype the welds here are clearly visible, although still very nicely done. Tire clearance is tight and I think you'd have a hard time getting anything over a 2.1 tire in there. Crank arm clearance on the other hand is pretty good and there is no discernible flex under hard pedaling.

Beautiful welds were something not seen on any sort of production mountain bike before the Mountain Klein came along. The welders at Klein were true craftsmen and produced some of the most beautiful and well riding machines on the market.

More beautiful welds.

Shimano 600ex headset fits this bike perfectly and looks amazing coupled with the polished Suntour stem.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

1986 Cunningham Racer

This bike is hardly news to anyone, but at least it finally got a proper set of photos. This is my personal 1986 Cunningham, aka. Kirby (named after it's previous owner). 

For those of you following along you might remember what Kirby looked liked when I picked him up just about a year ago.

Overall the bike was very complete with spare parts to boot and in overall very good shape. It had been sitting around for a few years and was a little neglected, but the foundation was there. It didn't take much more than a toothbrush and some patience to get it back up and running.

The build is for the most part the same as when I received it. Gone are the Shimano 6206 cranks (180s and showing minor cracks), Dia Compe brake levers, Avocet touring saddle along with the bar ends and rack. I decided to keep the Shimano M730 grouppo as the previous owner performed that upgrade while he had it, so I felt it was fitting to keep it that way. The build is as follows

Cunningham Racer frame 
Potts Type 2 fork
Cunningham - stem, bars, modified Hi-e hubs, roller cam brakes, oversize seatpost with Campagnolo adjustable head, steering angle limiter
Dura Ace freewheel with 600ex cogs
Specialized flag cranks with Specialized chainrings
Shimano M730 shifters, brake levers and derailleurs
Chris King headset
Unicanitor saddle and machined down Magura grips

In my opinion the end result looks great, while maintaing a nice level of original patina.

I should have photographed with the yellow label GCEs, but this is the rider set and I didn't feel like taking them off one more time. I'm still learning how to properly dial in the Roller Cams and these earlier versions are a bit tougher. I may have to go back to using vintage brake cables as the 1.6mm modern cable slips through the cam.

The bike came with two sets of wheels. The previous owner was using the Grease Guard version when I got it, but the rims had some cracked eyelets and the hubs were in worse shape. Among the spare parts I found some replacement bearings from Charlie, so I cleaned up the original wheels used them instead.

While working on this bike I have really come to appreciate all the special touches that make these bikes so unique. The amount of work that went into creating each one of these machines is truly remarkable, and really stands in a class of its own.

Vintage Scott Mathauser brak pads front and rear, still do the trick! I may go all gradnma on this bike and put the roller cam boot back on in the rear. I end up doing a lot of creek crossings out here and it just kicks too much sand in there causing the brake to get a bit crunchy.

Custom Hi-e rear hub with large inner flange. Modified by CC of course, and I'm glad as changing bearings in those hubs is a huge PITA without these mods.

Beautiful work on the top tube gusset. I never get tired of looking at that.

I bit I still have to track down is an original CC made QR lever. The previous owner didn't like it and asked CC to replace it with the garish (by comparison) Suntour made lever.

Grease Guard bottom bracket, rear RC dirt shield, custom made cable routing... it's all so freaking cool!!

It's all in the details; beautifully filed down welds on the top tube gusset.

The business end. I still need to switch the brake levers around (I run moto routing on most of my bikes), adjust the reach and find a nicer cap for the stem. The Velox cap is not quite elegant enough for this bike, but it's better than nothing.

Custom made oversize seatpost utilizing a Campagnolo adjustable seat post head. CC had designed a very sleek fixed angle seatpost which was common on many Cunninghams in that time. The original owner wanted a little more flexibility so he requested that the bike come with an adjustable head post.

The bike came with a nice pile of receipts documenting its maintenance history at Pt. Reyes. It's not very common that owner keep all of that paperwork, which makes finding a bike like this all the more special in my book.

Water bottle mounts that appear to serve  double duty as brake cable guides, or at the very least ensure that the brake cable doesn't get pinched by a water bottle cage.

According to the letters that accompanied the bike (between CC and the previous owner), CC made up this steering limiter based off a sketch made by previous owner after an accident resulting in the brakes hitting the frame. Perhaps it's not the first time CC made this, but still a neat piece of history.