Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Early Yeti history, a photo essay - Sweetheart Cycles Motocruiser years

A couple months ago I had the fortunate opportunity to meet John Parker. I was helping him put some finishing touches on a Yeti ARC he was looking to sell when he told me he just bought back Yeti #1 from the original owner he sold the bike to back in 1985. Naturally my interest was piqued and I made the quick drive up north to meet up with him. Luckily I ended up coming home with the bike and that set me off a bit to dig up some early history on the Yeti brand and try to do some sleuthing around and documenting the first year or two of production at Yeti.

There is a lot of information and misinformation about the first batches of bikes to come out of the legendary brand and I for one am a bit of a fanatic when it comes to discerning fact from fiction. So, I pooled together some knowledgable friends and starting digging into it. This post will undoubtedly get some revisions as more info comes out and I'll do my best to update it.

Brief history of time

1981 : Sweetheart cycles is founded by Bicycle Bob in Southern California. The Motocruiser is available for purchase as a frame and fork. Design is heavily influenced by the Mongoose BMX Koz Kruzer, tubing sourced from Redline and Phil Wood (oval top tubes). Lindwall tool and die provide a lot of the tooling, jigs and even weld some of the bikes.

Mongoose Koz Kruzer - you might say this is genesis of Yeti

1982 - 83 : John Parker is working as a special effects welder for the movie industry in Hollywood. John gets connected with Bob via Lindwall Tool & Die (where he was also working/apprenticing as a fabricator) and begins to work part time welding @ Sweetheart cycles. John was an avid sprint car and dirt track motorcycle racer and an all around gear head. Wilson ends up in jail and John buys the tooling and inventory and continues to build the bikes under the name Sweetheart Cycles. Aaron Cox wins the "Reseda to the Sea" on a Motocruiser.

1984 : John has a big Sprint Car crash, forcing him into a long time hospital rest where he rethinks his future.  Along with his wife Linda they decide to make a living out of building racing mountain bikes. He sells his 1928 Indian Motorcycle and with additional funding from his father in law starts the company. Right around the same time the sleeping bag company folds and they buy the rights to to the name Yeti. A legend is born! The first three "Yetis" are built in the back Matt Sweeney's Special Effects Shop.

On the name Yeti : "A Guy named John made Beautiful Down Sleeping Bags out of his house in Topanga Cyn (not Santa Monica) was using the name YETI ...Years later when I got in touch with him he told me that he had stopped making sleeping bags & had gone back to teaching college. When I asked about the name, he told me he never registered it! When I asked about the chances of me using the name for a mountain bike he was kool with it! When asked about some compensation for the name, he told me not to worry about it & to send Him a Yeti T-shirt. Some Day - JP. 2015"

1985: Frank Wadelton and Chris Herting join John and Linda and become the first employees of Yeti cycles. They change several details of the frame design, including moving all cable hangers to the drive side (FTW). First Yeti race team is formed including Russell Worley. 1985 is the official starting year for Yeti cycles.

1986 - 87 : As business picks up production moves first to Malibu (86) and later to Agoura Hills (87), the team grows to include Russ Worley, Rob Nielson, Mark Langton, Johnny O'Mara, Paul Thorson, Greg Dress, Kye Sharpe and Sue Fish. First Yeti catalog is published, things start picking up.

I will discuss the later history of Yeti in subsequent posts.

So, let's start with Sweetheart Cycles. I've come across a few samples of the Moto Cruisers, however I don't have a really good way of figuring out which came first, the lineage to Yeti is obvious but coming up with a clearly defined timeline is going to be tough.

1981 / 82 Motocruiser (Link)

According to the owner of this bike this is one of the first two Motocruisers made in 1982, the other one being the bike that Aaron Cox rode to a victory at the Reseda Sea to Sea race. The assertion that this is one of the first can't be confirmed, but the bike is unique compared to the later MCs.

You can clearly see the makings of the FRO we all know and love in this bike. But there are some major differences:
  1. Massive rear dropouts - look like they were cut out of a steel plate, very beefy
  2. Full length cable housing, rear brake along the top tube, derailleurs along the down tube
  3. BMX style stem and bars, common to most MCs and seen on early Yetis as well
  4. Large oval top tube (bigger than what was seen on FROs later on)
  5. BMX style fork dropouts - unique to this bike
  6. BMX BB - large shell, common on early MCs
  7. Braze on mount for the FD
1981/82 Motocruiser (Link)

Here is this exact MC while it was owned by JP before he sold it in 2002/2003

According the the original owner of the above MC this one was also made in 1981 and was the second one built. Evidently the bike was raced to a victory in the Reseda Sea to Sea race by Aaron Cox. Apparently, John Parker modified the bike in 1984, which would explain why it looks more like a later MC than the camo model. This theory seems to hold up as both bikes have an oversize top tube, both bikes have the above BB cable guide for the front derailleur. However, it's hard to tell whether this was something that Bob only did early on, or if it was a standard feature. I'll go on to show a bike that was purchased in 1984 that also has this cable routing, as well as one that was supposedly purchased in 1982 that has top tube cable routing for the FD.

Notable features
  1. Full length cable housing, rear brake along the top tube, derailleurs along the down tube (later modified to add FD along TT)
  2. BMX style stem and bars, common to most MCs and seen on early Yetis as well
  3. Large oval top tube
  4. BMX BB - large shell, common on early MCs
  5. Braze on mount for the FD (covered up with a sleeve and clamp on style FD)

1982 Motocruiser

This MC lives in LA and according to the original owner it was purchased in 1984, although the frame design would lead me to believe it was an 82 or maybe 83. Although much of the bike is not stock a few key features are easy to identify and point towards an earlier production time.
  1. Full length cable housing, rear brake along the top tube, derailleurs along the down tube
  2. BMX style stem and bars, common to most MCs and seen on early Yetis as well
  3. Oval top tube
  4. BMX BB - large shell, common on early MCs
  5. Braze on mount for the FD (covered up with a sleeve and clamp on style FD)
  6. BMX seatpost (looks like a 26.4)
  7. Long chainstay wishbone
1984 Motocruiser (Link)

Although the original owner of this bike claims he purchased it in 1982, many of the features (cable routing, euro BB shell, fork design, top tube, 26.6 post) scream it's a later model, maybe a 1984. In fact I would theorize that this is one of the MCs built after John took over from Bicycle Bob and had not started calling the company Yeti. However, as most MCs were built to order and it's hard to say who within the company had more influence over the design at any point in time it's possible that it was really built in 82 and was simply built by John who was working there at the time.

  1. Round top tube
  2. Full length cable housing, rear brake along the top tube, rear derailleur along the down tube, and front derailleur along top tube (I feel this distinguishes it as a later model)
  3. Euro BB shell (requested by the original owner)
  4. BMX style stem and bars, common to most MCs and seen on early Yetis as well
  5. 26.6 seat post
JPs Personal Motocruiser

This particular bike was sold as a part of JPs sell off in 2002/2003 and has become widely known as Yeti #1 or the Prototype Yeti. I discussed the bike with John and he informed me that this is actually a Motocruiser, and it was his personal bike. He did in fact perform some extensive modifications to the original frame, and in that vein this could be considered a prototype for a Yeti.

Here to can see the BMX style BB and what looks like several attempts at picking an ideal location to anchor the front derailleur cable (in support of top tube cable routing).

Loos like John also experimented with a roller cam brake on this bike. I have only ever seen one another Yeti with roller cams, so clearly John didn't like it.

Motocruiser features:
  1. Oval top tube
  2. BMX style bottom bracket
  3. Braze on front derailleur mount
  4. BMX (26.4) seat post
  5. Long chainstay wishbone

Overall I don't feel like I have the Motocruiser thing all figured out. Sure, there are several things that appear to fall in line and serve as evolutionary steps along the way to becoming a FRO.

In general, a Motocruiser (at least an early one) can be differentiated from an early Yeti in the following ways:
  1. Use of a BMX style BB
  2. Use of full length cable housing
  3. Top tube and down tube cable routing
  4. Above the BB front derailleur cable routing
  5. Early MCs seemed to have longer chainstay wishbones (perhaps longer wheelbase?)

Friday, December 19, 2014

1987 Steve Potts Signature

I recently had the opportunity to restore/overhaul this lovely bike for a good friend of mine. I'm fortunate in that I usually get to work on some very nice bikes, but even among those awesome machines things can get a little stale. So, I was very happy to have something different and unique in my stand for a while. I just wish it was my size so that I could take out for a quick spin.

This is quite possibly one of the loudest and most ostentatious Potts ever to come out of Marin...

What Potts would be complete without a drop bar setup?? Again, this one was too small for me so I can't really get a feel for the ride, but it is unusual.

Original Specialized "Flag" cranks with Shimano 600ex chainrings. The bike came with mostly modern rings, so these were swapped in to make it correct.

WTB Grease Guard hubs with  Sepecialized quick releases, a very appropriate look for that era of bike.

About the only option missing from this bike is a Type II fork, but the Type I does the job pretty well!

WTB Toe Flips on Shimano M731 pedals. The Toe Flips were designed to help the rider get the pedals oriented properly to ease getting their foot into the cage.

The B cluster is a work of art. A seamless joining of 5 unique tubes that appears to have no other way of looking than like this. Why aren't all bikes this pretty?

Monday, December 15, 2014

1990 Merlin Titanium

I think I may have finally solved the Merlin equation for myself (not that others haven't)... These bikes are notoriously hard to build up such that they don't look boring. By design are they are very monochromatic looking machines and don't fare well with many custom and blingy parts people often attempt to dress them up. More often than not they look best with traditional grouppos like XT, XTR or XC-PRO. But the moment you start tacking on the choice components things go wrong really quickly. I think the following build represents what a pretty much fully dialed in Merlin can look like without going over the edge and making it look like a Honda Civic with a big wing on the back...

You just can't go wrong with Cook CBRs, They look great on any bike and even better with Action Tec Titantium chain rings.

One of the hardest decision for any Merlin is what fork to pick. Made easy here by using an IRD Titanium expedition fork. Damn near impossible to find, but works perfectly!

IRD macaroni stems is one of the more recognizable components made by IRD back in the good ole days.

Such a beautiful union of metal... really doesn't get a whole hell of a lot better.

I wonder who had the job of forming these little brake cable guides and were they all mandrel bent?

Lucky wondering when I'd be done...

Bike looks sharp from any angle!

IRD progressive U-brake. This is a very neat design which actually seems to work rather well.

Another great build comes to a close. I will admit that this one will be hard to let go, lots of amazing parts and all of them coming together to make something truly amazing!

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!