Sunday, June 17, 2018

1992 IRD Stroker

The early days of mountain biking were chock full of strange designs and concepts. Over time many of these coalesced into what at the time was considered standard geometry, which itself evolved as the sport changed and took on new challenges. Most builders fell inline with those standards and tweaked small elements here and there to optimize the design but largely followed the same formula, as far as hard tails are considered anyways.

There were however those who did not. Among those radical nonconformists were Rod Moses and Ray Baldwin collectively known as Interloc Racing Designs or IRD. They were well known among the MTB community for their component designs including U-brakes, seat posts, stems, the first infinitely butted Aluminum handlebar and the worlds first remotely actuated dropper post!! But few knew that IRD made some bikes too. The lineup included the Strokers (full and semi), the Circuit Racer and the FS. You can't talk about IRD bikes without starting with the cranks. Sure they had insanely short 16" chainstays, 13.5" bottom bracket height, 25" top tubes, and 76 degree seat and head tubes (TBR)... but the cranks... the Sequoias of pedal arms!! I don't think you could get an IRD bike with anything shorter than 190mm and a few came with 230s! Yeah, think about that for a minute...

I mean, when you compare the cranks to the 25.5" top tube they don't look that long...

In talking to Rod you get the sense that he wanted to build a bike that not only climbed well but it made it easy on the body. He is not fond of the roadie mentality that you get a short 170mm crank and make it up in RPMs, "that's for people who don't value their knees" he'd say. He wanted a forward climbing position and leverage / torque for a smooth climbing machine. Although my seat time in this bike is limited thus far (and plagued by technical errors), I can unequivocally confirm that it does make climbing easier (full ride report coming in the future). The ultra short stays coupled with that much moment arm translate into a comfortable cadence up the steepest of terrain.

The frame is constructed of straight gauge aircraft grade chrome-moly with a 1 3/8" down tube and a 1 1/4" top tube. This makes for a relatively stiff and responsive front end. The rear is quite compliant, by design, with 3/4" chainstays and get ready for this 1/2" seat stays. The lack of a seat stay mounted brake bridge keeps things nice and soft. Finishing off the frameset is IRD's own RID race suspension fork with 1 3/4" of travel vertically and a solid 1/2" fore and aft. The post, bar and stem are all IRD as well.

The front fork has taken a bit of time to sort out as the original was damaged when the original owner rode into an ATM with the bike mounted on roof. Luckily I was able to source another fork and get the bike going while Rod attempts to repair the original. Front brakes are IRD Switchlock which represent an early attempt at linear pull brakes. What they really are is the most difficult brakes to set up properly. They demand brake levers capable of longer cable pull, something period correct levers don't quite afford. A modification I'll have to explore in the future.

The IRD stem (not macaroni in this case) is my 2nd favorite components made by IRD (posts are #1) and one of my favorite stems of all time. Solid yet lightweight with a wide bar clamp that distributes load evenly, it's on the the most desirable stems out there. The IRD bars are very light and offer a little bit of compliance, especially when you boost them to 27"...

The curves on this rear end are unlike most other bikes of the time. Both functional (tucks rear tire in tight under the seat) and highly aesthetic they give the IRD Stroker a certain fluidity from the back that is otherwise betrayed by the spartan main triangle.

Gorgeous rear entry dropouts allow for easy wheel changes and are one of the more eye catching design elements of the frame.

Reinforced seat cluster keep things tidy and clean at the top. About the only thing this bike is missing is the IRD Remote QR (RQR) which I'd install if I didn't have to drill out the seat binder to accommodate the larger diameter bolt, something I haven't quite gotten the cajones to do to this lovely frame just yet. Though, I must admit I spent a lot of my ride time stopping to adjust the seat height on the descents, an adjustment that took the bike from scary to downright hospitable.

Cranks for the IRD bikes were exclusively made by Bullseye because nobody else back then could make cranks that long. This particular bike has 210mm cranks which are not as long as some other Strokers out there, but definitely longer than most of the semis.

Zerq grease port enabled you to shoot some grease into the BB shell, and I guess maybe flush out the bearings... but given there were no guides to route the grease you literally had to fill up the entire volume of the shell before anything came out and that's just nasty...

I never liked these headsets, until I got one on this bike. Seriously, there isn't another headset on the planet that would look better here... that's a fact!

My second third favorite IRD component (#2 goes to the seatpost) is the IRD Rotary U-Brake. Unlike the Switchback this one is relatively easy to set up and dial in and while a bit grabby at first, once you get used to it is quite an effective means of arresting your momentum. This particular bike had problems with the straddle cable bottoming out on the cable guide. I tried a different brake with a slightly different anchor point which effectively moved the straddle cable back and it all works now.

For some reason this bike is missing the chain anti suck plate which would have been bolted to the brake stiffener plate. Something I'll have to remedy at some point. 

The rest of the build is rather standard Shimano Deore XT, which Ritchey brake levers. The hubs are laced to rather rare FIR rims. FIR is an Italian company better known for their line of road racing rims. But apparently they also made some high quality off road rims in the early 90s.

Again... love those dropouts!

I've really come to enjoy finding and getting to know these non traditional bikes. I think anyone can jump on a Yeti ARC, or a nice Ritchey or something and have a great time and say tired old cliches like this bike climbs like a scalded cat or it's really solid on descents or whatever. Often times that's all true, but it's true for most 90's hardtails that are worth their salt. Sure there are some standouts like the WTB Phoenix (have yet to try a steel one) and a few others, but I think there is so much uniqueness out there that begs to be discovered. So, while I think a Phoenix or Cunningham will be tough to beat for all around competence and quality, bikes like the IRD Stroker, Grove Innovations Hard Core and a few others pushed the envelope of design in one specific dimension and gave us something unique and exciting. I for one a excited about these footnotes in MTB history and look forward to getting some serious miles behind the bars!

Monday, May 29, 2017

1994 Yeti ARC Team Replica

When I first started Second Spin, the first restoration commission I took was to build an early Yeti ARC. It only seems fitting that as I wind down the first chapter in SSC's history (moving east) I wrap up my run in CA with another Yeti ARC.

There are two bikes that come to mind when people mention the ARC. For me it's always been the gray and turquoise bike with a splash of 3DV, but for most people the images that are conjured up are of the yellow and turquoise version dripping with turquoise components. Ive now built almost 10 ARCs and nearly all of them have been some subtle variation of the latter color scheme.

This particular bike is a former team frame of an Expert class rider and friend of JPs, Jeff Redman. I got the bike directly from Jeff after it had sat around for a couple decades losing much of its former luster. Nothing a visit to Frank the Welder and a fresh powder coat can't fix.

The end result screams of 90s era NORBA paddock. The build is a replica of a team bike that the Yeti team campaigned successfully with names like Rockwell, Giove and Deaton just to name a few. Though many now long gone and forgotten in most circles, then the best of the best from Ringle, Grafton, Answer and Chris King were a common sight on many pro's bikes. Bikes this ARC serve not only as examples of a different period of technology but also as a window into the racing world of the time. Bright colors and neon were all the rage back then and nobody did it better than Yeti!

Some call them flimsy, some call them ultra light weight. In my personal opinion the Grafton Decelerators can be some of the nicer feeling brake levers if paired with the right brakes and set up properly. While not right on most bikes they feel right at home on most Yetis or vintage Manitous.

So strong was the might of Yeti in the 90s that they ever had branded tires!!

If any Ringle hub is a time bomb, the Super Duper Bubbas definitely had the longest fuse. While it's still most likely a matter of time before they blow, you can expect a little more from them than their Super and ordinary Bubba brothers.

Adding turquoise, 3DV or any mix of colors to a build is a fine art in my opinion. I think the newer the bike the more you can get away with. To me this Yeti represents the theoretical limit on what can be considered the 'right' amount of anodizing. I could have done matching straddle cable hangers, but decided not to. I've seen bikes with matching chainrings, grips, bolts, pulleys and even chain pins; to me that's the equivalent of gold teeth when you've already got the chains and rings.

Though a Manitou 3 may be a better color match I like the light splash of violet of the Manitou 2. I suppose doing the team style conversion of the Manitou 2 lowers with the teflon coated stanchions of the M3 would be a bit cooler.

I know I always rage against the L-bracket style Graftons, but on the ARC with wide 261 Mavic rims they work quite well. It all boils down to how much of a gap the brakes have to make up. The L-bracket style arms are well suited for narrow gaps, while the eye bolt style arms are good across the board, and are a bit stiffer.

A time will come when I have to rebuild my personal ARC (it finally cracked last year) and looking at an ARC like this one has me second guessing whether I'll stick with the original gray-tuquoise scheme to opt for this flashier version.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Ride Report - 1997 WTB Titanium Phoenix

I usually follow a fairly defined process with my restorations. First I build the bike up, dress it in fine vintage tires and photograph it against some cool background. Then I swap the show tires for a usable pair of vintage tires and do a trail photo shoot and then if I like the bike enough I throw on modern tires and keep dialing in the bike and add it to the rotation. Well, with this particular bike I skipped right to the end and never looked back.

In a way this really shouldn't come as a surprise. My two favorite bikes are my 89 Merlin and the 92 Cunningham. This Phoenix is essentially a combination of the best qualities of those two bikes with the added benefit (depending on your perspective) of front suspension. Take that and add in one cool front brake and combine it with the fact that this particular bike is the prototype Ti Phoenix and Mark Slate's personal bike and you've got a fine machine!

I've been on an on and off hunt for a Phoenix for some time. I love riding my Cunningham, but sometimes my concern about doing serious damage to it keeps me from pushing it too hard. So, I want something that has similar ride characteristics but won't give me as much pause about hitting technical trails. At the same time I had bought a Merlin XLM and was planning on doing a slightly more modern build with, by that I mean M950 XTR and maybe a custom Judy/SID fork. So, when the opportunity to buy this 97 Ti Phoenix came up I figured it would kill two birds with one stone.

I'll save the writeup on the details of this from and the before after photo shoot for a proper post, and instead focus on the ride characteristics this time around.

Before I get into it I have to admit that writing these ride reviews/reports is pretty hard. I tend to pre-screen bikes that are known to have a racing oriented geometry, are light weight and for the most part are similarly equipped. So, among those there is a natural bell curve distribution whereby a majority of the bikes fall in the all around good pile, a few are disappointments and a few remarkably standout. So, while the Phoenix is definitely not an average bike by any means it didn't leave me breathless like the Cunningham. I suppose that had I ridden it first things may have been reversed. I will say that I logged my fastest lap or segment times on the Phoenix, but that is largely due to the suspension fork. The thing this bike has going for it is that there isn't a set of conditions, at least none that I have exposed it to that it can't handle adeptly. Unlike say a Klein which is great for climbing but brutal for descents or maybe the Merlin which isn't an exceptional climber or descender, but is a great bike for longer rides the Phoenix is solid all around.

For starters the geometry is almost a direct take off of a Cuningham Racer, always a great jump off point. Take that and throw on low gearing courtesy of a Suntour Microdrive 20/32/42 crankset and an 11-28 8-spd Shimano XT cassette and I can pretty much go anywhere. Tack on some wide 27" bars and a tuned up Rock Shox Judy fork to give the bike a charge anything attitude. Then anchor it with the powerful, albeit finicky WTB Lever Link front brake and the reliable Toggle Cam rear brake. Lastly wrap the whole thing in some modern 2.25 Onza Canis tires and you have a platform that is really capable of taking on any trail I can handle.

You can't talk about this bike and not get into the front brake. I had it pretty well set up, I did... who told you I didn't? I mean, it was pretty good. But then it went away. I have much to learn... Anyways, it's a tricky brake to work on, no doubt about it. I felt like it was really hooking up at first, but then it kind of went spongy on me and I could never quite get it back. Hyperbole? I think not.

I got some good tips from the guys at Blackmountain cycles so I'll have to try and work on it once I get the bike back. Suffice it to say these brakes have shown tremendous potential for both power and modulation. Almost to the point that the fork was too soft because there was so much brake dive on fast sections. Just goes to show it's all connected.

I love the wide bars on this bike. Obviously I have more leverage and then there is the added comfort. I've started converting most of my riders over to 25-27" wide bars. Luckily many of my bikes are at home with a Ti bar and those are relatively easy to find. I think the Yo, Merlin, Cunningham and this Phoenix all have wide bars and I'm going to extend the MC2 bars on the Adroit shortly. There are sections of the Middle Merrill trail that I never ever ride, and even thought it's been a while since I've been on there and the trail had suffered some serious erosion over the years I was able to ride virtually all of it and with great confidence. A true testament to to the bike's ability to both inspire and reassure!

Mark had this bike built with Shimano's M737 XT grouppo which borrowed the gear ratios from Suntour and their XC-PRO grouppo. Not being a huge fan of the look of the M737 parts (I am coming around I think),  but wanting the spread I decided to attempt my own approximation of the setup and run MD cranks with a regular XT cassette. The resulting combo is quite versatile and leaves enough top end power while enabling me to tackle both short punchy climbs and spin on long burners.

Unlike the front brake this TC worked from day 1. The cam took a bit of tweaking to get the cable to lay nicely but in the end it all came together nicely and the brake is working great. Maybe a touch grabby, but I can get that dialed in over time. I think I wasn't expecting the frame to be quite so stiff and added the WTB stiffener plate somewhat redundantly. In the end the brakes have a solid feel which I really like.

All in all this bike is a treat. Super stiff under power, but forgiving on technical descents. There really isn't a hint of flex, unlike my Merlin which has visible BB movement under heavy climbs. This is quite impressive as I'm about #215 and am not known for being finesse rider. The traction while climbing is also impressive. Whether seated or standing the bike feels very well connected and lends itself nicely to powering up punchy and loose climbs. I also really liked the way I could maneuver it through tight and twisty singletrack climbs while attacking out of the seat. Mind you I didn't do this long or often, but a couple sections of Winter Creek and Brown lend themselves nicely to that approach and the Phoenix was great.

I think it was the bars. Yeah, it must have been the bars... Navigating tight and tight and technical singletrack was almost eye opening. I'm sure the fork helps here, but there is this lightness to it, the easy with which I can put the front wheel onto or over anything and get the rear to kick it over is something I keenly felt on every ride. Almost like I remember my first few rides on the Adroit, but smoother and more forgiving.

Thinking back on the rides I really can't recall any faults. To summarize it I'd have to say the best part of the bike is it's lively nature. Sometimes Ti can lack a little spirit, but not here. You get a really connected feeling while riding, there is a solid path between you, the bike and the trail. It's easy to get the bike to do what you want and in response the bike treats you well. I never came off a ride feeling abused and beaten down like I sometimes do. Of course the bike is a great size for me and I can stress enough that having a suspension fork is quite a luxury from my point of view. Steve really is a wizard with Ti. I'm sure there are some amazing modern Ti bikes from the likes of Moots, Seven, Eriksen and the like, but I don't think anyone was achieving these results back in the 90s. As for me I'm keeping this bike and am looking forward to getting to know it even better!