You know what's gonna happen with Hip-Hop?
Whatever's happening with us
If we smoked out, Hip-Hop is gonna be smoked out
If we doin alright, Hip-Hop is gonna be doin alright
I think it's pretty obvious that the current popularity of vintage mountain bikes is largely driven by nostalgia for the golden age of mountain biking. The age range of the vintage mountain bike enthusiast is between 33-48 (based on web traffic to sites and forums), which is about right given that many of us were in our teens or early 20s when the sport blew up. So, it makes sense that we're trying to capture or recapture a little bit of that wonderful time when the bikes were simpler and maybe more elegant and the sport itself seemed a little more approachable. Or maybe we just want what we couldn't have back then. Whatever our individual reasons, we scour the internet, pinch our pennies and spend countless hours working on, riding and in the end mostly just talking about the bikes and people that made the sport special in our time.
So, is all of this sustainable? Are we in a bubble? Does it really matter?? There is no simple answer to any of those questions - well, except maybe the last one. But that's mostly a personal issue anyway.
Personally, I'm not old enough to have the experience of being part of any other group collecting vintage things. I've heard many stories and accounts of how cars, motorcycles or even cameras and calculators went through phases of desirability and collectability. Some have become mainstream, while others have faded into obscurity or altogether disappeared. Obviously the closest analog for vintage mountain bikes are other bikes- road or BMX come to mind. Both road bikes and BMX enjoy a vibrant collecting scene, with events, shows and a lot of resources for collectors. But even then, bicycles in general do not have the same ubiquitous presence as cars or motorcycles. There isn't a central governing body that puts on vintage events, stages shows or otherwise promotes the hobby. In regards to mountain biking, that makes a fair amount of sense, as the roots of the sport itself were a countercultural movement, so celebrating that spirit by wrapping it in a blanket of classifications and formality seems kind of wrong. However, sometimes you have to evolve to move forward.
I feel that some more structure would be a positive step forward. By structure I mean some classifications for what is considered vintage and maybe some delineation of subsets of classes. This has already been done in some areas, but rather informally. Many forums have a cut-off of '94-'96 for what they accepts as vintage, and some races with vintage classes make a break at '86-'87 to create two classes. So, the framework is there, but it could use some more clarity and definition.
Why is this good? Well, in my opinion, this would create a guideline by which event coordinators for bike shows (like NAHBS, for example) or mountain bike races could stage classes for competition. Getting recognition for vintage mountain bikes at shows, races and in publications is an important step in teaching a new generation of riders about the background of the sport and possibly bringing a new cadre of collectors into the fold. After all, what will happen to all of our precious bikes in 20-30 years when we can no longer care for them? We need to have someone to pass on the torch.
Going much further beyond that right away may be difficult and only serve to alienate people. While many of us may wish to own a fancy race bike, not everyone can - for a multitude of reasons. So, while some people strive to have the one bike they couldn't get back in the day, others are happiest re-acquiring their first bike. Who's to say one is better than the other? When it comes to measuring one bike against another, we have to remain objective, so our personal feelings can't play a part. This is less important in races, as someone can race on a fancy bike and get their ass handed to to them by someone hammering a Rockhopper. It simply comes down to "ride what you brung." However, if vintage bikes are to have a place in bike shows, then some further guidelines around classes of bikes or other means for judging one bike against another would be helpful. Potential classes could include: catalog spec (for the purists), race bike replicas (for the fanboys), or maybe a catch-all open class for those who feel that most bling is best.
The main problem with this is the lack of a central governing body. While there are several main forums where vintage bikes are shown and discussed, the opinions about what's right and wrong or good and bad vary dramatically, and I can't imagine all groups aligning behind a single voice created by one of the forums. Perhaps something like the MBHoF could pull together and curate more than a museum, but I don't feel that the will to do that lies within that organization. Alternatively, one of the larger publications could start the conversation and create a set of guidelines, but again I'm not convinced that any of the majors harbor that desire. We may need a new party to emerge with not only the will, but the respect of the broader community and the ability to evangelize the message.
We've done fine for almost 20 years without any such organization taking hold. So, why now?? Well, maybe the period of nostalgia is running out of time. Many of the collectors who have been around for 10+ years have completed their collections, or are about to. Perhaps only now we are seeing a critical mass of people interested in vintage mountain bikes and the start of a broader recognition of the importance of the early bikes and their riders. If that's the case, then the time is right to take a step forward and ensure the continuation of the hobby.