Tuesday, April 2, 2019

1989 Grove Innovations Hard Core Prototype

Much like Preston Tucker and the Studebaker brothers, the legacy of Bill Grove and Grove Innovations is at risk of being relegated to a footnote in the annals of mountain bike history. Grove never attained the popularity of brands like Fat Chance, Potts or Ritchey, and for the most part it remained a regional favorite like Ted Wojcik or Off Road Toad. Having grown up in central Pennsylvania, I have always had an affinity for Groves; because of that, I feel a responsibility to cultivate and maintain an appreciation of these bikes and the people who built them, lest they become lost to history and time.



Grove and company had been making bikes and components as a small operation since the early 1980s. By the late ’80s, they were looking to expand the business. Enter Randy Moore. Moore was the owner of the Bicycle Shop, one of the larger bike shops in central PA and Grove’s primary retailer. Around 1989 he acquired a large stake in Grove, taking an active role in running the company and working with the team on developing products. Moore was known as one of the early mountain bike pioneers in PA and was part of the Bomber crew, who… well, let’s just say they took a contact-sports approach to riding bikes in the woods. Wanting a beefier bike, Moore asked Grove to make him a version of the Assault using tandem tubing. Grove delivered this prototype: the Hard Core. According to Moore, the bike never fit him well, so it was passed around the Grove camp, ridden and raced by other folks as part of the Hard Core’s development. Here are a few pics of the bike as it looked when first built, to be honest I'd much rather have the crazy original paintjob, but the orange and black splatter is pretty cool.



As a fan of Groves, I’m particularly interested in seeing how the models evolved and capturing the changes between early prototypes and production bikes. One of my favorite bikes in my stable is the 1991 Hard Core, which by all measures is the production version. While the Hard Core and the Assault look similar at first glance, a closer look reveals some subtle differences. One of the hallmarks of the Hard Core was its 13.5-inch bottom-bracket height, a real boon when trying to clear the countless fallen logs and rock gardens common in central PA.


This is Hard Core #7, aside from the lack of the bash guard and slightly different shaping of the top tube it's essentially the same bike as the original prototype. You can see the original writeup on that bike here.


This is my 1991 Hard Core which in my opinion represents the best iteration of the model (see original writeup here). The high bottom bracket takes a while to get used to as it puts the rider higher up than most bikes, but once get comfortable it's really a fun bike to ride. By contrast, the prototype accomplished the same task with a massive bash guard. Moore, not the most proficient bunny-hopper, wanted a way to smash through obstacles without damaging his chainrings. As far as I can tell, only this Hard Core and a Grove trials bike received such a bash guard.







Another difference between this prototype Hard Core and the original Assault is a smaller seat tube and seat cluster on the Hard Core, which resulted in a flatter and more ovalized top tube at the seat-tube junction. I highlight this because the degree to which the 1.5-inch top tube and the staggering 2-inch down tube were shaped and then seamlessly welded is really a testament to the skills of the craftsmen who built these bikes.







Grove made some straight blade forks before the Hard Core was first created. They had beef dropouts made from what looked almost like solid angle bracket. The fork on this bike is arguably one of the first "production" hard core forks.



Aside from the massive dropouts the rest of the forks remained largely unchanged from the early prototypes to the more refined final version.


Although the early Hard Cores including this prototype used pieces of the Assault rear triangle the seat stays and brake bridge were beefier. So, the bike retained some of the compliance but had a solid braking platform with minimal frame flex.


I've never gotten a straight answer as to why Grove chose to run track dropouts on the Hard Core (and the X) but not on the Assault. I always thought that they felt out of place given the burly frame construction, but perhaps the large weldable surface area was just the ticket in making for a sturdy rear end. I've said it before but the gentle fillet brazed transitions found on all Groves were a nice a touch and were a good indicator of the quality of the whole bike.





Being this is an 80s bike it's gotta have a portage strap, just don't plan on carrying a large water bottle in the seat tube mounted cage if you plan on doing any carrying.


Apparently Randy set out to sell this bike in the late fall, shortly after Grove introduced the Warning Orange paintjob. The new owner (from whom I bought the bike last year) didn't like the crazy neon paintjob and wanted some fresh paint and given the fall season and the new orange color decided on an appropriate paint scheme to go with the time of the year. Hence the black/orange fade with black splatter. While a cool color on its own, I'd rather have the rad original colors still on the bike. C'est la vie...


This bike, and the Hard Core in general, helped pave the way for what would become the freeride concept. At the time it was made, it was radically different from the majority of steel bikes on the market. While not obvious at first glance, the Hard Core is a really fun bike to ride. Though heavy by comparison, you forget about that quickly as the responsive and surprisingly nimble nature puts a smile on your face.  


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