Lately I’ve been thinking about the styles of mountain bikes that used to be around when I started riding, compared to what we have now. It’s pretty funny thinking about the stuff we used to ride around on.
Even basic rigid mountain bike weighed a lot back then- and it’s hardly surprising with the amount of extra metal on them!
Nowadays we have the lightweight steerer tube of the fork moving in upper and lower bearings, and a stem that clamps on the top and loads the bearings via a top cap. Simple and effective- and you only need a couple of Allen keys to remove the fork or stem to access the headset.
But then, we had thick steerer tubes that were threaded at the top. The fork would spin in the frame, and the top part of the headset would screw on to the fork, pre-loading it. Then, the stem would have a huge quill with an expanding wedge on the end that slide in to the steerer tube and clamp internally. You’d need two huge headset spanners, a mallet and an Allen key to access the headset, and the top locknut would rattle loose on a regular basis.
Brakes are another major change- even budget mountain bikes now can have high powered disc brakes at the low end, and really cheap bikes use V-brakes- which operate with a high amount of leverage.
Unlike the old Cantilever brakes, which could be set up to work well, but there were a lot of factors- how far in to push the pads, how low the straddle cable should be, should they be spongy or woody etc. They were a nightmare.
Especially when riding a fast wet downhill in the winter, and going to use the brakes only for nothing to happen- except maybe a howl from the brake pads, and probably a howl from the rider in a moment of sheer terror…
And do you remember how big chainrings were then? Just think about three big old chain rings- up to 48tooth outer rings on some mountain bikes, and the amount of chain to wind round them! With smaller cogs on cassettes we now have compact chain sets- which are far lighter, use less heavy chain and give clearance too, as well as the all important gearing for winching up the hills and hammering down again.
Take a look on Retrobike.co.uk whether or not the old stuff interests you- there’s some amazing old technology on there, and bike designs that will make you wonder what the heck was going on back then. Many early mountain bikes were definitely a case of being built because they could be, rather than because they should be…