Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Two Cases Of Misunderstood Bikes

Today I am posting about two bicycles. One, an influential rig in several ways, the other, a "poster child" for a group of bikes from an era that is getting misunderstood. First- The Influential one....

Bruce Gordon, (who plays a prominent part in my "The Beginnings Of The Modern 29"er: A History" story found here), has been making a model called the "Rock & Road" for more years than you can shake a stick at. Noted for its adaptability for off road trails, this 700c bike, at least at first, was the bike that sported the biggest knobby 700c tire you could get. It was oft sold as a flat bar bike as well, so this isn't necessarily a one trick pony when it comes to set up. How is this misunderstood today?

Well, some folks are saying it was/is a "monster-cross" bike. I say, no. It isn't, and here is why....

First of all, the whole "monster-cross" thing is almost laughably undefined. What some folks think is a monster-cross bike is another person's plain ol' cyclo-cross rig, and then some of these bikes are too "mountain bike-ish" for others to see any "cross-bike" in them. Some say disc brakes are a no-no, some say they are okay. Some say a level top tube is a must, some say it don't matter none.

See what I mean? And I haven't brought up the entire tire width debate. To toss the "monster-cross" tag on Bruce Gordon's fine, influential 700c off-roader would be a disservice. Did it make folks pursue the "monster-cross" ideal? Well, I seriously doubt most folks into the whole "monster-cross" scene even know who Bruce Gordon is, much less anything about his Rock & Road bike. Influential, maybe, but definitely not a monster-cross bike here folks. My take is that Mr. Gordon helped perpetuate the "adventure" side of cycling, which has been expanded upon recently, most notably by Salsa Cycles, but I digress....

Just like the Rock & Road bike isn't really a "monster-cross" bike, the 90's era 700c based mountain bikes are not 29"ers. I know lots of folks will disagree with me, but think about it: The modern 29"er gets its name from the tire diameter. (2" plus wide, high volume tire on a 700c rim = nominally 29 inches diameter). Simple enough. Okay- using that criteria, the 90's era bikes with 700c rims, (see Bob Poor's oft ripped off photo, to the left here), like the Diamond Back Overdrive, Bianchi Project Series bikes, Specialized's Crossroads, various Gary Fisher models, and others were just 700c off road bikes. Some had 28" tires, most were smaller than that.

The Diamond Back gets credited the most with being a 29"er, but, even though it had 45mm wide, true off-road rubber, it falls short by the measuring stick we use today. (Pun intended) Yes- like Bob Poor's example shown here, you could shoe-horn in a Nanoraptor with an appropriate amount of chain stay manipulation, and then I suppose you could qualify it as being a 29"er. However; it wasn't ever sold that way, obviously, and was never intended to have tires, (which didn't exist at the time), that big stuffed in there.

Once again, it took "The Tire"- the WTB Nanoraptor- to usher in the 29"er movement as we know it in 1999. These other bikes faded into obscurity before the Nano's introduction, and 700c mountain biking morphed into the contemptible "hybrid" bike of the late 90's. So, any way you look at these bikes, the most you can say is that they were slightly influential on what became 29"ers, but really, more than that they were failed attempts at big wheeled off roading, which the Nanoraptor helped fix after its introduction.

Two bicycles, two misunderstood takes on big wheeled fun. These bikes should be looked at in the context of the times they were introduced in, not through the eyes of what we understand today as "monster-cross" or 29"ers.

10 comments:

TheMutt said...

I currently ride a Diamondback Overdrive. Even though the first one they made wasn't a "true" 29er, it's nice to ride something that was at least part of the history of 29ers. Great write up.

kerrythurgood said...

Ted.Back in the late 80's, early 90's Specialized had a bike called the Rockcombo. Very close to the Rock "N" Rode.

Guitar Ted said...

@kerrythurgood: Yes, the RockCombo was a drop bar bike, but it had 26 inch wheels. It certainly was part of the late 80's drop bar mtb craze. Here's a link with some good info on the model; http://www.cyclingforums.com/forum/thread/182586/fs-1988-specialized-rockcombo-250

The CrossRoads, (at least the early 90's version), was the 700c bike with intentions of off roading.

d.p. said...

Seems a bit silly as the innerweb world gets stuck on the semantics of nomenclature. Maybe good for marketing but a deal killer for innovation. To me, monster cross seems more like a style of riding than a style-less homogenization of frame geometry and gadgetry.

ps my next bike will be a purpose built monster-lite-tourer 29er with clearence for 3.7's.

MG said...

... can't wait to see that bike, d.p. I agree that "monster cross" is more a state of mind (and a reflected set-up of bike) than a specific "type" of bike. It's not like you walk into a shop and say, I want to buy a monster cross bike. I mean, some cool shops would know what you're talking about, but what stock, built bike are they gonna' sell you? And a lot of the newbies working retail on shop floors will simply look at you like you're from Mars if you ask 'em to see a monster 'crosser.

But that said, I have a couple of bikes in my stable that could easily be considered monster 'crossers, and I love 'em. In particular, the ability to mix it up on gravel with my buddies, then duck into sweet singletrack if I want is especially appealing. You guys know what I'm talking about... I'm preachin' to the choir!

Steve Fuller said...

In the end, they're bikes and my favorite place to ride them is anywhere but pavement.

Matt Maxwell said...

So 29ers are all about nominal tire diameter? That means the Snow Dog must be a 29er too.

Just trying to create controversy. ;)

Guitar Ted said...

@Matt Maxwell: No controversy here. I agree 100%. Although, as you well know, a fat bike rides nothing like a 29"er or a 26"er. Not exactly, at any rate. So, while the overall diameter of a Larry on a Rolling Darryl is tantalizingly close to 29"es, the performance of a fat bike is definitely unique unto itself.

youcancallmeAl said...

if , as you claim, a monstercross bike has no definite definition then you cannt say whay IS NOT a monstercross bike any more than you can say what IS a monstercross bike.

Guitar Ted said...

@youcancallmeAl: Really? How about this: We can't really pinpoint what a "monstercross" bike is, but a road racing bike is definitely not a "monstercross" bike. Neither is a BMX bike a "monstercross" bike.

I could go on.....