31 July 2010

Just about a bike: Retrotec

I wish I could tell you my first mountain bike was a Raleigh Elkhorn.  But it wasn't.  My little brother's  first mountain bike was a Raleigh Elkhorn.

To me, his second-hand Elkhorn was a very cool bike... I envied it from the git-go.  Right down to the one-size-fits-all paint-color (forest green, natch).  In 1991, to my untrained eye, his Elkhorn just seemed to be a bike built for one thing: riding around in the woods.  I envied it then.  I'm still a little envious of it now.  And I'm more than a little disappointed that he sold it... probably to some dirt-bag who ruined it leaving it out in the snow all winter, or let it get stolen, or let it disintegrate into just another a clapped-out beater bike downtown.  Tell ya what: someday I'm gonna find me a really sweet old Elkhorn of my own... one that someone's been keeping in a nice, dry garage for like 30 years.  And I'm gonna ride it a bunch, in the woods, and I'm never ever going to sell it.

No. My first mountain bike was not an Elkhorn.  My first mountain bike was a Motiv Ground Pounder.

Oh, the shame of it...

Motiv's were everywhere in the 1990s.  Sold then, and until recently, by Price Clubs, Costcos, and other similar big-box-bulk retailers, Motiv bikes were inexpensive mountain bikes aimed squarely at the mass market.  Back in mountain biking's hey-day they sported pseudo-exciting names (like Ground Pounder, Rock Ridge, and Stone Grinder), garish color-schemes, goopy Taiwanese TIG-welds, super-wide, deeply-padded saddles, and cheap Shimano gruppos (mine was Exage 500LX) with the number of gears (21-speed!) labeled prominently on the chainstay.  Lots of people had them.

Riding my Motiv.
Cactus Cup, Scottsdale, AZ, March 1992
But today, if you scour the Internet for any information on old Motiv mountain bikes (I know; I tried.) you'll come up nearly empty-handed.   Their domain registration appears to have expired in 2006 (but their old website, motivsports.com has been preserved at archive.org). No one collects them.  No one even seems to have kept them running.  They were too cheap and too mass-market to ever have become collectable.  But, if you look a little further down in the search results you'll find a few additional Motiv-related nuggets... mentions of Motiv bikes abound in forums for beginners, for newbies, for the totally uninitiated.  Turns out, as someone who first got enticed to ride bikes in the woods by riding a Motiv there, I've got a lot of company.  So there's that.  And, well, for that fact alone, and despite the shame I sometimes feel towards it, I will always credit my old Motiv, my first mountain bike, as the important and valuable... seriously: life-changing... bike that it really and truly was.

Fresh from the powdercoater in 1992
But I didn't ride the Motiv for long.  I owned it for about 18 months before I gave it (sold it?) to my other younger brother so it could become his first mountain bike.  Because, about a year after I moved to Flagstaff, early in the summer of 1992, I'd finally saved up enough money working the night shift at Bookman's to buy myself a new bike... actually just a new bike frame... stripped naked and devoid of any-and-all parts, accessories, or accoutrements such as frame decals or head-badges.  Nevertheless it was, at the time, The Bike Of My Dreams... a Bob Seals Retrotec... Number 64, to be precise.  Not exactly a custom bike, built just for me... but a brand new, exotic, handmade steel mountain bike like no other that might as well have been built just for me.

Bartlett Wash
Moab, UT, 1993
Within two weeks, I'd had it powder-coated (black), built it up with whatever discounted parts I could scrounge at my local bike shop, and got busy riding it.  It's silly, and probably still a figment of my imagination, but I swear: the bike immediately improved my abilities as a rider.  I'd never crossed Rocky Ridge, the then-super-challenging, quite-well-named, local trail I'd been practicing my skills on for at least a year, with fewer than 4 dabs... until my first ride across its undulating traverse on the Retrotec... when I cleaned it, in its entirety. No dabs at all!   Needless to say, it was more-or-less at this moment that I became a believer in the value of a good bike... and in the assertion that my Retrotec, more than most other bikes in the world, possessed some sort of special magic that made me a better rider.

The Retro's still a favorite-bike.  And I still ride it a lot, several times a month, for sure.  But it's changed character more than any of my other bikes in the intervening years.  It's had flat bars and riser bars, as well as a Surly Torsion Bar with huge sweep... it's had rigid forks and suspension forks, cantilever brakes and widget brakes, toeclips and clipless pedals, bar ends or not, several wheelsets, all kinds of new gearing, and more than a couple different stems... including, at one time, an Allsop suspension stem
Internally-routed cables
which failed rather catastrophically on me while I was riding down a big rock in Sedona.  Ka-blooey.

Now, some 20 years later, the Retro's become a bit of a relic, I guess.  Over the years it's been broken and repaired (by Curtis Inglis).  And it's broken me pretty badly a couple times, too.  It's really just another in a long line of well-worn old hand-built mountain bikes from the 1990s.  They're not all that rare.  Not really.  That's certainly one way to look at it anyway.  And, indeed, that's the most common reaction to the bike when I show up for a group ride riding it.  But I prefer to view it as more of a period-piece... a good, solid, working example of a by-gone but-good era, of a time not so long ago, back when mountain biking was a lot newer.  That makes its mostly eclectic and almost universally obsolete parts-mix a little more interesting and a whole lot less sad.

I like the bike's unpainted clearcoat finish and the way the brass fillets add golden details to the bike's otherwise gray color.  I'm quite proud of the clearcoated Koski DuraTrack fork and Salsa ProMoto stem, too, as well as the black-anno IRD seatpost, silver IRD Widget brakes, and black IRD rear-brake
Mount Elden
Flagstaff, AZ
booster.  I like the old ratcheting black Shimano Deerhead top-mount shifters, the Dia-Compe SS-5 brake levers and the Oury grips.  I think the gun-metal-blue and silver XTR M900 rear derailleur is the best looking bike part Shimano ever produced, and that the polished silver XT hubs and the 110mm 5-bolt XT cranks run a close second and third (in that order).  I'm convinced the hand-laced wheels built on gray Mavic 217 hoops match the frame color almost perfectly.  I still think they're simple-n-cool, so I have old-school Onza clipless pedals on most of my bikes, including this one.  And finally, I think the black 1-inch Chris King 2Nut headset and the stainless King bottle cages add a nice touch of class.

For what it's worth, the black Ritchey Pro 30mm riser bars and the Specialized BG Pro saddle aren't really period, but they're not ridiculous either.  Plus, I like them.

It started with a Motiv.  Sure.  The Motiv set the hook in me, no question about it.  But the Retrotec will always be the bike that taught me how to ride well and moreover, how to become a better rider.  And for that I'll always sorta consider it First-Bike.

The Motiv's long gone, and that's okay.

The Retro will always be with me.

Click images to enlarge

Mountain Bike Action - Dec. 1992

Bicycling+Mountain Bike Mar. 1993

Bicycling+Mountain Bike - Mar. 1993


Unknown said...

I traded it in on an Alpine Star bike with those raised chain stays. I believe I recall seeing it around town for several more years in quite good shape.

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May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. -- Ed Abbey