Canadian Cycling Magazine - - VINTAGE VELO -

To grasp the in­flu­ence of Char­lie Cun­ning­ham’s bikes fully on the de­vel­op­ment of the modern moun­tain bike, you have to go back to the late 1970s. Other moun­tain bike builders, such as Tom Ritchey, Joe Breeze and Char­lie Kelly, were pro­duc­ing steel bikes with su­per-slack an­gles and long wheel­bases. Sure, these rigs were great for de­scend­ing, but they were heavy and han­dled like gi­ant land yachts. Want­ing some­thing more nim­ble, Cun­ning­ham put his me­chan­i­cal and aerospace en­gi­neer­ing ex­per­tise to work and built a com­pact frame out of light­weight 6061 alu­minum that had steeper and more re­spon­sive ge­om­e­try. The re­sult was a bike that weighed about 24 lb. in an era when moun­tain bikes fre­quently clocked in around 30 lb. And yet, even with this low over­all weight, Cun­ning­ham’s bikes were in­cred­i­bly durable and never suf­fered from the fre­quent cracking that other alu­minum moun­tain bike man­u­fac­tur­ers would ex­pe­ri­ence in the years to come – a tes­ta­ment to his un­der­stand­ing of ma­te­ri­als and con­struc­tion.

While Cun­ning­ham’s frames were un­doubt­edly ahead of the curve, it would be wrong to ig­nore his equally im­por­tant com­po­nent in­no­va­tions. At a time when moun­tain bikes were be­ing reined in with flimsy can­tilever brakes, Cun­ning­ham i ntro­duced his roller­cam brake. Un­like the li­censed ver­sion found on more pro­duc­tion-ori­ented bikes (that was of­ten im­prop­erly mounted and there­fore less ef­fec­tive), Cun­ning­ham’s roller cams de­liv­ered what many thought were the pin­na­cle of brak­ing power and mod­u­la­tion. Other per­haps more sub­tle com­po­nent im­prove­ments by Cun­ning­ham in­clude the pre­cise han­dling Type 2 forks, 135-mm wide rear dropout spac­ing (when 125 mm was the norm), the grease-guard bear­ing sys­tem (for easy main­te­nance of hubs, head­sets, bot­tom brack­ets and ped­als) and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary Ground Con­trol tire. The Racer in the photo was pro­duced in the early ’90s and is one of fewer than 200 bikes made by Cun­ning­ham. With its nu­mer­ous sub­tle up­dates from his orig­i­nal bikes, it high­lights Cun­ning­ham’s never-end­ing de­sire to im­prove moun­tain bike de­sign. The bike also show­cases many con­cepts that the more main­stream bike in­dus­try even­tu­ally em­braced. – Gusalexan­dropou­los

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