Bicycling (South Africa) - - Birth Of An Icon - BY JOE LIND­SEY PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY MATT NAGER


The white and grey paint is scratched and gouged in too many spots to count. The parts are a cu­ri­ous mish­mash of swish up­grades from 15 years ago, and sec­ond-hand near-junk bought at a lo­cal char­ity shop. That dash­ing red chevron on the top and down tube that seemed so fetch­ing to me all those years ago? Time and de­cay have re­vealed it to be not paint, but rather a cheap, un­pro­tected de­cal. Same for ‘Bridge­stone’ and ‘MB-1’.

This is my old moun­tain bike, cur­rently my townie, my jalopy. I own 6.5 bi­cy­cles (the half is a shared dirt jumper). But if all were lost to­mor­row in a fire, the one I would mourn the most is the most di­lap­i­dated run­ner in the bunch. I have owned it for 27 years. When I bought it new, I never dreamed where it would take me, and what it would come to mean to me. I BOUGHT IT for $1 100 (cur­rently R15 000) in the spring of 1991, with a matric-pass cheque from my folks and money scraped to­gether from my min­i­mum-wage in­come from a fast-food joint. I’d been rid­ing bikes se­ri­ously for three years at that point, en­ter­ing lo­cal cri­teri­ums and a stage race with in­aus­pi­cious re­sults. I had a de­cent road bike, but I was roost­ing around lo­cal green­belt sin­gle­track and BMX parks on a clapped-out ATB Trail­mas­ter Dad bought at a depart­ment store for R1 000. I’d man­aged to bend the fork and put a large dent in the rear rim bun­ny­hop­ping kerbs, which of course meant I needed nicer equip­ment to trash.

Pretty quickly, I de­cided it must be a Bridge­stone. Which one, ex­actly, changed through­out win­ter and spring, as I saved. I started with sights set on the MB-3, a sturdy, ser­vice­able ma­chine, around R9 500. Soon, I talked my­self up to the R12 000 MB-2. Up­grades, you know.

In a dog-eared cat­a­logue I cadged from the lo­cal dealer, I made de­tailed notes on spec dif­fer­ences. Be­fore long, I’d ra­tio­nalised my way to the MB-1. Hand-brazed in Ja­pan, it had a full Ritchey Logic Pres­tige frame – dou­ble-butted tubes through­out for lighter weight. Im­por­tant, right? It was also the fur­thest my fi­nan­cial reach would grasp. Yes, the fa­bled MB-0, made for only two years and even to­day the sub­ject of spir­ited eBay bid­ding, was the bike I de­served, I told my­self. But it was R20 000 (about R38k, in to­day’s money): re­served for tax brack­ets well above the min­i­mum-wage re­wards of heat­ing up burg­ers and chips.

So, MB-1 it was. The sum­mer day I brought it home, one of my friends had a school-leav­ing party, and I rode the bike there. Doug and Jill and Eric and Mon­ica and the Kevins gath­ered around to of­fer ap­pre­ci­a­tion; but most vivid to me now was my hot fear and anger af­ter Doug crashed my new bike try­ing to pop a wheelie. Thank­fully, the bike was un­dam­aged. So was Doug, I think.

While I’d dab­bled in road rac­ing, I had yet to try the fast-grow­ing XC dis­ci­pline. →in­ally I had a bike wor­thy of it, and that sum­mer I en­tered my first MTB race at a lo­cal park. There were maybe 10 of us in the ju­nior Sport cat­e­gory that day. Given my un­promis­ing road rac­ing re­sults, I had low ex­pec­ta­tions. I started poorly, as usual. But the race was three times around a short-ish lap with one big climb, and if there was one thing I could do, it was climb.

By the end of lap one I’d picked my way through half the field. Af­ter two laps, I was third, and in sight of the first rider. The last time up the climb, I put my head down and poured ev­ery ounce of my­self into the ped­als, pass­ing one rider and then the sec­ond. At the crest, I was glo­ri­ously in the lead, with just a de­scent to the fin­ish. Cross­ing a rut, I felt the rear tyre bot­tom hard, and then go soft. I tried to ride it out, but it was like pedalling over a wet mat­tress. One rider passed me back again, then the sec­ond. At the line, I was a heart­bro­ken third.

Dis­ap­point­ment passed quickly, re­placed by the in­tox­i­cat­ing me­mory of near-suc­cess. With­out the flat, I told my­self, I’d have won. I pe­rused a copy of VeloNews, and – pre­sum­ably, still high on that post-race buzz – found what seemed like an ap­pro­pri­ate next goal: a 24-hour solo race called Mon­tezuma’s Re­venge. WHY DID I pick Bridge­stone, a largely for­got­ten brand that lasted just over 10 years in the US? My me­mory of the paths not taken is hazy: I’m sure that I thought about Spe­cial­ized, with its iconic Stumpjumper. Had I lived on the East Coast, the Can­non­dale M800 – the Beast of the East! – would’ve been a strong con­tender. I’m pos­i­tive that I lusted af­ter the Ritchey P-21. Although if the MB-0 was not in my price range, the hand­made, fil­let-brazed P-21,


with its pa­tri­otic tri­colour fade, was clearly be­yond all hope.

As I look back now as a jour­nal­ist who writes about bikes, it’s pretty clear why Bridge­stone spoke to me: that cat­a­logue. The brand stopped sell­ing bikes in Amer­ica af­ter 1994. But in its day, it had an out­size rep­u­ta­tion as an icon­o­clas­tic, qual­ity brand known for so­phis­ti­cated cat­a­logues that glo­ri­fied a com­plete life­style, decades be­fore oth­ers thought about branded con­tent or am­bas­sadors.

In­stead of just dry spec list­ings and ge­om­e­try charts, the 1991 cat­a­log was near mag­a­zine-like in length (40 pages) and con­tent. It was all in colour, fea­tur­ing ac­tion mod­els and per­son­al­i­ties like Karen the cy­cling ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist, Pineap­ple Bob, and Min­nesota leg­end ‘Gene-O’. There were ar­ti­cles that wouldn’t be out of place to­day in this mag­a­zine: how to re­duce your aero drag, what frame stiff­ness is and why it mat­ters, and a two-page fea­ture tu­to­rial on cor­ner­ing, with pho­tos of a scan­dalously hel­met­less model.

I sought out and kept those an­nual cat­a­logues, even af­ter buy­ing a bike, be­cause they were more than just sales tools. I scru­ti­nised Michael King’s body po­si­tion in the piece on cor­ner­ing tech­nique. I ea­gerly read ar­ti­cles on gear­ing, or frame-build­ing styles. A story on low-im­pact trail rid­ing helped in­spire my first jour­nal­is­tic fea­ture: an es­say for my high-school English class about moun­tain bikes and trail ero­sion. Those cat­a­logues taught me as much about bikes, and cy­cling jour­nal­ism, as read­ing Bi­cy­cling or VeloNews.

So why Bridge­stone? Be­cause the cat­a­logues spoke to me as a 17-year-old find­ing his way on the bike and in the world, who didn’t know who he was but glimpsed in those pages a ver­sion of who he might want to be.

SO, THE RE­VENGE. I was ig­no­rant, un­der­trained, and wildly over­matched, with al­most zero idea of what I was get­ting into. Mon­tezuma’s Re­venge was an ab­so­lutely id­i­otic, in­spired idea: a 24-hour solo ‘moun­tain-bike odyssey’ start­ing and fin­ish­ing in the tiny ham­let of Mon­tezuma, Colorado, and al­most en­tirely above 2 750m. (Clever motto: ‘You ain’t shit un­til you’ve had the Re­venge!’)

The 290km-plus course was un­marked – rid­ers sim­ply had to learn it in ad­vance – and un­fin­ish­able. Who­ever got fur­thest on the nine dif­fer­ent loops, with 10 cross­ings of the Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide, was the win­ner. On one loop, rac­ers hiked their bikes up a steep, rocky field to the sum­mit of Gray’s Peak (4 352m) and back down an­other face, through a sec­tion of cliff bands. At night. Af­ter 160km of rac­ing.

I knew about all that. In­tel­lec­tu­ally, that is. In the­ory. I trained all sum­mer, mostly with long road rides, and scouted parts of the course the week be­fore. But it didn’t mat­ter: I got dropped al­most im­me­di­ately, and DN→’ed 120km in with ex­cru­ci­at­ing knee pain. I failed to fin­ish the next two years, as well. I failed in train­ing. I failed in prepa­ra­tion, in plan­ning, and in per­se­ver­ance. I failed in so many ways. But the Bridge­stone never failed. It was light and didn’t hold me back on the long climbs. I rode the tech­ni­cal stuff in con­trol and with­out crash­ing. The rigid fork was proven and re­li­able; even as I jack­ham­mered over rocks and bumps, I never wor­ried about it break­ing. Look­ing back, af­ter that first one I don’t even re­mem­ber an­other flat tyre.


IN THE YEARS af­ter my Re­venge fail­ures, the Bridge­stone trans­formed. Or, rather, the bike in­dus­try left it be­hind, forc­ing it to change. →ull sus­pen­sion be­gan to fi­nally de­liver hints of its prom­ise. Disc brakes, fat­ter steerer tubes, wider axle spac­ing fol­lowed. Steel was re­placed by alu­minium, and then car­bon fi­bre.

I still rode and raced my MB-1, but even­tu­ally a sandy cross-coun­try event de­stroyed the driv­e­train. Even cleaned, it never shifted prop­erly. Ob­so­lete and ex­pen­sive to re­vive, the MB-1 could have been junked. In­stead, it adapted. The sin­gle-speed fad was in its in­fancy and I was in­trigued by its sense of fun, which seemed to have gone miss­ing from tra­di­tional XC rac­ing. So with Paul Com­po­nent’s then-new WORD (Wacky One-Speed Rear De­vice) hub and a Surly

Sin­gleator, the Bridge­stone and I joined the one-speeder club. Not long af­ter, I left the only real job I’ve ever had, and moved back to Boul­der, where sin­gle-speed was both a bike and a so­cial scene.

It wasn’t just sin­gle-speed­ing’s sim­plic­ity that ap­pealed to me; it was its ab­sur­dity – why would you have just one gear?! That was high­lighted by ac­tiv­i­ties like the Wed­nes­day lunch rides with a lo­cal sin­gle­speed crew called the In­ter­galac­tic Pi­lots, which in­cluded stunts like rid­ing in teams of two with bikes tied to­gether with rope. Sin­gle-speed­ing en­abled my favourite ap­proach to rid­ing, best de­scribed as quirky. Rather than to­day’s cookie-cut­ter in­dus­trial sin­gle­track, I like quiet, small, tight trails where you de­scend no faster than you climb. In­stead of signs, I pre­fer trail­side shrines made of pop cul­ture ob­jects, like the me­tre-tall plas­tic Pooh Bear on one trail, and a rub­ber foot in a tree on an­other. And the best rides are the ones where I can go for hours and see more deer than peo­ple.

Even­tu­ally, the sin­gle-speed fad faded (it re­ally is the wrong gear, all the time), and the rigid fork grew more ob­nox­ious than ec­cen­tric on tech­ni­cal trails. The Bridge­stone’s one-inch steerer tube made it ef­fec­tively im­pos­si­ble to add any kind of sus­pen­sion, in a land­scape of 11/8-inch and ta­pered steerer tubes.

So it trans­formed again. Af­ter a cou­ple years of rest in my garage, I con­verted it to a 10-speed util­ity bike. It’s my ride of choice for gro­cery runs, er­rands, and avoid­ing the shit­show that is park­ing in Boul­der when I meet friends on Pearl Street for a beer. I put a rear rack on and un­earthed an old set of Moun­tain­smith pan­niers to ex­pand its haul­ing ca­pac­ity. →or about six months last year, I even did an e-bike con­ver­sion with a Copen­hagen Wheel, a seam­less, sim­ple process that said as much about the bike’s adapt­abil­ity as it did the Wheel’s de­sign. And be­ing a Bridge­stone, with a some­what eclec­tic parts mix, in a bike-mad town like Boul­der, it also serves as a con­ver­sa­tion piece. When I bought it, I’d ride it al­most daily. And now, I do so again.

‘Cruiser’ might be the MB-1’s fi­nal in­car­na­tion, but as it’s lived at least three lives till now, who can say? When I swapped the parts for cruis­ing, I took a mo­ment to ap­pre­ci­ate, again, the prac­ti­cal, re­strained wis­dom in its cre­ation. Even in 1991, bike­mak­ers were qui­etly elim­i­nat­ing stuff from frames that added weight or cost, like mud­guard eye­lets. But be­cause Bridge­stone kept them, I can add mud­guards with­out ugly, cum­ber­some clip-on brack­ets. Its stan­dard, English-thread bot­tom bracket shell means parts are still easy to find. And be­cause it’s steel, I can al­ways cold-set the rear tri­an­gle to ac­cept slightly wider axles. I HAVE OWNED, and sold, other bikes that to a stranger would have far more value. And I have other bikes with that ‘for­ever bike’ sta­tus: a gor­geous steel Pe­goretti, an iconic Raleigh team track bike. Like the Bridge­stone, they have sen­ti­men­tal value to me. But in those cases, there are sort-of-ra­tio­nal ex­pla­na­tions for their for­ever-bike sta­tus that would make sense to an­other cy­clist. The Bridge­stone? Maybe to a few of us who re­mem­ber the brand as I do. But to most, the first re­ac­tion is, “Don’t they make car tyres?”

It’s not pretty, with scratched and gouged paint and faded and peel­ing de­cals. The parts are of­ten cheap used stuff, like a sec­ond-hand Sun­tour GPX rear de­railleur, or the De­ore XT thumb­shifters, which I bought be­cause they have a fric­tion mode, which means the driv­e­train never needs ad­just­ing. There’s a ‘Made in Hun­gary’ sticker on the head tube that some­one slapped on long ago as a joke. When I ride no-hands, there’s a sub­tle but un­mis­take­able speed wob­ble up front. And be­cause it’s old, it may very well break one day when I ride it off a curb with a full load of gro­ceries in the pan­niers.

And yet, this least of bikes, this un­re­mark­able left­over, this kludged-to­gether… thing, is my most trea­sured twowheeled posses­sion. When we were both new – to cy­cling, to adult­hood – the fu­ture was bright, clear, and clean. No doubt, no losses to scar us, no ques­tions of iden­tity and self-worth that come with age and ex­pe­ri­ence and fail­ure. Time has brought plenty of those. But each chal­lenge has been met not with re­trench­ment, but with rein­car­na­tion, adap­ta­tion, and ac­cep­tance.

A quar­ter of a cen­tury ago, I har­boured vague and un­re­al­is­tic dreams as a racer. Thank­fully, I failed to achieve them. Had I suc­ceeded, I might have dis­carded the Bridge­stone for a new ride when tech­nol­ogy over­took it. Had I not found the cat­a­logues, per­haps I would not have cho­sen jour­nal­ism. I love this bike not be­cause of what it is, but be­cause of what we – it and I – are to­gether. What we’ve been through. What we’ve be­come. And what we may yet be.



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