1991 was a year to remember. Tim Berners-Lee let loose the first website (and in one click of a mouse destroyed workplace productivity forever more), Desert Storm kicked off and Robert Maxwell went for a very long swim. But for me 1991 was the year I will always associate with Tomac kicking arse in Italy, Rock Shox putting a spring in our step for the first time and, above all, the SUPERBIKE.
As a 16 year old with a Raleigh Mustang and Saturday job that paid £25 a day I could only dream of owning one of the new breed of boutique superbikes that were appearing on the pages of MBA or on the floors of shops like Bromley Bikes, Sshokwave or Split. Bikes like the £1,500 Pace RC100, the £1,000 Yeti Ultimate frame, £2,000 Klein Attitude and most importantly the Doug Bradbury Manitou frameset for an eye-watering £2,950.
Doug Bradbury, before he sold his Colorado based company to Answer, was a mountain-biking pioneer. He was at the cutting edge of engineering and machining bespoke parts and frames specifically to suit this hurly-burly new sport. Everything about his bikes was unique, from the 145mm rear axle that allowed a dish-less rear wheel and the 90mm width BB shell for the optimum chainline, to the amazing, cutting edge suspension forks with a full inch of elastomer travel.
He was also one of the innovators in full suspension, his framesets using an additional set of forks where the seatstays should be, offering another bump-soaking inch of travel at the back. Rightfully he is now a member of the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, something that is justified every time we ride our modern rigs over roots and ruts.
Fast forward 17 years – I’m now richer, fatter and slower and like most 30 something’s in that situation where I want to recapture a bit of my youth and pretend that nothing’s changed. To do this I don’t go in for motorbikes, Porsches or 19 year old girlfriends called Candi like some, I do it by finding and building the bikes I could never afford as a kid.
With the help of everyone on classic MTB website www.retrobike.co.uk I had already managed to find and build a Fat Chance Titanium, a Roberts White Spider and a Slingshot road bike, but a chance listing on eBay was going to take me right back to 1991 and give me my greatest challenge yet…
Listed as a ‘rare full suspension mountain bike frame’, it didn’t attract too much attention, with the mobile phone pictures it certainly didn’t look too hot, but something said ‘special’ and for the £150 hammer price I wasn’t going to complain whatever it was.
When it arrived it was in a state; dirty, scuffed and scratched but after three hours of degreasing, polishing and buffing I put some pictures on Retrobike and asked for help in identifying its origin. Its design meant it could have been an original Bradbury Manitou (slim to no chance, I thought) or an Answer Manitou, a Marin, a Balance or any number of other makes that licensed the same design.
‘What’s the BB width’, someone asked, ‘90mm’ was the reply (I’m a little excited). ‘What’s the rear axle width’ the same wise soul said, ‘145mm’ came the answer (I’m bouncing off the walls). Every detail of the frame confirmed its true origin – I hadn’t bought a later copy, I’d bought a genuine Doug Bradbury made full suspension frame!
Now started the fun, I had to restore this frame to it’s original state and cover it in period correct parts, and this was going to be no mean feat – tell me the last time you saw a 140mm BB axle to fit a 90mm shell in your local bike shop? How often have you been unable to get a set of bushes for your 5 year old Manitou’s – now try the same search for a 17 year old set.
Fortunately the internet is a wonderful thing (thank you Mr Berners-Lee) and is filled with fantastic people only too willing to help a kindred spirit. The guys on Retrobike came up trumps with a set of the original handmade Manitou forks (one of only 200 ever made), a Cooks Bros bottom bracket, XT M735 running gear and some repro decals. The frames original owner found the rare 145mm Manitou made rear hub in his shed and my spares boxes and eBay threw out countless bits. I set my local shop the challenge of building up the bizarre wheels on a NOS (new old stock) set of Campag rims while I set about rebuilding the front and rear shocks, bolting on the brakes from Germany, the brake blocks from the US, the Onza Porcupines from Portugal and the Ringle stem and skewers from Frimley Green. Slowly the bike came together, just as I remembered it.
Sure, it’s not going to help me win any races, or pull any girls but when I go for a ride I’m the worlds happiest 16 year old.