The 90s mountain bike starter kit - Dirt

Mountain Biking Magazine



The 90s mountain bike starter kit

Everything you need to fit right in

1990 marked a significant point in mountain biking. The first ever mountain bike World Championships heralded the point a hobby became a proper, recognised sport and it spurred on a revolution.

The 90s’ Golden Era laid the blueprint for the sport we all enjoy now – from early experiments with suspension and disc brakes through to films like Sprung and New World Disorder that defined the way ride.

So, what did the 90s mountain biker look like? Here’s our starter kit to get you up to speed on the basics.

Peakless helmets

Credit: Adam Simmonite, UK MTB Golden Era Facebook

Before the days of MIPS, removable chin bars and rear head coverage, mountain bikers really relied on whatever helmet they could get their hands on. Most of the time this would be a road bike helmet missing the distinguishing peak.

Now it may be easy to laugh at a mountain biker for wearing a helmet that makes them look like your uncle doddering down a canal path but considering half of the riders of the day didn’t bother with them at all, it’s definitely not a bad thing.

What we’re riding now:

Smith Forefront – As first attempts go, the Smith Forefront is pretty good going. Smith has a long history in snowboarding and its premiere mountain bike helmet is light, protective, has an adjustable visor and great goggle integration.

A URT frame

One of the biggest criticisms of the introduction of rear suspension was that it made bikes sloppy when they were pedalled. To combat this the industry introduced Unified Rear Triangle (URT) frames that saw the bottom bracket moved on to the swingarm.

This meant the suspension was only active when you were sat down, leading to riders descending on what was essentially a rigid frame – even at World Cup downhill level. Not great.

What we’re riding now:

Whyte T-130S – Quicker than a startled cat and able to clean any climb, the Whyte T-130S brings unrivalled performance at its price.

Grundig world cup downhill,Big Bear ,CA. 1998

Bum bags


Which is one thing we’re happy to file under “things we definitely never predicted would make a comeback in 2016”.

What we’re riding now:

Camelbak Palos – The latest in bum bag tech has a four litre reservoir and is about as ‘enduro specific’ as you can get.

Magura hydraulic rim brakes (and brake boosters)

For most, disc brakes were a lavish folly while rim brakes were the stoppers of the everyman. Useless in the wet, quick to wear and needing at least two fingers to operate properly, v-brakes were far from ideal ideal but you made-do with what you had back then.

A compromise was the Magura hydraulic rim brake (in flo yellow, of course). It brought a whole new wave of power to the rim brake market and is still being used by some trials athletes today.

On some bikes, the braking forces generated by rim brakes could flex the frame or fork – that’s where brake boosters came in. Whether or not they actually helped braking performance is debatable but they definitely improved your frame’s shelf life, plus they doubled as a piece of anodised bling.

What we’re riding now:

SRAM Guide Ultimate – A carbon bladed lever, tool free adjustment and the very best in braking performance. An absolute treat to use.

 Short shorts

Image credit: Total Women’s Cycling

Shorts that extend beyond the knees may well be the norm now but it wasn’t always that way. Much like in football, tennis and home-workout videos, shorter was better back in the 90s.

Thighs were a common sight on the trails, especially considering how prone the shorts were to ride up as you switched between standing up and sitting down… Still, at least the tanlines weren’t as silly then.

What we’re riding now:

Troy Lee Skyline -A less is more approach on everything but length. A clean and well designed short for any riding.

Toe Clips

The very first SPD pedals were introduced in 1990 but that didn’t stop a large number of riders seeing out the nineties still in traditional toe clips. Of course they were a stupid idea and probably led to more injuries than anyone would care to admit but when you compared them to the larger cost of clipless they made sense to some people.

What we’re riding now:

Crank Brothers Mallet DH Race – The favourite for a generation. The Mallet combines a great mechanism with additional support.

Purple anodized parts

Of course, anodising is still going on today with companies like Hope producing lovely kit in a rainbow of colours, but purple seemed to have particular appeal to the mountain bikers of the nineties.

From bottle cages to chainrings to spacers, any bit of purple you could cram onto your bike would stand you apart as someone who knew their bikes, and make you the envy of all your mates.

What we’re riding now:

Hope headsets –  Hope’s kit doesn’t need any introduction to UK riders and you now can’t miss it thanks to six vibrant anodised options, purple is still available, of course.

Grip Shift

If mountain bike bars looked less cluttered on bikes from the nineties, then Gripshift could well be a reason. Changing speed with a flick of your wrist may have seemed like a neat idea at the time but when it left your hand out of position it was more of a hassle than anything.

Pinion still uses gripshift on its gearboxes, and SRAM has introduced it at GX and NX level, but we doubt we’ll see it coming back to the mainstream any time soon.

What we’re riding now:

Shimano Zee – The perfect mix of affordability and uncompromising downhill performance.

3” Nokian Gazaloddi tyre

Image Credit: Davetrials – Retrobike

You thought plus tyres were a new thing didn’t you? Well the Nokian Gazaloddi is here to prove you wrong. It’s too wide to fit in modern day dual crown forks, but back in the ninties this was the tyre of choice for aspiring downhillers – bonus 90s points if you had the 24” version.

It gripped harder than a Boa Constrictor with rigor mortis, it’s just a shame they weighed around 1.5 kilos per tyre.

What we’re riding now:

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie – Another case where we’ve come full circle. Astonishing levels of grip that never failed to make us smile.


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