A couple of months back I saw that Gravity Canterbury were holding a retro DH race the Undy Hundy and I got quite excited about having a reason add yet another bike to the stable
A mate had bought a Diamondback Apex to race retro class in the Karapoti. The frame was a size too small for him and just the right size for me which saved me trawling the second hand listings. The Diamondback was almost completely original to how it would have been specced off the shop floor in the 1990’s.
I thought I had done well spending less than $100 on a whole bike as I easily spend 10 times this on a single component for my usual mountain bike. I did however cop some flak from the other half. She seems to think that I shall entirely fill the garage with bikes when we have trouble fitting the car in there as it is! There was almost an entire evening of placating needed (no dear, this is the last one… honest!) before the new steed was grudgingly allowed a place in the garage.
Back in about 1988 when I started mountain biking, there was not that much choice in good mountain bikes. When I upgraded from my 15 speed, chrome steel rimmed World Rider Mountain Machine (hey, but it had riser bars!!) in 1990 I had been seriously looking at getting a Diamondback Apex, but ended up with a Milazo Rock Comp II instead. In perfect 20/20 hindsight I am not sure if the Milazo was a wise decision, and I think I actually wanted an Apex, or the next model up, the Axis but my meagre earnings from picking elderberries, mowing lawns and doing the gardens of old ladies only stretched as far as the Milazo, and it did have a full Shimano Deore DX groupset!
Actually most of the parts off the old Milazo are still going strong but I broke the frame twice in 2 years! At least they gave me a replacement fluro green Extreme Eclipse which with all the parts off the Milazo is still going strong, and can sometimes be seen storming along the Geraldine back roads under my Father!
Anyway I digress. What I would really like to tell you about is just how much fun it is getting back to what mountain bike riding and racing used to be all about. The first real mountain bike race I ever did was the Ohau Classic in January 1989, which was pretty typical of mountain bike races in those days. Uphill race (up the ski field access road), Downhill race (and there was a prize for the fastest combined up and down time) and Observed Trials were all ridden on the Saturday. The cross country race was on the Sunday. Everyone turned up with one bike and entered every event and most participants had a wonderful evening at the bar on the Saturday night! It was more about getting out there and having fun than winning. You did not have to worry if you had your air suspension at the right pressure, and if you had the right tyres on for this course and whether your heart rate monitor was working correctly and your nutrition scheme had been followed to the letter… you just turned up, jumped on your bike and had fun!! Which to me was exactly what the Undy Hundy was all about.
The Apex needed a tickle up to get it in fine working form for the race. The chain was cleaned (probably the first time in it life) and although it is so stretched that it does not even register on the chain stretch measuring tool it still works fine and does not skip. I straightened the derailleur hanger and adjusted the good old cantilever brakes so that they gave some semblance of slowing the bike down when applied using 4 fingers. A quick swap to a shorter stem and riser bar and some newer rubber on the wheels (the original smoke tyres were getting pretty bald) and she was ready to go!
Although it was down hill race I decided I should ride out there in the spirit of retro (nobody shuttled back in the day). So off I went up Rapaki track. The old bike still climbs surprisingly well, even if I am getting strange looks for riding in a fluro Hawaiian shirt and matching short running shorts. Riding full suspension you forget the lovely feel of direct power transfer through the frame without squish. It does not take long to get used to the thumb shifters and the reduced range of 18 gears. Going across the single track at the top of the hill and I am pleased to be able to ride all the rocks that I usually bowl straight across the top of without a thought on my 5 inch travel trail bike. By this stage I am really enjoying the new challenge that riding the old bike brings to the trails that I ride all the time.
I only have time for a quick dash across the teeter-totter, around the berms and jumps on Brakefree at the top of Vic Park which was all good fun on the Apex. By this time the huge Southerly front has almost arrived. The very first few drops of rain are hinting at what is to come, so I head for the top of Worsleys Road. Worsleys is one of those tracks that people in big 4WD trucks like to challenge themselves on, and subsequently the huge ruts and multitude of line choices always makes it interesting for biking as well. There were about 5 of us hanging around at the top of the hill, looking a bit lost in our fancy dress with retro bikes. The instructions of where to meet had been a bit vague, and being a downhill race we had assumed that it would start from the top. As no one else was turning up we got ourselves a bit of downhill practice and went and found the officials at the bottom. At this stage the rain was just starting, and the track was still mostly dry and grippy. It was fast and fun on the way down, but you forget how much arm pump you get trying to hang onto the handle bars of a rigid bike and trying to slow the bike down using old cantilever brakes!!
With our $5 paid and names on the start sheet we pushed back up to where we were starting from. By this time the southerly was in full force, the rain was pouring down and the track was turning into one huge slippery slide!! Riders were started at 1 minute intervals and there was plenty of cheering and encouragement each time another competitor left, with some riders not even making it 100m before parting company with their bikes!! Riding the race, and I have not had this much fun on a bike in a long time!! The bike barrels down inside huge ruts and is sent sliding across the tops of other ruts. The speed feels phenomenally fast, although I am sure it is just the feedback through the rigid frame and fork. I almost go over the handlebars in a huge mud hole and then sideways around the course markers and over the finish line. The grins on the mud covered faces of everyone else and the tall tales of near death are bantered around. The competitors loved it and although the winner left with the cash we were all just stoked to have been there riding our bikes in the mud! I say bring on some more retro bike racing because I will be there with bells on!!