You don't know how lucky you are with your nice bouncy bikes
Now we have suspension. But not just any old suspension, now we have suspension that works. Let’s recall a time when bikes had zero effective bounce.
You’ve never had it so good
Riding mountain bikes in 2018 is brilliant. Components are reliable, progression in frame geometry makes bikes much more capable and comfortable. Looking beyond how good it is now it’s hard to recall a time when bikes had zero bounce.
One thing is sure, from a very early point in MTB’s history, designers and bike brands would look to some strange places to cushion the bone-shaking ride. Some of these early ideas have morphed into parts that we all rely on but some, quite rightly, have been consigned to bin of bad ideas.
Whoever thought having a stem with a pivot was a good idea really should have been certified. And to make matters worse, it used an elastomer rubber to provide the ‘suspension’.
Girvin produced the original Flexstem and at the time it was THE way of providing a nice bit of cushioning. Until the elastomer stopped working as it was too cold, or it split, or the bolt came loose.
Sadly it seems some people think that there is still a market for this stuff, or at least Redshift does with their ShockStop stem. This time it’s aimed at roadies so at least we’re spared from it this time around.
Allsop-Softride lizard frame
Why not replace the seatpost of your bike with a nice piece of flexy carbon, a bit like a one-man see-saw? The Softride frame was first developed for the road and triathlon market but it wasn’t too long before they decided it had a place off-road.
With no damping or controllability to the movement it was an ‘interesting’ ride experience to say the least. Plus you also had the added bonus of the chance the carbon could snap, sending your delicate nether regions plummeting towards spiky doom.
Later models had a beefed up frame, alloy beam and a shock. And were even worse.
Another unique take on a suspension frame, without actually having any real suspension. The Slingshot will forever be remembered as the bike with a wire instead of a downtube. And this wasn’t even it’s craziest feature!
The top tube was cut and then a wedge of rubber elastomer was all that kept it together. So basically your frame was held together by a sprung wire and a bit of rubber. And suffice to say it had the effect of crab walking around corners with sometimes quite frightening effects.
Okay, so this isn’t one individual item, but just probably the worst mistake that suspension brands made during the nineties. Even RockShox were guilty of using them in their Judy and Quadra forks. On paper rubber should work as a suspension medium. It compresses in a linear fashion, is lightweight and has no moving parts so should be reliable. But in reality, elastomers were about as good as making your forks work on a combination of marshmallows and bricks.
Performance was so badly affected by temperature that just a degree outside their operating range and they would either collapse or just not move at all. And if your forks lasted longer than a year, chances are the elastomers would end up coming out as a powder. Thankfully everyone saw the light and killed elastomers dead long enough ago that most of us have forgotten the horror.
Tioga Disk Drive
John Tomac was without doubt the coolest mountain biker and we all wanted to be like him. And apart from the iconic American Eagle helmet and Oakley M Frames, the best way to emulate him was to get a Tioga Disk Drive.
Looking more like something you would find on a roadie time trial bike, it supposedly brought aerodynamics and ‘suspension’ to the XC race scene. It used Kevlar cord rather than steel spokes to lace the rim to the hub. on top of this it had a mesh cover that not only protected the cord but also made the Disk Drive sound frickin’ AWESOME! Like thunder rumbling down the mountain.
But, as those of us who managed to own a Disk Drive soon found out, if you laced it loosely to give it some slight suspension performance it would rub your brake pads under any hard pedalling and the back end would wag harder than a Spaniel’s tail. Lace it to keep it straight and it was like riding a wheel made of plate steel. And that was if you didn’t managed to pull the cord out of its mountings.
Of all the ways to bring a little bit of softness to your ride the suspension seatpost was probably one of the most popular. They were relatively cheap (compared to a new frame) and did at least take the sting off jarring bumps when you were sat down.
USE and Cane Creek are by far the most popular manufacturers, and it’s testament to their popularity that both continue to produce suspension posts to this day. Like pretty much all the products on this list they weren’t without their little quirks. Firstly they altered your saddle height and leg position (even though Cane Creek say there’s no effect) so pedalling became a touch less than efficient. The tiny parts involved were prone to wear and your saddle would end up wobbling all over the shop. Most used elastomers (enough said). And most importantly, they only really gave your bum a bot of cushioning, stand up and you were still on a rigid machine.
Got a hardtail, hanker after a full suspension but don’t have the money for a new frame? Then you need the Shockster. Yes, that’s right, you could bolt this discreet device to your seat stays and add a bit of bounce to your bike. Massively altering the wheelbase and BB height amongst other delightful side-effects.
Okay, so this is a trick that a lot of riders still use to this day. Simply get the biggest tyre that can fit in your fork and frame and drop the pressure. It might be basic but it went a hell of a long way to making bikes ride and handle better, even if tyre compound technology was shocking. Who remembers the Nokian Gazzaloddi? At 3.0″ in width it was like a tractor tyre compared to the normal 1.75″ or 1.95″ tyres of old.
Remember when we used to celebrate flex frames? Several brands made bikes that had frame tubes designed to flex. Now this might be not unreasonable if we were talking about carbon, but we’re talking about metal. Namely steel and titanium. Yes, most did actually take a bit of the buzz out of the trail but the continuous pounding and fatigue means there were very few that didn’t end up snapping or cracking. Plus most were as expensive, if not more expensive, as a good full suspension frame.
I’m not ashamed to admit I once tried putting a saddle from a shopper onto my bike as the big metal springs made it so plush and sofa-like. What I didn’t realise is it made me ride like John Wayne and weighed an absolute ton. That super soft padding? It’s great for nipping to the shops but try riding any distance and you sank into it and ended up effectively riding on the hard, plastic base. I think I lasted a week.