15: Sebastopol Days Part 3 - BIKES!
Maybe it’s time we digressed a bit and actually showed
you something to do with a bike. When we first moved into the shop
(mentioned in the two prior installments), we only had one mountain bike
we were building, simply called the custom. We did a lot of custom
paint back then, here’s on of our favorites, a nicely done argyle seat
tube that doesn’t embarrass us at all today (unlike a lot of fashion
faux pas we did back then). This was 24 years ago!
The close up also shows you the super clean seat lug, which was also fillet brazed to the top tube. For the record, that’s 5 different colors/layers of paint on the seat tube, followed by some painstaking masking. The rest of the bike was tig welded.
This was pre Mojo and right at the time we started to build a lot of tandems. Trials bikes were in full swing, and we also had a bike called the Avion, one that we designed, and had built in Japan. We cut a deal with REI to distribute the Avion in their stores (a big deal for little old Ibis), and Scot also designed a couple of their bikes at the time, the XR and the Ponderosa (that’s right Hoss!). Here’s a snapshot of the Ibis Avion in the 1988 REI catalog back then.
If you fer-ners don’t know who REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated) is, they’re a huge outdoor equipment coop that’s been around since 1938 and are now doing $1.6 Billion of business in over 100 stores.
Since we’ve been on subject for a couple of paragraphs now, it’s time to digress. It was during a promotional visit to an REI store that Scot first met his future partner in Ibis Tom Morgan, who was working in the bike department of the Cupertino REI. Take it away, Tom:
One of the first jobs I had out of high school was at an REI in Cupertino, CA. As luck would have it this store was the starting point for many people who went on to play significant roles in the outdoor industry. It was there that I first met people like Don Myrah, Layne and Sander Rigney, and Scot Nicol! In those days ('86-'90), REI sold several Ibis models including the Avion. Scot was also responsible for having designed several of the REI house-brand, Novara, models.
At that time I was a fanboy for all things mountain bike. Tom Ritchey, Gary Fisher, Joe Murray, and Scot were legends to me. I read everything I could about the mountain bike world, and my knowledge of this ephemera certainly exceeded my cycling ability - probably still does. Anyway, somewhere around 1987 Scot came down from Sebastopol with Andy Grayson to do a demonstration and clinic. I had never seen bike trials before and what Andy did that day amazed me. At that time, working for Ibis or any other bicycle company seemed like a ridiculous pipe dream. I would have never guessed that someday I would end up being the president of Ibis, and all of those legends are people I know on a first name basis. Well, except for maybe Gary. He's forgotten my name more times than he's remembered it.
It's a small world. 25 years later and Scot is my business partner, Don just won a (another) National Championship riding for us, and a long list of people who were part of this story are still a part of my life. The real reward for me in bringing back Ibis has been the opportunity to involve a lot of these people in what we're doing.
For giggles, here’s Tyler Roemer’s excellent picture of Don Myrah winning the Masters National Championships in Bend this year.
By the way, Don won the elite Cyclocross National Championships 4 times, was Mountain Bike World Champion in 1989 and also made the Olympic mountain bike team. He’s still got it.
Circling back to the REI thread…We don’t exactly remember how it happened, but we managed to get a picture of old trusty Number 7 (the 7th bike we ever built) in the 1986 REI catalog, even though we weren’t doing anything for them back then. We must have been buttering them up, showing off our extreme radness (they said sarcastically) that is clearly evident in this inset picture.
Then in 87 you can see The Ponderosa Scot designed, the precursor to the Avion which REI sold in 87 and 88:
As mentioned above, we were proud of our seat collar and paint scheme on that custom.
You’ll notice there’s no brake cable running along the seat stays, because U-Brakes were popular at the time, which were often mounted under the chainstays. The theory was that the chainstays were a lot stiffer so the stays flexed less resulting in more braking power. Turns out they were finicky and tended to mud up pretty bad, so they fell out of favor before too long and were replaced with cantilevers, the brakes which they temporarily replaced in the first place.
We liked the clean look of the under the bottom bracket brakes, but the were not long for the world. So we moved them back up to the seat stays. The cantilevers require a cable stop that is separate from the brake (most mechanical brakes have stops built into their mechanism). So in those days we had to braze on a cable stop to the seat stays. You can see one here on this trials bike:
We weren’t too stoked on the elegance of that cable stop, so we invented something better. It’s called the Hand Job, and it was a tiny bit of investment cast bronze that was created by local Sonoma County Jeweler Michael Cherney. Here it is in all of its incredibleness, silver brazed into a steel tube that’s tig welded to the seat stay.
The Hand Job was legend enough that it warranted a quarter page in Mt Bike magazine:
As luck would have it, those bastards at Shimano invented a brake superior to cantilevers, and soon it became a V-Brake world, rendering our beloved Hand Job obsolete on all but cyclocross bikes. Indeed the new Hakkalugi has a handjob on it as well, but we fear its useful life is coming to an end. Scroll down...
It’s not Shimano this time, but the bastards at the UCI, who just legalized disc brakes on cross bikes. OK, we are kidding about being bastards for legalizing disc brakes, they are bastards for a lot of other things, but not that. Anyway, once discs become embraced and we have good forks and shifters compatible with hydraulic brakes, cantilevers will hopefully, finally be put out of their misery and we can have cross bike brakes that actually work.
Here’s a shot of some V-Brakes on a Mojo and on a SilkTi, you can see that you no longer need the Hand Job.
We agonized for about a minute about the demise of the Hand Job, and tried to figure out what to do next. We couldn’t let it die.
We contemplated a hand job carbon frame. True story. You can tell this is mid 90’s because this is based John Castellano’s Sweet Spot design. Well that, and the fact the drawing is dated.
Ultimately we reinvented it as a bottle opener called the Hand Job Bottle Lever.
If you’re lucky enough to have one of these, hold onto it. They’ve been seen on eBay for up to $100.
Cherney the jeweler made a few in bronze, then we had them investment cast and plated for a nice mass produced add-on to our accessory line.
That’s making us really thirsty. See ya!