Back in 1985 when I worked at College Cyclery the collective dream mt. bike for all the mechanics was the Alpina Ultima. It would be a year or two before the shop started carrying handbuilt mt. bikes so nice production ones were the best we could get. Even so, the Ultima was better than most anything on the market, production or otherwise. Beyond its substantial double-butted chromoly frame and beautiful tapered fork crown, the Ultima had all the best components; Sugino AT triple crankset, Nitto forged stem, Dia-Compe textured brake levers and so much more. It even had that wacky/wonderful double-quick release seatpost that was popular for, like, 20 minutes.
Sealed bearings were a real big deal, and the Ultima was the most “sealed up” bike you could find. Not only where the hubs, bottom bracket and headset touted as sealed, even the pivot points on the rear derailleur were buttoned up. The Suntour Superbe Tech rear derailleur was undoubtedly the shining star on an already wonderfully appointed bike. Beyond its sealiness, the Superbe Tech also pulled differently from any other derailleur out there, and as we all knew, different meant cool. Rather than the cable looping around to the back, it came angling directly in from its proprietary cable clamp mounted on the chainstay.
The Superbe Tech derailleur also employed the double-pivot system used on various other Suntour rear derailleurs, the Mountech being one of the most popular. It was always a treat to build an Ultima just so you could watch that rear derailleur articulate while in the bike stand.
The bad news was that the Superbe Tech actually didn’t work all that well. It was prone to having play in its pivot points which made for sloppy shifting. We even had one wrap itself around the rear wheel after errantly grabbing a spoke. The upper jockey wheel was also unique to the system, and not in a good way. It wore quickly and was a really pain to replace if indeed you could find a replacement. More than a few Ultimas were converted to standard derailleurs as a result.
I was thus shocked to find this complete Ultima a couple weeks ago. It had all its proper bits and pieces, including its original Superbe Tech. True to the derailleur’s nature, it nearly took out the rear wheel the first time I shifted it, but after some tightening and adjusting it more or less worked as it should. If I were going to ride the bike for any extended time I’d put the Superbe Tech aside and use a more modern derailleur. The Ultima will likely be getting more display time so keeping it stock will be the order of the day.
This pristine old Fat Chance was made specifically for Jim Patterson, longtime owner of Stewart-Hunt Cycles. When Jim dropped it off here to have me sell it I have to say that initially I wasn’t all that impressed with it. It had a thick coat of sawdust on it which made it look pretty haggard (another fuzzy bunny, as it were). Within the first few minutes of wiping it down I was to change my tune.
I also began to see that it wasn’t a single color, but a fantastic green fade. I’ve seen my fair share of fade paint jobs over the years, but nothing even comes close to this Fat Chance. It is the smoothest transition, and also the most delicate. Some fade paint schemes suffer from really abrupt transitions, but this one nearly encompasses the whole bike. It’s also consistent from side to side, top to bottom, a very hard thing to do. Whoever painted this bike was a true artist.
Here are a few of my Top-Ten favorite bike models that College Cyclery carried during my 11-year tenure there. The mink blue Raleigh Professional- the first bike I ever pined for at the shop; Fuji Touring III’s, IV’s, V’s- those bikes were beautifully made and very well equipped. ..And then there were the 1985-1987 Fisher Montares. They were just, well, pretty.
Of course they were also nicely made and were sturdy, durable and dependable beyond all measure, but I was sold before I ever even rode one. Unfortunately, I could afford a $750 mt. bike about as much as I could swing a Porsche 911 back then so I was left selling them to other lucky people. Scott Clarke, one of the mechanics, had a green one, the lucky dog. The red Montares were ok, but I was over the moon for the green ones.
While pile hunting at the Reno Bike Project recently I ran across this 1986 Montare, the ultra-neato version with the rear cam brake. It was in rough shape, enough so that it had been donated, but of course I couldn’t see that at the time. All I saw was GREEN Montare. Needless to say, when it comes to old bikes I tend to miss the forest for the trees.
Back at home I discovered what I’d really gotten myself into; beyond regular wear and tear the bike had significant rust, mainly on the components, but pretty much everywhere. Even the sealed b.b bearings were rusted to the point where the cranks were frozen. The seat tube had a Pinole, Ca. shop sticker, so my detective brain told me the bike had indeed lived near (possibly in) the Pacific ocean.
Knowing when to quit is a sign of intelligence, but I convinced myself that knowing when to quit and then pushing forward is the truest form of dedication. More likely, it’s a sign of a obsessive-compulsive disorder, but that ship sailed many years ago. Far, far away.
So, here it is, rust be damned. It actually does ride really well and those new bottom bracket bearings are butter. Butter, I tell you!
Mt. bikes seem to have been given short shrift here on the ol’ Buzz Bomb site. Nearly 9 years and 82 posts and I’ve never mentioned anything about any number of mt. bikes around here. Today it ends with a post about a more recent arrival.
While visiting thedropoutbikeshop.com about 8 months ago Chad had pointed out a Univega mt. bike that had been traded in. The bike had been updated with a few modern parts while also being “uglied” by its previous owner. The worst sin was a pair of Scott AT-4 mt. bike handlebars. I hated those things in the day and they’d never grown on me. I know form follows function, but honestly, those bars were too ugly to be useful. Because the bike was still pretty clean and also because I couldn’t stand to see it soldier on with those awful bars I decided I was going to buy it up.
I don’t recall having a flood of memories when I first laid eyes on it, but since then it’s caused me to reflect back on my Univega days at College Cyclery. By 1989 we were selling lots of Fishers and thus high-end Univegas were understandably taking a back seat. With so many beautiful Hoo Koo e Koos and ProCalibers in the shop, I don’t think we even stocked Alpina Teams by 1989. Looking at one nearly 30 years later I’m thinking the Alpina Team was a really nice bike for its day, though. It was light, using double-butted Prestige mt. bike tubing. The bike was relatively quick with its trendy straight fork, and finally, it was well appointed with Deore XT throughout. It also cost less than a similarly equipped Fisher.
Sure, the speckled paint job wasn’t the most attractive and makes the bike look really dated, but even Fisher hadn’t been immune to the look, splatter-painting their Hoo Koo e Koos. I guess I fell for it twice because there’s one of each here.
I keep thinking I’ll take the Alpina Team out into the Sierra mountains just to the west of here. It might be fun to spend some time on a rigid mt. bike for the first time in many years. Then again, I’ve never been great at trail riding and the only thing that’s increased is my waistline. Sad as it sounds, this might be one of those times when nostalgia is better left in the shop.