In Praise of My Own “Retro” Bikes

The frames of all my bikes were designed 20+ years ago, so qualify as “retro.” Several of them are based on the early mountain bike, so here is a brief introduction to that design,followed by four of my “variations on a theme.  (Scroll down to see my folding, touring and road bikes.)

Re-Fitting 1980’s Mountain Bikes for Low-Cost Multi-Use Travel and Fun

The mass-produced mountain bike was introduced in Marin County in 1979 by Tom Richey. The idea was picked up in 1981 by Specialized to produce the first Stumpjumper. On the first run, the chainset and brakes where French randonneur-style, the brake levers from a motorbike, and the stem, bars and pedals from BMX suppliers. By the mid 1980’s, the world was being flooded with steel Tig-welded frames from Taiwan with 26″ wheels. Mountain biking began to dominate the entire bicycling business, and the boom continues to this day when the desperate rush to create ever lighter suspension-bikes with more complicated and fragile equipment has sadly consigned millions of early steel frames to junk status.

Of course, being a lifelong retro-bike fan, I continued riding a 1980’s mountain bike until 2012 with only the addition of some aged shock forks, since I wasn’t interested in downhill speed and only entered multi-sport races occasionally. Ironically, it was the theft of that perfectly adequate Cadex bike that drove me to look in the basement of my local shop Bikes & Beyond in Astoria for a replacement.

I never did come close to the Cadex with its high-tech carbon fiber tubes glued into aluminum lugs on a 1980’s frame design. But what I discovered more than made up for its loss: a pile of old steel frames destined for the scrap yard.  I commandeered them for my “research project” to prove that the classic early 1980’s mountain bike can do practically anything–from off-road touring in southern Chile to urban commuting in Portland. It took a while, but I have done that to my complete satisfaction.

1) Off-Road/Gravel Riding

This was me in 1991 with my first mountain bike on top of Steens Mountain in SE Oregon halfway through a very tough circuit from French Glen. I was a late adopter and the bike was already out of date, but the Steens is the highest bike route in the NW and still rarely ridden.

No shocks, no bar ends and 1.5″ tires meant a rough ride that hurt my hands on the wild 5,000′ descent on the back road. Simply adding bar ends, changing to a vintage shock stem and wide tires would make this basic bike suitable for most primitive roads/trails at minimum cost.

2) Commuting/Gravel Road

This is a GT frame with the trademark triangle in the seat cluster, which I found in the bike shop basement and converted into a commuter with an assortment of equipment (1.5″ tires, V-brakes, raised stem, rack) like the original mt. bikes.

I felt so confident that I decided to tour on it, so added a front rack, aero bars, (see photo below) and shipped it via Bike to the house of a friend who had moved to Virginia. Then I rode west 1100 miles across the Appalachians and Kentucky, crossing Missouri on the KATY trail to Kansas City.

3) Touring  with full camping gear











4) Mule Packer (My design for a take-apart travel bike)

Peter Marsh on top of Astoria on the first Mule Packer

My 1990 Bike Friday–a Folding Travel Bike

While riding the Camino del Norte in Spain, the author came across a remarkable bike sculpture in Cabezón de la Sal in Cantabria.


 3) 1987 Panasonic Touring–updated to a 7-speed!

The author on the Columbia River with the Ocean Watch crew, who had just sailed around the Americas

 4) 1994 Paramount OS Road Bike–Tange Prestige tubes


 This frame was part of the final production run at Schwinn’s Paramount department. After many years as the biggest name in American cycling, the company was losing business to newer brands that all relied on Asian manufacturers. So Schwinn also had the last Paramounts hand- built in Japan. I found my frame hanging from the ceiling of City Bikes in Portland around 2005. It was surrounded by a lot of cheap used frames, so I adopted it and we have been riding the back roads every summer.

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