Monday, April 2, 2012

Drop bar mountain bike redux: A vintage find, the Specialized Rock Combo, circa 1989

A couple of weeks ago, to my excitement I found a Specialized Rock Combo in my size, with mostly original parts. For normal people, whose lives revolve around more significant factors than "how do 1 degree differences in head tube angles and 1 inch differences in bottom bracket drop affect how bicycles handle offroad," this is a non-event of the first order. But for me, it's a cause for great excitement.

The Rock Combo was Specialized's answer to Grant Petersen's Bridgestone MB-1 of 1987, in its steep angled, drop bar glory. Specialized had Ibis, Scot Nicol's quirky boutique brand from far Norcal build one prototype which various Specialized staffers rode and approved. The specs were then sent to whatever Taiwanese frame shop was then churning out tig welded Rockhoppers, with a production run of 500. Supposedly, the Taiwanese factory failed to follow the specs, made the bottom bracket drop too great, and used too heavy tubing on the bike as well.

By now, you're thinking "Wow, so he gets excited by a badly executed tigged clone of the 1987 Bstone MB-1." Yeah, I do; my interests really are that pitiful, and I suffer from some kind of strange obsessive compulsive disorder about bicycles in general and allrounder types in particular.  The Rock Combo was cool because it was an attempt to make an allrounder bike that with just a tire change could go from fast road rides to fire roads and single track. It reminds me of my first gen Merlin MTB that sported drop bars and three wheelsets with different tires and cassettes: 26x1 with 12x21; 26x1.25, with 12x23; and 26x2.0 with 12x28, plus 50-38-24 rings. I still own that Merlin; it still sports drop bars, though it's moved back and forth over the years maybe about 5 or 6 times; in fact it had a Allsop Softride stem, my only use of suspension, for a year or so.

Speialized Rock Combo with non stock tires, paint, and saddle.

Of course I had to find this after spending significant time and money on the Diamond Back Apex Allrounder in December and January; but that's the way scrounging and urban hunter gathering goes: feast or famine. I'll post ride impressions, road and offroad, at some later date when I've gotten up to 3 figures in mileage on this new and unneeded addition to my bike stable.

29er Redux: Spring comes to Crownpoint, and Wow, those Big Wheels Really Soak Up Bumps

I went on a ride last week to the top of the bluff just south of Crownpoint. This begins just behind the Crownpoint Christian Church, diagonally across from the post office, and at first looks pretty dull: a jeep road that's very rutted, with a lot of exposed rock: not boulders or baby heads or gravel, mind you, but jutting sheets, sandstone forms resemble miniature icebergs in a sea of tannish red dirt.

But as you move on, the riding gets more interesting: there's double track and single track, and enough rock that picking a line becomes a technical puzzle, especially when headed back down and trying to go fast. The 29er wheels really allow you to aim carefully and just keep pedaling on ruts and ridges that would toss a non-suspended 26er. I know, no-one but me and a few other ignorable freaks still rides 26 non boing; but that's my frame of reference here.

To give you a sense of what Crownpoint, NM is like, here are a couple of photographs:

To the southeast of Crownpoint

To the west, and further south on the bluff

As these photos indicate, this is very much a high desert landscape of small to medium junipers competing for water; and remember, this is after at least some snowfall ( about a week before I took these, we had heavy snowfall and icy, unpassable-to-non-4wd roads from Interstate 40). But in the crevices and nooks, there are subtle forms of beauty too.

On some sections of the bluff, these small cacti seem to have won out over the junipers.  

And even more beautiful (because, I suppose, most human sensibilities are not formed by continued encounters with high altitude aridity and the need for life there to protect itself, these yellow flowers.

A friend from Los Angeles told me, "I don't think I could live there; it's too forbidding. But it grows on me, and has been for quite a long time.