Product Testing: Drop Bar Mountain Bike

June 1, 1991

in Bike Design, History, Merlin Metalworks

A bit of history.  I wanted to be John Tomac so bad back in the late ’80s and into the ’90s.  Of course, I couldn’t ride anything like him but I could set up my bike like his.

Here’s what my race mountain bike looked like for a couple years during Tomac’s transition from mountain bike champion to European road racer.

I loved this bike.  It was great for offroad and road riding.  This idea, for me, evolved into a 700c drop bar bike that was sort of like a cross bike but longer and lower.

Rob Vandermark's 1990 drop bar mountain bike

Rob Vandermark’s 1990 drop bar mountain bike

It was a blast.  Youth.

Here’s Zapata Espinoza‘s photo caption from Mountain Bike Action, June 1991:

“[Rob’s] bike:  When R&D chief [Rob] Vandermark isn’t holed up watching bad videos on TV or designing the latest in titanium technology, he’s out hammering his drop bar Merlin that uses a front triangle made out of 1.5″ tubes.  [Rob] made the bike for comparison tests to see how much stiffer the ride would be versus a standard Merlin’s smaller-tubed front triangle.”

A few R&D aspects of this bike:

  • First 1.5″ front triangle on a titanium bike.  This machine was too stiff – particularly before the days of decent front suspension.
  • First 1.5″ seat tube on any geared bike – titanium or otherwise.
  • First ‘braze-on’ 1.5″ XTR front derailleur.  I modified the derailleur to bolt directly onto the tube without a clamp – because there’s no such thing as a 1.5″ FD clamp.

Side notes:

  • This bike idea evolved into a 700c drop bar offroad bike I built in 1991.  My first steel bike.
  • I had a flat bar set up and a drop bar set up.  I used quick connects to swap the system over in a matter of minutes.  It turns out I kept the bike as drop bar almost all the time.
  • To get a stem length short enough to work on a traditional mountain bike top tube length, I used an old cruiser stem.  Super short and tall and weighing about 5 lbs.  Super dangerous.
  • I used bar-end shifters since there weren’t any integrated levers at that point.  I also tried modifying a SRAM Gripshift and an adapter to mount a mountain thumb shifter to a road brake lever.
  • I used to use Mickey Mouse bar tape for some reason.

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