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1982 Salsa Scoboni #5

Ross Shafer started Salsa Cycles with just five bikes in 1982. He built the original Scoboni mountain bikes by hand, and this is one of them, complete with its iconic fish mouth top tube and machined biplane fork crown. The iconic Salsa bicycle brand started right here.

Written by: Spencer Powlison

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Posted in:year-1982

It all began with a bottle of Pace Picante. Ross Shafer was at a loss, trying to settle on a good name for his nascent framebuilding operation until inspiration struck as he wolfed down his usual lunch of cottage cheese, chips, and Pace salsa. Before long, after building an initial round of five frames in 1982, he had a backlog of orders. It seemed like everyone wanted a Salsa mountain bike.

This large, yellow Scoboni is one of those first five bikes Shafer made in 1981 (or maybe ‘82). Bit by the bike bug in the late-’70s, he did a stint at Santana before setting out on his own venture, catching the surging mountain bike wave long before it peaked.

Ross Shafer in his Salsa workshop
Ross Shafer in his workshop with an original Salsa Scoboni.

For most of its existence, this Scoboni was owned and ridden (a lot!) by Terry Holben. He made the decals for Shafer’s first round of frames, and Holben even screen printed tee-shirts to match. To fit his friend’s tall frame, Shafer built a massive 22” frame — you don’t usually find early-’80s mountain bikes big enough for tall riders. This Scoboni has long 18.5”-inch chain stays, a 71-degree head tube angle, and 73-degree seat tube angle.

As was the case with all of the first-generation Scoboni frames and forks, Shafer used a blend of American Chromoly tubes and Japanese Ishiwata steel, notably for the fork legs and down tubes.

While the steel material wasn’t particularly exotic, the fabrication had two distinctive touches that spiced up these early Salsa frames. The first was found at the top tube and seat tube junction. The seat tube pierces the top tube and has a distinctive “fish mouth” finish at the end. Inspired by Mantis, Shafer also integrated the quick release into the frame by counter-sinking the mechanism into the post clamp. According to him, the whole assembly was extra weight, extra work, and extra hassle, but it looked so good that it was surely worthwhile.

Salsa fork crown and stems
The original Salsa Scoboni fork crown, machined from a piece of solid steel, along with piles of classic Salsa stems. Photo: Tasshi Dennis

The fork is the second key design, specifically the crown. Legend has it, Joe Breeze came across one of Shafer’s friends on the trails of the famous Mount Tamalpais in Marin, California. Breeze, who created the first purpose-built mountain bike, the Breezer, was impressed by the Scoboni’s fork. But he was downright shocked when he heard that the classic “biplane” crown was machined from a single piece of steel. Eventually, Breeze found his way into Shafer’s shop and confirmed that the fork was indeed made in such a painstaking manner.

Although the bright yellow paint feels just right for a Salsa frame, this one actually started off with a subdued charcoal color. Holben eventually decided to go with a wilder look and repainted it himself.

Original Salsa bike decals
The original Salsa decals designed by Terry Holben.

He kept many of the original parts, such as the Salsa-built bullmoose bar/stem (wide and uncut, by the way) and the Phil Wood hubs and bottom bracket. However, he wasn’t shy about swapping out wheels, tires, and even handlebars to meet his needs. This was Holben’s only bike, so it had to be versatile. From rough California trails to road riding, he did it all on the Scoboni, even doing a bit of touring, long before bikepacking or gravel bikes were in vogue.

This Scoboni ended up in TPC’s collection a few years back when our (tall) founder, Nick Martin, was looking for a vintage bike that was big enough for him to comfortably ride in the Keyesville Classic vintage mountain bike event in California. Holben happens to live nearby in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado and was ready to part with his Salsa.

Fortunately, Holben had been sure to hang onto all of the original parts over the years, so restoring this original Scoboni didn’t take too much searching. Before Martin took it out to Keyesville, he worked with a local vintage bike resorter to perform a full overhaul. After installing new old stock tires, a fresh chain, cassette, and cable housing, the Scoboni was ready to ride. All he needed was one of those original Salsa tee-shirts that Holben made, and sure enough, one turned up in time to wear in California.