This race-ridden Ross Signature is eerily emblematic of the Ross bicycle company's rise and eventual demise. Its Stars and Stripes paint scheme speaks to the company's commitment to making bikes in the U.S. Its heavy patina recalls great rides and races of days gone by.
Had history unfolded a little differently, Ross might still be around. Instead, we have this 1986 team edition Signature to remember what was once one of America's top bike companies.
After establishing itself during World War II, galvanizing ships for the U.S. military, Ross began building bicycles in 1946. Up until the 1970s, it was based in the New York City area. Things kicked into high gear for Ross in the '70s during the oil crises. At peak production, Ross was building one million bikes a year in its Allentown, Pennsylvania factory, rivaled only by Schwinn and Huffy.
Ross was early to the mountain bike market in 1982 with its Mount Hood model, which was later renamed the Signature, leading us to this museum bike.
In addition to being one of the first bike companies to produce a mountain bike, Ross was also the first to field a true factory race team, regrettably named the Ross Indians.
This Signature model was produced for the 1986 team, a seven-rider operation including Cindy Whitehead who would go on to become a NORBA champion, world champion, and winner of the legendary Kamikaze downhill. This bike had a few special features, as Bill Stevenson, then head of Ross's custom division, explains.
"I certainly do remember this bike," Stevenson says. "My recollection was that we built 10 frames total with three being backups. The frames were built out of Columbus SL which was considered pretty radical at the time, and our expectation was that they would not be particularly durable and would need to be replaced at regular intervals.
"As for the big fillets, you should remember that Ritchey had introduced the Annapurna not long before, which featured oversized fillets. Tom made a comment in print that he was the only builder that could build frames with such large joints. I guess you can imagine the rest."
Stevenson still holds up the Signature's Stars and Stripes paint scheme as one of its key highlights.
"In my opinion, Davie Rodreguez was one of the best, if not the best frame painters in the United States at the time," he adds. "The stars on the bike in your pictures were hand masked and painted just as an example. I think Davie also came up with the red, white, and blue paint job quite a while before anyone else used it."
Unfortunately, as the bicycle industry shifted production to factories in Asia, Ross was unable to keep up. The company went bankrupt only three years after this patriotic race machine was produced. Although Ross bikes continued to be marketed into the early '90s, it would never approach its mid-'80s mountain bike heyday when Ross riders dominated the fast-growing race scene and the company produced up to 100,000 mountain bikes a year.
Tasshi Dennis contributed to this story. Read more about the history of Ross on Old School Racing.