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7 Vintage bike brands you've never heard of

By Spencer Powlison

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There’s more to vintage bikes than just Yetis and Colnagos. Sure, we’ll always love those iconic brands, but a lot of vintage brands are at risk of being forgotten.

I combed through TPC’s Museum and picked out seven vintage bike brands you’ve probably never heard of. Beyond being so dang cool, most of these brands were a meaningful part of cycling’s history whether that was through racing or technological innovations.

Alpinestars

Alpinestars Ti Mega
In the early ‘90s, like many a moto company, Italian brand Alpinestars tried its hand at the booming world of mountain bikes. Its short-lived foray into frames was born out of a partnership between two former Fisher Cycles employees and MS Racing, according to Retrobike.uk. The “M” and “S” stood for Malcom Smith, star of the iconic motocross film “On Any Given Sunday.” Mountain Bike Hall of Famer Mike Kloser, the first American to race the European World Cup series, rode Alpinestars for several years, including a Ti Mega, like this 1991 model.

Clark-Kent

Clark-Kent snow bike
The small but mighty Clark-Kent brand had a run of success in the late-’80s and early ‘90s, building bikes for Greg LeMond’s nascent label and sponsoring the Coors Light team. Despite its pedigree, we actually don’t have any Clark-Kent road bikes in our museum. We have something far more exotic: A snow bike custom-built to take on the rigors of the Iditarod Trail Race. Long before fat bikes, they found an ingenious way to double tire contact patch: double the number of tires.

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Confente

Confente Pro-Strada
Like Hendrix and Lennon, Mario Confente died too soon. The Italian only built 135 frames before his unexpected and tragic passing. Fortunately, his spirit lives on in the immaculate construction and finish of a frame like this Pro-Strada. The craftsmanship is evident when you start to notice the multitude of Confente’s spade icons embossed throughout the frame and on practically every component.

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Gecko

Gecko Y-File It
Ken Beach, Gecko founder, builder, and painter, once told the Museum of Mountain Bike Art & Technology (MOMBAT) that he never bothered to hire employees because he didn’t think they’d meet his high standards for quality. Makes sense when you see the hand-painted finish on a rare Gecko, like this Y-File It.

Lotus

Lotus 110
If your pro cycling fandom began in the Armstrong era, you were about a decade late for the wacky bike party. In the early-’90s, it was a free-for-all. One of the era’s most exotic bike designs came from Lotus. Not surprisingly, the car company’s bikes were influenced by its Formula 1 experience, resulting in a striking time trial/track pursuit bike. And it wasn’t just a looker — Chris Boardman set a record average speed in the 1994 Tour de France prologue, riding a Lotus at an average of 55.152kph. Then, the UCI fun police showed up and pro cycling reverted to plain-old double-diamond frame designs.

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Ross

Ross Signature
Ross bicycles are far from rare. Before this 1984 Ross Signature model was piloted at races like the Kamikaze Downhill, Ross churned out millions of bikes during the ‘70s oil crisis. Ross enjoyed a blaze of ‘80s glory, sponsoring mountain biking’s first factory team, headlined by NORBA and world champ Cindy Whitehead. But Ross missed the boat on the move to Asian manufacturing and went bankrupt right when the mountain bike scene was heating up.

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Velocitech

Velocitech Mountain Machine
If you hadn’t heard of Velocitech and its Mountain Machine before, welcome. This ‘80s Colorado builder’s bizarre “all-terrain” design can’t be unseen (or forgotten). With radical geometry, rider position, and mixed wheel sizes, it was bound to revolutionize bike handling. (Cue Ron Howard narration.) It didn’t.

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Now before you hop into the comments to say you actually HAVE heard of these brands before, what about the even more obscure builders from yesteryear? Sound off and maybe we can track one down for TPC’s Museum.

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3 comments


  • I’ve owned a bunch of the bikes noted: My first MTB, in 1986, was a Ross. I’ve had five different Clark-Kents (two MTBs, one road bike, one TT bike, and one tandem), and two Confentes (Pro Strada #14 and Pro Pista #20). That’s my “bone fides.”

    For other obscure-but-notable brands—ones that I have personal experience with only—here’s two more:

    —Yokota/Dirt Research. This early/mid-90’s brand brought some really nice MTBs into the US market, including some of the best tandems of the era. Yes, I know it’s a niche, but still: In 1996, the Santana Tandem (the premier US tandem manufacturer) catalog featured a road test of ten high-end tandems. Long story short, the Santana “won” the contest; no surprise. #2 was the Trek aluminum model. #3 was the Yokota, which was way less expensive but right up there with the leaders. My wife and I still own and ride (a lot!) a 1998 Dirt Research (nee Yokota) 7005 aluminum hardtail tandem MTB. Great bike.

    The other oddball I’d mention is Kirk Precision, who fabricated both road and mountain bikes (very few of the latter, alas) in magnesium long before it became a common material, mainly in mountain bike suspension forks but found its way into many other smaller components. They pioneered the technology that led to Pinarello’s magnesium Dogma road bike ridden in the TdF in the early-mid 00’s and Boulder’s own Paketa magnesium bicycles. They’re defunct now, and with modern production carbon it’s hard to see the economics of hand-welded extruded-magnesium frames, but at the time they were quite advanced, including the world’s only magnesium tandem, first one built in 2004 and last one built in 2017. They also built MTBs (all hardtails) and even racing hand-cycles and wheelchairs. It was a good run.

    David Walker on

  • Any of the 1980s bikes with frames of glued together Vitus 979 tubing.

    KAS, Alan and several others.

    Allen Saul on

  • 7 brands…. I have worked on and sold 5 of them , however you got me at Gecko and Velitech…

    Peter K on


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