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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.