From the Vault: Steve Cook’s 1980 Cook Brothers Racing Cruiser

One of the earliest examples of a purpose-built mountain bike, the Cook Brothers Racing Cruiser took design cues from BMX. Steve Cook (no relation) modified this bike to suit the high-mountain riding in Colorado.

Cook Brothers Racing Cruiser

Written by
Tasshi Dennis

Published on

Posted in

Photos: John Watson | The Radavist

As an accomplished racer and trail pioneer, Steve Cook was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame with the inaugural class in 1988. Steve got his start with off-road riding in 1980 by assembling klunker bikes to explore the high passes around his town of Durango, Colorado. Later that year, while visiting his brother Don Cook (Hall of Fame class of 1989) in Crested Butte, Colorado, he would end up buying a 26-inch wheeled BMX cruiser frame and fork from the Bicycles Etc. shop run by Neil Murdoch. As it would turn out, Murdoch was the fugitive Richard Bannister, but also became an inaugural inductee of the Hall of Fame for organizing events like Fat Tire Bike Week which made the small ski town an early mountain bike mecca.

Cook Brothers Cruiser detail

Presented here is the cruiser frame which Steve bought, a 1980 Cook Brothers Racing cruiser made by Craig and Gary Cook of Santa Ana, CA, with no family relation to Steve and Don. At the time, these single-speed frames were a budget way for an off-road enthusiast to assemble their own mountain bike. The frames and forks were made of chromoly steel and far stronger than the klunkers made from pre-World War II paperboy bikes like the Schwinn Excelsior. The geometry was more stable than a road or touring bike and designed to handle rough terrain. The frames were designed with sufficient clearance for big tires such as the Uniroyal Nobby or the Cycle Pro Snake Belly. Finally, the frames were substantially less expensive than the few purpose-built mountain bike options at the time, such as the Breezer and Ritchey MountainBikes.

Steve took his purchase back to Durango where a friend welded up stiffener plates to the dropouts of the Laguna fork and attached a rear derailleur hanger. Steve also fashioned steel plates to stiffen up the rear dropouts to prevent them from flexing and breaking the axles of the French Atom drum brake hubs. Because many of these hubs were designed for very thick 12-gauge spokes, nipple washers or a new set of holes would be alternately drilled into the flanges to anchor lighter spokes.

Cruiser rear dropouts

In rebuilding this bike with an Atom hub, the approach of drilling new holes was applied. As a super strong rider, Steve set up the bike with a Spécialités T.A. Cyclotouriste triple crankset with the 30, 40, and 52 tooth chainrings of a touring road bike. As was common at the time, Magura riser handlebars with a cross brace for off-road motorcycles were used and shimmed to fit an SR road stem. Ratcheting Suntour Mighty thumb shifters designed for beach cruisers and upright touring bikes were the highly-preferred actuation option at the time. To round out the braking, an almost completely ineffective caliper brake from Weinmann graced the front of the bike.

Weinmann front brake

Since the frames were not intended to be used with derailleurs, a plethora of clamps and zip-ties were used the attach the cable housing to the frame. Steve made extensive use of this bike to explore the trails around Durango as well as Crested Butte, where he would later settle and set up his own bicycle shop. His bike can be identified in several historic photos presented here. In a photo taken by publisher Charles Kelly, Steve is seen on this bike (far right) at the Crested Butte ski area with brother Don in the middle and fellow Hall of Famer Mike Rust on the left.

Mike Rust (left), Don Cook (middle), and Steve Cook (right) pictured at the Crested Butte ski area.  Charles Kelly photo.
Photo: Mike Rust (left), Don Cook (middle), and Steve Cook (right) pictured at the Crested Butte ski area. Photo: Charles Kelly

Even from this frontal view, the similar approach to setting up a klunker mountain bike at the time is obvious, adapting parts from motorcycles, BMX, and road touring bikes. A photo of Steve riding this bike near the Floresta coal mine outside Crested Butte appeared in a 1980 issue of the local Pilot newspaper which also described the growing popularity of mountain bikes.

Newspaper clipping

A third photo shows Steve in the middle of a collection of local riders lined up in the Oh-Be-Joyful valley outside Crested Butte, now a designated wilderness area. In what was intended to be a purely Cook Brothers Racing line up, a total of 5 of these bikes with similar adaptations are shown. Cotton T-shirts, loose shorts, and hiking boots and socks were the apparel of choice, with not a cycling helmet in sight.

Group ride O Be Joyful

Steve would end up owning three Cook Brothers bikes in the early 1980s, two of which are still known to exist while the third was stolen. Before restoration, this bike was found rusting away in a garden. In total, some 800 or so Cook Brothers 26-inch wheeled cruiser bikes were made, with the vast majority remaining as single-speed BMX bikes. However, the small amount that were converted to geared bikes ended up playing an important role in the history of the mountain bike as an inexpensive entry point for many to the burgeoning sport. Sadly, Steve Cook recently passed away; however, his legacy will be remembered in a series of future articles featuring his historic bikes as they are restored.

The Build:

Year: 1980
S/N: 242
Frame: Cook Brothers Three Bar BMX Cruiser
Fork: Laguna BMX Cruiser by Tange
Stem: SR Road Quill
Headset: Tange MX
Bottom Bracket: Cook Brothers Racing
Handlebar: Magura L363.20
Brake Levers: Weinmann Red Dot
Shifters: Suntour Mighty

Cook Brothers levers

Front Derailleur: Suntour V-GT
Rear Derailleur: Suntour Comp V
Front Brake: Weinmann Type 1020
Rear Brake: Atom Drum
Crankset: T.A. Specialties
Chainrings: T.A. Specialties 30-40-52

TA Crankset

Pedals: KKT Lightning
Hubs: Shimano High-Flange/Atom Drum
Rims: Ukai Aluminum 26 x 1.75
Tires: Specialized Stumpjumper
Seatpost: SR Laprade BMX
Seatpost Clamp: Suntour BMX
Saddle: Brooks Professional

Brooks saddle

Grips: Grab On
Cogs: Millard
Chain: ​Regina Extra
Rack: Nagacast

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