During mountain biking’s golden age, there might have been no rider better than the legendary John Tomac. He was a generational talent who could effortlessly transition between cycling disciplines — BMX, cross-country, downhill, road racing, and time trialing — and win. But most fans likely remember him for his exploits on the mountain bike.
In the early '90s, Tomac’s off-road weapon of choice was his custom-made signature model Raleigh Ti/Carbon, which he used to win cross-country gold and downhill silver at the 1991 World Championships in Ciocco, Italy. These Tomac Signature Ti/Carbons are among the rarest and most desirable vintage bikes around, and now, we have a beautiful 1993 example in TPC’s Vintage Bike Museum.
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Tomac on the 1993/4 Raleigh Carbon/TI. He raced XC and DH on the same bike.
In 1990, John Tomac was racing for the iconic 7-Eleven road team. He didn’t have a mountain bike sponsor, so after a handshake deal with Yeti’s John Parker, Tomac competed in the 1990 cross-country and downhill season aboard the innovative carbon-tubed Yeti C-26.
Then, in 1991, Tomac changed teams — moving from 7-Eleven to Motorola for road racing and from Yeti to Raleigh for mountain biking. The move to Raleigh included the ability to ride a bike custom-made to his specifications. After his experience riding exotic materials on the Yeti C-26, he had his new Signature Bike use a very similar design.
Like the Yeti C-26, the John Tomac Signature Ti/Carbon was made using Easton C9 carbon-wrapped aluminum main tubes. Unlike the C-26, however, the Raleigh Tomac Signature used a Merlin titanium head tube and rear triangle rather than aluminum which reduced weight and added some “liveliness” to the rear end. The carbon tubes were bonded to the head tube and rear triangle using Raleigh’s “Technium” technology.
The Merlin-made Raleigh frames saw two full seasons of hard use, and by 1993, were replaced with a newer version made by Litespeed.
Tomac often rode a Manitou or RockShox Mag suspension fork, but in 1993/4, he also ran the Tioga Aviator. This striking blue fork was manufactured by the automotive and moto suspension experts at Showa and matched the anodized Tioga cockpit.
Tomac was also well-known for riding drop handlebars on his mountain bikes. There were many reasons for this, but a big one was to maintain a similar position to his road racing bike. Partway through the 1991 season, however, he began focusing on mountain biking full-time and reconfigured the bike with more traditional flat bars.
At the other end is perhaps the most iconic piece of ‘90s mountain bike bling: the Tioga Disk Drive, a.k.a. the Tension Disk rear wheel. Instead of spokes, the Tension Disk used kevlar strands covered in a protective wire mesh. The kevlar strands allowed the hub to “float.” This extra compliance soaked up square-edge hits and improved traction. It also stored energy as it flexed, which supposedly helped spit riders out of corners.
Then there was the sound. The wire mesh essentially turned the wheel into a drum that would produce a beat with every rock, root, or bump. Changes in body position or lean angle would alter the pitch and volume. It could be heard thundering down the trail before riders even came into view. Under an aggressive descender like Tomac, it was pure rock and roll.
The Disk Drive was designed to be lighter, stronger, and more aerodynamic than a traditional wheel while also staying true longer. In reality, it was a bit the opposite. One of the most iconic images of Tension Disk is Tomac shouldering his bike and an exploded Tension Disk across the finish at Mont Sainte Anne in 1994. Still, the Tension Disk looked and sounded awesome, and that’s what matters most.
Our Tomac Signature Ti/Carbon is finished off with a Shimano XTR drivetrain, Grip Shifters, and Grafton Mag Lite brakes. This particular example wasn’t ridden by the Tomes himself, but it's fairly representative of his 1993 race setup.
We haven’t decided where it’s going to live in our vintage museum, but a good spot might be right next to Tomac’s 1990 Yeti C-26. Our collection of museum bikes is on display at our Louisville headquarters, so if you’re nearby, come see this bike and more in person!
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