Monday, February 29, 2016

Quiz: Do You Know Your Mountain Bikes?

I just took a quiz on BikeRadar - How Well Do You Know Your Mountain Bikes? 

The quiz is set up with pictures of 10 current mountain bikes shown only in silhouette so that no logos or colors are visible. You then have to pick the right bike from about 4 multiple-choice options.

So, how well do I know my mountain bikes? Turns out, not very well at all. I got 2 out of 10, and one of those was just a lucky guess.

Here was the only one that I got right that was more than a simple shot in the dark guess:

Something about the curves in this bike's top-tube told me "Ibis," so I went with that. YEAH!

On the whole, though, they all looked pretty much the same to me. Suspension forks, rear suspension linkages and shock absorbers, extra long seatposts, and weird alien-meets-praying-mantis proportions. It's just not something I can fully appreciate, I guess. That's not to say they aren't great bikes -- they're just not my thing.

No idea what this is.
To be fair, however, if someone were to set up a similar quiz with a bunch of silhouette pictures of classic steel road bikes, I might have to admit there'd probably be even less to distinguish one from another.

For example:

I couldn't tell you the make or model of this bike by its silhouette. I could, however, tell you that it's full Campy (except for that seat-post), and it has some deep-drop Cinelli bars on it (Campione del Mondo?). The top-tube cable clips would hint at something from the '70s, and something about the bike's overall proportions and angles would lead me to guess it's Italian. And all of that info is probably much more than you'd get from somebody who got 10 out of 10 on the mountain bike quiz.
The thing about classic steel bikes is that the differences are in the details -- not what you see from a distance. What kind of lugs are used? Did the builder file and thin them? Are there any cut-outs in the lugs or bottom bracket? Is the brazing clean and free of lumps or gaps? How did the builder handle the seat-stay tops and the seat-lug cluster? How are the tubes finished at the dropout ends? What kind of seat-stay and chain-stay bridges were used? What type of fork-crown does it have? What's the fork rake like? Someone who has even more experience with construction details, or with certain brands and builders, might be able to identify more.

Its for reasons like those that a reasonably well-versed classic-bike fan can often identify the make and model of a bike even if the thing has been stripped of its original parts and Kryloned half to death. It's the minutiae of details that, to me, make a hand-built steel bike so much more interesting.

Now, some builders over the years have made their bikes easier to identify from a distance than others. Hetchins made bikes with "curly" stays that are instantly recognizable. Bates made their "Diadrant" forks with a double-bend in the rake. And there were "Flying Gates" and other unusual models as well -- all of which could be recognized from afar, with or without names or logos. But on the whole, classic steel road bikes are special not because of what you can see from a silhouette, but what you learn to appreciate up close and personal.


  1. To me classic steel bike is beautiful. Proportions and shapes that we (retro-heads) like, were developing for more than 80 years. Changes that were made to design of the frame were so imperceptible from the distance.

    I get compliments on my bike everywhere. My carbon friends get none. That's funny, because they do know their bikes cost 4 or 5 times more than mine. And they never get noticed.

  2. With so many bikes from different brands rolling out of the same factories these days, I honestly doubt I could name any standard mtn or road bike from its silhouette. I doubt I could name one by actually looking at it, if it weren't for the decals.

    Also, I agree, the "up close and personal" inspection of a well-made bike is part of the magic. A fillet braze that is so good that you can't find an edge or a void. A lug filed down so perfectly, that when you run your finger along the lug to the tube, you can barely perceive the joint.


  3. Well, I did even worse than you did, Retrogrouch. I didn't get a single one right!

    Wolf makes a great point: So many of today's bikes are rolling out of the same factories, distinguishable only by their decals. Even the mass-produced bikes of the '70's and '80's, such as Motobecane and Fuji, had their own "personalities", as it were.

  4. Two, but the Cannondale was obvious because of the lefty.

  5. I got 8/10
    the frame of the modern mtb is the only thing that is different (and even that holds true only for the top companies), forks, drive trains, shocks, brakes are all sourced from the same companies.

  6. I did not get a single one right.