Blast From the Past: ‘Just One Word. Plastics.’

Originally posted on September 10, 2015 at 17:04 pm

Editor’s note: This story by Bob Ward first appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #74, published in August 1999.

I journeyed to the bike industry’s annual trade show extravaganza last year expecting to be underwhelmed with the latest and greatest that the bike industry could assemble. I figured if freeriding was the best that the marketing minds could come up with, then the bike biz might be in trouble. However, quite by accident, I saw a bike that was poised to revolutionize mountain biking.

First a little background about Interhype. Hundreds of companies lay out thousands of dollars for booth space to make their presentations. For many companies, it is not what you have, but how you show it that counts.

On the periphery of the herd lies the fringe element. Wandering the halls with briefcases full of goodies are the “outsiders.” Outsiders either don’t have the big bucks to get a booth or are just too cheap to lay out the cash. In any event, they come up to you when you least expect it and attempt to pawn their wares.

One guy approached me in the john while I was staring straight ahead at the urinal and muttered “Hey buddy, check out these CNC machined V-brake knockoffs for only 10 bucks wholesale.” When I failed to respond, he moved on to the next urinator. As I was washing my hands, I saw him crawling under a stall door to make his pitch. I guess he found a captive audience.

Anyway, I took a lunch break and began chewing down a sandwich I had smuggled into the show (which I understand is a misdemeanor at the convention center). About halfway into my grub, another guy sat down at my table and pulled out his own contraband food. Both of us shared a laugh as we hid our eats while a member of the food police cruised nearby. I finished my chow and was just about to get up and leave when my fellow outlaw asked if he could show me his product. Well, normally I would have dusted him off, but Bob seemed like a down to earth guy (meaning no suit and tie), so I felt he could be trusted. I then told him that I wasn’t a “buyer” but rather a member of the media and he responded that despite that, I appeared to be OK with him. First, he said that he had one word for me: “plastics.” He then proceeded to blow my mind, as right before my eyes, he pulled out several pre-cut sections of PVC pipe, and within minutes had assembled a complete mountain bike frame.

Now, initially, I was impressed with the TinkerToy effect. As a kid, I always enjoyed building blocks, erector sets, Lincoln Logs, etc., so the building of something that looked like a bike seemed pretty cool. I thought, what a great Christmas gift idea—give your kid a kit to build a simulated mountain bike. Hey, I would buy one for myself if the price was right. I mentioned this to Bob, and he gave me a sly smile and said “This ain’t no toy—this is the sweetest ride this side of the Romula system.” At that, I had to grin and muttered, “Yeah, right” while thinking “Trekkie geek.”

Now Bob turned serious “No shit, McCrit, this is the real thing, trust me.” He also said something else which I can’t share, basically, it was the code word from the Brotherhood of Bobs that meant that I had to trust him. (All the Bobs out there know what I am talking about.)

We then exchanged cards and he said he would get back to me for a demo. After the secret handshake, we went our separate ways. Two weeks later, I received a call from Bob. He asked me to gather up a half-dozen riders for a demo ride. I don’t have a wrecking crew, but I did gather up a few buds by enticing them with the prospect of trying out some trick new bikes. I didn’t want any of them to bag, so I didn’t go into details as to the company that was supplying the bikes.

On the way up to Loon Lake, the wrecked crew tried to figure out which company would be waiting for them. Visions of box vans from Specialized, Cannondale and others ran through their heads. Instead, when we pulled up to the Loon Lake Chalet, there, waiting for us, and definitely not glistening in the sun, were several PVC bikes. Sitting next to them was the “Team Van.” Actually, it was a panel truck with the team name of Central California Irrigation and Bike Company on the side. Upon further inspection, the “Central California Irrigation” was painted on, with “Bike Company” hand lettered in felt-tip pen. Well, my boys inspected the bikes, checked out the truck and then turned on me. At first, they were pissed, but then Thayrn began to grin and busted out laughing. “Great joke Bob—you did us good this time.” At that, everyone started laughing as it appeared I had pulled off a great hoax. Little did they know that it wasn’t a joke.

I reveled in the laughter for a few minutes, but then I saw Bob approaching from a distance and I turned serious. “Listen dudes, this guy is from the Brotherhood of Bobs and I promised him we would check out his rides. I am serious, we are going to ride these things. Bob may be wacko, but I told him we would give them a true test. I will make it up to you.” Well, there was some grumbling, but everyone agreed to give it a try. Bob then walked up and I introduced him to the crew. He explained the concept of the bikes to the lads. Now, the boys got into this. Figuring that Bob was a country bumpkin, they proceeded to rattle off all sorts of technoweenie questions and showed major interest. To our surprise, Bob had a technical answer to all their questions. While we were talking. Bob assembled a few custom bikes. He built what looked to be a 13-inch bike for Shorty and on another he lopped off a few extra inches on the top tube to accommodate Stubble’s short arms. Within a half-hour, we all had custom bikes and were ready to ride. Of course we had to wait another half-hour for the glue to dry before taking off.

To tell you the truth, most of us didn’t expect the bikes to hold up from the Chalet to the first dam, let alone get us to the Slickrock Playground. It was not a confidence builder when each of the bikes sagged an inch or two when we sat down on the saddle. But off we went. Once we were out of earshot of Bob, we began taking bets on which bike would collapse first. By the time we made it to the first dam, we were all amazed that none of the bikes had died. A few of the lads even commented on how comfortable the bikes were. But alas, we were only riding on pavement.

By now Bob had caught up with us and we continued on. Just before the second dam we hit the dirt and, whoa, what a ride. Beyond the dam we picked up the technical slickrock and the crew entered a state of bliss. Attitudes quickly changed and the skeptics became enthusiastic converts. Although none of the bikes had suspension, they were the sweetest rides any of us had ever tried. Bob explained how the natural flex of the PVC created the first true vector frame suspension. “If you think about traditional suspension bikes, pedaling pulls the swingarm forward, creating a bilateral missing linkage so to speak. This creates a force that actually goes beyond compression and beyond expression. This can be neutralized with a servo racer diaxle, but the increased weight makes this prohibitive. Instead, by substituting the molecular stress antics of the PVC, we can achieve the servoantics but at a fraction of the cost and weight.”

No kidding. The crew was having a blast. Thayrn blew by me and proclaimed, “The great lateral stiffness and incredibly efficient energy transfer from me to the bike is outstanding.”

Jimbo bunny hops over Thayrn extolling the virtues of his machine, “Despite its low-tech appearance, the bike is very lively and light feeling. This baby is not at all harsh to ride, but is very responsive to all inputs and riding situations.”

Scotty blasts by and declares, “The bike may have one thing in common with spaghetti. It may look weird, but don’t knock it until you try it.”

Shorty pulled a nose wheelie and exclaimed, “The rider compartment is amply long to accomodate my long upper body and the low bottom bracket enables me to stay low to the ground, yet the form and function of the rider compartment is such that someone a foot taller than me could still use the small frame with little or no circumcision of the suspension geometries.”

I mumbled to no one in particular “These guys have been reading too many L.A. clone rag bike reviews.”

We had so much fun on the Slickrock Playground with these plastic wonders that we decided to take on the Loon Lake Death Ride and March. Never had I enjoyed this backcountry biking test piece as much as this. Bob, the wrecked crew and myself proceeded to rake on the loop with gusto. Even the portages of Big and Little Sluicebox were made easy by the lightweight and easy handling of the well-centered bikes. Biking up the baby heads from Rockbound Lake was also a cinch as the servoantics seemed to propel us uphill while countering the equation on the descent. If this seems like a paradox—so be it. We loved the ride. However, what really had us grinning was when we hit the singletrack. The steep yet slack angles seemed to work in harmony with the environment. Bob said it had something to do with the fact that the bikes are biodegradable.

By the time the crew completed the loop, everyone was figuring out how they were going to be able to purchase one of these ugly beauties. The general consensus was that the frames would cost at least a grand. We were all blown away to find out that they would be sold in kit form for only $199 for the frame, fork, glue and decals. Wow, this was going to revolutionize the industry. Or so we thought.

Shortly after the test. Bob sold his company, lock, stock, barrel and sprinkler heads to one of the industry giants. Despite being in the Brotherhood, Bob could not reveal the name of the company. In any event, despite having exclusive rights to the patents, the unnamed company has decided to shelve the project—something to do with low profit margins.

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