Blast From the Past: Vintage Racing

Originally posted on March 10, 2016 at 13:01 pm


Editor’s Note: This letter from Sky Boyer appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #121, published in May 2006. Photo of Don Whitehead (no relation to Cindy) racing on a 1985 custom Ibis bearing serial number 102 by Chris Poese.

Dear Dirt Rag,

About a year ago some friends and I decided that we wanted to take our vintage mountain bike collecting to the next level. We figured, “We have these top-of-the-line race bikes and, well, race bikes should be raced!” I started searching around for just the right race venue that had the classic vibe of the old days, and found just the right mojo at the 18th annual Keyesville Classic in the southern Sierras of California. Race Promoter Jim McWhorter jumped on the idea of vintage racing without any hesitation.

He remembered past races having vintage bikes rolling around and recalled the day when they were considered cutting edge. We determined that any registered vintage rider would do the downhill (right alongside the 8 inch dual squishy bikes) and the cross-country. None of this picking and choosing crap. This was to be truly “old school.”

The event drew a Fat Chance, a Cunningham, a couple of Salsas, a Mountain Goat, several Steve Potts bikes, Ritcheys and even a replica clunker bike! Certainly not the kind of bikes you see everyday. Most spectators and racers were in awe of these bikes as they raced past. It was a real shock for most. Many of them had never even heard of these bikes and others had only seen them in magazine clippings on their walls growing up.

I wouldn’t say we’re retro grouches, but I would say we’re retro-dorks to an extent. I mean, we all have modern bikes and love them, but there was just something about the early days of mountain biking that we couldn’t shake. It’s hard to explain, but any old racer reading this is probably smirking and shaking his/her head in silent agreement.

The two race categories were 10-19 year old bikes and 20 year old and older bikes. The majority of racers were in the 20 and over class—believe me, these were no garage queens out for fresh air! These bikes were raced hard and hung out to dry. A 20-year-old Cunningham Indian bike with drop bars and its rider wearing Levi’s took 7th place overall in the downhill, and that includes even the semi-pro racers with full-face helmets, body armor and modern long-travel bikes! He was just 14 seconds back from the fastest pro. One of the shamed racers had this to say: “I’ve got a 6-inch travel DH bike with disc brakes. I was embarrassed to be beat by an old vintage bike. Whew, I need to start training!”

In the cross-country race, all the racers and bikes worked perfectly. That is, except for my 1984 Salsa. With a mechanical problem, I continued on to run the last four miles of the event. At first, I thought I’d just take the shortcut back and DNF but then I remembered back to when I wouldn’t ever quit a race, under any circumstance, and that carried me on to finish. You know, even with coming in last place, I had an ear-to-ear grin.

Sky Boyer
San Diego, California

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