The Showroom: The Worthiest Steeds, Circa 1996


Outside magazine, March 1996

The Showroom: The Worthiest Steeds, Circa 1996
By Gordon Black, Alan Coté and Bob Howells

GT Backwoods, $654
The Backwoods may have a low-end price, but don’t be fooled:
This bike would be regarded a champion climber in any tax
bracket. The 7005 aluminum frame has a relatively short and very
distinctive rear triangle that helps you over the hills. Shifting, thanks
to GT’s wise and unusual combo of Shimano’s Alivio Rapidfire levers
and STX derailleurs, is smooth even when climbing with a heavy
load. In fact, it’s hard to find fault with any of
the component selection: Alivio hubs, Acera-X brakes, Mavic rims, Vetta saddle,
and WTB Velociraptor 2.1-inch tires. And considering the lack of both
heft and suspension, the Backwoods is remarkably stable on descents, though
you might not want to wait too long before adding some
suspension for a little extra control.

Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo, $749

It’s no fun paying good money for a new bike and
then realizing you need to cough up more for add-ons. That’s
why the Hoo Koo E Koo is such a great bike:
Right out of the box, it’s ready for trail duty. Included
are dirt-worthy components like Fishsticks bar-ends (often omitted entirely from new
bikes), a comfy yet slender Bontrager saddle, and an advanced-level Rock
Shox Quadra 21R fork. Long climbs just melt away thanks to
the bike’s nimble geometry and comfortable riding position, aided by a
tiny 20-tooth chainring that provides gearing low enough to climb trees

Schwinn High Sierra, $469

Brimming with hey-sailor allure, the High Sierra first catches the eye
and then delivers on its promise. For beneath its bright blue
anodized highlights (brake parts, hubs) and flashy paint job, it has
a stalwart heart in its chrome-moly frame, designed with a sloping
top tube for plenty of clearance. Of course, there’s no suspension–at
this price, you wouldn’t get much–and it doesn’t leap when urged
on as a bike of lighter-gauge steel might. But both frame
and wheels (Araya double-wall hoops) will stand up to serious off-road
abuse. The frame is configured to keep the rider upright, which
provides plenty of control in slow, dicey conditions but leaves something
to be desired on fast descents. Shifting is smooth via 21-speed
Grip Shift shifters and a Shimano STX rear derailleur, an uncommon
spec at this price.

Cannondale F600, $1,040

Cannondale, long known for the beefy look of its oversize aluminum
tubing, takes its bigger-is-better philosophy to new heights with the F600.
Housed in its oversize front end is Cannondale’s proprietary HeadShok, an
ingeniously simple oil-elastomer shock that does everything that its fork-mounted brethren
do, and then some. One particularly handy feature is a control
that allows you to turn the suspension on and off while
in motion–though the aluminum frame gives such a stiff ride that
you may want to leave the shock permanently switched on. Cannondale
rounds out the F600 with a good mix of high-end components,
including Shimano Deore LX derailleurs, Acera-X hubs, Alivio brakes, and Grip
Shift shifters. Two other components–the brake levers and crankset–belong to Cannondale’s
acclaimed CODA line.

Specialized Ground Control, $869

Yes, it’s an amazing price for full suspension, but chugging the
Ground Control up a steep hill is the hidden cost. Once
you’ve summited, though, this bike–with its combination of oil-damped, steel-sprung shock
in the rear and basic elastomer shock in the front–certainly takes
the edge off the descent. Expect inspiring control at high speeds,
as well as a comfortable ride, if not top-flight performance, on
the flat stretches. Uphill, the weight of the suspension offsets its
advantages, and in real rough stuff both shocks tend to bounce
back in a compress-and-boing cycle that hinders cornering and low-speed handling.
The chrome-moly frame is fine, and it’s well served by a
mlange of components that includes Alivio brakes and an STX rear
derailleur with 21-speed Grip Shift shifters. But near the crest of
a climb, the gearing certainly could go a bit lower to
compensate for the 29-pound load.

Giant ATX 880, $1,000

Big, thrashing riders will find a new love with the ATX
880, which with its hearty aluminum frame looks strong enough to
use as a jack stand. The heftiness makes the frame nearly
flexless–on abusive descents and twisty single-track alike, the ATX 880 delivers
with point-and-shoot handling. Likewise, the Rock Shox Quadra 21R suspension fork
can handle big-time poundings, soaking up little ripples and large potholes
with travel to spare. The mainly Shimano STX component package garners
no complaints, though the midlevel parts probably can’t endure as much
as the bombproof frame on which they’re mounted.

Litespeed Hiwassee, $1,595

The Hiwassee is one of our favorites because it brings titanium
to the people. The Tennessee-built bike offers Ti’s legendary ride: The
frame feels marvelously supple without being noodley soft, and it’s second
to none in both weight and durability. The Hiwassee just seems
to float up hills with its scant 23 pounds of heft,
and while such fab performance usually comes in at well over
$2,000, Litespeed keeps the Hiwassee affordable by using a powder-coated finish
(instead of polished, nude metal) and slightly less rigid, nontapered tubing.
Such a frame is a tough act to follow, but the
Shimano LX and STX-RC components and Rock Shox Quadra 21R fork
are adequate on trail and do the job of keeping the
cost down quite nicely.

Voodoo Canzo, $2,499

At the price of a decent used car, the Canzo better
do everything well. It does. Here’s full suspension as it was
meant to be: smooth, thanks to a Rock Shox Judy XC
in front, Fox Alps in back. Both have extra-long travel and
deftly modulate rebound–in other words, they give true shock absorption, not
a trampoline ride. The chrome-moly steel frame rivals even pricey hard-tail
models in weight, and you can still feel its responsiveness amid
the oil-damped plushness. The Canzo also comes with 24-speed RapidFire shifting
and Shimano’s strong yet precise new V-brakes among its Deore XT
components. VooDoo will let you spec less-expensive components if you wish,
but this frame really deserves the best.

Raleigh MCC8, $1,449

Built around a smoothly contoured carbon frame, the MCC8 is virtually
a race-ready machine. With its surefooted IRC Piranhapro tires and trusty
Rock Shox Judy XC fork, the MCC8 is more than willing
on single-track as well as on long descents, when its elongated
geometry allows gravity to all but take over. But therein lies
the rub: For more casual riding, the MCC8 is just too
much of a stretch, being one to two inches longer from
seatpost to stem than most midlevel bikes. Fortunately, it’s a lot
easier to appreciate such an unyielding attitude while admiring Raleigh’s choice
of Shimano Deore LX and STX-RC components and Grip Shift shifters
to handle the eight-cog rear cluster.

The Civilized Cyclist

Send your old pedals and slightly worn knobbies–or even an entire
bike–to a classroom, not the landfill, by donating them to Recycle
A Bicycle. The New York City program teaches repair skills to
120 troubled teens, ultimately allowing them to earn their own bikes.
Call Transportation Alternatives at 212-475-4600.