What do you have stored in your garage? A handful of beloved bikes? A collection of superfluous, cycling crap? While everyone’s hoarding habits are different, I can assure you that whatever you’re keeping a hold of, it isn’t nearly as impressive as what former XC world champion, José Hermida has stowed away in his garage.
Clearly quite the sentimentalist, José has made a point of keeping at least one bike from every season of his 20 year career. Plus, if you throw in to the mix the odd occasion when he’s raced on bendy-barred bikes, his collection is unsurprisingly extensive.
Stepping into the tightly packed space, my eye was immediately caught by this colourful, thermoplastic-throwback, which was hiding among the plethora of bikes.
With so many bikes in his collection it should come as no surprise that José struggled to remember many specific details about the bike, but a cursory search around some of the darker, retro-obsessed corners of the internet reveals that this particular model is a top-end, 1999 Scott Endorphin Pro World Cup, which José rode during his time with the catchily named “Scott — One Life, Live It” team.
To a self-confessed bike nerd like myself, this bike is absolutely fascinating because it was introduced at a time when mountain bike tech was making a sudden and tangible leap towards the future; carbon technology was coming of age, suspension had become more advanced than squishy rubber and we’d got over the whole colourful anodizing thing.
As is still the case today, the most advanced cycling tech is introduced at the high-end level of riding and this bike is a delightful horror show of late nineties’ mountain bike tech.
Starting with the frame, I was immediately struck by the bizarre layout of the rear end. E-stays, or elevated stays, were a (mercifully) passing fad in the mid- to late-nineties that seemingly no veteran staff member in the BikeRadar office remembers fondly.
While the aesthetics of the frame may be jarring, the ride quality of this design certainly wasn’t — this bike in particular was known to ‘wag’ from side-to-side during hard and out of the saddle efforts.
The oddities don’t end there either. The frame is constructed from thermoplastic composite, a material which enjoyed very brief popularity with some manufacturers during the decade.
Thermoplastic composite is an interesting material that uses regular carbon fibres weaved alongside thermoplastic fibres to form a tube. The tubes were placed into a mould with a bladder inside, which once inflated to a very high pressure would press the tubes against the then heated mould, forming the shape of the frame.
Just like E-stays, no one is quite sure why the process became popular in the first place compared to regular thermoset composites (the process we’re most familiar with today). Although thermoplastic composites are easier to recycle and can reputedly be made stronger than epoxy set materials the process was a far less mature technology at the time. The Endorphin in particular was plagued with issues (primarily snapping in half), which resulted in its eventual recall and then the discontinuation of the model.
Today, thermoplastics are occasionally used for smaller parts on bikes, but as far as we’re aware no one is producing an entire frame from the material.
A retro collector's dream
The build features some of the most memorable, late-nineties mountain bike tech: a Rapid Rise XTR M950 rear mech in that deeply attractive graphite grey? Check. A rollamajig-like cable roller? Check. Perilously narrow flat bars, capped off with gut piercing bar ends? Absolutely checked.
Braking is taken care of by Shimano XTR V-brakes which feature the brand's ingenious parallel-push linkage — this parallelogram linkage allowed the pads to follow a straight path towards the rim, resulting in increased power and even pad wear (this video shows how the brakes worked very clearly).
While the brakes were very powerful, they tended to squeal with the ferocity of a harassed pig once any amount of play developed in the linkage. Shimano eventually dropped the design after only a few years on the market.
The bike has clearly seen lots of action, with a rather alarming chain-slap induced gouge on the underside of the elevated stay immediately drawing unwanted attention. I declined the offer to take the bike for a spin as the idea of such a large, structurally-compromised area bearing the stress of my greater-than-José’s bulk was unappealing to say the least.
Green with envy
The SUP ceramic coating divided opinion at the time, with many speaking highly of the hard-wearing qualities and improved dry weather braking of the stealthy, grey rims.
However, in equal numbers, many decried the noisy and very poor wet weather braking that the coating also resulted in.
Regardless of performance, I think we can all agree that the ceramic coated, Crossmax wheelset shod in those legendary green tyres from Michelin looks seriously cool.
For those not in the know, that delightful green hue is the result of replacing the carbon black compound used in most tyres with silica, a component of sand.
The swap results in a harder compound tyre that provides superior wet weather traction at the expense of slightly increased wear rates, a trade off a pro-racer with a tyre sponsor can obviously afford.
While Michelin is still producing tyres infused with silica compounds, they’re only available in a terribly dull shade of black. But fret not mud-hipsters, you can still get retro-ific green tyres from boutique tubular tyre producer FMB.
One thing we absolutely can’t fault is the legendary Rockshox SID XC fork. This 80mm travel fork is still one of the lightest ever produced, coming in at around 1,280g — that’s roughly 160g lighter than the claimed weight of today's toppest-top-end SID World Cup.
While we have no doubt that more modern incarnations of the fork perform considerably better, what the fork achieved almost 18 years ago is still quite remarkable.
Reflection = progress
Progress in cycling tech is incremental and it’s easy to cast a dubious eye over some of the tech featured on this bike. But hindsight is 20/20 and even the most questionable ‘innovations’ seen here have helped to inform and develop mountain bike tech over the last 17 years, even if that meant making some mistakes along the way.
What retro horrors have you got hiding in your garage? Do you remember any of these technologies, fondly or otherwise? Let us know in the comments below.