I recently caught up with the legendary frame builder, Mountain Bike Hall of Famer and XC racer extraordinaire, Joe Murray. We talked about his past, his views on the current mountain bike scene and his latest designs.
It was a great honour to interview Joe, as he has been a personal hero of mine ever since I first lusted after his designs for Kona in the early 1990s. Until very recently, I rode one of his signature Kona Explosif Pro bikes with its one inch steerer and rigid forks. It was a bike that served me well in my youth in the Peak District, as well as commuting through the streets of London. Joe’s still at the forefront of mountain bike design with his work for VooDoo and Dahon.
The radically sloping top tube is one of the simplest yet most effective innovations to the MTB frame. How did the idea evolve?
The first “Safety” bikes from the turn of the twentieth century had them. I think that when mountain bikes first came on the scene in the 1980s the horizontal top tube was a hold over from road bikes. Making it sloping was done by a few early builders. I think when I was at Kona we were the first to do it on a production bike level.
You were one of the best racers the MTB world has ever seen, do you think anyone will ever match your winning streak of (in 1985) 12 straight NORBA victories?
Much harder to do that now! I think the talent these days is so broad that anyone winning that many top level races in a row is almost impossible. It’s just so much more competitive now. Nowadays, I ride and stay in pretty good shape, but even some of the local racers here could kick my butt if they really wanted to. Yet I might put some hurt on after five hours of hard single track riding!
What was it like being one of the first to be inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame?
Pretty awesome, of course. I was only 22, so it was a bit overwhelming for me. I’ve never been good at dealing with whatever level of fame I’ve had.
More recently you have been choosy in who you work with (Voodoo and Dahon) – what particularly drew you to these companies?
VooDoo was originally an opportunity to work on bikes where I had almost total control as to how they were designed. How I originally got started with VooDoo is a long story.
I have known Mark Bickerton at Cyclemotion for many years. He used to be the distributor for VooDoo in the UK and has distributed Dahon in the UKmarket for over 20 years. He and Josh Hon figured I would be a good candidate for designing the Flo, which is a lightweight hardtail bike that folds and fits into a suitcase. I’m pretty happy with it. It’s a great bike to travel with. The airlines don’t even think it’s a bike and typically they charge $80 to $100.
Will we ever see a specific Joe Murray badged frame? If so, can I be first in the queue?
Sure. I do build a few frames now in a small shop next to the VooDoo office. They are called Sendero, meaning “trail” in Spanish. I suppose someone already has the first one…
You’re perhaps most famous for designing steel and titanium frames. Which do you prefer and what do you make of the industry’s current love affair of all things carbon?
Both really. Steel is, all things considered, the best material for price, ease of manufacture, durability and of course the ride. Forget the price of titanium and it’s easily the best material since it makes the best-riding hardtail by far. Aluminium is overall an excellent material also. Carbon is great stuff of bicycle components and frames. The biggest drawback is that the lay-up of the material and overall fabrication is very labour and time intensive. Even the China-made stuff is still fairly expensive. I don’t see this changing anytime soon unless there is some revolutionary manufacturing process for carbon that really brings the price down.
Do you prefer to ride hardtail or full suspension?
I ride both. I’ve been riding a carbon Ibis Mojo quite and bit and for being a 5.9 lb. frame with 5 inch travel it does it all. It’s hard to beat how fast my titanium VooDoo is also. I don’t favour any kind of bike, it depends on where and what kind of riding too. I don’t jump off stuff much more than 5 feet though!
What do you make of the singlespeed and 29er scenes?
Single speeds are such a pure form of mountain biking. It’s more about the ride than gears, full suspension and so on. I think if I could choose just one bike it would be my [VooDoo] titanium single speed. I know it’s not a big thing in the UK, but the 29er thing keeps expanding for us. I’ve been riding both a full suspension and single speed titanium 29er and I really like the ride. It’s hard to explain why, I say just ride one and decide for yourself. Most of the people that I hear saying they are only for large riders, or that they are too slow steering and so on, have simply not ridden one enough. My wife is 5’5” and loves hers.
Where’s your favourite place to ride?
Flagstaff, and Sedona, Arizona where I live. Also, Colorado is where the epic trails are. Really any place the trails go on and on…
Who has inspired you the most?
My wife Kim.
And finally…the forward facing seat tube slot design was perfect for the muddy UK conditions. What made a Californian from dusty trails design it that way?
Kona bikes are in the north west, and it’s very wet there but it rains in California too!
If you are interested to know more about Joe’s designs and achievements, click on the following links:
www.voodoocycles.net For the full range of VooDoo bicycles in the US.
www.halfords.com Who are selling a selection of VooDoo bikes in the UK.
www.mtnbikehalloffame.com The official website of the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. Joe was inducted in 1988.