The Year of the Ham
Artist Pierre Bonnafous of VTT Old School/Old’s Cool drew a Cunningham bike for the newly-minted French Mountain Bike Hollow Fame exhibit in the ice rink near Villard-de-Lans town center…there were no ‘hams available.
He had keenly depicted many Cunning-elements, but it wasn’t quite “Otto”.
Yesterday he sent a clever drawing of the machine which challenged the barely-hardened status quo.
‘It can’t be a mountain bike.” I would hear (or sometimes read in magazines).
a) Because it has road bars
b) Because there are only two chainrings
c) Because aluminum tubes can be crushed like a can of Budweiser.
My response tended to be a withering “coulda fooled me”.
Charlie ignored the critics.
A steel framemaker who’d seen his own superlight frames break in competition cautioned, ” Just wait–those bikes will come back to bite you!“.
Elsewhere, impressionable readers absorbed pseudo-science from editors like Bicycling’s Jim Langley who opined that he “wouldn’t want to be in the same room when an aluminum frame failed”.
This was twenty years ago–the big companies hadn’t tried out the dangerous new material that airplanes tend to be made of.
Now that so many companies have made aluminum bikes (maybe not Tom Ritchey) there is less rumor and more reality out there. Alu is old school, in fact.
The old ‘hams keep rolling along, decade after decade, passing unobtrusively as functional art in a world where bikes have got to attract attention with meaningless design features….(psst, remember the slingshot, the elevated chainstay, the right angle cranks?)
OK, they had a purpose: to start conversations.
One must never underestimate the gawk and gossip factor when it comes to novelty-seekers (most mtn bikers act like they have that extra few molecules on their D4 receptors).
Here’s a song I penned & sang at my camps in the late 80’s and early 90’s:
(sung to the tune of “Tennessee Stud”, from the Will the Circle Be Unbroken album by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band)
Along about 1981
I rolled into Fairfax on a quest for fun
I never woulda found the life I’d lead
If I had’t met up with the fat-tired breed.
The Cunningham bike was short and stout
Ain’t no paint you could brag about
Aluminum frame with a feel I liked
And there never was a bike like the Cunningham bike
The tubes were fat and the welds were weird
Some folks pointed and all of ‘em jeered
I raced ol’ “Otto” with the fastest guys
and always came home with the NORBA prize
But me &my race team, we couldn’t agree
They couldn’t take a chick who could stand and pee
They canned my ass and I couldn’t save face
The very next week I lost my first race
The Cunningham bike was short and stout
There wasn’t no paint you could brag about
It had the verve and it had the mud
And the Cunningham bike is in my blood.
Well I learned that a woman riding proud & free
Riled up the men in the patriarchy
Still, I rode real far & rode like a girl
Cause I was the queen of the off-road world
Now the world has changed with the sport I knew
You can’t race a bike if you can’t sell you
Saddest of all, worse than all them scars
Is the fact that you’re paid just to peddle some car.
Now there’s fine antique in the bicycle barn
It’s my trusty “Otto” hanging safe from harm
10 straight seasons the frame did fly
And I’d do ten more if my legs weren’t fried.
Me and my dad, we couldn’t agree
He thought he could say what I ought to be
Every child born deserves to have her own say
So I devoted my life to the study of play
Cunningham bike was plain & stout
That aluminum frame was a little far out
But put us on the starting line and brace for a fight
I had some trouble with my uptight dad
about my future as a college grad
I drove out west and never looked back
And I found a lean dude riding single track..
Cuz I blew on by on my Cunningham bike
Cunningham bike is plain & stout
Those aluminum tubes had em all freaked out
Listen for the starting gun and brace for a fight
Cause there’ll never be another like the Cunningham bike.