The Year of the Ham

Graphic by VTT Oldschool artist Pierre Bonnafous

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:

Cunningham Bike

(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.

At the Generation MTB reunion, 2012 June

~ by jacquiephelan on July 17, 2012.

4 Responses to “The Year of the Ham”

  1. your imagination makes me smile and leaves a warm feeling inside.

    Remember to have a bit of slump or crumble with someone you care about on July 23- 23/7 is close enough to PI for most normal uses

  2. Jacquie, while I do not have your experience and not experienced the things you have, I know how you feel. There´s a ´94 Zaskar hanging in my cellar, bare now from parts, named Lomehín (Twilight child) I literally rode the wheels off, racing, tech riding, doing tutorials with kids, riding in the Alps and to the grocery store, doing vertriding when noone had even thought of calling it that way, stumpsitting, basking near a lake or on a mountaintop. It freed my mind and, I daresay, my soul. It freaked ´em all out, but no loss really, I have always done my thing. My friends all started upon me for it was so different. It was more an idea than a bike. It served me well.

    And it will fly again now. Thanks!;-)

  3. Hello Jacquie !
    It was really a pleasure to meet you in Villard de Lans in June !
    It was a max pleasure too for drawing Otto !

    Thanks for showing it in your blog

  4. Hello Jacquie,

    I’m a friend of Pierre Bonnafous, who did this marvellous drawing of your bike… When we met last year in Villard de Lans, I promised to send you a souvenir from France… I still have this “present” with me! hahaha
    Anyway, I’ll send you an email to talk to you about it!

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