“The Bike That Got Away” is a series of interviews intended to showcase the best bikes of all time from the perspective of the diverse characters that make up the cycling industry. It’s an opportunity to look back fondly (or not at all) on vintage technology, paint jobs – whatever made or continues to make bikes compelling and awesome. These are the bikes that have shaped us as industry members, dealers, cyclists, and super fans.
Within hours of rolling into Portland a few weeks ago I found myself at Velo Cult, part bike shop, part tavern, part freaking unbelievable mountain bike museum owned by Sky Boyer – ex-racer, hot pink bike aficionado (at one point, he had eight because “no one bags on your pink bike when you beat them”), and bike collector (part of his collection was on display with Subaru at Sea Otter). Still recovering from a concussion the week before, I found myself having to repeatedly sit down and take breaks from being so overwhelmed by the extremely technologically and historically significant bikes on the ceiling of the shop…
After looking through the collection, I asked Sky where the Slingshot was because it belonged right up there with everything else. Sky responded, “Oh, that’s at home. I ride that.” Being a collector, Sky has the bikes he wants to have, so he doesn’t immediately seem to fit with this series. But after speaking with him it was clear that the bikes he really wanted to talk about weren’t painful because they “got away” from him (as a collector, he is uniquely positioned to get them back) but that they got away from history in some way or another, that they have become misunderstood. We sat down a few days later to talk about these bikes.
BIKERUMOR: The specific series I’m doing to highlight awesome classic technology is “The Bike that Got Away.” But that doesn’t work with you so much. Clearly you have every bike that you want to have.
SKY: I sold most of them. I sold 90% of my collection to make this bike shop happen.
BIKERUMOR: 90%… wow.
SKY: That was the build out, not to stock the store. That was just the build out.
BIKERUMOR: Were there bikes in there that you want back? Specifically.
SKY: It’s weird. I could probably get some of them back, but I feel like I already owned it and don’t want to re-own it. It’s some weird psychology in there.
BIKERUMOR: I get it. You’ve had it.
SKY: I had it. Done. Over. Time for a new one.
BIKERUMOR: So why do you have the bikes that you have here? What are these bikes? If you’ve sold 90% of your collection, what’s left?
SKY: Half of these are mine, half of these are collector’s bikes- they ship me their bikes to display for them. Obviously, the bikes that I like to ride the most I have saved. There are also really cool bikes that might not be worth a ton so why bother selling them?
And the Slingshot falls into that category. Used, those frames are only $300, so why sell it? Of all the bikes I own, I pick five mountain bikes on a regular basis, that’s one of the five, the riders- the ones that I love to ride. That’s why it lives at home and not on the ceiling.
BIKERUMOR: What are the others?
SKY: I have a custom made Curtlo that was made for me in 1992. That is my number one. That is the bike that I’m going to recycle yards to sell aluminum cans on when I’m homeless. Honestly, it’s the one that disappears every time I wrap a leg over it. You’re lucky in your life if you can find that one bike, mountain bike especially, that does everything for you. Through the extension of your mind, you think that it does it- that Curtlo is the only bike that’s ever done that for me. In fact, I built a tribute bike for it because there were seven made for my team. I have one of my teammate’s bikes, same size, same dimensions. And that’s a tribute bike.
The other one is my hardtail Bontrager. That’s number two. And IT has a tribute bike. The Slingshot. Then, certainly my Santa Cruz full suspension.
BIKERUMOR: Is that your modern bike that you have in that group?
SKY: I have several that are being built that I actually have in paint right now. I’m not a retrogrouch, I just pick the right bike for the trails and often times it’s a classic bike. There was a certain geometry the 90’s had that doesn’t really happen anymore. Now, I feel that for cross country there is too much travel in the front of the bike. Things are getting too slacked out. But in the mid to late 90’s, there is this nice little happy period, 65mm to 100mm travel, where geometry was fit for it.
That was the fun time for mountain biking. It’s not a retrogrouch thing. It was a certain time for a certain bike. The problem with that kind of bike is that it is so great for Oregon type of riding, not for Portland type of riding. For the rest of Oregon, it’s actually a great type of bike to have. So here locally, the Santa Cruz gets the most attention because of the style of trails we have.
BIKERUMOR: So this guy (Slingshot)… have you had him his entire life?
SKY: No. No. No. As a collector I picked up this bike and bought it because it’s unique. One of the cool things about collecting vintage mountain bikes, and I started doing it way before they were collectable, was that I was going for bikes that were unique. There was a time period, that’s pretty much almost over, where everyone had an idea of what a mountain bike was. And everyone was just doing these hatched-brain ideas and mountain bikes they were SO unique and SO different. I mean, you strip the paint off of a mountain bike from the 80’s and 90’s, you knew what that bike was. Strip the paint off a road bike and- who the fuck knows what that was? But everything was so unique, so different. The personalities of the people designing these bikes was so different. This obviously was a different type of bike. Yeah, I heard the stories of how fast they were. Especially climbing. When you get on one, it’s a fucking revelation.
And nowadays it’s started getting a little more attention. It isn’t- but it is. But now we’re learning that you want more bottom bracket flex. We don’t want that stiff bottom bracket. You want that thing to sway. Fastest kind of bike, the flexiest bottom bracket on the planet. You couldn’t ask for a flexier bottom bracket, and yet it’s the fastest. It kind of throws it into the face of the people who want the stiffer bottom bracket shells.
BIKERUMOR: So you were talking about the “inchworm effect…”
SKY: The “inchworm effect” was from a different place. So we nailed down that if your bottom bracket sways it actually propels your rear wheel between pedal strokes but this spring, when you pedal hard, the frame splays and between pedal strokes it launches you forward. It gives the bike a very lively- you feel like you’re riding a living machine as opposed to having the feeling of towing some thing or dead mass beneath you. It feels alive beneath you because you just feel it giving back to you between pedal strokes as if it’s helping you. It is helping you. You can really feel it.
BIKERUMOR: When did you acquire it? Had you had a first round one? Or is this something you were seeking? Have you replaced that elastomer ever?
SKY: No, that thing in the middle is like a snowboard deck. It’s like fiberglass fiberboard. I know a lot of friends with these bikes that have never seen a broken deck which- still kinds of surprises me.
BIKERUMOR: I wonder how it would do in EN/CPSC testing. Whenever I see a bike, that’s all that goes through my head. Like, oh man… that could be nasty… but maybe?
SKY: You look at it and you’re like, “that’s going to break,” but it doesn’t. I’ve actually hit things and had the whole frame (claps hands), and it almost feels like the wheels are going to hit each other… but it doesn’t happen. It just keeps going. I don’t know a single person who has broken one yet.
BIKERUMOR: So what have you put on it? You’ve made it a single speed.
SKY: Yeah. Yeah, I did a single speed because I know that the harder you pedal, the more it inchworms, so it only makes sense to do that. The immediate thing was that I wasn’t walking anymore. On hills that I would walk my other bike, I’d walk certain hills. Now this one, you’re burning, your legs are on fire, you’re pounding it, but you realize that you keep rolling. For someone who single speeds a lot, it’s normal. You climb hills, it feels normal. But if you’re not a regular single speeder, you’re walking everything just because those muscles aren’t built, you aren’t accustomed to that type of riding. But I could take this out and actually look like a single speeder and I’m actually not walking like I normally would be if you were some guy who just grabs their single speed once a month. I can actually climb hills. But the next day I will take the other single speed and I’m walking hills again. It’s a pretty dramatic difference.
BIKERUMOR: So what is the epic ride you’ve done with this bike? The craziest thing?
SKY: Nothing crazy. Typical single speed mountain biking. Typical stuff. I’ve never done any giant adventures on it or anything insane.
BIKERUMOR: It’s just a kick around bike.
SKY: It’s just, you know, your single speed bike. 10-20 miles of fun riding. And it’s fun. It’s ear-to-ear grin type of riding. That’s just is what it is. Climbs really fast. It actually downhills really well too if you know how to ride it. It’s a little different, you have to get used to it I’d say. I have fun on it. Now I’ll only have trouble if its a really tight twisty downhill, then it’s too loose.
BIKERUMOR: Oh I’ll bet.
SKY: Anything outside of fast twisty it does great. It does everything fine.
BIKERUMOR: What other bike would you like to talk about?
Or, check out more of Sky’s collection at the Velo Cult website.