Long absent from the mountain bike spotlight, Missy the Missile is starting to reemerge. First appearing to race the World Cup at Windham last year, Missy Giove was on hand at the Sea Otter Classic riding around a plus bike with her name on the top tube. That bike just happened to be one of John Parker’s early prototypes from his new Underground Bike Works venture. The bike was quickly taken out of the test mule line up, built with some of Missy’s Deity components, and then sent off with her to crash the dual slalom race with the goal of slapping some high fives, roosting some berms, and (maybe) chugging a few beers.
That plays right into the script of Underground Bike Works. As John put it, “I don’t want to have a race team and go racing any more. I want to make fun bikes – and we’ve hit our mark.” As a joint operation between John Parker and his partners Mike Foxworthy and Will Kenefica, Underground Bike Works is all about the big tires, and all consumer direct…
For those not in the know, Parker is a legend of the sport and founded Yeti Cycles in 1985. Drawing on his experience welding and building movie sets for Hollywood, Parker and Yeti were at the forefront of the sport and sponsored some of the biggest names in racing. Parker then sold Yeti in 1995 to Schwinn before leaving himself in 1997 to pursue other interests. The company was then sold to Volant, then finally to Chris Conroy in 2001 who still owns it today.
When asked how and why he was getting back into bikes, Parker said,
“When you make bicycles for a living, it’s in your blood. It’s forever. I’ve stayed close to cycling, I’ve been in a low orbit.
My partners Will and Mike, we’re all motorcycle enthusiasts, there’s a special place to go in Malibu called the Rock Store. So like Steve McQueen, and Lee Marvin, and Jay Leno, this is a cool place to go back in Malibu up in the twisties. So we met each other up in there, and we all have a passion for motorcycles and racing and then about a year and a half ago they were like, ‘you’re John Parker from Yeti.” And I was like ‘nah, you got the wrong guy.’ The next week they came back, ‘no, we looked it up, you’re him!” And I go, ‘yeah, I’m sorry, it is.’
Then I found out that these guys get up at 5 in the fuckin’ morning, put lights on their bikes, and ride before they go to work. And I’m like, you know, that’s too hardcore for me but I was impressed. So we sat down and went and had a business lunch and talked about going consumer direct and changing and altering the industry.
We’re gonna go consumer direct and sell everything direct to the consumer on the internet with better prices and better parts.
So the time is right to comeback. I went back to the studios to work in special effects. I’ve had my own motorcycle team for the past 5 years. I’ve been around and inspired by all these beautiful technologies and materials, and I’m ready to come back and make some beautiful bikes.
The one thing I don’t want to do is have a race team and go racing any more, I want to make fun bikes. And we’ve done very well at that. We’ve hit our mark.”
Part of creating fun and functional bikes was building a number of test mules to dial in the geometry around the plus size tires. The bike Missy was using was one of the original test bikes that was built with horizontal dropouts in order to fine tune the chainstay length and try out different geos. While it looks like a dirt jumper ( in this case set up for Dual Slalom) the bikes are meant to be all purpose hard tails, but skewed towards fun.
Production frames will look much more like the prototype shown above complete with the original Yeti-esque loop tail dropout. Only this isn’t tubing – but a massively complex machined piece that according to John, “3 or 4 years ago, you probably couldn’t even make that dropout because you need a 4 or 5 axis machining center.” The team has spent hours dialing in the machining process just for that one piece, but the entire bike has a number of beautifully machined parts that make it stand out.
And then there is the welding. The first run of bikes are all welded up by the legendary Frank the Welder. As John puts it,
“They’re all made by my old partner Frank the Welder, who was one of the original partners at Yeti. Thirty some years later we’re still friends, we still do business. You know, look at the welds on that thing. They’re stunning. I’m a good welder. I’m a real good welder. He’s a mother fucking awesome welder! His fangs hang out right below his welding hood. He’s a monster.”
Underground Bike works does have plans for a Stage Two frame that will be made overseas, but for now you can buy an actual FTW built bike through the company’s Kickstarter. Frames start at $1,750 and will be offered in 27+ and 29+ versions. Complete FTW built bikes start at $3,799 with their House Build or $2,750 for their foreign sourced bike with the House Build. John mentioned that they are looking for a way to replace the gussets on the top/head/down tube junction, but other than that the silver frame is close to finished. Along the lines of their ‘bikes should be fun’ ethos, the brand only has plans for plus or fat bikes at the moment.
The bikes look good, they’re fun to ride, and are rolling out through Kickstarter, so for Parker, “life’s pretty good.”