Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dumpster + Stumpjumper = Dumpjumper

1988 Specialized Stumpjumper in size 21.5 inches, as found in a dumpster.
Please note that the following post will likely only appeal to and/or be comprehensible by the most bike nerdish among visitors here. You are hereby warned and/or welcomed.

I've fished many a bike out of dumpsters over the years. I don't generally go looking for them, but they often have a way of finding me. Some have been complete basket cases and others have only needed air in the tires. Yet, what never fails to amaze me is finding a decent quality bike tossed in the trash. Old bikes aren't like old computers, in that they never become completely obsolete or unusable. Old bikes aren't like old cars, in that they don't degenerate into egregious polluting money pits, but instead are cheap and easy to recondition. Old bikes aren't like old furniture or mattresses, in that they don't absorb unappealing substances from previous owners.

I can understand rationalizing the discarding of a less than functional department store bike that was never engineered to work well in the first place. That which is nearly useless readily becomes useless. However, bikes that were at least initially high in quality of materials and construction, unless mangled, are almost always repairable into good running condition. This goes doubly so for steel mountain bikes from the off road boom era of the 1980s; with sturdy tubing, user serviceable components, and lack of suspension, they're almost indestructible.

Don't get me wrong. I don't pine for the old days and I'm no longer the Luddite I once was concerning the evolution of bike design. I appreciate lugs and fancy steel, but I also know that great advances have been made in materials and technology, and that, venerable as they are, these sturdy old steel bikes are no match off road for something more modern, like my Salsa Horsethief for example.

On the other hand, I'm certain that with proper care the long-term viability of an old steel monolith will far outpace many modern bikes in the utility department, most likely to the tune of decades. There are far fewer things to go wrong with these old bikes as compared to newer bikes, and equivalent parts are still readily available. With components in good order, a set of lights, a pair of fenders, and some method to carry cargo, an old steel mountain bike can't be outmatched for usefulness.

Deore index/friction thumbshifters and Deore 4-finger brake levers.
Now for a little velo-pathology to explore how this bike may have traversed the past quarter century. This particular Stumpjumper seems to have spent much of its life dormant, stored somewhat haphazardly, and perhaps used intermittently. It has plenty of telltale signs of neglect, in the form of nicks and scratches in random places, probably from being leaned against things or falling against other items in a shed or garage, and a veneer of dried on grease and oil from infrequent maintenance. The underside of the downtube is mostly free of rock strikes and the drive-side chainstay shows little sign of chain slap, so I'd wager that the bike traveled most of its miles on smooth surfaces in town as opposed to rough trails.

Non drivetrain side. Notice the pronounced bend in the rear rack's shelf and support struts.
The remains of a decal that once proclaimed the bike's chromo tubing and Taiwanese manufacture.

That's a solid forged aluminum stem. They don't make 'em like that any more. The stem alone probably weighs more than a modern carbon frame.
Though this bike likely hasn't seen a lot of miles, it had no easy life. It spent enough time outside for the graphics to fade, and there is a bit of surface rust where the steel has been exposed due to paint chips. The components that are still present are without exception original and stock, even down to the grips.

The drivetrain and brakes are Shimano Deore, from back in the days when Deore was on the penultimate tier of Shimano's off road lineup. The cranks are in good shape, and the teeth of the very '80s Biopace chainrings look healthy. Bearings haven't fared as well, as the bottom bracket is indexed, and the headset is in poor adjustment. However, the open seat tube is not rusted, and the chain is oily and moves freely. The derailleurs look fine and move well, but the cables and housing are sluggish and gummy. The shifters are intact, though the mount for the left shifter is bent. The good thing is that all the components on this bike are rebuildable, and the bearings are easily replaceable if needed.

There are a few additions to the bike that have occurred over the years. Though now badly bent, a period concurrent, white Blackburn Mountain Rack was a common addition to many bikes of the era. There is evidence of bar ends once installed but now gone, a sign of an update in the early to mid '90s when bar ends enjoyed popularity. A cycle computer mount at the rear wheel, indicates this bike was probably used on a stationary trainer at some point. Bright red paint under the upper and lower Zefal plastic pump mounts along the back of the seat tube signal that they were probably installed at or near the time of purchase.

Drive side top tube.
Drive side down tube.
Non drive side top tube.
Non drive side down tube.
As its year of manufacture is the same as that when I finished high school, bikes much like this one dotted the college campus of my undergraduate career. Distinctive two-tone paint schemes, unique to 1988 and 1989 Specialized bikes, seemed omnipresent for many years.

This Stumpjumper is readily identifiable as being an '88, due to its under the chainstay u-brake, a feature adopted by most manufacturers for a brief period spanning from about 1986 to 1988. Builders and riders went crazy for u-brakes because of the clean looking cable lines and the u-brake's powerful stopping ability. The popularity abruptly ended once the same builders and riders realized that under the chainstay was a less than convenient location for brake maintenance and made for a tremendous mud and debris catchment area. I've owned a few such u-brake equipped bikes, and though the reason the design was quickly dropped remains potentially problematic, the brakes are dependable and powerful if properly adjusted.

I've yet to get my hands dirty with this Stumpjumper, but that I will rebuild it is not in doubt. I'm happy to have saved the bike from an ignominious end, and I know it has at least a couple more decades of service within its capacity. Whether it will be with me or with someone else is yet to be determined.

Bikes like this Stumpjumper are the antecedent to a growing renaissance of steel, multipurpose, high utility bikes, such as the Surly Long Haul Trucker and the Surly Troll, among others. While at present it seems absurd that a desirable Surly frame will ever make its way to a dumpster, 25 years ago it seemed equally improbable to one day discover a Stumpjumper in the trash. I can only hope that in another quarter century, I'll be the lucky one to find a crusty old Troll next to yesterday's coffee grounds.

I threw on a pair of wheels to get a visual. My parts bin came up short in the quest for a 26.6 mm seatpost. 


  1. Will the purists forgive those of us who choose to replace the Biopace on these vintage steel steeds with something else?

    And great comparison to future generations finding a Troll in the dumpster - a great way to put some perspective on these old gems.

    1. The purists might not forgive, but I can tell you I've got a box of lightly used Biopace rings that I've swapped out from various bikes over the years. Though it's kind of a novelty to ride a Biopace drivetrain for a little while, and the logic behind the engineering makes a certain amount of sense, it feels weird after a short time. Apparently the time it takes to feel weird was a little longer than the typical bike shop test ride in the '80s.

      It's a little odd to realize I'm now an elder statesman bike nerd. In retrospect, I realize that I didn't adequately appreciate the discarded English 3-speeds sometimes present in the trash heaps of my younger days. They would certainly have been cherished by someone a bit older than me.

  2. And the cycle (both figuratively and literally) continues...

  3. From one reformed Luddite to another, that's a real sweetie, BioPace and U-brakes and all. Non-round rings and under-the-chainstay brake mounting are as bad as that antequated suspension linkage on your Hosethief, which is not bad at all.

    1. I like antiquated, because it usually means a nice discount.

  4. FIND!!! (So jealous, I only ever come across department store bikes)
    A friend of mine gave me a lightly used late 80s 12-speed which is of much lower quality than your Specalized but still fun to ride. The paint and graphics are a straight rip-off of your find by the look of it:

    1. Crazy that the paint and graphics are so similar. There's a chance they were made in the same factory in Taiwan. Why create two designs, when one will do. I find it curious that some visual cues become so representative of a certain area, though at the time I'm sure the look seemed modern and cutting edge.

      In my book, it's always fun to find a bike, no matter the quality, though it is nice to find a good one. I don't really need another bike, but I'll find someone who will have a use for this one.

  5. I am so glad to see ur blog and like u steel bikes find me. They are great bikes to ride but I think maybe not in the trend. Sometimes I find it might be due to my tough childhood where I would see this bikes but have no money. Every thing I got, I need to save and work for it. Fast forward, 30 years, we got a job but less time to do fun things. Here's my old trek.

  6. The Dumpster find has so far eluded me, maybe I need to be seeking out more Dumpsters? I have to date found 2 old 10 speeds at curbside with the trash only to get them home and in both cases find the frame had serious issues. However also in both cases they were a great haul of harvestable parts. In most cities of reasonable size there are bike co-ops/kitchens that would love to have a bike like this and they'll even give you a receipt for tax deductions -smh. Glad you rescued this one.

    1. I live in a mid- to upper-middle class suburb where bikes on the curb with the trash are surprisingly common. The vast majority are department store heaps that aren't worthy of much investment, but some are genuinely nice bikes from decades past. Most of the time I donate what I find to my local non-profit bike shop, but depending on the find, I also fix and give bikes to people I know who need a bike. With this Stumpjumper, I ended up trading it for a torque wrench to a guy who was looking for a classic mountain bike to build into an old-timey racer.

      I don't know what it is, but bikes seem to find me. I've rescued probably a hundred or so over the years, and fixed and given away more than I can remember. I have kept only a couple for any length of time. About two months ago, I found a unicycle sticking out of a trash can that only needed air in the tire and it was good to go.

  7. christania’s “cheap bike rentals” bikes are rolling across the city. The system, less than a year old, is funded by christania’s municipal government. It is currently only in one of christania’s 22 administrative districts. Although a 2nd generation system, there are 12 “Houses” in this district, each with around 40 bikes. The yearly subscription cost is the equivalent of $2 US, and allows the use of a bike for up to four hours at a time. In less than a year, there have been 6,000 subscriptions sold. There are larger 3rd generation systems in the world, which do not have a subscription to bike ratio as big as that.

  8. Wow i had one of these loved it paid 400 quid for it in 89 unfortunately the frame cracked under the chainset specialized gave me a black stumpy frame and i xtd it but thats another story lol

  9. I still have the same bike and use it! I bought mine in Germany (West Germany ) for Deutsch Mark. I covered roughly 80k kms with it and the main parts still work. I even went to Middle-East with it. I wish I could post a pic of my bike, I think u would like it :) Cheers from Budapest (Hungary)