Second Spin Cycles’ 1985 Yeti Built and Sold by John Parker

Second Spin Cycles’ 1985 Yeti Built and Sold by John Parker
Photos by John Watson and words by Martin Kozaczek

Unless you’ve lived in a cave for the past 30 years you’ve probably heard of Yeti Cycles. Not much has changed in that time. The bikes are still turquoise and still made to go fast. Yeti has always stuck to its foundation in racing, and the alumni roster reads like a list on the wall in the Hall of Fame, with names like Tomac, Furtado and Graves just to name a few. Yeti outlasted most of its competition during those years as their bikes have evolved only enough to ensure they are as fast as their racers. Unlike some bike companies that either don’t embrace their past and culture or don’t have one to really rally around, Yeti is all about their history and more importantly, their tribe. If you’ve been to their HQ or one of their annual Tribe gatherings you’re likely to see some of the more significant bikes from their past. That lineup is soon to be joined by the bike featured here, which is the first Yeti ever sold!!! The story goes a little something like this. John Parker bought out the tooling for 26” BMX “Motocruiser” stalwart Bicycle Bob Wilson and his Sweetheart Cycles brand, and welded up 3-5 bikes. Needing a new name to distinguish his new bike from a Motocruiser, he chose Yeti, named after a sleeping bag he liked. This is the first bike he sold under the Yeti name from the storefront window of Emily K’s bicycle clothing store in Santa Barbara, CA. It was purchased by a young woman who owned it until just a couple years ago when a chance encounter with John at a motorcycle show reunited the bike with its maker.

A 1985 Yeti Built and Sold by John Parker

Most mountain bikes in the early 80s came from Marin and evolved from road bike designs. To guys like John, they lacked the durability for serious off road riding and racing. Thus, the early Yeti “mountain bikes” were essentially BMX cruiser bikes with gears and rim brakes. Compared to other bikes of the time they were very maneuverable, very stiff, and very fast. Their stability at speed earned them a strong following among the burgeoning crowd of NORBA mountain bike racers looking to get any edge they could. John Tomac loved the Yeti and raced one under a handshake agreement.

A 1985 Yeti Built and Sold by John Parker

This particular bike is built with a motley crew of components including Bullseye hubs laced to staggered 23/26mm Weinmann box rims with IRC X-1 tires, Campy Triomphe touring front and rear derailleurs, Simplex shifters, Magura brake levers and Weinmann brakes. The handlebar setup was definitely different to the Bullmoose bars and traditional bar/stem combos used by the majority of other manufacturers. The stem is a a Pro Neck and the bars were custom made by Yeti/Sweetheart. Only the first one or two bikes got those bars, and if you search around you can see a photo of factory racer Russell Woorley racing his Yeti with those bars early on in the 86 season. Then there are the cranks, the story goes that John inherited some bad debt from Sweetheart cycles and had a hard time getting parts from suppliers. He somehow got Shimano to loan him those cranks for testing and he decided to powdercoat them red so that they would not ask for them… Now the chain has little red flakes in it, I’m sure that’s fine.

On the dirt the bike feels pretty good as long as you don’t have to shift or brake, ever… Yeah, John didn’t do the bike any favors with the component selection. The combo of shifter and rear derailleur means that the bike refuses to hold low gears and will drop you at the least opportune moment and the idea of a snappy downshift when approaching a climb is a pipe dream at best. Most people will shrug when you tell them that cantis are weak, but in actuality a good set of cantis can work really well. These are not those brakes. Slowing down is a matter of wishful thinking and you always have to have a plan B in mind. B as in, bail.

There is no denying the fact this is a special bike that really captures a period of time when mountain bikes were just grabbing a foothold and builders were trying lots of new things and really swimming in uncharted waters.

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Follow Martin on Instagram and on his blog Second Spin Cycles.

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  • Evan Robinson

    a rare jewel

  • redhead322

    Don’t forget Missy (and Gonzo)!

  • Yeti should bring back the original branding on its new frames. Fantastic.

    • carl bradtmiller

      it only seems fantastic because the word “branding” hadnt been invented yet

      • I know. I want something that doesn’t look like it went through a focus group first. Maybe the golden age is over…

  • joshhh

    “Most mountain bikes in the early 80s came from Marin and evolved from road bike designs.”

    I don’t mean to be a stick in the mud, but this is patently false, or this sentence is a bit unclear.

    The Breezer #1 see here: http://lp1.pinkbike.org/p4pb7143182/p4pb7143182.jpg
    is basically a copy of old Schwinn cruisers or “klunkers,” which I don’t think anyone would define as a road bike, and it’s considered the first (or at least one of the first) purpose-built mountain bike. Also, Marin made many mountain bikes, but almost certainly not “most” of them.

    Sweet Yeti, though!

    • Martin Kozaczek

      The point I was trying to make is that the guy who did those bike were roadies who honed their off road skills largely at Repack (which was something of a single minded pursuit – albeit awesome!) and approached their design from that background. The Series I Breezers were amazing but you can see the differences between these two bikes quickly if you check the details (steeper angles, larger tubing, shorter WB).

      • … and the construction looks to be way more “road” minded than the Yeti.

    • carl bradtmiller

      it has road tubing, a road stem, a touring drivetrain and a lugged crown fork. you know why it has that humongous seat tube? the only seatposts available at the time were only 180mm long and made for, you guessed it, road bikes. saying it has some road pedigree is not a knock; look at what he accomplished with the available materials. also, it predates the yeti by 8 years.

      the yeti is a looptail with a unicrown fork – put 20″ wheels and its practically a BMX.

  • geoff.tewierik

    I love that the knobbies wrap so far around the tire. Indicating it’ll give grip when it has been laid over so far gravity kicks in and the rider ends up sliding down the double track road losing skin.

  • Óðinn

    Sweet. I had a Yeti ARC back in the day. I miss that bike.