What’s this? Another grey, size 23″ Ritchey? Well… yes!
Over the past year, I’ve revisited my love of handmade, vintage bikes and have honed in with particular interest on the work of Tom Ritchey, a builder at the fore of early mountain bike design. My goal in this case study of sorts is to provide a few examples of the major shifts in Ritchey’s production, primarily through the 1980s, with a single specimen representing these stages. My catalog of Ritchey frames includes a recently acquired anonymous 1980 model devoid of serial number, a 1985 Annapurna (arguably the finest bike model Tom ever brazed), and a 1982 Tam that is now being replaced by this 1983 Everest.
Earlier this year, we looked at my 1982 Tamalpais, built to catalog spec and in pristine condition. Yet one thing never really sat well with me about the build: the Bullmoose bars. You see, these early Ritcheys had a very unique Bullmoose that was more complex than the quill stem Bullmoose bars found in the late 1980s.
It’s a long story but one I’ll unravel here…
The Tale of Tom’s Bullmoose
Bullmoose bars were created as a more stable option for riding early mountain bikes. The tale has been repeated numerous times but, it started one weekend with Tom (who was an outsider from the Marin “club”) racing Repack on Wende Cragg’s bike. Repack, the now famous dirt road in Marin County where “mountain bikes were born,” is a notoriously steep and fast descent. Tom was known for being a fast downhiller, and so he borrowed Wende’s bike to take a run on the road. In the middle of his run, the bars slipped, costing him the win.
Back then, it was common to have a bike specced with a Cinelli 1a 26.4mm clamp road stem and Magura motorcycle bars which are 22.2mm in diameter. Many of these builders, like Joe Breeze, used custom shims that allowed these two components to marry effectively. Although, on rough terrain like Repack, the shim would often slip, causing the rider to stop and re-adjust everything. After losing that race, Tom went to work on the Bullmoose bar, a one-piece bar/stem combination that was inherently more stable. So, a Ritchey from that era without a Bullmoose is like a taco without pico. Ya, dig?
A few months back, I posted on the vintage mountain bike forums that I was looking for an early 1980s Bullmoose bar for my Tam. “Good luck” seemed to be the sentiment, and rightfully so. A Bullmoose without its bike is a rare find. These early 1980s bikes relied on specific cockpit engineering to make them compatible with these bars.
What is so remarkable about this design—and, in part, why it’s so hard to find an untethered early 80s Bullmoose—is that it requires a fork with a threaded steerer and special threadless sleeve. The steerer tubes on Ritchey’s forks were threaded to an appropriate “stack height,” meaning from the top of the headset nut down (about 30-35mm) were threaded, yet the top ~50mm was not – more on this below. So, unless the bike had been wrecked or damaged, no one would be selling just a Bullmoose, and if they were, well, the fork would have to come with it. Hence the “good luck” I received when inquiring.
These photos illustrate the “clamp on” Bullmoose design Tom began using in ~1974 on road bikes… as seen on his dad’s bike I photographed at Sea Otter.
To create this dual design, Tom would silver solder a 22.2 diameter, 1.2-1.5mm wall thickness sleeve of Chromoly tubing to the steerer. This sleeve extended down below the steerer tube’s threading. The only reason you’d silver solder this piece of tubing like this into the steerer was if you were using one of Tom’s stems. The Bullmoose would then attach to the smooth steerer, kind of like an early threadless stem. This design saved about half a pound overall compared to a quill stem and moto bar.
(Side note: I have a 1983 Steve Potts with this very detail. Back then, the rate of pure, unadulterated progression was neck-breaking, and these builders were all sharing tips of the trade. What a time it must have been to be a framebuilder!)
Here is a bit of a back story on why Tom preferred the Bullmoose over the Cinelli 1a stem and moto bars:
Tom despised the “Milano” Cinelli 1a stem because it used an expansion collet rather than a wedge. Wedges are the most efficient. Yet, Cinelli’s expansion collet design was terrible for a steerer tube. It produced a circular force at one exact point, causing the bars to pull out as the steerer would shear at inopportune times. This is because the point at which the expansion collet was “biting” into the steerer tube was only .8mm thick! If you put a 200-pound person – i.e. me – on that system, you’re asking for disaster.
Tom invested in lathe threading tooling to cut his steerer tubes at a higher, more precise threading on all the bikes he built. He saw failures happen with steerers and Cinelli 1a stems and wanted to produce a better, more robust system. Another reason Tom preferred the Bullmoose bar design was because the cable stop ensured a straight line to the cantilever brake. This was a more effective design, particularly on the shorter head tube bikes, and created more efficient braking.
Once the Bullmoose ended up leaving Tom’s toolbox repertoire, he began building quill stems with a unique brazed-in split cable stop brazed onto them, seen here on my 1985 Annapurna.
Everest on the left, Tam with 1987 Super Comp Bullmoose bars on the right. There were four versions of these Bullmoose bars. A high rise short length, a high rise long length, a low rise short length, and a low rise long reach. The short reach lengths were ~150mm long, and the high bars were about ~180mm.
On my Tam, I installed the later 1980s Bullmoose – from a 1987 Super Comp – design as it was all I had at the time. These later 80s Bullmoose utilized a quill stem insertion into the fork’s steerer, yet also had a quill expander at the top of the Nitto-made aluminum shaft that held the Bullmoose to the aluminum quill. This was unlike other quill stems of the era.
Everest Versus Tamalpais
When I bought my Tam, I was elated. Finding a 23″ Ritchey is no easy task, and to find one at a great price that only required a minimal paint repair felt doubly fortuitous. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of 23″ or 24″ Ritchey frames I’ve seen for sale in the past few years. On sites like eBay, these bikes fetch upwards of $3,000-$6,000, and that’s a lot of coin to drop on a 26″ wheeled, friction-shifting, rim brake bike.
Everest headtube on the left, Tam on the right. Note the bands on the Everest; this is a 31.8 OD, 1.0mm thick head tube, with pieces of Chromoly tubing bands brazed into the head tube, reducing weight without compromising strength… you can even see the difference in the fillet brazing at the headtube cluster. This comparison also notes the difference in the riding position of the 1983 bars. They are more upright for “riding,” while the later 80s Bullmoose was “racing-oriented.”
Yet, I persisted—finally scoring a Tam at a deal—repaired and built it to catalog spec and rode the shit out of it before documenting it and the early Ritchey timeline in an exhaustive effort. Phew! If you recall that post, the Tam was a “B” or “II” bike. Its headtube has a 1.5mm wall thickness, without the enforcing bands, nor were its fillets finished to Tom’s high standards. These “B” bikes were meant to be ridden hard and were offered at a more affordable price. Meanwhile, the Everest was the “A” or “I” bike, with a lighter head tube as described above and finished fillets.
Both the Everest and the Tam feature a machined down “sleeved” seat cluster/bi-lam lug. See that little ring at the top? Well, it was for a “Hite-Rite Boot” Tom developed, similar to a shock boot you’d see on a 4×4 or motorcycle shocks of the era. Unfortunately, this boot was never produced, but Tom kept the design anyway. He would, from time to time, zip-tie an inner tube to this point to keep the dust, water, and mud out.
So, if you’re going to own an early 1980s Ritchey production bike, the Everest is the one you want in terms of an exemplary example of Tom’s handiwork. Remember, Tom hand-brazed every frame that would leave the Ritchey shop in the 1980s.
How I Got the Everest
I stumbled across an ad on the vintage mountain bike forum that seemed too good to be true. The Everest was listed for a reasonable price, and it was not only my size but was the same color as the Tam. Yet, the ad was over a year old. Not knowing if I’d found a dead post, I messaged the seller anyway, asking if it was still available. A few hours later, Giacomo, a friend of the seller, responded, exclaiming it was but that it was for sale at one of his local shops.
He gave me the number, and I called the shop owner, who picked up the phone immediately. We chatted about the bike, my intentions, and my love of early 1980s mountain bikes. Conversations like this are always a joy. He told me about how he bought the Everest because of a back injury and needed a more upright riding position. Once his back healed, he bought a modern Ritchey and hadn’t ridden the Everest since.
I gave the owner my credit card number, and Giacomo packed it up for me. A few days later, it arrived at my door in a box packed like it contained some Biblical artifact. I hesitate to call this a restoration because all I had to do was remove some surface rust from the stainless hardware, as the sea salt spray in Florida had gotten to some of it. Luckily, the frame was in great shape, inside and out. A quick blast of frame saver and I began swapping some parts from the Tam over to the Everest.
For most of my builds, I prefer to drop them off at Sincere Cycles with a box of parts and let the master, Bailey Newbrey, do his thing. I’m not the best bike builder or mechanic and often find my limited skills in conflict with my OCD for detail. Yet, for this bike, I wanted the satisfaction of assembling it myself. That included cutting the housing and cables, overhauling the headset, setting up the derailleurs, which Bailey helped me dial in, and refreshing the press-fit bottom bracket.
Getting the cables to look and function correctly took some time, but I’m proud of the final product.
A Few Changes to Part Spec
Between 1982 and 1983, the world of mountain bike componentry exploded. Before ’83, these bikes were built with an assortment of gear from BMX cruisers to French touring/randonneuring bikes and even motorcycle parts like bars and brakes. Again, I went over this in great detail in the Tam article, so hop over for a refresh on this if necessary.
So for this 1983 Everest, the part spec changed a bit. Instead of TA Cyclotouriste cranks, many opted for the “new” Sugino AT cranks or M700 Deer Head cranks. Preferring the profile of the Sugino, I swapped the cranks out for these. 1983 brought the official launch of Deer Head, Shimano’s first dedicated mountain bike groupset. Tom himself even had input at Shimano about the design!
Yet, for the Everest, I decided to keep the Magura “shorty” brake levers and Mafac brakes. Even though Shimano’s offerings are arguably better from a functionality standpoint, I’m just more drawn to the look and style of these older components. People were still speccing their builds with them, too; even though Shimano’s offerings were prolific, many believed that these older components still did the trick! I updated these canti stud bolts to a later Mafac conical Allen key design, which is much easier to use compared to the Mafac canti bolts that are about the thickness of a dime.
My tubeless hack is still working, but I’ve found I need to keep the tires aired up, or the bead seal will break. Although it hasn’t been a problem, as I have been riding the Everest most evenings when I don’t have time during the day to ride a “proper” bike. These bikes came equipped with 3/8″ axle Shimano HB-MN72 hubs on the lower end of the build spec or Phil Wood/Bullseye hubs on the premium build spec. I would love to lace up some Phil Wood hubs to Araya 7x rims to complete the build one day. If you have some 36h early Phil Wood hubs you’d be willing to part with, let me know!
Overall, I’m very pleased with this purchase and subsequent light restoration. The bike is in great shape, rides smoother than any vintage bike I’ve owned, and is like peering through a window to the past each time I pedal it on my local trails. I really hope you all get the chance to ride an early 1980s handmade frame. They’re worlds apart from modern rigid or hardtail bikes, and if I could compare them to anything, it’d be a randonneuring bike that “planes.”…but off-road!
Come to think of it; if I threw a randonneuring cockpit on this, you might not even know it was a “mountain bike.”
As for those other Bullmoose bars on the Tam, they’re undergoing a bit of a transformation and will soon be installed on their new home. More on that to come…
Serial number: R207
Frame: Ritchey Everest
Fork: Ritchey Bi-plane
Stem: Ritchey Bullmoose
Seatpost QR: Suntour
Saddle: Avocet Racing I
Headset: Campagnolo Strada
Bottom Bracket: Phil Wood Cartridge Bearing “Press Fit”
Shifters: Shimano Deer Head
Front Derailleur: Shimano Deer Head
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Deer Head
Brake Levers: Magura Motorcycle “Shorty”
Front Brake: Mafac Tandem
Rear Brake: Mafac Tandem
Crankset: Sugino AT
Chainrings: Sugino 26,36,46
Pedals: Suntour XCII
Hubs: Shimano HB-Mn72
Rims: Araya 7X
Tires: Ultradynamico Mars 2.2″
Cassette: Shimano 6 Speed
I’d like to thank Giacomo for facilitating this purchase and the great Tom Ritchey for the fact-checking! (Thanks for the voice memo, Tom!) Tom’s modern work with Ritchey is the descendant of bikes like these. He’s constantly tinkering and tweaking designs, making the best possible bikes he can. Learning, owning a piece, and being a part of this brand legacy have been a real honor. Thanks, Tom!