It Takes Two: John’s 1985 Steve Potts Signature

Marin County was a bustling time for the early mountain bike scene from the late 70s and well into the 80s. Names like Tom Ritchey/Gary Fisher/Charlie Kelly at the MountainBikes store, and Joe Breeze, Charlie Cunningham, and Steve Potts psychically and physically shaping the future of the then-fledgling sport with their fire-road ripping designs, torches and tig welders.

We’ve reported on Cunningham and Potts’ involvement in Wilderness Trail Bikes (known widely as WTB) over the past few years along with Mark Slate. In 1983, Cunningham, Potts, and Mark Slate founded WTB, and the trio began developing components in Marin, leaning on both builder’s fondness for innovation and exquisitely unique craft. While Steve loved to shape tubes with brass fillets, focusing on the form regardless of weight, Charlie would tig aluminum and shave grams anywhere he could. The two made for a dynamic duo of constructeurs.

By the time 1985 rolled around, mountain bikes were a legitimate tour de force within the bike industry. Even though they gravitated towards completely different frame materials and processes, Cunningham and Potts were credited with crafting some of the most iconic bikes of the era and still found the time to collaborate and share ideas.

As with many of the influential characters and pivotal moments in the early days of the almighty mountain bike, collaboration was key, and sometimes, it took two talented individuals to make a single bike…

1985 Steve Potts Signature

When I was in Marin Country for a video and photo shoot, I got pinged by a friend who had a lead on a 23″ 1985 Steve Potts Signature. All he had was a cell phone photo from the seller but it was enough motivation for me to hustle to make the purchase. I sold a few bikes and had my PayPal ready for the seller. A few days later and I was in possession of a Steve Potts Signature.

The Signature was a team effort that utilized Mark Slate and Steve Pott’s unique “Magura Mount” (a Suntour Mighty shifter mount that saved bar space and made for a more ergonomic shifting experience), modified Hi-E hubs, Cunningham/WTB Speedmaster Rollercam brakes, and the legendary Type II fork.

This bike even had a seat post-sleeved Zefal pump. WTB would remove the pump handle and replace it with a plastic or wood handle with the same diameter as the pump shaft. Then, they’d wrap a few layers of tape around the pump shaft and pressure-fit it into the seatpost. So, when you needed a pump, it was always just a few turns of the QR away from being handy. Even with the Hite-Rite—a 1983 invention that let your saddle to drop a few inches for techy descents—the seat post removal was quick and easy!

Taking a close look at the skewers reveals that some versions of the Signature bikes used Suntour skewers with modified aluminum Hi-E end caps to save weight over the OE steel Suntour caps. This subtle modification required tapping the Hi-E end cap to match the correct thread pitch of the Suntour QRs. While many of these details were considered upgrades, a first pass over the frame makes it clear that this bike had a lot going on.

Soon I began to unfurl an even deeper story upon further investigation. A renowned Cunningham collector pointed out that the “point” on the Type II fork was a signature Cunningham flourish. Charlie designed and engineered the Type II fork to be stiff but light, offering a reinforced crown that the 1″ fork blades slid into before being soldered together with the crown. The crowns were sent off to a heavy-duty mandrel manufacturer who could bend the steel crown shapes. This made for an incredibly stiff fork strong enough for the exceptional stopping power of the Speedmaster Rollercam brakes – made by Glenn Brown in Richmond, CA for WTB – but still lightweight enough to flex and absorb trail chatter.

While Steve and Charlie made Type II forks, Charlie’s crowns were longer, with sharper, more acute “points.” Back then, Steve and Charlie would often help each other out on builds, so this collaboration was pretty typical.  Yet, to land one of these bikes in my size almost 40 years later is remarkable. Nate from Monkey Wrench Cycles, a Cunningham and Potts collector, sent me the following note:

“Yep. That is a Charlie crown; Potts scalloped bottom! I just talked to Steve about one I have, and shortly before and after NORBA nationals in ’84/85, he had been building so many type II’s he needed to get some from Charlie to finish orders, so they are rare to be like what you have there. It’s really cool! The crowns were all made at the same place, but Steve and Charlie put their own touch on the ‘tangs.'”

The Cunningham influence didn’t end there. The “stub” stem is Cunningham-made, with less brass than Steve would typically lay down to save weight – as evident by the OD tapers on the binders – and a unique, at that time, removable two-bolt style faceplate. This made swapping bars easier, which the previous owner did at some point in the 1990s, as the handlebars on this bike are WTB titanium bars typically seen on the later (1989) Phoenix WTB MTB.

The only notable component this bike is missing is a Cunningham FASP, or fixed angle seatpost, as seen in the Banana Slug gallery I shot a few years ago: From the Pro’s Closet: Mark Slate’s 1983 WTB Steve Potts-Built Banana Slug. These posts had the saddle position “fixed” and the only adjustment was achieved by filing down the channel in which the clamp nested. A FASP is unobtanium these days, so I won’t hold my breath for acquiring one!

A Light Restoration

This bike already has a wonderful amount of patina, or beausage as we call it, so I don’t feel bad about riding it hard. When I first got ahold of it, there was almost 40 years’ worth of grime caked onto the components and frame. It had sat in a garage in Marin for 25 years and was totally “put away wet.”

First and foremost, I wanted to ensure that the very rare components were operational and to protect the frame while maintaining its lovely, time-stamped patina. In doing so, I took a light-handed restorative approach to get it to its current state: I removed the chain, wheels, and scrubbed everything down without taking off the auxiliary parts. This kept some of the grime in place on the components, adding to the worn-in aesthetic.

Then I put three coats of 3M automotive wax on the frame, buffing it with a microfiber towel to a shine, adding more wax to the lovely headtube wear. These models had a unique two-layer paint job process in that a base color was applied first, followed by the logos, and then the final top color. Yellow was the base here, with green being the finishing color. It makes for a more robust paint finish and some beautiful cable rub.

Once it was waxed and coated with frame saver on the inside, I re-cabled it using step-down ferrules, 6mm and 5mm housing, with blank NOS cables. Ain’t no Jagwire going on this baby! Now, if the cranks weren’t spinning like a top, or if the headset or hubs were sticky, I would have completely stripped the bike down, but it felt wrong to remove 40 years’ worth of dust and dirt completely.

The one component that did need an overhaul was the Suntour MP1000 pedals where MP stands for magnesium pedal. I took the pedals apart, measured the bearings, ordered replacements, and polished the cages and magnesium pedal bodies. In the depths of my spare parts bin were some NOS Binda toe straps that matched perfectly, and the plastic toe clips were still in rideable condition. Even the WTB “Toe Flips,” the brand’s first-ever product, which enabled easier entry to the toe clips, had a nice patina and were still in operable condition. Now these pedals spin perfectly, and let me tell you, it’s a hoot cinching down the straps and lettin’ ‘er ripppp!

There was one improvement I made that proved to be a bit tricky. In the 1980s, the abundance of moto and moped parts provided ample cross-pollination opportunities for the MTB world. Charlie, Steve, and Mark would often modify moped parts like this Honda oil pump noodle to help assist in brake cable routing. I went to a local moped shop and rummaged through their parts bins before finding one, which I then bent into shape and trimmed to fit under the Cunningham stem.

To perfect the package, I replaced the 1990s Ritchey cable hanger with a WTB hanger.

The grips, tires, and saddle were all left to replace. NOS Magura Pow-R grips with the flanges machined off, a NOS Cinelli Unicanitor saddle I’d been hoarding, and Ultradynamico Mars 2.22” tires all rose to the occasion perfectly. Magnifique! I especially love the tires as they are a perfect stand-in for the Specialized Ummagumma tires. Believe it or not, Specialized and WTB worked together back in the early years of the brands. That’s a story for another day! … and I’ve got a perfect bike to be the vessel for that tale.

After a week or so worth of work and I have a dream bike from two talented framebuilders with plenty of life left in it and is a joy to ride. Like Mike Wilk pointed out in his Yo Eddy! article, vintage bikes aren’t meant to be pushed to the limits as their modern counterparts, so I ride this one with care. It’s been an incredible month of riding it at sunset on our XC trails above my house, stopping for those picture-perfect moments…

The Build

Year: 1985
S/N: Obscured by paint
Frame: Steve Potts Signature
Fork: Steve Potts/Charlie Cunningham Type II
Stem: Charlie Cunningham
Headset: Specialized
Bottom Bracket: Grease Guard
Handlebar: WTB Titanium
Shifters: Suntour Mighty on Magura Mounts
Front Derailleur: Shimano Light Action
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Light Action
Brake Levers: Magura
Front Brake: WTB Speedmaster Rollercam
Rear Brake: WTB Speedmaster Rollercam
Crankset: Specialized Flag
Chainrings: Specialized Flag 36-47
Pedals: Suntour MP1000/Specialized Toe Clips/Binda straps
Hubs: Hi-E WTB
Rims: Specialized GX23
Tires: Ultradynamico Mars 2.22″
Wheel QR: Suntour/Hi-E
Seatpost: XC Pro
Saddle: Cinelli Unicanitor
Seatpost QR: Suntour
Grips: Magura Pow-R
Chain: Shimano Dura-Ace 7400
Cogs: Sachs
Pump: Silca
Bottle: NOS Suntour

Many thanks to all who helped me land this bike, you know who you are! To Nate from Monkey Wrench, Tasshi from Vintage MTB Workshop, and to you, for reading!