Now THAT was a bike
Words by Richard Cunningham // Photos by The Pro’s Closet
Sweetheart Cycles’ 1982 Moto Cruiser is quite rare and it is also historically important for a number of reasons. The beautifully executed frame is representative of a time when pioneer mountain bike makers were combining aspects of road, BMX and motorcycle design to imagine how a mountain bike might look like. The frame tubes are straight-gauge, chrome-moly steel and TIG-welded – a joining technique that was rejected by established frame makers as too brittle and unreliable for lightweight bicycle construction. Its level top tube was necessary because the longest seat posts made were only 200 millimeters – the Strong post shown here is probably at its max height. Bicycle Bob made his own BMX-style handlebar and modeled its straight-blade fork from those used in BMX cruiser-class racing. The stem was a heavier-than-sin Pro Neck BMX model that was drilled to form a cable stop for the front brake. Road-style rear dropouts were the only ones made that had derailleur bosses.
The Moto Cruiser also shows us the limited palette of components that was available in the early 1980’s. French-made Mafac tandem cantilever brakes were the only options that would actually stop a bike and, unlike many early mountain bikes that used Magura motorcycle levers, this one features Italian-made Tomaselli moto levers. The drivetrain is the classic mix of European touring gear and budding Japanese mountain bike offerings. Its Campagnolo Rally rear mech, was probably not capable of taking up enough chain to manage all 18 gears. The Campagnolo Nuvo Record front changer was fussy to adjust, but arguably, it was the sturdiest one could buy at the time. The Cook Brothers crankset is reported to be original, but while single-ring BMX cranks date to the late 1970’s, spiders made to convert Japanese Sugino and Dia-Compe chainrings to fit Cook Brother’s cranks did not appear until later. The bike’s Simplex thumb-shifters are rare. Most bikes used early Suntour levers that were more primitively made and only right-handed – so builders had to modify them to create left-handed ones for the front changer. The portage strap was also a common accessory as tall gearing and the rarity of bike friendly trails often forced pioneer riders off their bikes on the climbs.
The Moto Cruiser’s Snake Belly tires and Araya 7X rims were classics back then – and while the narrow, skin-wall knobbies were winners on hard-packed BMX tracks, they suffered on loose and steep terrain. The rims, however, were prophetic – almost exactly the width that the industry has evolved to today after its religious adherence to the stupidly narrow and persistent-Bontrager XC standard. Keith Bontrager deserves heroic recognition for re-rolling 40-hole Mavic MA-2 tandem road rims into the first lightweight 26-inch mountain bike items, but the industry deserves a dunce hat for missing the point: Keith wanted stiff, lightweight rims, and was willing to suffer with skinny. The bike industry only copied the skinny part.
Our Sweetheart Cycles Moto Cruiser was brought to us by the folks at The Pro’s Closet, where it is on loan from the Vintage MTB Workshop collection. Reportedly, the bike spent 20 years in active duty in Tucson, Arizona, before being restored it to its near-original condition, as we see it here. The legendary tale about Sweetheart Cycles, as reported third-hand, is that “Bicycle” Bob Wilson started Sweetheart Cycles north of Los Angeles and, after allegedly being imprisoned on drug charges, sold the business to Yeti founder John Parker. (In defence of Bicycle Bob, California drug enforcement was draconinan in the early 80s – a time when life sentences could be dealt to offenders caught with an empty hash pipe and $300 in their wallets.) A close look at the Moto Cruiser reveals design aspects that transferred to future Yetis, most conspicuously, the one-piece seatstay/chainstay configuration. Many thanks to The Pro’s Closet for furnishing the images, and especially to Vintage MTB Workshop for allowing us the opportunity to share this historical treasure.
Sweetheart Cycles >> Yeti Cycles