1985 Velocitech Mountain Machine
"1985 saw the first .com registered, the wreck of the RMS Titanic located, and compact discs introduced, while the average U.S. house went for $75,000. Those memories might not feel like the too distant past for those who were already well along in life thirty years ago, but the sight of Velocitech's still radical looking Mountain Machine hammers home that a hell of a lot can change in that time. Mountain biking was still an odd thing to be doing back in the forest back then, and as clever minds experimented to figure out what worked and what didn't, a lot of the bikes being ridden were even odder. With the Mountain Machine, Velocitech was trying to design the ultimate climbing weapon that would allow riders to scale the steepest of slopes, and the Englewood, Colorado, company employed some out of the box thinking in that quest.
The Mountain Machine evolved during a time when there were often high climb events at bike races, but not the boring, timed races that we see up roads these days. No, these were short courses that went straight up the side of a steep hill and were generally deemed unclimbable, with the winner being the rider who high marked above all others. So, the whole idea of the bike pictured here was to deliver maximum traction while keeping the front wheel from ending up behind you.
Velocitech was playing around with two different wheel sizes long before people were running 24'' hoops on the back of their Big Hits and Banshees, but the Mountain Machine took the mismatched concept to the next level by using a 24'' front wheel and a 20'' rear wheel. The idea was to both lower the center of gravity and take advantage of the torque provided by the smaller rear wheel, at least according to Velocitech: ''The torque developed affords tremendous power on steep grades. Because the rider must sit to climb, he may sacrifice some speed, but he may still be riding when others are pushing.'' Further helping matters is the bike's limo-esque wheelbase and rider position that was claimed to allow for a 50/50 weight distribution between the wheels to aid in keeping the front tire glued to the deck. And you think today's downhill bikes are specialized beasts... the Mountain Machine was developed specifically to climb the unclimbable!
It doesn't sound like the bike rode anything like what was out there at the time, and Velocitech actually included a ''how-to'' pamphlet with the bike covering riding technique. Climbing? ''Do not stand up and pedal. Sit and bend elbows downward'' Ready to shred a downhill? Highly unlikely if you were on the Mountain Machine, but their advice includes ''Use both brakes equally, drag rear wheel on extreme descents if necessary.'' And, ...read the trail 10 to 15 feet in front of your front wheel and relax,'' which they may or may not have recommended in order to prevent injury when you do the drill bit into the ground due to trying to keep up with people on normal bikes. The instructions for performing wheelies and jumping are equally amusing, but it's easy to forget that this was thirty years ago and things were obviously much different.
Even ignoring the small and mismatched wheels, the Mountain Machine is still an odd beast. There's the idler pulley wheel, something that we now associate with high-pivot full suspension bikes but is used on the Velocitech due to the extremely long chain stays. So long, in fact, that the bike used a chain with 128 links in it rather than the usual 116 links. That meant that there could be some serious slack in the chain in certain gears, and the pulley wheel helps to minimize that while reducing derailments. On the same note, ''AVOID USING CROSS GEARS'' was the very first point in their how-to instructions, with the full caps lock hinting that they weren't joking around.
The model pictured here is fitted with the stock 20'' rear wheel, but, much like some of today's bikes that can switch between 26'' and 27.5'', Velocitech designed-in the ability to fit a 16'' x 2.25'' motorcycle tire thanks to the slotted dropouts and massive tire clearance. You'd obviously have to disregard the fact that you'd likely be adding at least a few pounds of rotating weight, but just imagine how flat-proof that setup would have been compared to the sketchy tires of the time that came stock on the bike. No word on if the bike came with foot-long steel tires levers, but the geometry wouldn't be drastically different between the two rear wheel options due to the height of the high-volume motorbike tire.
The Mountain Machine was available in four ''regular'' sizes, known as 18, 20, 23, and 25'', as well as two ''modified'' 18 and 20'' options. The modified versions of the bike featured a drop top tube that sloped down towards the back of the bike rather than doing the opposite as on the standard models, and they afforded an extra 2.125'' of room that Velocitech said ''afforded great crotch clearance when stopping on climbs.'' It appears that all of the sizes had their water bottle located in the perfect spot to catch every last bit of dirt that flung off the rear tire, which is about as ideal as how some of today's bikes can only carry a bottle on the underside of the down tube. The more things change...
It's clearly easy to look at the Mountain Machine and poke fun at the bike's odd appearance while pondering how much electric lettuce was being smoked in Velocitech's Englewood workshop, but let's not forget that it's because of bikes like this that we know what works so well today. Think of the Mountain Machine as an experimental plane from the 50s or 60s: there were a lot of sketchy moments, and now we watch old film and wonder what the hell they were thinking, but the sacrifices made back then led to some impressive machinery today. Also, I have to admit to wanting to take the Mountain Machine for a test ride more than the latest carbon wonder-bike that's claimed to be a life changer. There's something much more interesting about a flawed yet curious bike than one that does next to nothing wrong, isn't there?
With a 24'' front wheel and a 20'' rear wheel, the Mountain Machine is like the weird uncle of today's modern bikes."
-Mike Levy // Pinkbike