Chris Herting’s 1988 Yeti FRO
"John Parker founded Yeti somewhere back in 1985, when he knew a lot about fabrication, but very little about making bikes. All that changed when he hired the Herting brothers, Chris and Eric and later, Frank "The Welder" Wadleton. Chris and Eric were already making bikes out of their garage, Frank was a whiz with metal and Parker was the promoter extraordinaire. The TIG welded chromoly FRO was perhaps the most iconic Yeti, with its Desert Turquoise paint, top-tube-mounted cables and curved infinity rear triangle design - it was the dream bike for almost every racer wannabe in the sport's formative years. Today's classic bike is a Yeti FRO prototype made by Chris Herting for his personal ride - circa 1988/1989 - and while it is outfitted in period parts that are a close representation of its original pedigree, A few bits are not original because this beautiful machine is also a daily driver. FRO means "for racing only" and this one is now owned by Nick Martin, the founder of "The Pro's Closet" - a second-hand cycling retailer that buys, sells and consigns quality bicycles and components on its E-Bay store of the same name. The Pro's Closet is presently building a museum, where outstanding examples of the vintage road and mountain bikes the staff has acquired and restored will be on permanent display.
The story goes that Chris Herting, who stands quite tall and produces a lot of power on a good day, built the bike a bit tougher, with extra gusseting at the bridge which joined the seat stays to the bottom bracket shell - a weak point where early Yeti frames would often crack. The frame would be an extra large model today, which was a size that was never offered in Yeti's John Parker years. Herting signed his work by TIG-welding his initials onto the bottom bracket shell. The seat and head angles appear to be slacker than stock as well, If I remember, Yeti FROs had a 72-degree seat and a 71-degree head tube angle, but Herting's appears to have a seat tube around 70 degrees and a head tube angle close to 69 - numbers that would have given Herting a leg up on the downhills - then and now.
Beyond Yeti's famous racing turquoise color and the Abominable Snowman head badge, the FRO was etched into the imaginations of early mountain bikers by its curvacious, "one-piece" seat and chainstay design and its ovalized top tube. The icing on the FRO's cake was the parallel top tube cable routing that gave the chassis a race-car edge and kept the rest of the bike looking clean and uncluttered. Ironically, the Yeti name, its logo and the three most sexy aspects of the FRO's design were "repackaged" from different sources: a mattress factory, a mountaineering company and some top name BMX bikes. Random pieces, reassembled by a visionary wild man and a talented team of builders into a legendary bike - and the heritage brand that still rocks today. It also helped that Yeti's were some of the best handling mountain bikes of their time.
Component development was raging in 1989, and mountain bikers were hungry for any new gadget or frame design - especially if it came anodized in a candy color. Reliability? Well that would have to come later. In a way, the components on the FRO represent the pivotal moment in the development of the mountain bike, where boutique manufacturers and major brands were on equal footing in both technology and know-how. If this bike is outfitted exactly like Herting rode it, his component selections reflects a great deal of knowledge about parts that did and did not work during the mid '80s.
Bullseye's TIG-welded chromoly crankset was so far ahead of its time that it has been forgotten twice. Roger Durham built them in his small shop near Pasadena, California. It used an oversized chromoly tubular axle that was welded to the drive-side crankarm and spider. The left end of the bottom bracket axle was splined, and the left arm was clamped to the spline section with a pinch bolt. A special washer on the pinch bolt (missing in these photos) keyed into a hole in the axle to prevent the crank arm from slipping off, should the bolt come loose. Basically, Roger Durham invented the modern bicycle crankset.
Tioga's Disc Drive tensioned-disc rear wheel looked like what the word, "Rad" was originally intended to express. Kevlar yarn criss-crossed inside transparent plastic discs made a wheel that that screamed "high tech." Claims that Tioga's wheels were stronger, tougher and more aerodynamic were reinforced by life sized posters of the mighty John Tomac streaking downhill - the raw image of speed. In reality, however, they sucked. Tomac and the one or two other Tioga sponsored pros who dared run Disc Drive wheels, sounded like the were being chased around the race course by large dogs roped to industrial-strength cardboard boxes. Between races, mechanics struggled to keep the beasts tensioned and true. That said, there has never been a more awesome looking wheel on a mountain bike - and probably never will be.
Shimano's index-shifting Deore XT ensemble was on its second iteration and the big news was that you could again get round chainrings and skip the chain suck and derailing that were the hallmarks of too many years of ovalized BioPace sprockets. The "Shark Fin" chainstay protector was Shimano's stark admission that its engineers had not yet figured out a solution to keep the chain on. Another thankfully missing component was the U-Brake that came on almost every other bike of the time. Yeti's extensive racing experience ferreted out that donkey early on and they spec'ed a cantilever rear brake on the FRO. The last bit of the Shimano story are the PD M737 pedals - its first clipless mountain bike pedal and the first of its type to actually function well on the dirt - probably the most revolutionary item on the Yeti.
One may wonder why most vintage stems and handlebars were made from steel, and the answer lies in the small diameters of the steerer tube, seat posts and handlebars that were the standards of the day. the center of the bar was slightly less than an inch in diameter and the inside of the fork's steerer tube was only .875 inches (22 millimeters) so anything else would bend. There are few items on the Yeti that have not been eclipsed by new standards. Quick release dropouts, threaded steerer tubes, steel frames, long stems, narrow bars, thumb-shifters, triple-chainrings, skinny seatposts, 24mm handlebar clamps, rim brakes, inner tubes, rigid forks, (and maybe its 26-inch wheels), have all become collector items.
Final mention goes to the gearing of the Yeti. First of all, it has, what we would call a mid-cage rear derailleur today, and it would have had a tough time spanning the range of the Yeti's three-by-seven gearing. Herting would have had to know exactly which gear he was in at all times to prevent trashing his mech or breaking the chain. You don't see too many riders sporting 46-tooth big rings that are driving a 13 by 30-tooth seven-speed cassette (although SRAM's new 7-spd DH group may change that). Some downhillers raced with 50-tooth big rings. Herting's crankset has an aftermarket granny gear that appears to be an Action-Tec 24-tooth sprocket made from stainless steel. It replaces the stock, 26-tooth item. His 24 by 30 was the lowest gear range available. Climbing was a lot tougher in the early days."
-Richard Cunningham // Pinkbike