05 June 2013

A Franken-Barracuda

Spend enough time in New York City, and you're sure to see some "Frankenbikes".  Such machines have been modified to serve some purpose for which they weren't built.  So, an old racer becomes someone's "pedal taxi" by changing the dropped bars and clipless pedals to flat versions of both, wider tires and, in some cases, clip-on fenders and lights.  Sometimes such bikes, which could have originally had anywhere from 10 to 20 speeds, are converted to single-speed or fixed-gear use.

Old mountain bikes might undergo similar treatment.  The difference is that these bikes' tires are often swapped for narrower ones or slicks (rather than the knobbier treads found on mountain bikes).  

Other "Frankenbikes" include ones in which one frame is stacked on top of the other, or "parts bin specials", in which a bike is assembled, basically, from whatever is lying around.

Today I spotted an interesting version of the latter kind of bike:

I wish I could have gotten a better angle on it.  At first glance, it didn't seem so unusual.  However, in passing it, I noticed this:

It's not the first time I've seen side-pull caliper brakes on a bike made, as most mountain bikes were until a few years ago, for cantilever or V-brakes.  Still, they look pretty strange (a least to me) on a front fork with suspension.  It was then that I realized that 700 C (road diameter) wheels were substituted for the original 26" mountain bike wheels.  The brake would not have been long enough to reach the rim of the smaller-diameter mountain bike wheel:

The same thing was done on the rear.  As I looked closer, I saw that the crankset had also been changed. 

What's interesting is that the crankset and brakes more than likely came from the same bike, most likely a mid-to-upper level Japanese road bike of the late 1970's or early 1980's.  The brakes were Gran Compes, which were a Japanese near-copy of Campagnolo's Record brakes.  And the crankset was forged by Sakae Ringyo, known in bike circles as SR.  

That they ended up on what appears to be a Barracuda A2B from 1995 or thereabouts is a story I'd like to follow.  Moreover, they ended up on that bike with a current Quando wheelset, yet the rear derailleur is a Shimano of later vintage than the bike.

Barracuda bikes had a meteoric "career", if you will. Two lifelong friends from Grand Rapids, MI founded the brand in 1992 in the mountain biking hotbed of Durango, CO.  After the business and its race team were well-established, manufacturing was moved to Taiwan, as was typical at that time.

The bikes had a loyal "cult" following, like many iconic mountain bike and component makers of the 1990's.  But those companies--often started, like Barracuda, by a couple of guys who liked to ride or a twenty-something in California whose father had a lathe and a drill press--often were run on unsound business practices.  In an odd way, this story parallels the dot-com boom and bust that followed it by a few years.  

Also, some smaller mountain bike and component makers of that time were done in by warranty claims or, in a few cases, litigation when a product was faulty.   It only took one or a few such cases to sink some of the smaller manufacturers, especially the ones that were operating out of someone's father's garage.

Late in 1995, in spite of positive reviews of their bikes, Barracuda was hemorrhaging money.  At the end of that year, Ross Bicycles bought the company. While they didn't change that year's models considerably, the ones that rolled off the assembly lines in the brand's later years bore almost no resemblance to the ones that had become virtual legends among a small group of mountain bikers.  By the end of the decade, Barracuda production had stopped.

Ironically, Ross--which was headquartered in Rockaway Beach, Queens--actually made a bike called the "Barracuda" during the 1960's and 1970's.  It was a small-wheeled bike with a stick shifter on the frame, similar in many ways to the Raleigh "Chopper" or the Schwinn "Krate" series.  So, one might say that the "Barracuda" I saw today was a Frankenbike even before anybody altered it!