12 March 2014

My First Mountain (Bike)

There's a good chance you've seen one of these bikes:

For a time in my life, I owned and rode one.  In fact, I was one of the first people to do so.

Early in 1983, I was working at Highland Park (NJ) Cyclery again.  At that time, I had the Columbus-tubed Trek 930  racing bike and Peugeot PX-10 I've mentioned in other posts.  

I didn't really want or need another bike.  However, at that time, I couldn't help but to notice the then-newfangled mountain bikes that were appearing for the first time outside of northern California and New England.  

Two years earlier, the first mass-produced mountain bike came to market:  The Specialized Stumpjumper.  Up to that time, mountain bikes were made by specialty framebuilders like Joe Breeze and Tom Ritchey and had components that the builders made themselves or adapted from existing parts.  Needless to say, those bikes were expensive:  even more costly than the best racing bikes available at the time.  In spite of the time and effort that went into building them, most early bikes rode and handled like shopping carts, at least compared to today's bikes.

Although the Stumpjumper was "mass market", it wasn't cheap:  For its sticker price, one could get a decent racing bike or a good fully-loaded tourer.  It, too, is clunky compared to modern mountain bikes, let alone road machines.  However, every once in a while I see one outfitted with decent components (some of which are original).  Because of their long wheelbases and slack angles, those early Stumpjumpers offer a cushier and even more stable (at slow speeds) ride than some cruisers, which some people love.  And, it almost goes without saying, the early Stumpjumpers are collectors' items.

I'm not sure the Ross Force 1 will ever attain such status. Nonetheless,  it holds the distinction of being the first mountain bike Ross produced, as well as the first bike with cantilever brakes to be built in the company's Allentown, PA factory.  (To my knowledge, no such bikes were ever made in their Rockaway Beach, NY factory.)

Some time in the 1970's, I believe, Ross started to make ten-speed bikes with lugged high-tensile steel frames after a decade or so of importing them from Japan.  Until then, Rosses were made like most other American bikes of the time:  from welded steel tubes.  Not surprisingly, they were about as heavy as most other American bikes.

The Force 1 featured a frame that looked--and rode--the way one of their lugged high-tensile bikes would have ridden if its wheelbase had been stretched a few inches and its angles slackened by about seven  degrees.  I couldn't complain, though:  I knew I wasn't getting a high-performance machine.  

So why did I buy it?  Well, for one thing, it was cheap:  The retail price was about the same as that of the company's mid-level ten-speed and, of course, as an employee, I didn't pay retail.  Also, I figured I could beat the stuffin's out of it, which I did.  Finally, as I said, I was curious about mountain bikes.

And, oh, I'll admit it:  I liked the way the bike looked, with its black frame and gold-anodized wheels.  

The bike was about what I expected:  heavy and sturdy.  It was the first bike I used as a messenger, and it served me well.  All through slushy, snowy, rainy deliveries, the bike held up nicely.  One particular surprise was the Normandy/Maillard five-speed freewheel that came with it.  For one thing, it was the only French, let alone European, part on the bike.  For another, it was the most impervious part:  The cogs barely wore at all, and none of the grit or slush seemed to enter the bearings or other parts of the mechanism.  Aside from cleaning the cogs when I degreased the chain, I didn't have to perform any maintenance on it.

Most of the other parts performed well (e.g., Sun Tour derailleurs) or were barely noticeable (cranks, seat post, and others).  The handlebars were rock-steady.  They should have been:  They were the "bull-moose" type, welded to the stem's two extensions.  I suspected that, removed from the bike, they'd make good weapons, though I never tested that idea.

It did come with one really weird component, though:  the Shimano Admas AX pedals.  In those days, Shimano had a reputation for weirdness, but these pedals made some of those early aerodynamic components seem sober.  Depending on which Shimano rep you believed, the pedals were more aerodynamic or more ergonomic than any others.  As far as I could tell, they simply had less ground clearance than any other pedal, save for one, I've ever ridden.  They met an untimely (or, perhaps not, for them) demise from curbs and such.

About a year after acquiring the bike--and a few months into my time as a messenger--I parked the Force I outside Rockefeller Center to make a delivery on a high floor. When I returned, it was gone.  All that glitters may not be gold, but it still attracts thieves, I guess.

Note:  The bike was eventually renamed the Mount Hood because of trademark issues with the Force 1 name.  The Mount Hood remained in production for several more years, first in Allentown and later in Taiwan.


  1. You are very brave focuses in this article. I would have never thought to be any of these in the event that I didn't run over this. Much appreciated!. best mountain bike

  2. I bought a Force 1 in 1983 as a teenager, my first "adult" bike. Kept it for probably 20 years. Those funky pedals failed after a couple of weeks, and the shop warranted them with some excellent Suntour Beartraps. And, the freewheel packed in after about 15 years of use!

  3. Anon--I'm not surprised to hear your story: The Force I was a solid bike, except for those pedals! Thank you for stopping by.