The Curious (And Mostly True) Legend Of “The Shitbike”
The article you’re about to read is the product of dozens of texts, a handful of phone calls and about ten minutes of internet searches. To the best of my knowledge, what you are about to read is probably mostly true.
The Softride beam bike: it raised eyebrows and inspired cocked heads and curious gazes since forever when it was first introduced as a triathlon-specific answer to, well…nothing. First designed by James Allsop and David Calopp and later adopted by Otis Guy for mountain biking, the design was always destined to turn heads and conjure any manner of whale dick jokes. However once anyone saw a luminary such as Bob Roll¹ whupping up on all-comers in any given NORBA National series race aboard the design in the mid-1990s, jests were immediately quieted. That of course isn’t to say that they stopped all together, but at a time when Slingshot and Mantis frames coupled with Proflex and Amp Research forks were equally common, curious sights on the trail and oddball designs eventually became common place.
Yes, the late ‘90s of mountain biking were a time when anodized trinkets reigned supreme and frame builders freely threw all manner of shit at the proverbial wall. It was then when a fellow named Lou Mazzante drove from his home in Pennsylvania to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for an internship at Bicycle Retailer, arriving with little more than the clothes on his back. Upon settling in, he got a hankering to build up a mountain bike for himself, so after hunting around the office, he eventually came across one of those beam bikes he could maybe call his own. It was with whatever scavenged parts that could be found, he built up his pride and joy, never in a million years guessing just what infamy it would eventually garner.
As the years passed and seasons came and went, in 2006, Lou moved on with his career, eventually finding himself at the helm of BIKE magazine. With every new technological bell and whistle the era had to offer, his old bike was eventually retired to some dark corner or another, and mostly forgotten. As legend has it, it was over several rounds of drinks one night when the editorial staff at the time was pitching various concepts back and forth about story ideas. The discussion turned to the prospect of a piece discussing the fact that a person didn’t need to have a fancy bike to have a good time. They chipped away at this idea until eventually Lou’s premiere article went to print, after having raced the Shitbike (or Sh•tbike, if you prefer to church it up) at the Keyesville Classic in Central California.
It was then that the legend started to form.
Surely a work in progress, and as time went by the concept developed into a curious bit of performance art, the bike slowly became its own celebrity. Certainly, the people who rode the bike for the now monthly feature didn’t hurt its acclaim. Cam McCaul backflipped if after one particular Sea Otter Classic. Joe Parkin actually raced it in the Downieville Classic cross-country event. Ridiculously, Ryan LaBar rode it for 250 miles in the Baja Epic and Wade Simmons appeared on the cover of BIKE, riding it across a vertical wall in Whistler. Dain Zaffke² poached the Sea Otter Classic on it and Greg ‘Chopper’ Randolph³ poached at least a lap or two at Cross Vegas in the pro race. Kristin Butcher raced the 2008 Single Speed World Championship on it (while pregnant, natch), and when it eventually cracked just behind the headtube it was repaired by the legendary frame builder Paul Sadoff of Rock Lobster Cycles.
Finally, after many, many months of this absurdity, the editorial staff decided that it was time to bid the bike a fond farewell and opted to give it a sort of Vikings’ funeral, only instead of setting it on fire and pushing it out to sea, they were going to fling it into oblivion with a trebuchet—because, of course.
It was with the help of a man named Chris Lesser that they were able to secure said trebuchet. And this wasn’t a tiny little replica mind you. This was a full blown Sylvester Stallone, real deal Holyfield, storm-the-castle-and-kill-the-king type of device. The plan was hatched, the date was set, goodbyes were said and when it all came right down to the day in question, THE SHITBIKE DESTROYED THE TREBUCHET. Like, the entire contraption collapsed, the bike sitting in the sling unscathed and unflapped, silently declaring dominance over all right then and there forever.
Naturally, at that point the trajectory of the bike changed immediately and it was decided to attempt entry into the Mountain Bike Hall Of Fame. Not surprisingly, and despite a petition signed by literally dozens of people supporting its inclusion, those nerds wanted nothing to do with it. In response a certain Morgan Meredith did what came naturally and attempted to sneak it in. After a few more articles written about its various misadventures, it was a never-to-be-published final piece I wrote after doing an outlaw mountain bike race on it in 2011 that finally ended the saga.
In the few years after that time, it’s made an appearance at a Sea Otter Classic dressed up as a scraper bike and then a few years later in all of its original glory. Sadly, time slows for no one, and it eventually vanished back into the ether. That is until just a few months ago when BIKE’s parent company made the announcement that they would be pulling the plug on the rag, effective immediately. My mind reflexively went to the Shitbike’s fate, and so I began hustling and calling whoever I could think of in an attempt at rescuing it from a dumpster. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone in this effort and as I type these words, it’s happily, and safely at its new home in Joe Parkin, and Simon Stewart’s Buena Vista, Colorado, bike shop called Push and Pull BV, where it will hopefully live out its years much to the delight and confusion of all who cast a gaze upon it.
As the human animal continues to plod along in our split second of existence on the planet earth, some bad ideas are little more than that. Others can sometimes turn into things of legend.
It’s safe to say that The Shitbike was both.
¹ Bob Roll may be known today as a TV commentator, but he began his career as a pro cyclist with the famed 7-Eleven Cycling Team. There, he was a domestique for the likes of Andy Hampsten and Davis Phinney. He was known for being able to slog along in awful conditions (he was 7-Eleven’s best finisher at Paris-Roubaix more than once) which came in handy when he made the switch to being a pro mountain biker. Bobke, as he was nicknamed by the Belgians who loved his hard-headed racing style, was the most unlikely of MTB pros. He wasn’t really suited to mountain biking, so his misadventures involving yard sale crashes into cactus or CO² cartridges that froze to his fingers wound up in the pages of VeloNews a month or two later. And that’s what he deserves to be known for: a gifted storyteller.
² Dain is the mastermind behind Giro’s Grinduro, an enduro for gravel bikes, which put the town of Quincy, California, on the map. He was also Cush‘s intern at Bike in 2002. Legend has it he showed up completely unannounced wearing a suit and simply said, “Hello, I’m going to be your new intern.”
³ Greg “Chopper” Randolph had been racing bikes for three years when he went to the U.S. National Championships in 1996 and won the individual time trial. He went on to ride like a freight train at the Olympic Trials and earned a berth on the Olympic Team. He was immediately signed by the biggest pro team in the U.S., Motorola (the sponsor successor to 7-Eleven) and then a year later he and his mutton chops (hence the nickname) ditched Motorola and switched to mountain biking, racing for GT Bicycles and in the process earning legendary status as one of the few true characters in professional cross-country racing.