F1 … With Pedals

It’s probably fair to observe that any movement begins with an innovator who is a true believer. When they are right, you get things like guitar distortion (imagine what rock music would be without power chords!), and when they are off you get … fanny packs. It’s hard to tell which is which on the front end.

In the mid-to-late 1980s, there was a movement in cycling called F1. As stolen monickers go, this one wasn’t bad. It was a short-lived form of racing that started with downhill racing on asphalt and graduated into flat, twisting races, where the courses were laid out with cones, often in parking lots or occasionally indoors.

Using the fastback seatstays to clamp the seatpost gives a very clean look.

This bike is owned by Steve Boehmke, a former Shimano employee who for a time headed up Shimano’s efforts on the F1 scene. In the 1970s Boehmke raced BMX, then got into mountain biking in the early ’80s. Early BMX courses required sharp descending and cornering skills, so when F1 racing started, racers with skills honed in BMX excelled.

Around this time Victor Vincente was selling Topanga! mountain bikes, which used 20-inch wheels instead of the 26-inch wheels popular at the time. Boehmke reasoned that a Topanga! with slick tires could be an ideal F1 bike; Vincente didn’t have any frames available at the time, so Boehmke sourced a tube set from him and had an LA-area builder, Chris Herting (who went on to be a partner in both Yeti and 3D Racing), weld them into the frame.

Despite the 20-inch wheels, the combination of splatter pain and unicrown fork make this classic 1980s mountain bike.

Despite the presence of BMX bars, the F1 bikes were significantly different from BMX bikes in that they weren’t sprint bikes; the fastest racers were the ones who could spin the pedals like mad while seated. If road racing and BMX had a love child, F1 would have been the offspring.

The splatter paint job is seriously 1988, but there are a number of other details that make the bike pretty fascinating. The wheelbase is rather long compared to a BMX bike, which would have made the bike a hair less reactive and easier to pedal in a straight line. And rather than traditional horizontal BMX dropouts for the rear wheel, it uses classic road bike dropouts, though the rear wheel is still bolted in place.

F1 is arguably the only occasion when you will see a shifter on a BMX handlebar.

Many of the parts on the bike aren’t period-correct, or rather, how the bike was originally built; Shimano did produce parts just for F1 bikes. Boehmke was still working at Shimano when they introduced the Nexus group of parts for city bikes in the late 1990s, and he took his F1 Topanga! and built it up with those. You don’t see brakes on the bike, even though there are brake levers because the Nexus group used roller brakes which incorporated the brake mechanism into the hub. And the rear hub used planetary gears (in this case a 4-speed), which, like the old 3-speeds, would allow the rider to change gears without pedaling, like while waiting for a light; no rolling away in too big a gear.

It’s hard to say why F1 racing didn’t take off; that fact that a race promoter didn’t need anything more than a parking lot or empty warehouse and cones would have made holding the races a good deal easier than any promoted today. And as any kid who ever pedaled to school on a BMX bike while wearing a backpack full of books could attest, having a bike you could sit down on and still pedal would have made that ride way easier.

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