WARNING: This post contains tedious, bike nerd content. My feelings won’t be at all hurt if you skip the text and just look at the pictures.
This winter I retired my old winter ride, a 2007 Iron Horse Commuter. This bike served me well as my only bike for a couple of years before it was demoted to only winter service for two more years. By this time I was looking for something a little nicer for my winter ride. Preferably an older, good quality rigid mountain bike. What I ended up using was a slightly scruffy Rocky Mountain Fusion frameset that had been kicking around, neglected, at Bikeworks North for several months.
About the Fusion Model:
The Fusion was first introduced in 1988. This bike’s frame was made overseas and then assembled in Canada. There was nothing unusual about this for the company, however, as in the previous year six out of nine of the Rocky Mountain models were imported. By 1990, the year my bike was made, only the Fusion was not made in Canada. The 1989 model was made in Taiwan and I’m guessing that my 1990 bike was as well. In the following year all the bikes including the Fusion were made in Canada. Ironically, I’m pretty sure that the pendulum has swung back and most if not all of Rocky Mountain’s bikes are made in Taiwan now. During these early years, the Fusion sat close to and sometimes at the bottom of the Rocky Mountain lineup. Even so, at $760 in 1993 this was not an inexpensive bike.
It has Ishiwata triple butted chromoly tubing. Triple butted was a marketing term from the period and functionally it’s no different from double butted. The tubing mostly has a circular cross-section, except where the seat tube joins the bottom bracket. At this point it is shaped to an oval cross section, purportedly offering better stiffness under pedaling torque. Looking at the bike you can see the hint of a sloping top tube, something Rocky Mountain was making a big deal about at the time. It’s nothing by today’s standards, of course.
It has sturdy rear rack bosses, eyelets for rack and fender in the rear, and for just a fender in the front. There is also nice attention to detail in the form of threaded holes for accessory mounting in the chainstay bridge, the seatstay bridge, and the fork crown
There are a few details that definitely place the era the bike was made in. Firstly, the stem is the short lived 1 1/8″ theaded size. This size was briefly used in the early nineties but was quickly swept aside by the now familiar threadless system. This isn’t a big deal, but it will make sourcing replacements parts a bit more inconvenient. Secondly, while it has cantilever brakes in the front, it has a seatstay mounted U-brake in the rear. U-brakes were a fad in the late 90s, initially appearing on the chainstays, but later migrating to the seat stays before disappearing from bikes in the early 90s. There will be about that stupid U-brake later in this post.
Building the Bike:
Building this bike was the first time I’d ever started from mostly just a frameset. The only original parts are the frame, fork, headset, and probably the stem. All of the other components I either transferred from the Iron Horse or scrounged from my parts bin or the ones at BWN.
Starting off, the non-driveside crank threads were stripped. As we don’t have a puller at BWN, I cut the crank off with a hacksaw. The bottom bracket parts were worn out and I discarded them. Next, checking the frame with the alignment gauge showed that the rear triangle was bent to one side. Although this was my first time using the frame bending tools, the internet helpfully instructed me and I was able to realign the tubes, dropouts and derailleur hanger.
When I started building the bike I assumed that it was supposed to have rear cantis. Posts on the seatstays equals cantilevers, right? Wrong! It wasn’t until I tried mounting a set of V-brakes that I noticed that the posts didn’t have a hole for the brake springs. I also belatedly noticed that the posts were higher than cantilever posts, above the rim in fact. What the heck was going on? U-brakes, that’s what.
U-Brakes are a sort of caliper brake on steroids.They do have plenty of stopping power, but have a few peculiarities. When bike manufacturers started using U-Brakes they placed them on the chainstays. These tubes are stronger than the seatstays, resulting in less frame flex during braking. Unfortunately it also put the brakes down near the ground where they tended to get clogged with mud and dirt. Builders, didn’t quite give up on them yet, though, and for a few years they located the U-brakes up on the seat stays. However,in this location they didn’t really have any significant advantages over cantilevers.
The geometry of the U-Brake system causes the pads to contact the rim higher and higher as the pads wear out. Eventually, they will start rubbing on the tires with unfortunate results. This is not an endearing feature. While riding my Fusion this winter I made a special point of monitoring the pad wear to ensure my skookum studded tires were not ruined. Also, these brakes didn’t make it easy to squeeze fat tires and fenders on the bike. If you look closely at the photo you will see that I had to grind slots in the fenders to fit them inside the brake calipers. Add, a rack to the bike and it’s a real pain to make adjustments. Enough about brakes.
The front wheel is a Mavic something-or-other rim with a DT Hugi hub. I’d rolled with this wheel for two winters on the Iron Horse before using it on the Fusion. It’s continues to be great. Winter riding is one application where sealed cartridge bearings are very useful. Next year I may do something similar for the rear wheel (currently Mavic on an 8-speed LX Hub).
I wasn’t able use my DIY studded tires with this bike as the front fork clearance is quite tight. However, I lucked into some great second hand Nokian Haka WXC300 carbide studded tires. These have fantastic traction (I was down riding on the frozen river one day this winter) but are a beast to roll when you’re on bare pavement. The narrow fork clearance meant that I couldn’t fit a fender with these tires, either. I also used a set of Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires for a while, too. These 26 X 1.75″ tires were narrow enough that I could use the front fender with them. They don’t have anywhere near the grip of the Nokians but they roll much better on pavement. I used them throughout the last part of winter when there was a lot of bare pavement but still a fair number of icy patches.
RIDING THE FUSION:
Riding through the winter months on the lighter weight Fusion was much more enjoyable than on the clunky old Iron Horse Commuter. It’s stable, fast, and nimble. I churned through deep powder, ground across pits of brown sugar, climbed hills of sheer ice, and pounded across rutted hardpack. All the while whistling a jaunty tune (or maybe not).
In the autumn, after building the bike and before the first snowfall, I had the chance to take the Fusion for a test ride on the river valley singletrack. It flowed smoothly through the twisty trails, urging me to ride faster than my terrible off-road skills would normally permit. The difference between this bike and my previous imitation mountain bikes was noticeable. When I was racing down the the long, straight stretch leading to entrance to Kinnaird ravine I felt like I was outpacing the photons carrying the visual information to my vibrating eyeballs. Good, clean fun.
It’s worth noting that the longish stem without much rise results in a very stretched out riding position.This aggressive stance felt great on days when I was really digging in and pedaling hard. However, on those commuting days when I was feeling less energetic,a more upright riding position would have been nice.
The Fusion also did a fine job of hauling cargo. I’ve loaded up the bike with panniers full of groceries on a regular basis and have hauled a few large awkward packages with no problems. These older rigid mountain bikes really are great all-around bikes. As a bonus, you can still buy them for cheap as they tend to be undervalued. However, there has been a lot more internet buzz about them in recent years so that change soon. If you are the sort that absolutely MUST have drop-bars,check out this forum thread to see some conversions. For the summer, I’m thinking of going the opposite way and temporarily transmogrifying the Fusion into an upright city bike style. Stay tuned for details.
Whichever configuration it ends up in, this bike is now one of my keepers.