Kelley was born in 1992. Her bike was born in 1995.
Before “Touring Bikes” existed, one of the gold standards for serious cycling expeditions was the mid-90’s Kona Cinder Cone. The cromo-steel frame came with rack mounts, bottle mounts, and the confidence that only a field-weldable alloy can inspire. We dug up one of these dinosaurs from the golden age of hardtail mountain bikes at our local shop, Berkshire Outfitters. This particular Kona has been ridden hard and put away wet, but when you spend money on quality components, good wheels, and a good frame, those kinds of abuses do little to age the bike. It’s the reason 90’s mountain bikes and their modern iterations like the Surly Troll are favored for expeditions; they keep going, and going, and going…
With a second wind beneath her sails, this particular Kona, nicknamed The Storm Lady by Kelley, beats out a majority of stock touring bikes, and it cost us $200 in perfect condition. Adjusted for inflation, the Kona Cinder Cone was $1150 back in 1995.
Here are the specs:
- Frame: Kona Cinder Cone, Tange Infinity double-butted chromoly tubing
- Fork: (Upgraded) Surly Instigator 1.0
- Brakes: Ritchey Logic brakes, Kona Race Light High Command levers
- Shifters: Grip Shift SRT-600
- Front Derailleur: Shimano Deore LX Compact Drive, bottom-pull
- Rear Derailleur: Shimano Deore XT GS
- Crankset: Sugino Impel 500, 24/32/42 teeth
- Casette: 8-speed 11-28
- Hubs: Shimano Deore LX
- Rims: Mavic 237, 32-hole. 1.8 mm straight gauge spokes with brass nipples.
- Tires: Schwalbe Marathon Mondial 26 x 2.0
- Handlebar, Seatpost: Kona Race Light
My bike, which is a touring-built bike with components from the past three years or so, is built remarkably similar. Things start mirroring with the chromoly frame and fork, obviously, but the XT drivetrain, triple crankset, cantilever brakes, 32-spoke Deore/Mavic wheelset are hallmarks of a lot of the current touring bike market.
After buying the bike, Kelley cleaned it from top to bottom and applied a (remarkably well-matching) coat of nail polish to about 75 dings and scratches. Other than cosmetic damage, there’s a slight dent in one of the rear seat stays, but the geometry of the back wheel is dead-on, so it seems to have been adequately repaired back sometime in the 90’s. We had some stickers laying around, so Kelley added some “urban camouflage,” a little bit of anti-theft insurance to make this look more like a junker than a valuable “vintage.”
Kelley had actually replaced the pedals on her old Wal-mart FS bike, so she swapped those in for the junker pedals the bike came with. Eventually, she might decide to go clipless.
The original fork had to go. As much as I love the aftermarket Rock Shox Quadra 21R we bought her with, this Kona needed a rigid fork if we were going to tour anywhere. So, this…
Well, not quite. We’ve since gone with a Surly Instigator instead of the Surly 1 x 1 pictured here, which has a disc brake mount in case we ever feel frisky in the future. The Ritchey Catilever brakes stop on a dime, but the Aztec brake pads are a bit finicky to adjust. Still, rim brakes are very field-serviceable and field-replaceable, another plus for the Kona.
Part of what makes 90’s mountain bikes so desirable for long-distance touring is their relaxed and upright geometry, perfect for tricky off-road riding or a tour across the United States. Early mountain bikers were often interchangeably adventurers, and a lack of serious mountain biking infrastructure meant these bikes were just as often used for exploring new trails than they were for competition. That pedigree gets a Round Two in the modern age, since the 26 inch wheel size still dominates South America. “Expedition” style touring bikes use the most interchangeable, most field-serviceable, and most readily available parts standards possible, which suits this Kona perfectly. If you crash in the middle of Patagonia, the local bike shop and hardware store can likely get you rolling again after anything short of being run over by a bus.
For Kelley and I, the dream of biking across another continent is definitely front and center. However, the reality right now is that it might be a few years until we can set off on such a jaunt. We’re using this Kona for overnights, trail rides, and lazy weekends. Kelley is becoming a proficient commuter, and her camping expertise after all these trips is rivaling my own. The bike eats anything we can throw at it, just as it was designed to do in 1995.
Here’s the money we’ve sunk into her so far:
- Initial Purchase: $200.00
- New Stem: $20.00
- New Fork: $60.00
- New Tires and Tubes: $80.00
- Reflective Tape: $3.00
But wait: we sold her old fork for $55!
We also loaded up with a few extras.
- Helmet: Giro Revel
- Front Light: Sigma Eloy LED
- Tail Light: CatEye Omni
- Seat Bag: Inside Line Equipment, Cyan
Not bad for a touring bike with all the fixings! If you want to find a bike like Kelley’s, start looking on Craigslist today. If you’re not seeing anything, looking at the Craigslist page for the closest major city might help you find a bigger pool to draw from, if you’re willing to drive out for a good deal. Local shops often have a used bike inventory on hand, so get familiar with your local experts and let them know what you’re looking for; they can keep their eyes peeled right next to yours. Use resources like shop owners and BikePedia to research older models to make sure the parts are good quality. Generally, a top-of-the-line bike from the 90’s, or even 80’s and earlier will still perform great in 2014, with a little TLC.
The longer you look, the better your odds are for finding a real gem. Bike touring doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive, and almost any bike with sturdy wheels and good components can put thousands of miles down without issues.