Words and photos by Jeff Archer.
Every rider who has thrown a leg over a top tube has probably spent some saddle time mentally designing their “ultimate” bike. For some, it might be a 14 pound, electronically shifted carbon fiber wonder, while for others it might be a fully loaded touring bike created for that dream coast-to-coast journey. Back in 1988, Mountain Bike Action magazine decided to take up the challenge of building its version of the “ultimate” mountain bike. The design and build process was chronicled over the span of three issues.
To be considered ultimate, the design had to solve as many problems as possible. In 1988, mountain bikes suffered from issues including chain-suck, long chainstays and minimal tire clearance. The ultimate bike couldn’t suffer from these maladies. One solution was to elevate the chainstays. This would allow the builder to use wider stays for tire clearance and to pull the rear tire further under the rider for better climbing traction and handling. Elevated stays didn’t eliminate chainsuck but did prevent the chain from jamming into the frame. This concept also required that the bottom-bracket assembly be hung from the down tube in a fashion similar to the Trimble Carbon Cross. The next step was to find someone to transfer the crude sketches into a workable frame. John Parker, founder of Yeti, offered up the services of his new shop, and the design was handed off to Chris Herting, current owner of 3D Racing, who was then building frames at Yeti.
Herting took the basic idea—including plate-type dropouts, a 1.25 inch Fisher Evolution headset, top-tube cable routing, elevated stays, hanger-type bottom bracket—and made it into a workable design. He cut the required materials and handed them off to Frank Wadelton, aka “Frank the Welder,” who welded them into a frame and then added one of his oversized aluminum FTW stems. The test bike was left unpainted and built up with mostly Shimano Deore XT components and Grafton brakes. With three months of publicity, and being billed as “the bike of the future,” Yeti put it into production under the Ultimate name. For the production model, the frame received the trademark Yeti looptail one-piece rear triangle along with several other minor changes to streamline construction. By 1990, the Ultimate was Yeti’s best-selling frame.
An item not available in 1988, a suspension fork, was becoming a common option by the time the featured bike was finished in 1991, and components consisted of a Suntour XC drivetrain with Dia-Compe brakes all hung on the traditional Yeti turquoise-hued frame. Since we aren’t riding elevated-chainstay bikes now, the Ultimate’s “bike of the future” moniker was a bit optimistic. Nonetheless, it was definitely an interesting step in mountain bike evolution.
This bike can be seen at the Museum of Mountain Bike Art & Technology in historic downtown Statesville, North Carolina. If you can’t visit in person, check out the collection at mombat.org.