Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Yeti C-26 - Post 1 of 3 - The Infosite & History

In 2007 I created the website www.Yeti-C26.net as a source for all things C-26 related. The history, the bikes, and to document the rebirth with my bike. Back then, not a whole lot was out there about these bikes. Hardcore collectors knew their value but very few were known to exist. 8 years later, the C-26 is arguably the most popular vintage mountain bike, especially since they're now being semi-frequently replicated. Interests and priorities change, and sometime around 2011 I decided I no longer felt like paying a monthly and yearly fee for hosting and domain names, so I took the site down. I was also unhappy with a lot of the information I had posted that was told to me to be truth when photo evidence proved otherwise.

Now, with help from John Parker, Martin K over at Second Spin Cycles is publishing an in-depth look into the early history of Yeti. In tandem with his efforts, I'd like to re-offer the content of my website on this blog and correct some of the errors I had published years ago. In addition, although I may no longer be the expert, now that I've "been there and done that" I'd like to offer a more mature look at this project that never really saw production phase.  The next three blog posts will replace all the content that was on that site.

And it should be known to anyone reading this that I am extremely grateful to my friend Chris Herting of 3D Racing Bikes for 8 more years of storytelling, opinion giving, and lending a guiding hand whenever his time allows.

Upfront, I'd like to address the primary discussion points surrounding these bikes.
  • The recently made C-26 bikes are fakes.  This is untrue. The "C-46" bikes are identical to the bikes produced in the Agoura Hills factory.  The same methods, materials, and hands were used to make these bikes.  In fact, given the lugs are individually hand-spun by Herting and not sourced in bulk at a machine shop makes these bikes more credible than the kit C-26s.  No "modern" technology is used.  The glue used to today was available, and should have been used, only they used the 3M Permabond with poor results.  The only difference between is 25 years of mountain biking history.    Obviously 25 years of race heritage and ownership changes cannot be replaced and will clearly affect value. But discussion of value aside, these are real C-26s.
  •  Why did the C-26 fail?  The easiest and likely best answer is that it failed because Parker and Herting never put forth the effort to properly develop the design.  Parker was sold with the idea that it would be lighter and easier to make than a steel bike.  In truth, it wasn't that much lighter.  My C-26 frame is a half pound lighter than a regular FRO, which isn't amazing considering how much effort it took to make one.  The carbon-stayed version would have seen slightly more weight savings, but not much.  And using "kits," the bike would likely have been easier to assemble, but by the time it came to put these into production, Parker had found significant weight savings with the ARC tubeset.  Yes, most of the original C-26s broke.  The tolerances Easton claimed they were using just didn't work, and most of the glue Herting was told to use simply was squeezed out as the bond was made. This could have been easily fixed, and we all know bonding works as Trek had been doing it for years. But the prototype C-26 took weeks to make, and I'm sure it didn't help sell Parker on the longterm viability of the bike when his salaried staff was spending all day playing with glue when they could have been welding frames.  The design was also flawed in that the steel lug and aluminum sleeve will force the bond to break because of the difference in expansion and contraction rates of the two metals.  Hot summers and cold winters should break the bond. But strong C-26s have been made. There is a kit bike assembled in Durango that now lives in California that's been ridden regularly for 20 years, and it is sound.  The technology works, it just takes patience to get it right. I believe the kit bikes were all sound bikes and could have worked fine with the right glue. 
  • Why are we even talking about these bikes?  A lot of small companies had small runs of prototype-level bikes that aren't nearly as popular as the C-26. Examples that come to mind are the Kestrel Nitro and the Fisher Alembic.  The C-26 wasn't even using envelope-pushing technology. I think a big reason is the Ford Edsel-like story the bike has, where it was hyped by MBA as literally the best bike they'd ever ridden and the "next big thing," only it became anything but. Juli winning worlds and Tomac riding a few with drop bars helps. But ultimately, I think because they're rare and get five figures on ebay, collectors need them in their garages, so the rest of the world is left to chat from the sidelines.
  • Only ten bikes were made? This is sort of true, depending on your point of view.  Yeti only made 10 or less bikes.  But many kit bikes were assembled. I know of or have on good authority the location of at least 20 complete C-26s.  And another10 or so recently-made bikes.

Here is the text from my original website with some errors fixed.

“History is full of occasions when two parties with radically diverse backgrounds have gotten together to create something that actually represents the best interests of both of them… the Yeti Bicycle Company and corporate giant Easton Composites is [one].  The union is one that not only represents the interests of both parties involved, but also every mountain bike enthusiast around the world who is yearning for What could possibly be one of the greatest performing mountain bikes ever made.”
-MBA June 1989

          Possibly the greatest cause for the mystery behind the C-26 is the lack of consistent, accurate information available about the creation of the frames.  Even the key players involved cannot agree on certain pieces of information, like exactly how many frames where built, and to whom they were given/sold.  One verifiable fact is unchallenged: Around 1987, Easton Composites began development of a new tubeset using carbon fiber and aluminum.  The technology had been utilized for some time in Easton’s line of archery and hockey equipment, and it wasn’t long before it saw potential for application in the burgeoning and lucrative world of off-road cycling. As Easton Engineer Chuck Texiera more aptly put, said, “we should make a bike out of this stuff.”  After some R&D work, the result was Alucarb, also known as the Easton C9 Tubeset.  The “carbon” tubes that composed the main front triangle were actually aluminum sleeves wrapped in a Kevlar/carbon weave.  They were advertised as extremely light and forgiving, yet stiff enough for a NORBA race machine.   Raleigh Cycles utilized the design in its 1988 Vision bike, and sales proved the design was a hit.  Eventually, the success of the Raleigh line pushed Easton Sports to market the design for its in-house brand, Reflex.   Easton marketed Reflex for a short while before selling it to French manufacturer Puegot.

        By 1989, California’s Yeti Cycles had established itself as a major player within the exploding mountain bike race scene.  The company was renowned for supporting racers, using rider input, and stressing the limits of technology to make faster, stronger race bikes. Their ungraceful approach, combined with their willingness to take a chance on just about anything earned them a niche fan base, and made them the media darlings of the 1990s.  Yeti boss John Parker made no apologies about the weight of his bikes as he designed them to be “bombproof,” but Yeti partner Chris Herting struggled with the realization his team raced on inferior equipment.  Herting saw no reason the Yeti race team should be forced to compete against riders on bikes three to five pounds lighter.  After the 1988 race season, Herting realized parts could be drilled out only so much before risk of failure was too great, and he began seeking alternate ways to lighten the Yeti “For Racing Only” team frame.

Easton came to Herting with the idea to use C9 carbon tubes on Yeti race bikes, and Herting proposed the idea to Yeti boss John Parker.  Famously stubborn Parker hated the idea at first and vowed to stick with Chromoly steel. However, once Easton engineer Chuck Teixeira suggested the carbon frames could be easier to manufacture, Parker gave Herting the green light to produce a prototype.  They called it the Yeti C-26 as for Chris’ initial and his age at the time.  The design was complicated, but not revolutionary: The Easton C9 carbon-tubes would be mated to hand-machined steel lugs using a special 3M compound (Permabond 310), which would then be then cured in an oven (275 degrees at one hour to be exact).  The classic steel BMX-style one-piece Yeti rear end would then be welded to the new formed, ultra lightweight front triangle.  With the Yeti’s marketing machine at full throttle, and some help from Mountain Bike Action, the prototype C-26 was dubbed “the future of mountain bikes.”  

From the moment Easton delivered the initial C9 tubes, it took three weeks to complete the first frame, as successfully joining the tubes and lugs proved to be a disaster.  Permabond compound (glue) was applied to a lug, and before the mixture could harden, the tube slid over the lug end.  However, the ultra-high tolerances between the lugs and tubes caused most of the glue to squeeze out upon application, making everyone nervous about the strength of the bond.  The problems continued as each bond needed to be tweaked to meet the Yeti geometry.  After a few minutes, the compound would begin to harden, making minor adjustments impossible.  Mating the later joints would break the bonds set earlier, and so on.    20 years later, Herting considers building the first prototype one of the most challenging times in his career.  
 
The first frame was finished in the Spring of 1989 and was given to Mountain Bike Action for test. It would be unfair to call the review anything but biased, as MBA and Yeti had an ongoing business relationship with the Yeti Ultimate project. They called it “one of the most awe-inspiring mountain bikes we’ve ever ridden.”  The bike was given to team rider Russ Worley (who performed the MBA test in a Yeti jersey).  The prototype C-26 appeared in Yeti’s first brochure in 1989, touting “half the weight and twice the strength” of steel.  In the fall Interbike show, Yeti arrived with the prototype C-26 adorned with team decals. 
 
Herting’s most prominent memory and quote when asked about the C-26 is, “they all broke.”  This is obviously untrue, as many are in good shape to this day.  This flawed memory can only come from years of negative stigma surrounding the frame.  Herting recalls the customer who bought the C-26 from Yeti was “Mike,” and to this day, he cannot understand why Mike did not return the C-26, as he is certain it failed.

In the Spring of 1990, Yeti team rider Joey Erwin rode a C-26, and Juli Furtado was given one right before her race at the Worlds in Durango.  Erwin likely had two. Tomac had been a successful mountain bike racer with Mongoose, earning six figures, but was dabbling in road racing on the powerful 7-Eleven team.  After living in Belgium in 1989, Tomac was without a dirt contract for the 1990 season.  He called Parker looking for a bike to ride, and a handshake deal with John Parker had Tomac competing in US Mountain Bike events on the Yeti team.  The early part of the season was spent on a custom steel FRO, with dual 73/73 head a tube angles to match his road bike.  In the summer of 1990 he was given a custom C-26 for cross country.  Later, he received another for worlds cross-country event, and a third for the downhill.  These frames were the only C-26s with 1” headtubes, as his Tioga sponsorship required his use of their stems (which did not come in 1.25”).  Tomac’s featured road-style drop bars with bar-end shifters so his position would mimic that of his road bike. It is believed Tomac later said this was at the suggestion of his coach, and it probably wasn’t a good idea.

At the 1990 World Championships, the sun began to set for the C-26.  Furtado won on hers, and Tomac took 6th and 4th in the XC and DH on his.  Furtado is visibly and verbally upset after the race that her seatpost slipped 2”. Herting has offered theories about why (the main one being they used a 26.8 post instead of a 27.2 when they swapped components the day before the race.  This can't be true as she raced using her Campy seatpost. So any problems would have been identified already.  The likely cause is that they simply didn't cinch down the seat collar out of fear of breaking the milled-out BMX part.

The C-26s returned to California, never to be ridden again.  Parker is said to have thanked God the entire drive home that Juli’s bike didn’t fail during the race.  Herting still is amazed at the risk they took by sending Tomac out on a bike that very likely could have broken at 40mph and injured or killed mountain biking's first million dollar man.   Parker never trusted the glue bond.  Easton designers had quoted a certain amount of glue was needed for a successful bond, but with so much being squeezed out on application, no one could accurately tell whether the frames were strong enough to last.  He never received positive feedback from any of the designers that made him comfortable enough to trust the frame under his racers.  Parker shelved the project when a suitable replacement glue could not be found, and rumors circulated he had already invested in another material designed to cut weight.  

When all was said and done, less than ten actual bikes were ever made by the hands of the Yeti employees that designed them.  The number of actual bikes made at Yeti is disputed, and neither Chris Herting nor Frank the Welder can identify an exact number and to whom they were given.  Numbers range from three to twenty.  Over the years, the team frames were sold in online auctions and collector deals, and some of their locations are known. Here is a list of what I believe were the original bikes:

  1. The Prototype.  Appeared in the 89 Brochure.  Given to team rider Russ Worley for the 89 race season.  Re-decaled and sent to Interbike in Anaheim in the fall of 1989.
  2. Joey Erwin's first bike. Raced as late as May 1990.  Broken, and now sawed up in a box at 3D Racing.
  3. Joey Erwin's second bike.  Raced in the junior XC and to a World-Championship DH win in Purgatory.
  4. Tomac's original XC bike. Used with a rigid Accutrax fork.  Sold on ebay in 2009 for $12,500.
  5. Tomac's Worlds XC bike. Sold on Ebay in 2002.
  6. Tomac's Worlds DH bike. Given to Zapata Espinoza
  7. Furtado's Worlds bike. Sold on Ebay in 2002
  8. Chuck Texiera's bike.  He still owns it and brought it to the Yeti tribemeet in 2012

In 1991, Yeti packed up shop in Agoura Hills, California, and moved to Durango, Colorado.  Unopened boxes of C-26 tubes made the trip, but none were ever assembled outside of the California shop.  Easton had delivered enough tubing for an initial run of 50 bikes, but with the project on hiatus, the remaining tubes sat in boxes in the rafters.  Yeti embarked on other ambitious journeys in frame design over the years, with project involving various alloys and thermoplastics.  In 1991, Yeti achieved its weight-loss goal by again joining forces with Easton to develop the aluminum ARC (Alloy Racing Composite), and a production carbon bike was never thought of again.  Chris Herting left in 1992 and restarted his brand 3D Racing, which he owns to this day.

         Over the next seven years, the face of Yeti changed drastically, with the sale to Schwinn in 1995 and the firing of Parker in 1997.  In the Spring of 1999, Schwinn and Yeti’s parent company Scott Sports closed the Durango factory.  In the mass exodus, the bikes not grabbed by the employees were tossed in dumpsters, along with complete Ultimate, FRO, and Zephyr framesets.  These dumpsters are said to be the fate of over half the C-26 tubesets (except those grabbed by Fritz.. see 'Rebirth').
   
     In the ten years since Yeti closed in Durango, mountain bikes have grown old enough for some of them to earn the terms “vintage” and “classic.”  Along with several other bikes built by Yeti, the C-26 has taken a “cult-like” status among collectors, and some consider it to be most highly desired vintage mountain bike frame in existence. 

6 comments:

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  2. I love this article but there are a few items I can't agree with. For the record, I rebuilt and restored a C26 before anyone was talking about them.

    1) Parker and Yeti "DID push the envelope" on technology. To suggest that this bike wasn't pushing the envelop is disrespectful. Just because their are available options to make a high tech bike doesn't mean it's ready for a world championship and take a risk with your company. Parker and team took that risk and were among the very first to do so with carbon. By any definition that is pushing. Sure you can build something and pretend it's ready. It's another thing to put your two best riders on it at the worlds. Parker did this and won the first mtb worlds on carbon that I am aware of and that is pushing in my book.

    2) The reason these are sought after is partly the story, but also because this was one of the pinnacle's of Yeti's bike production and Yeti was a very special company. They had a strong brand image not unlike Oakley or Nike or Under Armour. They made special products regularly. This was also a very special bike that marked a moment in history when Julie won the worlds on a carbon mountainbike. Carbon had entered mountainbiking and it wasn't leaving even when everyone wanted it gone.

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  3. Look Bikes and also Reflex Bikes also made bikes with C-9 tubing about the same exact time and should be given credit for pushing the envelop. But no one talks about the Look frame or Reflex Bikes from the exact same era. It has the exact same sticker as the Yeti C26 (reminds me of the high school prom). Both where cool bikes that deserve credit. Look has done a ton over the years to advance carbon bike progression.

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  4. TS, read the post again. I mention Reflex, which was Easton's house brand

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  5. And to address your points: In no way are my comments an attempt to disrespect or slight the efforts of Parker, Herting, FTW, or anyone else that was part of the Yeti family. I am a huge admirer of what they were able to accomplish, and thus you won't likely find a more passionate fan of the brand. As for Purgatory and the C-26 marking the time in history where carbon had arrived... given how fast the MTB industry was churning out "breakthrough" technology in 1989 and 1990, I can't accept that a frameset that had been around for two years could be considered "new." Yes, Juli won on carbon, but so did Ned hours later. On a bike that could be argued to be much more technologically superior.

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