It was 20 years ago today…

June 29th, 2010

1989 Raleigh MirageLet me take you back.

The year is 1990. New Kids on the Block top the charts. England are cheated out of certain world cup glory (once again) by the Germans. Mountain Biking is ‘cool’ in the same way Yo-Yos, skateboards, BMXs and rubiks cubes were before. A callow 13 year old is promised one of these mountain bikes for his upcoming birthday. He duly receives a year old 23″ Raleigh Mirage – just the ticket for a growing lad. The bike is collected and several months of fun riding round the Cotswolds are had until a collision with a rather large and firm tree permanently steepens the head angle of that first Raleigh. A spiralling upgrade path ensues (and stalls around 1995) which ultimately leads to the youth setting up a certain website dedicated to his passion.

Fast forward 19 years.

The aforementioned young man (me if you hadn’t guessed) is now in his mid 30s. A vague idea and a quick trip to eBay nets a replacement (and straight) 1989 Raleigh Mirage complete with Biopace and Cheng Shin centre ridge tyres. This one fits a little better being a 19″, almost looking ‘small’ compared to normal Raleigh sizing from that era.

On the day of the 20th anniversary of my first MTB ride I set out to repeat that exact ride. Same trails, same rider, identical bike, 20 years difference. The ride started with a couple of miles on the road to reach my old local stomping ground of Leckhampton Hill. The bike actually felt well enough. The biopace was soon forgotten and the exage components seemed surprisingly competent. About the only thing of note was the steering which felt unusually stable and slow, assume a combination of head angle and fork rake – ideal for long stints on the paper round no-handed. Soon the flat roads gave way to the hill proper with a mile and a bit rough climb up the scarp edge of the Cotswolds. Back in 1990 it felt akin to riding up a real mountain, I recall that particular seemingly never ending purgatory very well. This time although the legs (and Cheng Shins) weren’t quite willing to clear the entire climb the Raleigh made it most of the way to the top.

Most of the way to the top

It was only necessary to push Nottingham’s finest 501 framed cycle up the final loose, steep section.

The final push

Once the climb had been bettered the Raleigh easily cruised the familiar trails along the edge of the hill, past the Iron Age fort and trig point to the dreaded ‘Lecky Bombhole’. It had taken a couple of rides before I plucked up the courage to ride the bombhole back in ’90. This time I piked it once again. 20 something years of dragging back brakes had left a couple of rocky drops which I didn’t fancy – maybe next time.

There be monsters – Lecky bombhole. Piked in ’90. Piked in ’10

The final section of the ride was the best bit then and the best bit now. The descent. Staying true to that first ride I followed the path of the old tramway. Down past ‘Devil’s Chimney’ to another highlight of those first rides, ‘Rock Step’. Like the bombhole this section had been refused first time out. This time it was cleared with ease despite the Chen Shins – if I’m honest due to the fact the rock step bit of ‘Rock Step’ was removed 10 or so years ago rather than any skill on my part. The Raleigh was pointed down the remainder of the tramway to the final part of the descent, ‘Daisybank’. This was formerly one of my favourite trails anywhere, a fast and relatively short path down a grassy rolling bank onto the road. Once again time and 1000s of wheels hadn’t treated the trail well, it was cut up bad although still fun enough. No danger today of beating that max speed I’d registered on my Avocet 30 back in around ’93. And so with that it was back home on the road for a spot of lunch and cake. Excellent.

The view from the bottom

So how was it 20 years on? Great, although it seems almost unfeasible that two decades have passed. I’ve ridden and owned quite a few bikes in the intervening years, all of them with more ‘pedigree’ than the Mirage. However I can honestly say I enjoyed the ride in 2010 as much as I used to on that same old Raleigh back in 1990.

What next for the Raleigh? Doubt it’ll be a regular rider but it has a place in the garage for sure. Maybe I’ll dig it out in 2030 for the 40th anniversary ;)

Same trails, same rider, identical bike, 20 years difference


  1. Neil wrote,

    I always remember being quite envious of a mate back in ’89/90 as he had the Mirage which was further up the range than my Montage! Great article, really sums up the reasons behind riding old bikes no matter how goofd they were/are!

    Comment on 30 June 2010 @ 08:12

  2. Ross wrote,

    Great to hear your ‘Howit all started’ story John.
    Brought back good and strangely similar memories for me. I bought my first, like Neil a Mirage, back in ’89 with an insurance policy that matured when I reached 16 that my folks had taken out for me when I was a nipper.
    Went along to The North West Mountainbike Centre near Stockport and returned home £189.00 worst off, but the proud owner of aqua/green fade Mirage. I still ride the same trails I first dipped my not so knobbly tires on today, but with a greater degree of skill/experience and grip.
    The memories are still strong though and although the Montage had it’s weaknesses, as did the rider, I have to thank it for changing my life for the better, if not my bank balance.

    Comment on 30 June 2010 @ 12:42

  3. James (GM) wrote,

    Ahhh the memories ! Excellent review on the Mirage there John, Raleigh Mountain bikes is where it all started for a lot people including myself ! Nice to see it being ridden by yourself and glad its a keeper.

    Comment on 30 June 2010 @ 18:46

  4. Chris May wrote,

    Jeez – I had to make do with a blue 15spd Maruader and remember being very jealous when my mate got one of the white 18spd ones… they certainly knew how to make them stable and weighty. Do I miss trueing wheels every ride?

    Great article John – looking forward to reading the follow-up on Retro Bike in 20 years time!

    Comment on 5 July 2010 @ 20:24

  5. Colin McNaughton wrote,

    Magic tale. I used to cycle the very same route, and weirdly recognised it from the pictures, before reading the text ! I used to have a Dawes Ascent, and cycled exactly the same loop from my flat on Bath Road. I’m going to have to sort a visit back there soon, after spending some nostalgia time on google earth. I think I started in 1989, then moved to a 1990 Kona Cindercone from BikeTech in Cheltenham town centre. Man I loved that shop too…

    Comment on 19 July 2010 @ 11:39

  6. John wrote,

    the mtb scene was indeed quite big back in ‘nam in the early 90s. Recall frequently heading up Lecky on a sunday afternoon to find a few people ‘sessioning’ the bombhole.
    Did you ever ride with the local club?
    As for Bike Tech happy memories indeed, the Raleigh’s replacement was sourced from there, sold to me by one J Rowland before he set another local shop. Even worked there for a fair bit later in the 90s.

    Comment on 20 July 2010 @ 09:41

  7. Colin Mcnaughton wrote,

    Hey John,

    I did spend a fair amount of time up there – the bombhole was a favourite! As was spending time up there after the long climb up the Leckhampton Road ! I didn’t ride with the local club – but casually raced with a couple of mates under the moniker ‘Team Beaver’ – we even printed up T shirts lol… We were regulars in BIke Tech at one point, I used the workshops to replace the Cindercone’s BB at one point. Can’t remember names sadly. Spent too much time in Hunters drinking stella… After which, I’d wander home via the Bike Tech halogen lit windows. Too much window licking :o) Was a right flashback seeing your pics. I’m back up scotland these days, and riding downhill bikes for grins – I remember thinking ‘that downhilling will never catch on’ when at the Malverns Classics one year…

    Comment on 20 July 2010 @ 21:58

  8. al young wrote,

    I own same model and did the south downs way on it in june. The wessex Ridgeway in 09. how do i send pics??? i have owned it since my step brother (previous owner) moved to Canada in 1996. cheers

    Comment on 20 December 2010 @ 12:43

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