Sunday, May 10, 2009

Personal Rides: Bridgestone MB-Zip

As I mentioned in my RB-1 post, 1991 was the year of Bridgestone at the Dan O Estate. A new RB-1 for me, a MB-3 for my occasional mountain biking wife, Lori - and a MB-0, better known as the MB-Zip to the mountain bike crowd. Oh yeah, the Zip was for me. Bike wise, 1991 was a good year for sure.

The Zip was the top of line for Bridgestone mountain bikes and a great example of what made Bridgestone so different. They mixed and matched specific parts to best perform as designed. The Zip had an amazing mix of parts from Mavic, SunTour, Ritchey and Dia-Comp - all hung off a steel frame. The frame being TIG welded and not lugged as the usual Bridgestone trade mark. The Zip build harks (did I say harks?) back to the earlier days of mountain biking, before Shimano completely dominated. Shimano now makes some killer stuff for sure, but back then - there was a bit more competition. The flag stickers on the Zip top tube represented the countries were all the parts were spec'd. Pretty cool, eh?

The Mavic crank and hubs were works of art. You could adjust bearing tension on the Dakar hubs without removing the wheels from the frame or fork. The crank looked fantastic, but did require a specific Mavic BB - including a special installation tool that chamfered the BB shell - as well as a Mavic tool needed to adjust the bearings. Compared against the simple external bearing set ups of today, a little over complicated. Still, I never had any problems with the Mavic crank or BB set up.

Front and rear derailleurs from SunTour, the XC Pro model. The front XC Pro derailleur cage swapped for a XC 9000 model - an example of Bridgestone details. Another example would the track cages on the XC Pro pedals. Top mount 7 speed shifters to keep things moving. SunTour XC Pro was the best mountain bike group from SunTour - great stuff.

Ritchey was well represented with the frame tubing, fork, stem, handlebars, seatpost, rims, brakes and tires coming from them. All great selections from that era. Ritchey, then and now, has a rep of making great parts for the money.

Frame of course, by Bridgestone, with a geometry a hair quicker then most bikes of the time - thanks to the 72 degree head angle. As mentioned, the frame was TIG welded to save weight - as most Bridgestone models were lugged steel. The off-white tusk color paint looked fantastic, with a matched Turbo saddle to top it off. It had a serious, but understated look to it. Total bike weight was 23 pounds, one of the lightest production mountain bikes at the time - along with the Ritchey P23 and Klein Attitude.

I picked mine up from Bicycle Center in Everett and at the time wasn't even looking for a new mountain bike. My older Fat Chance was riding just fine. We were looking to replace Lori's mid 80s lower end Off-Road mountain bike with something newer. While she was test riding a MB-3, I tagged along on a MB-1 - and loved it. Then I tried the Zip and bought it soon after. If I remember correctly, for around $1500 or so. Serial # 1111 - how cool is that?

So how did the Zip actually ride? Very well actually. It was 4 pounds lighter then my Fat Chance and felt much snappier. It steered quicker and rode softer - the frame a little more flexible then the stiff Fat. The Ritchey Logic fork had a great feel to it - remember this is pre-suspension we're talking about. You could see the fork flexing at the dropouts on bumps and during hard braking. Overall, and I'm exaggerating a bit - it felt like a road bike with fat tires.

On my usual street/dirt loop at the time, I was finishing a few minutes faster on the Zip over the Fat. Placebo effect? Lighter weight? Only my hairdresser knows for sure. In any case, it just plain felt faster and uh, kind of zippy.

The Zip was my main mountain bike from 1991 to 1993 and it was ridden quite a bit. Back then, off-road 3 - 5 times a week. Throw in a few races as well. It remained basically stock the whole time. I did replace the Dia-Comp 986 front cantilever brake with a SunTour XC Pro model. The Dia-Comp brake would screech and squeal through the woods - even after numerous adjusting and pad swaps - really annoying. The XC Pro was quiet and more powerful. I kept the 986 on the rear however.

The Ritchey rims were later replaced due to mud damage, with Bontrager hoops - laced with alloy nipples to the original Mavic hubs. Being an idiot and as per the trend at the time, I cut the stock Ritchey handlebars down to a stupid narrow width. Why we did that - who knows. I later swapped the bars for a normal width Control Tech bar. I also ran Onza bar ends the whole life of the bike. First generation Shimano clipless pedals lived on and off the bike also - along with a later set of SunTour XC Pro pedals - after the original XC Pro pedal bearings got a little crunchy.

The Zip frame tuned out to be pretty fragile, even though mine held up fine. I personally know one other Zip owner who cracked the seat tube after looping out a wheelie. I had other friends witness a Zip shear the head tube off in Moab - ouch, that's gotta sting. I was racing my Zip once and on the start line, another racer asks me, "Yours hasn't broken yet"? Thanks, but no. The frame quality wasn't on the same level as my Fat Chance - not even close. I remember rust color water running from the vent holes after a soaking once and a gap where the rear dropout didn't quite line up - that I filled in and painted. Sorry to bust the Zip cult bubble a bit, but that's the hard facts. Still, mine never broke and it did ride nice.

In 1993 I planned to attend the Moab Fat Tire Festival and wanted something a little beefier to ride. The Zip also caused some of my technical skills to drop some, since it didn't seem like the bike you slam into huge logs or pretend to be a trials rider. I did learn how to ride faster however, not a bad trade off. So, in '93 I picked up a Fat Chance Yo Eddy and retired the Zip from dirt use. I will post the Yo story as the next Personal Rides piece.

Being retired from dirt use didn't put the Zip completely to pasture. I installed some slick tires and fenders and used it as the commuter/road bike for a few years. Eventually though, as other bikes arrived in the garage, it hung there collecting dust for a few years - becoming more of a cult item, along with all things Bridgestone. I'd thought I'd hang on to it for memories and interest in the vintage mountain bike scene.

Times change and now being a single paycheck family of four - sold the Zip a few months ago to finance another bike project. I cleaned it up, rode it a round a bit - still with slicks - felt great and I had second thoughts about selling it. I did anyway and it went quickly with a local Craigslist ad with multiple people interested. Guy who bought it had no plans to ride it - just display it in a soon to open bike shop in Seattle.

Not sure if that ever happened, but if it did - better then hiding the Zip in my garage. Having fellow bikies check out my old Zip in a shop is a cool way to retire it. I think so anyway.

Pics posted were taken right before I sold it - along with info from the 1991 Bridgestone catalog.

Adios Zip and Bridgestone USA - we miss you.


  1. what i great bike that is Dan,..absolutely gorgeous!
    underappreciated if you ask me,..
    must ride like a knife through warm butter

    love to read about the whole story.
    I got to learn to write more about my bikes instead of the 2-liners to produce ;)


  2. I just came across your post here - I am the latest owner of this particular Zip - number 1111. Love it, and am riding it currently as my nostalgia mountain-bike. Bought it from JRA Cycles in Seattle - where it was hanging in the window as the previous buyer indicated it would. Love at first sight.

  3. Wow - my old Zip rides again. I hope you're enjoying it.

    A coworker of mine mentioned seeing a Zip hanging at JRA Cycles - told him it had to be mine. I planned to check it out, but obviously it was my old Zip.

    Hang on to it - its a cool bike and bit of mountain bike history.

  4. Consider selling?

  5. @Anonymous - as per the post, I sold the MB-Zip. Frank, the new owner runs this excellent site:

    You could ask him if he's open to selling it. If not, I do spot the occasional MB-Zip on eBay.

  6. Cool thanks. I'll check it out.

  7. 1993 X0-1 - still have it

  8. @Anonymous - nice, '93 X0-1. A cool bike to hang on to...