Hello VRC --
I just built up a new old stock WTB Phoenix frame that I happened upon months ago and have been painfully keeping secret until I had the money to purchase. It is an 18", Forest Green Frame with 140mm rear spacing and Canti-mounts, suspension corrected. Serial number: 95372. This bike is a dream bike for me, and the build was exceptionally fun and satisfying. If you're up for the story of how I found this new old stock frame, and a whole lot of pics, keep on reading. If you just want to see the bike, here you go:
Back in February I was working on my 1993 Trek 930 and was desperately searching for an age appropriate handlebar. I went down to a shop a town over from me that I do not frequent regularly for a number of reasons, mainly being that the owner is a vintage road bike collector and does very little with mountain stuff. He has been around for over 30 years, so I hoped he might have some old beat up handlebars he would part with for cheap. This particular owner is renowned in the area for his extensive collection of vintage road bikes, and also his amazing collection of random old bike stuff. He is also well known for being a ruthless haggler and cunning businessman, so I am always on my toes when I go in looking for used parts.
On this trip in, I struck out on the handlebars (he had some of the old Scott ones with the built in bar ends, but wanted full retail for them). When I asked if he had any older MTB stuff in general, he shook his head no, but then paused and said, "I have a 90's trail bike downstairs, brand new but its missing some parts." "What kind of bike is it?" I asked, to which he replied, "I can't remember, but it's a handmade steel frame. I bought it from the builder at Interbike, I think his name is on it somewhere."
Quite intrigued, I asked if I could see it and he took me down to his cellar (where there were over 300 bikes hanging). He lead me to the far back corner where he pushed aside giant box of cheap steel road forks and then reached up and pulled down the bike. It was covered in dust, missing parts, and had a few scratches from hanging so long, but after I blew off the dust I could not believe what I was seeing. I snapped a couple pics on with my phone.
Wilderness Trail Bikes Phoenix - untouched for 14 years.
Some guys you might have heard of...
"This is a Steve Potts bike" I said confidently, trying to hide the little girl inside of me that was mercilessly giggling with glee. "Yeah" he replied, "That's the guy. It's a Wilderness Trail Bikes, they were a company that was around for a while in the 1990's." Unsure of whether or not he knew how special Pott's bikes are to VRC, I moved along. "How long has it been sitting down here?" I asked, wondering if this was really the lifetime find it seemed to be. "Since 1997, we needed some parts from it for another bike and I put it down here until we got it back together. We never got around to it."
The parts on the bike were an almost laughable mix of used and take off stuff that spanned from 1993-2002. Suntour XC pro brakes with LX Shifter/Brake combo. Lots of mid 90's Trek junk, along with a 1997 Judy XC and some sugino impel cranks. He tried to tell me it was a kit but I explained to him that none of the components would have come together and he just shrugged it off. Didn't matter, I was only interested in the frame. "How much you looking to get for the frame?" I asked, again trying to mask my excitement. He responded that he did not know, had no records of his purchase, and had no idea what it was worth. He said he would think about it, and I should get back to him. I carefully re-wrapped the tubes with foam and hung the bike back on its familiar hanger. I had taken the above pictures, and that was all I had for now.
The Last Few Months
Obsessed with the possibility if actually owning a new phoenix, I collected as much information as I could about the bike, including any I could find that had sold in the past decade. Most of what I found was used bikes in various condition ranging anywhere from $700-$1200. I printed up all that I could find and brought it down to the shop owner. I tried to play it slick and made a case that complete bikes were selling for $700, and that the frame only will be much less, especially since it's so old. made him a low-ball offer of $300 that he laughed at, and said I was nowhere close to what he was thinking. At the time, the low-ball offer was really all I could afford, so I told him I would get back in touch when I could make a more reasonable offer. He thanked me for the info and I left.
Three months later, I just finished doing a series of side jobs (computer crap) and found myself with a little extra money. I had Thursday off, so I slept in, went for a ride, then came back and started browsing VRC. I got back into the Phoenix thread, one that I have drooled over before, and something inside me clicked. "I am going to go buy that Phoenix" I said aloud (I was alone) "I am taking it home today."
I checked my bank accounts, hopped in the car, and drove straight to the shop. I energetically burst through the creaky old door, and looked for my man. Instead, I was greeted by the shop manager, a slight, balding, middle aged man with an old school mustache. I have talked to him before and he is a really nice guy, also much more eager to unload inventory than the owner. I asked if I could talk to the owner and was told he was on the Cape for the day. Feeling like my plan was about to unravel, I told the manager I had come in to buy that old WTB downstairs, and made an offer of $550. He thought that was a big enough number to call the owner over, so he broke out the cell phone and greeted his boss by saying "I have an opportunity for you." The numbers were discussed, but again the owner was non-committal, saying he just didn't know what he had and couldn't sell for that yet. It was advised that I come back in a few days and check in.
Feeling defeated, I paused and came up with a new negotiating approach. I somewhat forcefully told the manager, "I came in here today to buy that old bike. Every time I have talked to the owner he ends the conversation saying he is not sure what he will sell it for and he needs to think about it. I have today off, I do not have tomorrow off. I can't just come back for another round of stalling. I want to buy that bike, what number does the owner need to hear to make it happen now. "
Somewhat taken aback by my upfront tactic, he mumbled a bit words for a while before saying he thought $700 would probably do it, but he couldn't promise anything. I repeated, "$700 for the frame, seat-post, saddle, and binder?" "Yes" he said, "that should do it." "Call him up" I replied, "let's make this happen." He quickly got back on the phone and went to a corner of the shop out of my earshot. I "browsed" close enough to hear the manager basically pleading with the owner to just sell the bike, that it was a good deal, and that I would even strip the parts right there in the shop so no labor would be wasted. They talked for about 15 minutes, and then the manager came back over. I was nervous, I had butterflies, I was almost trembling; "700 bucks" he said, "you have a deal."
The smile I had been fighting since I discovered the frame back in February finally broke through and I eagerly shook his hand. "Boy, you really wanted this thing huh?" he asked. Did I ever. I have always dreamed of owned a handmade classic steel frame from one of the greats (Wojick, Weigle, Ritchy, Potts, etc...) but it was never a realistic option for me. I am always searching craigs list/ebay/yard sales/etc... for a find, but never turn anything up. And now...here....I was buying a brand new WTB Phoenix handmade by Steve Potts for around 20% below original wholesale. Yeah, I was psyched.
I set up a stand on the shop floor and proceeded to strip the bike down. The frame was in perfect shape aside from a couple scratches in the pain from storage. The insides of the tubes are pristine, and the paint was still glossy after 14 years in a basement. Worried that I did not have a fork to fit the massive head tube, I asked the manager if I could rummage through the basement for an old one that might work. After measuring more than 30 forks, I found 3 possibilities: a white steel take off from an old Fila which weighed a ton, a black one from an old GT that was also an anchor, and a chrome "Haro Tru-Trac" 26" ATB fork that was significantly lighter and made of 4130. I grabbed the Haro and browsed through their headset drawer, very surprised to find some NOS Suntour XC Pro headsets with WTB Greaseguard. I brought them up to the manager and asked "How much for this old threaded headset and this beat old fork? Is $15 a piece cool?" He hesitated, distracted by a customer and eager to keep moving, so he just said "Sure" and hurried away. Wow, a period correct 4130 Kastan made fork and a $79.99 headset for only 30 bucks. I installed the headset and fork, then raced home and snapped the photos of my new prize.
Phoenix Before 1
Phoenix Before 2
Phoenix Before 3
Phoenix Before 4 - Those guys again.
Phoenix Before 5 - Serial Number
Phoenix Before 6 - XC Pro Headset with WTB Grease Guard
Phoenix Before 7 - Kastan Made 4130 Cro-Mo ATB Fork
Phoenix Before 8 - Dropouts
*Detailed write up of the build (hub conversion/fork issues etc...forthcoming below)
I am very fortunate that back when I was racing MTB in high school and college I saved almost all of my old parts. As I upgraded to lighter/stiffer this and that, I kept all the perfectly good old stuff safely tucked away in a box in my Mom's basement. Very fortunate, because this stuff basically amounts to a 1996 race kit with everything from original race face turbine's to my original WTB momentum headset. I knew that the only way to build this bike was period correct, so I dove into my treasure trove and collected what I deemed worthy of this legendary frame. Complete parts of what's on it now below (pics show a few variations).
Fork: 1997 Marzocchi Atom Bomb, 75mm travel (originally purchased by me in 1997)
Headset: WTB Momentum 1 1/8 w/ greaseguard (originally purchased by me in 1996)
Stem 1: Control Tech Pro, 120mm x 5, pewter, made in the US (originally purchased by me in 1997)
Stem 2: Bontrager, 100mm x 6 (originally purchased by me 1996)
Handlebar: Specialzed wide boy, 25.5" w/ 10 deg sweep (circa 2000, purchased off ebay)
Seatpost: Kalloy 31.8, came with the frame (Thomson on the way)
Saddle 1: WTB SST w/ blue kevlar edges (originally purchased by me in 1996)
Saddle 2: Specialized Body Geometry pro (2001 I think, my butts favorite saddle)
Bottom Bracket: Race face taperlock cro-mo axle (originally purchased by me in 1996)
Crankset: Race Face Turbine LP, 175mm, polished silver (originally purchased by me in 1996)
Chainrings: Shimano XT 8 speed (originally purchased by me in 1998)
Cassette: Shimano Deore XT 11-30 (8 speed)*
Chain: SRAM PC-91 (who knows when I put this into service, but it was mated to the cassette)
Rear Derailleur: Shimano XTR M950, like new (ebay purchase Jan 2010)
Front Derailleur: Shimano Ultegra Triple**
Shifters: Grip Shift X-Ray 800 (originally purchased by me in 1996)
Brake Levers: Shimano Deore XT M739 (purchased form ebay, NOS)
Brakes: Shimano Deore XT V-Brake M739, F+R (originally purchased by me in 1996)
Seat Bag: Original "Widgets" of Vermont seat back (originally purchased by me in 1996)
Wheels: This is the first wheel-set I built myself, way back in 1996 at the end of my first year working in a shop. After applying a drop of lube to each nipple, they trued up perfected and I was able to easily re-dish the rear wheel.
Front Hub: WTB Momentum (originally purchased by me in 1996)
Rear Hub: Shimano Deore XT M739, custom spaced to 140mm (originally purchased by me in 1996)
Rims: Mavic 217, Silver, 32h (originally purchased by me 1996)
Nipples: DT Swiss Blue Alloy
Spokes: Wheelsmith DB 14
Tires: WTB Velociraptor 26x2.1(F+R specific) (originally purchased by me in 1998)
*probably purchased in 1998, because I made the jump to 9 speed the next year
** stole it from my road bike, currently searching for a vintage XT or XTR 34.9 BP!!!
The Rigid fork was spaced HUGE around the brakes, so much so the calipers touched when fully closed....switched out for my bomber, details in the coming build write up.
Phoenix After - 120 Stem
Riding the bike for the first time was both exciting and intimidating. Had I placed the bike on a pedestal so high that my expectations were unattainable? Would it fit? I know that at 5'10 I should technically be riding a 15" Phoenix, but I have always liked longer top tubes and shorter stems (even back in the day) so with the 100mm I hoped it would work (the 120mm felt too long). I also was starting with a 23" EA70 bar, and I was worried it would be too narrow. Well, right off the bat I can confirm that the bar felt too narrow with the 100mm stem, so I planned to swap out the SPZ wideboy when I got home (the extra 2" are perfect, and the bike fits like a glove). The fork was too soft for my burley weight (235 lbs - But I have lost 50 lbs since mid January and am continuing to drop) but it was ok...I cannot believe how plush this old bomber is.
Onto the important part: the frame. This bike likes to go straight. Over stuff, into stuff, straight on through. It tracks incredibly well and is very forgiving, and it feels like me center of gravity is spot on. The bike feels "flowy" to use a completely subjective and meaningless term, carving through terrain almost like a downhill ski bites into groomed snow. I playfully rode up and down the banks and side trails along the Rail Trail path my wife and I were riding, dodging trees and bouncing around like an idiot 16 year old again. Stopping frequently to make little adjustments one thing just kept going through my mind: "This bike is fun....really fun." In my initial run the Phoenix lived up to my lofty expectations, exceeded its lore, and delivered me back to when I first discovered and fell in love with riding off road. This one' s a keeper!
Phoenix on Trail 1
Phoenix on Trail 2
Phoenix on Trail 3 - Headtube
Phoenix on Trail 4 - Drivetrain
Phoenix on Trail 5 - Momentum Hub
Phoenix on Trail 6 - Widgets Bag
Phoenix on Trail 7 - 25.5" wide flat bar
Phoenix on Trail 7 - 25.5" wide flat bar 2
Planned changes include finding an appropriate front derailleur, a Thomson seatpost, and finding a period correct bar at least 24.5" wide (something like a Salsa moto ace). I would also like to find a 110mm stem, but I think I might have one custom made to match the bike. I also just purchased another identical bomber fork off ebay for only $50, which I plan to have repainted to match the frame (either that or go for a cream color or something). Who knows what else might change in the long run...I have a lead on a complete NOS XTR M950 groupo that might be on the cheap, and those parts would look beautiful on this bike.
Mtbr's 2016 Winter Biking GearReviews and Roundups
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