Nick + His 1991 Trek 970, 4-Ever: A Love Story

Not so long ago, my pal Nick made up his mind that he was going to get himself a motherfucking Trek 970 if it was the last thing he ever did. And it was beautiful. Not the bike, mind you, but the pursuit of the bike. It was nothing short of Ponce de Leon searching for the fountain of youth, except instead of searching the ends of the earth for a font of eternal life, it was some dude in Denver hunching in front of a computer screen trying frantically to track down a fairly obscure, unspectactular bike frame. Used, of course.

We rather like our old steel bikes in central Denver. I mean, anyone with no taste and a decent-sized paycheck can walk into a Performance bike shop and drop a couple grand on a brand-new, light and fast road bike. But it takes a cultivated palate to drag some 20-year-old piece of shit out of someone’s garage, or a thrift store basement, and turn it into something really special.

Even if that “something really special” is just kind of still a piece of shit with updated components. I’m on my third one right now, a 1989 Raleigh Team USA, which had about 25 dings in the paint job when I bought it and decided to rebuild it and ride it across the country in 2010. When I got back from my trip in the spring, Nick had latched onto the idea of owning a Trek 970 like a crackhead latches onto the idea of smoking more crack.

Every time I met him for a cup of coffee, he would tell me that he had been scanning eBay, looking for 970s — lugged steel mountain bikes, which back in the early ’90s sold for about $500. Nothing special, not like Lance Armstrong was riding one. One problem with his search was that he needed the largest size, which seemed to be rare. I can’t even remember why this particular bike build was so special — something about one of the last great American-made Trek frames, whatever. Nick has such an obsession for bikes, he’s talking about the next one before he’s even finished rebuilding the last one. One month, he’s going to get a Mixte frame somewhere. Then he wants an Xtracycle. Then he’s going to build a Mixte Xtracycle. Then, one day, he tells me he’s going to find a new apartment in central Denver with first-floor entry so won’t have to lug an Xtracycle up the stairs when it’s full of groceries.

I say, “You are now talking about choosing your new house, based on a bicycle you don’t even own yet. That’s amazing and completely ridiculous.” Nick’s relationship with bikes is simple, pure, and refreshing. He loves two things in life, and one is his girlfriend, and the other is bikes. He also likes the Red Dragon Roll at Izakaya Den, but it’s way, way down the list. As one of his best friends, I believe I fall somewhere in between the sushi and bikes.

But I still don’t understand this Trek 970 thing. He couldn’t find one on eBay, so he started stalking people on Craigslist in other cities — which is pretty much outside the lines of ethics of buying something on Craigslist, telling someone in San Francisco that yeah, it’s cool, I’ll send you the money if you ship me the bike, totally not a scam. If someone wanted to ship a bike to another state, they would put it on eBay, Nick. Leave these nice people alone.

The Internet was a desert, with a few leads here and there, but no real available large Trek 970s. Then, one day, on the Pueblo, Colorado, Craigslist, one showed up for $70. Nick pounced, e-mailed the guy, saying I don’t even need to see the bike, I’ll give you 70 bucks for it right now.

For a whole week, no e-mail from the guy in Pueblo. Then, a phone message from him: I’m calling everyone who was interested in the bike, so let me know, you’re the first on the list.

Nick called back immediately. Can I take a look at the bike? Like tonight? I’ll be there in two hours.

So on a weeknight, a young professional lit out in a pickup from Capitol Hill, tore ass all the way to Pueblo, met a guy with a dusty old bike at 10:30 p.m., rode the bike down the street half a block in the dark, turned around and handed the guy $70. Back in Denver, he set himself upon building the bike into what he wanted: A commuter bike that was a tank. He spent $600 on new everything: cables, housing, handlebars, chain, pedals, rack, brake levers, et cetera, and he built new wheels himself, bolted fenders on it, and then wrapped the mustache bars in pink tape, to match the pink, the-80s-are-not-quite-over-yet splatters on the black frame.

You ever stand next to a friend in an art museum, looking at a painting, and they say, “That’s really incredible,” but you’re looking at the same painting and thinking, “Yeah, I’m just not that into it” ? That’s what I think when I look at Nick’s bike. I am happy for Nick and his dewy-eyed relationship with the Trek 970, and I don’t think the bike is that bad, but I don’t understand how he got so obsessed with it. I mean, it’s a black bike with pink paint splatters. It’s not exactly a Rivendell.

But I have my own ugly-ass old bike, my Raleigh Team USA, and around Denver, I lock it up with a four-pound chain at all times, lest anyone have the delusion to think it might be worth stealing. And I understand what love is: It’s in the eye of the beholder. Even though I give Nick shit about his bike and the nicest thing I’ve ever said about it was that it was “gangsta” (but other people have told him is “a nice build,” et cetera), I get it.

I’ve been living out of my car for two months now, and decided to not bring my bike with me on the trip — the rear wheel was getting pretty shot, and I didn’t make the time to work on some other stuff before I left Denver. Seven weeks into it, I got a completely random text message from my mother:

Do you miss your bike?

That ugly, dinged-up, 1980s racing bike with mustache bars and a broken pedal, that’s probably objectively uglier than Nick’s Trek?

Yeah, Mom, I miss my bike.

-Brendan

Semi-Rad is brought to you by Outdoor Research.

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18 Comments

  1. October 6, 2011

    When I looked to buy a touring bike this year, I foolishly bought a new steel one. But that’s okay… I am working on turning it into a 20 year old piece of shit with lots of character.

    I rode to work today and this article makes me miss my bike already.

    Reply
    • brendan
      October 6, 2011

      Tom, any touring bike is a beautiful bike. What did you get?

      Reply
  2. Nick
    October 6, 2011

    Have you heard of the Ikea Effect? The things you build yourself, you value more! So, the more of a bike I build, the more I like it – right?

    Maybe I can get into frame building at some point and reach some sort of Nirvana.

    Reply
  3. John Skimore
    October 6, 2011

    Great article Brendan – love it!!

    Reply
  4. October 7, 2011

    Great article, and it kinda gave me goosbumps because the first real mountain bike I ever wanted and bought was my Trek 970 singletrack. I pursued it with a great hunger like your friend Nick, and Guess what? I still have it today, and it’s my bike of choice. It doesn’t have disc brakes, or shocks, or an ultralight frame like all the new bikes do, but I’m comfortable on it, I trust it, and it’s become almost a part of me. I don’t think I will ever sell it, and my plan is to give it to my son when he fits into it.

    Thanks for article. It made me appreciate my 970 even more. :)

    Peace.

    Reply
  5. October 11, 2011

    I completely understand, especially regarding that model. A while back, I wrote about the Trek 820 (hyperlinked to my name here), which is basically the entry level version of the 970, all steel, super durable, and in my estimation, the most popular mountain bike ever due to the fact that they get re-used by dozens of individuals in their life-span.

    My wife knows the model numbers I’m into: 820, 830, 930 and 970, and will even tell her friends when they ask her advice on good bikes to get off craigslist.

    I haven’t bought one yet due to space constraints, but I plan to get one someday because for $120, I’ll have an indestructible bike that I can leave outside and not worry too much about.

    I’ve run through the same obsession on Trek touring bikes, and in 2007 finally bought a 1989 520 off ebay for $320. I fit it out with moustache bars and CX tires for winter riding, rode 88 miles on a mountain loop with my friend Josh one day, raced a cyclocross race on it, and finally crashed it into a cab door in Washington, DC. After that, it just didn’t feel like my bike anymore, so I sold it and replaced it with my current everything bike, a Surly Traveler’s Check.

    I don’t know why it is, but I find the search and consideration of these acquisitions deeply satisfying.

    Great article.

    Reply
  6. October 13, 2011

    I miss my bike. Oh, how I miss it.

    Reply
  7. November 20, 2011

    I’m still riding the Trek 970 I bought when I graduated from High School. It’s also a lovely piece of shit. I totally understand your pal Nick’s obsession.

    Reply
  8. Fizz
    January 24, 2012

    Not sure it’s quite the same, but my custom-made 1991 Vernon Barker frame that I built into a full bike (and then rebuilt along the way as I rode 400 miles from my parents’ house to my own) feels like coming home every time I ride it.

    Reply
  9. Andy
    May 10, 2012

    Got the same black Trek 970 with white paint splash and silver on pink decals and even a pink bottle holder. I believe it’s 1991 model…can anyone confirm?

    Reply
  10. September 28, 2012

    I looked high and low for a large lugged 970. Found it, bought it love it. I’m also building it into a bomb-proof commuter. Paul canti’s, xtr brake/shifter combo, Surly LHT fork. (going threadless). Great bike.

    Reply
  11. November 30, 2012

    I rebuilt/resell quite a few bikes for people every year. Just picked up a 970 in my size. Pretty good condition but has a half of a dime sized dent on the top tube. Im thinking of maybe keeping it and doing something special after reading this. Not sure if I should be selfish and keep it for myself our sell it.

    Reply
  12. psuggmog
    February 4, 2013

    I’m an aging geezer. I’ve been riding around on a large frame trek 970(black with pick graphics and water bottle rack) a few hundred miles per month. I used to ride a surplus police department raleigh technium mountain bike. Years ago I rode most places on a 1953 schwinn paramount track bike. I prefer the feel of a lugged, butted cro-mo frame.

    Reply
  13. Dam
    April 6, 2013

    My 970 is worn out from miles in the West Virginia hills and I need a new drive train. It’s all original except the rear derailleur which snapped in half, replaced with an LX.

    I’d like to try to rebuild it; where’s the best place to get parts?

    Reply
  14. June 28, 2013

    Great article Brendan! I’ve heard you’re podcasts on the Dirtbag Diaries but this is my first time to the site – made me miss my bike!

    Reply
  15. Davey Jones
    December 30, 2013

    ok, I have 2 questions, 1. do the pink handlebars help to pick up girls ? ( not a pink fan here ) otherwise, I do like the bike however.
    second, I’m pretty sure I just saw this listed on ebay, does that mean the honeymoon is over ?

    peace.

    -Dave

    Reply
    • brendan
      December 31, 2013

      Hey Dave: I don’t think the pink bar tape helped Nick, but he was already in a relationship when he built it. Plus it matches the paint spackles. And as of two weeks ago, Nick’s GF has appropriated the Trek, and he’s moved on to building up another old Trek he picked up for $80 off Craigslist.

      Reply

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