Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

What makes a bike design a classic?

Posted by DaveC | September 14, 2011 | 7 comments so far

I was driving home looking at the black skies the other day and I wondered about bike design and what makes a bike a classic? In this post I’ll state my thoughts and propose a few designs I think might be classics. Hopefully you can share your ideas and classics as well.

So what is a design classic?

Clas-sic (kla-sik) adj.
Belonging to the highest rank or class
Serving as the established model or standard
Having lasting significance or worth; enduring
Formal, refined and restrained in style
Simple and harmonious; elegant like the classic cut of a suit

My first thoughts on this are a design that has stood the test of time, probably been refined and improved but one that you can see a resemblance if stood along side an original model. For me this must indicate something about the design that actually worked in the first place.

Subsequent design changes might well be because of fashion (i.e. public demand for longer forks, slacker head angle) or genuine tweaks to make the frame more durable etc. I guess for me the Orange 5 would be such a design. Stand the current 5 next to a Sub 5 and you can see the similarities.

I suppose another take on the design classic might be something that does something differently. This probably comes down to  changes such as suspension design. Lets face it, a bike is pretty much recognisable as a bike whatever you do to it (recumbents aside!), especially hard tails.

Another factor that might well alter your own view of what a classic is could be your own choice of bikes or indeed the bikes your mates had that you lusted after.

So, I’ll start the ball rolling.

  1. The Orange 5 as it’s a testament of steady evolution
  2. The On-One Inbred Classic – again a design that has developed as forks have developed and offers excellent value for money. (You could equally have an Orange P7 but I’ve never owned a P7!!!)

Over to you, what are your classics and why?

Filed under Mutterings, Trends in September 2011


About the author

Dave's been riding seriously since about 1997 and is one of the founding Molefathers — along with Matt and Mark — that came up with the idea of a MTB website for Mole Valley riders.

He's had several different bikes but it's now mainly 29ers in Dave's stable, apart from an Orange 5.

Current Bikes: Orange 5, Salsa Spearfish and Kona Big Unit

There are 7 comments on ‘What makes a bike design a classic?’

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  1. paul901 says:

    Dave, I’m going to say a certain rightness about a design which as you say stands the test of time. The anglepoise lamp, the inlaid nib fountain pen, the Pavoni lever coffee machine, the front suspension hardtail i.e. I know nothing of the clever MTB bike designs but I guess a hardtail like my Whyte 901 is an example of this classic to me.

    The hardtail allows buffoons like me to enjoy the trails giving a surprising amount of comfort and a basic ability (in bike not rider) to go anywhere. My GFs Specialized Rockhopper SL fits this brief as does as all the other hardtails with a different brand on the tubes.

    I know I could swap bikes with any of the great bikes I see on my occasional Mole rides and I would be left behind by the other rider wringing much more out of my hardtail.

    In fact, whenever I stand back and think about my expensive road bikes, Specialized Globe tredder, the many urban bikes I see ridden, folding commuter bikes and so on , I come to the conclusion that for ability, endurance, toughness, enjoyment and multi-tasking, the £700 to £1200 hardtail is an incredible all-rounder and is the pound for pound best bike I have. And I nearly didn’t buy one at all.

    I still like those Trek EX glamorous things though, I don’t need another classic bike, I don’t need another classic, I don’t need another, I don’t need…

  2. Matt says:

    How odd that those are the two bikes I own!

    What makes a classic? Well, it varies from person to person – age, longevity of design, nostalgia, frame material, consensus from peers, looks, branding, a new concept, the fact the bike is no longer produced… there’s lots of factors at play. But ultimately I’d think there had to be some agreement that the bike could cut the mustard.

    For me, both the bikes mentioned fit my riding style perfectly, in some ways the Five is an Inbred with suspension.

    You’d have to really convince me the Inbred was no longer relevant around the Surrey Hills for me to part with it. I have the older, pre 456, pre thicker tubing frame and it is very forgiving, as my efforts last night showed!

    The Orange is more sensitive to set up as you’d expect from a full suspension bike but it too is a great trail bike.

    But do I think them classics? I just think of them as my bikes which I use as the whim takes me. I guess I’m rather lucky; I could change them anytime I want but I’ve never felt I’ve got to the limit of their capabilities…

    If they ever turn up on Antiques Roadshow though, the game’s up!

  3. TurnerGuy says:

    The classic hardtail has to be a Kona, for defining the shape of the modern, sloping tube, ht.

    I would have thought the SC Superlight is more of a classic than the Orange 5 purely because it is not so freakin’ ugly!

  4. kc says:

    My wife has it nailed. She said to me the other day, “you bought another bike, classic”!!!!

    I am not clear it had anything to do with the design though.

  5. tony says:

    Well what is a MTB “classic”. As you can say it’s many different things.

    I can’t disagree with Dave that the On-One Inbred and Orange 5 are Classic’s, although evolving classics. The current Orange Five is a bit of a “trigger’s broom” compared to the original Sub3.

    I’d add the SanAndreas Mountain cycles bike 20years on and it still looks current – first production bike that had monocot frame, recognisable swingarm, disc brakes. Add some modern forks and a air shock and it would look current.

    I’d also add the Pace Rc100. Cartridge press fit BB (like we’re just getting now on other bikes) aheadstem, hydraulic brakes (magura’s), butted square aluminium frame. Still looks good – although it was an amazingly punishing rigid bike to ride.

  6. Colin says:


    Any bike DaveC keeps for more than 2 weeks is a classic!

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