Everything Old Is New Again

Long live the Cargo Cult Caldera, I said. In the end, it lasted about a year. It was just too weird: the top tube was too long, the angles too steep, the tyres too wide. I got tired of the eccentric handling and the constant thrum from the wheels.

Then there was the Peugeot, whose siren call of nostalgia was rapidly wearing off. It went to the big bike shop in the sky early in 2021.

Lastly, to the Kaffenback. It took over dad bike duty, but riding a fundamentally charmless bike on a daily basis was not doing it any favours. That, and my son had graduated to his own bike. Off came the Hamax bracket and with it any lingering need for the Kaff to hang around.

Finally, there was room in the shed (and in my heart) for another bike. This is that bike:

Muddy Fox Trailblazer

Let’s party like it’s 1990.

I don’t need to tell you, but this is, of course, a 1990 Muddy Fox Trailblazer Aluminum. It’s hard to figure out what Muddy Fox had in mind when they designed this: the catalogue sells it as a road bike for MTBers, which mostly comes off as a way to avoid saying “cyclocross” out loud. If I had to split hairs, it’s maybe a little more relaxed than a proper CX bike, which only makes it better for longer rides. It’s almost as if they saw the gravel wave coming.

I landed on the Trailblazer almost by accident. My cycling mindset had been almost entirely colonised by the Radavist-Ronnie Romance-Crust axis, so I scoured eBay for steel frames with level top tubes and cantilever bosses. Really, I wanted a Surly Cross-Check – or maybe even an elusive Pack Rat – but I was too cheap to pay for one.

But then, as if by magic, I found the Trailblazer. It looked perfect: about 900 Polish zloty, or £170, for an alloy frame and Tange fork with wishbone stays, canti mounts, sparkly paint, and shouty decals. It couldn’t have been more zeitgeisty if it tried. Can you say “Alumalith”? It was even better in the metal – sturdy and light with only a few paint chips, and a brace of bike shop stickers showing it had travelled at least as far as Switzerland and back.

Graf bike shop sticker on Muddy Fox Trailblazer

Graf bike shop sticker on Muddy Fox Trailblazer

I built it up with the Shimergo drivetrain from the Kona, took the ancient FSA bars from my neglected Kaffenback, and added a pair of Mavic A719s on Shimano hubs.1 The brakes were Frogglegs that had been gathering dust in my parts bin. There were a few quirks, but nothing insurmountable. For one, the bottom bracket was 68mm wide but my road cranks fouled the chainstays. I used the Kona’s Deore cranks instead. The seat tube was an odd diameter but it came with a shim to bring it down to 27.2mm. And lastly, it had a threaded fork which needed an oversized quill stem – 25.4mm rather than the usual 22.2. I found a Tange headset to fit and used a BBB adapter to run a conventional stem.

The only real problems came with the tyres, and that’s hardly the bike’s fault. The 32mm Cléments I had on the Kaff were too narrow and the 47mm G-One Speeds on the Kona too wide, so I went for tubeless-ready 38mm Gravel Kings. (The fork would have run out of room at 43mm.) And, well, they were nightmares. I’d never tried a tubeless setup before, so I stuck with tubes. Punctures were weekly events. By the time I caved and tried to go tubeless, the tyres were so hopelessly pincushioned that the sealant bubbled right out of them. I tried sticking some sealant in the inner tubes to stop the punctures, but the folly of that approach became apparent during a night ride with two punctures, one broken valve stem, and a frame covered in a fine mist of milky white sealant. I finally swapped the slicks for semi-slicks and punctures are now much less frequent.2

And that is that: with the tyre situation sorted out, this has morphed into one of the first bikes I’ve built that I struggle to find fault with. It’s quick on the road or the towpath, and it’s comfortable enough that I did my first metric century on it. It can’t carry much, but that’s fine; I have another bike for that. It would look rubbish with mudguards, so I don’t ride it in the rain. This one is a keeper.

Component Model Notes
Frame and fork 1990 Muddy Fox Trailblazer
Hubs Shimano Deore T610
Rims Mavic A719 700c, 32 hole
Tyres Panaracer Gravel King Semi Slick TLC 700×38
Brakes Empella Frogglegs
Shifters Campagnolo Veloce 3×10
Crankset Shimano Deore M617 38/24
Rear derailleur SRAM Apex 10 speed, mid cage
Cassette Shimano Deore HG50 10 speed, 11-36
Bars FSA something or other 42cm
Stem Zenith Classic Road Ahead Stem 70mm
Headset Tange Seiki For 25.4mm / 1″ steerer
Quill stem adapter BBB Extender Steering Tube Adapter For 25.4mm / 1″ steerer and 28.6mm / 1⅛″ stem clamp
Seatpost BLB Groove
Saddle Charge Spoon
  1. You can get similar wheels here and here from SJS Cycles. They’re really good and not too pricey. ↩︎

  2. bicyclerollingresistance.com agrees, finding that the semi-slicks have more tread than either the slicks or the “small knob” variant, and that rolling resistance is pretty much the same for all of them. ↩︎