Down The Trail: Full-Suspension Bikes Were Catching on in a Big Way for Trail Riders

Looking Back 20 Years

Twenty years ago, the mountain bike world was in the middle of the suspension revolution. Full-suspension bikes were catching on in a big way for trail riders, and they were starting to catch on with cross-country racers too. Still, it would take nine more years before the first full-suspension bike would be ridden to win an elite-men’s XC title at the UCI World Championship; Switzerland’s Christoph Sauser would do that in Val Di Sole, Italy, in 2008 aboard a Specialized Epic.

In this February 1999 issue of MBA, we took a look at soft-tail mountain bikes, which offered simpler, lighter, limited-travel suspension systems to reduce the weight and complexity of the rear-suspension options in the mountain bike world.

long time darkroom guy

MBA’s long-time darkroom guy (now Photoshop expert) Pat Carrigan took some time away from the enlarger one day to shoot this steel-framed Smorgasbord hardtail in action. The brand appears to have disappeared now, but we were impressed with its craftsmanship 20 years ago.

The Foes DH Slammer was one of the hottest bikes on the downhill market in the late 1990s. It may not look like any of the top downhill bikes today, but in its time, it was one of the most desirable downhill bikes on the planet.


A close-up look at the rear hub on the Dean titanium bike revealed a level of complexity and beauty that resembles a work of art even today.


One of the new bikes arriving on the scene in 1999 was the Tomac Buckshot, a hardtail created by John Tomac and Doug Bradbury.

On the racing front, we had an article about mountain bike legend Ned Overend, who had just won the Nissan Xterra World Championship, an off-road triathlon event that featured a 1500-meter ocean swim, a 30-kilometer mountain bike ride and an 11-kilometer run, all on the island of Maui. Ned shaved over 5 minutes off the previous record time for the course. For the mountain bike section, which was held on bumpy volcanic terrain, Ned rode his Specialized full-suspension FSR-XC.

Among the other things found in our February 1999 issue was the World Cup schedule for the upcoming year. There were 16 World Cup races scheduled for the approaching season. The UCI split up the cross-country and downhill races for that year, so the different locations had to choose between the two options. None of the venues hosted both disciplines that year. The U.S. hosted four World Cup events that year: Napa, California, hosted the opening round of the cross-country series, while Conyers, Georgia, hosted the sixth round; Snoqualmie, Washington, and Squaw Valley, New York, hosted the fourth and sixth rounds of the downhill series.

The Extralite F2 was a full-suspension crosscountry race bike made in Italy. The company is still around today but no longer offers frames. Extralite now specializes in making lightweight components for road and mountain bikes.


Before Chris Cocalis started Pivot, he was the founder and head designer of Titus. His bikes even then were legendary for how well they worked.


“Intense beefed up the well-proven linkage suspension that was first seen on the AMP B-5 and forged it into a solid-handling trail bike chassis,” we said of the Jeff Steberdesigned Uzzi SL trail bike. The suspension was cutting-edge 20 years ago, but it now looks similar to the frame designs on the low-priced, full-suspension bikes you can find at the big-box retailers.








Griffith Vertican (the younger brother of MBA’s long-time test rider Garnet Vertican, who appeared on that month’s cover) came out to help us test Dean’s soft-tail titanium bike. The bike offered the most compliant suspension of any of the six soft-tail bikes we tested in that issue.








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