Eric Stirling’s 1980’s Cunningham Cyclocross bike
Charlie Cunningham’s genius couldn’t be contained within the mountain bike world. During his most productive years Charlie designed and built a few road bikes and five or six cyclocross machines.
This particular bike belonged to our friend Eric Stirling, and we got our hands on it briefly before shipping it off to Tasshi Dennis for a complete restoration.
An aside: if the bike history that really interests you happens to be early mountain bikes and Northern California‘s innovators, Tasshi and his Vintage Mountain Bike Workshop simply cannot be missed.
So Charlie Cunningham was really the perfect guy for Cyclocross equipment in 1980’s America. Cyclocross was the smallest niche in a niche sport. The unique conditions that you’ll find at a cyclocross race (winter temperatures, mud, snow, pavement & ice) meant the equipment faced unique demands.
Most wanna-be cyclocrossers slid around on road bikes with little to no stopping power and with tire traction that was even worse.
Some riders tried racing on early mountain bikes (with road handlebars installed), but those guys could barely lift their heavy bikes over barriers and run-ups were slow.
Cyclocross in America in the ‘80’s was usually raced aboard frankenbikes. Road racing bikes with touring forks installed, cantilever brakes providing greater clearance for specially imported knobby tubular tires. Campagnolo made chainring guards that could be bolted onto either side of a single front chainring. A bar-end shifter would be installed.
One visit to Charlie Cunningham would have made some of these equipment headaches go away. Need a light road-racing frame built that has reinforcements to handle the extra abuse? Okay. Want to run a touring freewheel (remember, this was really an era when even mountain-bike equipment was borrowed technology) and a long-cage derailleur? Easy. Need clearance around the tires, fork crown, seat stays and brakes so mud doesn’t stop the wheels from spinning? Not even a challenge. Want the whole bike under 20 pounds? That’s why you went to Charlie in the first place.