Throwback Thursdays: 5 Questions for a Beautiful Phoenix

04 February, 2015

Photo: Otis Smith

Every once in a while, we're lucky enough to spy a Phoenix frame out in the wild, happily devouring the trails it was designed to inhale.  Sometimes, we're even lucky enough to get connected to the owner and share the stoke of the steel (and Ti) frames that were produced here at 475 Miller Avenue in Mill Valley, California.  This particular beauty is owned by Otis Smith and was recently put together with the meticulous care and understanding it rightfully deserved by Mike Varley of Black Mountain Cycles in Point Reyes, CA.  Otis kindly took the time to answer a few questions about the story of his Phoenix and sent some fun photos of it where it should be - on the trails, in this case Big Rock Ridge, with Mt. Tam in the background.  It's impossible to not love a Phoenix.  Enjoy Otis' thoughtful responses and make sure to click the link at the end for Mike Varley's insightful reflection of the build on Black Mountain Cycle's Blog.

1) Is this a new Phoenix to you or have you had it for some time?

Otis Smith: I acquired this medium Phoenix frame after a six year search.  As you well know, these are extremely rare.  The four that I found during my search were either way out of my budget or not the right size.  I got this one from a seller in Santa Cruz County.  He accepted my offer and I was ready to bring the frame home to the trails where it belongs.

2) What first drew you to a Wilderness Trail Bikes Phoenix in particular?

Otis Smith: I grew up in the foothills of Marin (Novato side of Big Rock Ridge to be exact).  I fell in love with mountain biking in the mid 80's.  I first saw a WTB Phoenix frame in the mid-nineties when a coworker bought one.  It was just a frame so I didn't immediately understand the geometry.  I saw my first complete Phoenix some years later when I met a few friends out at China Camp for a ride.  My friend Ken brought his and I just thought it was the coolest bike I'd ever seen.  You know, with the big tubes and lots of seat post.  I wanted one and began to do extensive research on WTB and the Phoenix. 

The Phoenix right above the very foothills where Otis grew up, in its native environment with Mt. Tam's silhouette in the background.  Long live the Phoenix.  Photo: Otis Smith

3) How’d you come across those sweet WTB parts?  They look to be in immaculate condition.

Otis Smith: For this build I really wanted to be as period correct as possible (1990-2000).  Some of the parts for this build I had in my garage like the WTB Speed V saddle and the 1" Judy XC fork.  I went to a local bike shop whose owner has a lot of really cool vintage parts.  That's where I came across the 1" Control Tech riser stem and the very hard to find 31.8 Thomson seat post.  I found the Shimano XT M739 components and Titec Flat-Tracker Handlebar by Internet.  The 1" Chris King Headset, Sugino Cranks, Phil Wood Axle, and WTB Original Grips were purchased from Black Mountain Cycles.  The entire build was completed by Mike Varley.


Large diameter tubes, plenty of stand-over, a more than perfect build, Otis' Phoenix is trail hungry.

4) Are those LaserBeam rims?  New Paradigm hubs or Classic Grease Guard hubs?  What year roughly is this beautiful bike - 97? 98? 

Otis Smith: Those are LaserBeam rims with Classic Grease Guard hubs.  I picked the wheels up years ago from the same local bike shop that has all the cool vintage components.  They had been hanging in my garage waiting for this frame for some time.  The frame itself was sold as a 1994.  The paint is a little thick on the bottom bracket housing so the first two numbers are a bit hard to make out.  This frame is pre 140mm hub spacing though. 

Photo: Otis Smith

5) Any story you can share with us about getting it together with the help of the wise, kind, and knowing Mike Varley of Black Mountain Cycles?  A fun project I imagine - anything challenging or difficult to come across?  Thank you very much for sharing with us Otis, you really have a beautiful bike.

Otis Smith: This project was so much fun and a long time coming.  Originally it was an opportunity to own (in my opinion) the coolest steel hard tail ever made.  It’s a super rare bike made by Cunningham, Potts, and Slate.  Three guys who are so important to the history and evolution of mountain biking in Marin.  As this project got under way, it became more than my dream bike.  It spurred conversations among my mountain biking friends.  It inspired people.  As my friend put it "Looking at this bike makes me want to go ride".  That made me smile.  It connected me to cool people like Mark Weir who understands what these bikes were all about.  He sent me to Black Mountain Cycles where Mike Varley treated me like a friend.  Mike put the effort and attention to detail into this project as if it was his own bike.  It was really cool of him to share some of his knowledge with me and to watch him work. As you already know Mike is a great guy and his passion for bikes speaks for itself.  Finally, it brought me to this conversation with you.  Thanks so much for showing interest in my bike and allowing me to share my story.  Make no mistake; this bike will not be imprisoned in the darkness of my garage only to be marveled at on occasion.  It will continue to thrive on the trails of Marin County and beyond just as it was meant to twenty years ago.

Read Mike Varley's post on Black Mountain Cycles blog HERE.

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