This project is to get a bicycle for riding the city streets. This will be a bicycle optimized for big city, not-always-even pavement, super quick lateral maneuvers, maximum acceleration, and emergency braking. This bike will not handle well off-road, it won’t squeeze into a peloton, it is not very good for doing tricks, but you will be able to ride it faster than cars.
1) Find an earlier mountain bike with front shocks and rim brakes.
2) Put slicks.
Now finding a vintage high quality, high performance mountain bike is not too difficult. I’ll explain details to seek a bit later.
But by merely removing the heavy tires and putting light ones will make nearly any bike fast and stable on the street.
Lightweight tires are obvious. But the real trick is to use lightweight inner tubes. Use 650c x 18 tubes. Avoid the long valve stem models. This is one important key to dramatically improved street performance.
The smaller the tire, the better. 26” x 1.0” is super sharp and quick. Speedy handling and rapid acceleration / deceleration. 26” x 1.25” is still very lightweight with excellent traction. 26” x 1.5” is just slightly better than heavy knobbies.
The smoother the tire surface, the better. Slicks are best – maximum traction on pavement in good conditions. Nearly the entire time you ride, there are good conditions. I live in the city, if there is blizzard or a downpour, I suffer with the subway. In the water anyway, the best traction is with a contact patch pointed in the front, to push the water aside. Tread is only for marketing and only works when the road surface is loose with small solid particles like sand or gravel.
Finding an earlier high performance mountain bike is reasonably easy. Look for Gary Fishers, Stumpjumpers and Rockhoppers, high end Treks, or Cannondales with suspension forks. Short wheelbase is better. Aluminum frames are good for corrosion resistance and light weight, but they also signify a high end bike with better components. Avoid heavy disc brakes. Get linear pull V brakes if you can. Avoid 1” headsets.
These elder bikes are not in demand for off-road riders and prices are low. Rim brakes are not desirable for off-road but are the best for the street. Earlier forks with not much travel are very good for the street. And in fact old elastomer forks work quite well, if the rubber is not hard from age; they are rather lightweight. A light fork is very important for the street, long travel or super strength are not necessary. Forks with only 80mm or even 40mm travel are good for the street and allow a better choice of early frames, which are not designed for newer 120mm forks. Look for any air fork, and any fork with an aluminum steer tube. Manitou Mars or Skareb, Rock Shox Indy is a good old elastomer fork. Mag 21. Rock Shox SID is an excellent light tunable fork and rebuildable, you can find old inexpensive models and they can be made new.
Unless you ride in the suburbs with perfectly smooth roads, a suspension fork will allow you to ride much faster.
Look for a bike with at least an 8 speed on the rear. A 7 speed is not terrible, but 8 and 9 speed cassettes are lighter and are the current standard.
Find a hot earlier mountain bike and put on slicks.
Go faster than cars.