Now THAT Was a Bike - 1995 Kestrel Rubicon Comp

Aug 7, 2016
by Mike Levy  



With its radical suspension layout and being designed by a company that took its name from a falcon, the carbon fiber Rubicon Comp from 1995 was destined to be one of the most radical bikes of its time.

Less than a decade earlier, Kestrel had offered their first carbon fiber bike, the bladder-molded monocoque 4000 road bike. And, in 1988 they shocked many with a carbon fiber hardtail for the mountain: the MX-Z, and later, a full-suspension bike dubbed the Nitro. Both of the swoopy machines looked like they were from the future, especially compared to the simple steel tubing that most riders were astride at the time. Kestrel didn't entirely forsake metal, however, as steel reinforcements were put to use inside of the head and seat tube junctions, as well as down at the bottom bracket.

Jump forward to 1995 and the Rubicon would make that once futuristic looking Nitro look downright boring. Hell, the Rubicon makes a lot of today's modern machines look yawn-worthy, but professional racer Kurt Stockton's dual-shock Mammoth Kamikaze Special took it to a whole other level.


1995 Kestrel Rubicon Comp


Two Shocks, 200mm of Travel... in 1995

Two decades ago, most professional downhill racers were competing aboard warmed-over cross-country rigs that saw a riser handlebar and different gearing added, and possibly a switch to different rubber if the course called for it. And that's exactly what Kestrel's Kurt Stockton had been doing, until one night when he was tinkering in his garage and noticed that part of his Rubicon's linkage appeared to be about the same length as the single Fox Alps shock that was fitted to the bike. ''It looked like the same length as the shock, so I measured it, and it worked,'' Stockton said of the experiment (one that Kestrel hadn't ever considered). I called them, and they said that they hadn't even thought about it, and the bike now had eight inches of travel with two shocks.''

The two shocks allowed Stockton to run less pressure in each, and he also says that the increased sag from doubling the travel and running a much more forgiving spring rate meant that the Rubicon's head angle was kicked out enough to help the bike's handling at speed. According to Kurt, that wasn't the only benefit: ''If four inches is good, then eight inches is great. Remember that downhill courses weren't super gnarly back then, but if you had more travel, you were less likely to flat.'' Don't forget that tubeless tires, and even burly sidewalls, were a long way off still, so just getting across the finish line was a big part of the battle.

Even in the stock configuration, with a single Fox Alps shock and a bit more than 100mm of travel, the pivoting beam design and slender swingarm looked as if it were from another planet. The beam was intended to increase leverage on the Rubicon's shock when the rider was seated, making for a more forgiving ride when a racer was in the saddle.
image for Now THAT Was a Bike - 1995 Kestrel Rubicon Comp article

Being a downhill racer at the time, Stockton obviously spent less time sitting than his climbing counterparts, so the doubling of the bike's travel and its much softer spring rate meant that the Rubicon was an improvement over the stock setup when he was out of the saddle.

Not exactly the involved development story that most contemporary bikes go through, but Stockton's garage experiment story is an interesting anecdote nonetheless. You may be surprised to discover that his prototype Rubicon hasn't been the only dual-shock bike in our sport's history - Cannondale's team-only Gemini, Scott's High Octane, and a Karpiel design all employed two shocks in various layouts - but the Kestrel was by far, the wildest race bike of the last millennium.


1995 Kestrel Rubicon Comp
1995 Kestrel Rubicon Comp
Magura hydraulic rim brakes are still considered extremely powerful today. A Bullet Bros. chain tensioner worked in unison with a custon guide to keep the chain in place.


Stockton's frame was a prototype, second shock or not, and Kestrel was experimenting with different carbon layups and designs at this point. Nothing was as certain as it is now; everything was new, and as you'd expect, there were some issues.

That long and slender swingarm that looks like it'd offer as much lateral travel as it does vertically? Yeah, it broke. Stockton recalls snapping one during a race at Vail, Colorado, in 1994, but noted that Kestrel quickly built him an updated version that proved to be sturdy enough. ''It was pretty flexy laterally,'' he said, ''but it was all new at the time, and we didn't have anything to compare it to.''

Kurt says that the bike pictured here is built up with parts from not only his time but also from when Jimmy Deaton was riding for Kestrel. A set of exotic HED wheels featured a deep carbon fiber section that was bonded to an aluminum track for the Magura hydraulic rim brakes, and the extremely tall and aerodynamic rims meant that finding tubes with long enough valve stems could be a challenge. Kurt needed to run heavy duty downhill tubes, but those only came with Schrader valves that were far too short to clear the carbon rim. The answer? Plastic valve extenders from a truck stop.


1995 Kestrel Rubicon Comp
1995 Kestrel Rubicon Comp
When off the shelf parts won't work, you gotta make it yourself.


Another interesting item is the homemade chain guide that had to be built to work with the 63-tooth chainring that Kurt used on the Mammoth Kamikaze course. The Nylon sliders could be adjusted vertically, and the steel boomerang bolted to the Rubicon's front derailleur mount and a special adapter that was attached to the frame just above the bottom bracket. A Bullet Bros. chain tensioner was put to work to further help matters.

The brand has been owned by Advanced Sports since 2007, and while their catalog is now focused on road and triathlon bikes, the radical design of the Rubicon will be what many riders of a certain generation think of when they see the Kestrel name.


Thanks to The Pro's Closet for once again allowing us access to their treasure trove of historic bikes.
Photos courtesy of The Pro's Closet


Visit the feature gallery for high resolution and additional images



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107 Comments

  • + 162
 now that's what I call a one by. This 32 tooth stuff that is being rammed down our throats is for pussies
  • + 11
 I know what you mean. Back in 98' I was running a triple ring set-up with a 54 tooth big ring . That thing cruised when the terrain allowed.
  • + 224
 I'm surprised pb hasn't done one of these about a 2013 26er with a 142mm rear thru axle and a threaded bottom bracket
  • + 18
 @giant-35:


and a straight steerer tube.
  • + 1
 @giant-35: laughed so hard when I saw this! Thanks ????
  • + 2
 @giant-35: i think thats the best comment iv ever read on pb!!
  • + 1
 @VTwintips: WHOAAAAA straight steerer tubes. That'll be reserved for the article on vintage collectable bikes/bike parts. Wink
  • + 1
 @giant-35: True haha! And mechanical brakes, 3x drive train, and a head angle steeper than 65°
  • + 0
 @Husker2112:

Rim brakes, yes.

Mechanical? Eh, notsomuch
  • + 132
 Pedaling that chainring had adverse affects on the natural rotation of the earth.
  • + 6
 Pretty sure I have seen that thing as a weapon in a kung fu movie.
  • + 66
 SRAM has seen that ring, now they will incorporate it into a new cassette called the albatross. Move over eagle
  • + 83
 Here we have a classic "business in the front, party in the back" type of bike.

If you can somehow manage an executive like composure while your soul is brutally rattled by the almost 3" travel fork that completely bottoms out metal-to-metal over a medium sized rock, then it's going to be a saucy tequila rage'r out in the 8" back yard on this rig. You won't feel or remember a thing if you survive the first half. Love it!
  • + 33
 "We had shocks, you got shocks? How many shocks you got?"
  • + 28
 Looks like an Ellsworth!!!
  • + 3
 my thirst thought, maybe cause this contraption is equally ugly
  • + 27
 Kids today don't know how lucky they are lol
  • + 2
 Couldn't agree more!
  • + 14
 @Mike Levy - As a retro enthusiast and as someone who was dreaming about these bikes in the mid to late 90's in an Eastern European country (read: they were untouchable), I really appreciate these old bike features. But the statement ”[...]the Kestrel was by far the wildest race bike of the last millenium” makes me chuckle, as it is ridiculous. Just like a lot of 90's bikes were. I could rave on about Rob and his San Andreas or Jeff and his M1, but three letters should be enough to let the ovely Rubicon fade into yawning: ATZ. Wink Mwhahahahahaha
  • + 3
 Eek Looks like a death trap!!
  • + 2
 @bikedrd Your googling skills are marvellous and are appreciated by the great Philippe Perakis, sir! Wink
  • + 2
 Damn. I'd never seen that ATZ before. Looks like the rider would wear body armor to keep from getting impaled on a tube.
  • + 2
 @Caiokv: it does !
  • + 10
 Damn I wanted those Magura brakes so bad back then,in neon yellow..my buddy in Colorado had a kestrel in 99 and it was some carbon thermo plastic frame which I was jealous of at the time. but looking at that now I'm not sure haha
  • + 2
 A buddy had some of those and they were strong enough to literally crush rims. I think trials riders still use them.
  • + 12
 ''If four inches is good, then eight inches is great. " - teehee
  • + 8
 That's what she said.
  • + 6
 I realize I'm showing my youth, and I know it's a very strange detail to pick out on this bike, but those Fox decals are tripping me out hard.
  • + 4
 that was my last year competing. got burnt from mtb racing. came back to mtb in 2008 after renting a glory in queenstown. got hooked again. if o ly I had todays shocks and rakes back then... anyway Im going to the alps in two weeks, to nnraise the level once more. want to go for the backflip hell yeah!!!!
  • + 16
 "renting a glory in queenstown" - the first time I read that I thought you were referring to some sort of deviant coupling position
  • + 1
 @ZigaK13: testing an oily bathed, holes-eater naked fist and slapping bumps sounds familiar? your problem mate, not mine
  • + 3
 @donpinpon29: look i dont mind you doing porn 29, but you could be a little more subtle about it
  • + 4
 I've still got a set of the magura hydrolic brakes on my oldest Mtb. ( some parts date back to the early 90's ) and they're still very good even compared to today's stuff , every once in awhile it's good to ride the old stuff and enjoy the 3" of travel on a hard tail with over the bars xt shifters , ringle hubs , mavic wheels ..... It's like a time machine ;-)
  • + 8
 Eagle on the front!
  • + 5
 Scrolling the front page, I thought this was a new 2017 Elsworth for a sec.
  • + 4
 I remember this bike. I also remember and owned the same Bullet Brothers chain tensioner. It was the 1990's version of a clutch mech and it worked!
  • + 1
 Kestrel was literally only about a dozen people back then, that's including the front office as well as the frame builders/finishers. It was a completely US-based company with ex-rocket scientists at the helm. One of them now does carbon fiber research at Apple. They were pioneers in the sport and constantly trying new things. This wasn't the last mtb that Kestrel made but it was definitively the most innovative for the time.
  • + 1
 I owned one of these - but with a combination risse coil over and fox alps 4 air in back and a monster t in front. Kestrel made me a disc mount for the back so I could run Hayes. The bike was a beast. It pedalled way better than M1's did - but was much flexier. It was super plush and fun bike to ride. Wish I still had it.
  • + 1
 Here's a bike with a 104 tooth chainring:
www.donhoubicycles.com/100bike

The builder wants to hit 100 mph with this bike. He has hit 80mph on rollers, indoors, iirc.

A Kestrel Rubicon Comp that was up for sale on eBay a few years ago had a Kooka 46 tooth chainring. The product description says Stockton rode this bike as well as the one above.

Or rather, I think that's what they meant:

"Kestrel being one of the few manufacturers of carbon downhill frames in the mid 90's era encouraged Kurt Stockton to run speeds of 60mph hanging off the back.

Stockton personally ran through the gauntlet of the Kamikaze on Mammoth Mountain, California many times on this very machine. "
Quote from the eBay listing at:
tinyurl.com/h9f3rkg

There are more photos of the bike in the article posted at this Retrobike Forum posting:
www.retrobike.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=288289
  • + 1
 Sweet!!! I still have a trek carbon y bike with these he'd wheels ringle super bubva hubs!! Loud! Rst high 5 triple clamp forks.. And the first discompe cable disc brake! That was shit!! And the Sachs rear derailer the list goes on!! 52 tooth front chain ring..
  • + 1
 Ha... I had a lot of the products from that bike. I had purple, blue, silver and red Ringle stems.. Did their hubs several times too. I could never get my hands on the rear D tensioner but ..I tried to make one on my own.
  • + 1
 They've sure come a long ways, that bike gives me a headache just looking at it. Like the whole frame is a weak looking long, "V" from the head tube to the seat. Amazing what 21 years does!
  • + 0
 Note to mountain bike manufacturers out there : This is what we want to see. Think out of the box, try stuff that will probably break, just make new original ideas to push the sport forward. I feel that especially now, with the recent wheel debated and overall sizing "standards" tsunami, people are craving for change. Just look at the love for gearboxes, they're not great we know, but there's most definitively potential as most of the issues can be overcome technically(especially with Specialized budget for example) so why basically just one company makes them?
  • + 4
 man so sweet. Love these articles
  • + 1
 I used to drool over those hydro rim brakes. They were better than the first disc brakes. And sold locally for $300. That was hard to swallow when my fancy new mnt bike cost me $600
  • + 5
 CHAINRING!
  • + 4
 Looks like you are half way over the bars already
  • + 2
 I recall a company called 2 Stage bikes that made bikes with 2 shocks. Possibly around 2007?
  • + 2
 I still have a 2stage elite 9, still rides awesome to this day, bloody kiwis building bikes that out last every other bike I've owned..
  • + 3
 Ha, I remember seeing that I'm magazines.
  • + 0
 I also had a Bullet Bros tensioner, and now that I think about it, a super sketchy AC seat post setback adapter. I'm not going to bother trying to explain that thing. Forgot all about those mid to late 90s days.
  • + 3
 Ultimate cranks? Nice. Another little boutique brand that vanished.
  • + 4
 Holy moly
  • + 3
 Looking at that bike I am officially without speech.
  • + 2
 I love picking up my mid-nineties MBA issues from time to time. Great days.
  • + 1
 This looks super shady!! I dont think having 8 inches of travel on the rear and 4 on the front was a game changing idea! But i suppose i was 4 when this was released!
  • + 1
 LMFAO!!! I remember that junker. Have they done a Karpiel Apocalypse yet? The one that was as tall as Bender? Razz
  • + 1
 When do we get to see a write up on the mad science contraptions com Alex Morgan and Buffalo Composite Designs?
  • + 1
 Still better looking than the new Orange Segment.

www.pinkbike.com/news/orange-segment-factory-review-2016.html
  • + 2
 the massive chainring is stealing the glory of that epic stem!
  • + 1
 Look at that f---ing chain guide. How many pounds does that bike weigh, I wonder
  • + 3
 40 lbs...without pedals.
  • + 1
 When BMX, DH, and Trials bump uglies. And that giant chainring looks like a "third nipple". Just ain't natural!
  • + 1
 I'm so confused by that red link going from the main pivot to the rocker link. Is that supposed to be compliant?
  • + 2
 All it needs is a dropper post!
  • + 2
 Who carries these bikes I want one.
  • + 1
 Covering a Karpiel Armageddon or early Disco Volante would be cool.
The early Turner DH bike. Or?
  • + 2
 And I thought my 2010 dual shock Kona was looking dated.
  • + 2
 Like this ghetto style clutch rear deraileur.
  • + 1
 I miss the 90's. Take me back, please.
  • + 1
 I wasn't a big fan of the Magura brakes.. they gunk'd up way too fast..
  • + 0
 Well I've never tried a super old pair but the new ones are pretty sick (aside from a plastic bar clamp screw)
  • + 2
 @jubs17: I don't know how good or light new Maguras are. They are bloody expensive and for that price I'd expect something more than levers lookin like they've been taken off a bathroom cleaner bottle from Tesco. Bejesus what a crappy looking piece of plastic
  • + 1
 Bruh that thing looks ready to shred.
  • + 1
 Threaded headset!! THAT is old school!
  • + 1
 That chainring is bigger than the one on my road bike
  • + 1
 This is the greatest 90 era bike ever.
  • + 1
 So they PREinvented the fox switch infinity ???? Big Grin
  • + 1
 That chainring is bout the size of a eagle granny gear
  • + 0
 Now i know where these designs come from www.powercobikeconcept.com/model-f.html
  • + 1
 Foes still using the same technology.
  • + 1
 4 inches is good 8 inches is great That's what she said
  • + 1
 the brakes are dope
  • + 1
 wow~nice bike
  • - 1
 Shows how little we have come. They were tackling thes tension on the rear cage even then.
  • + 8
 Well, the principles may not have changed much, but I'd argue that the execution and refinement of such systems have come very far indeed - including their reliability.
  • + 2
 I had one of those bullet brothers derailleur tensioners and it worked pretty well! That was on a wheeler 9000zx that had a turnbuckle type extender that replaced one side of the rocker link to the shock. Extending it would steepen up the bike and opposite to slacken it! Had the magura hydro rim brakes with fluro yellow brake boosters! The original marzocchi Z1's which i upgraded to a set of Noleen Chubby triple clamps!
.........giving me a chubby just thinking about it! Was a orange and bkack rocket!! :-)
  • + 1
 O.G Metric shocks!
  • + 1
 "get to da choppa"
  • + 0
 And without pedals. That's just asking to be Kest-rated
  • - 1
 The only thing that surprised me about this article is it didnt read "whole NOTHER level"
  • + 1
 Looks like a Session
  • + 1
 that was funny! - whats w/ the down votes
  • + 2
 @Grmasterd: I thought so... Oh well. Smile
  • - 1
 1 shox for rebound and 1 shok for compression, now thats independent control
  • + 1
 i´m confused!!
  • + 1
 That chainring!
  • - 1
 The original Mullet bike!
  • + 0
 Top tube pivot?
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