Mason and his 90s Bianchi Basket Bike
In this Rider and Rig, Cass Gilbert chats with airplane mechanic and self-confessed roadside scavenger Mason Steinbrueck about his 1991 Bianchi Advantage, an eclectic build that includes a homemade mushroom-themed framebag, a self-brazed front rack, a collection of orphaned dinosaurs, and many time-patinaed components with stories of their own…
In a bicycle industry of ever-changing standards and increasingly non-recyclable parts, it’s invariably refreshing to meet those who have chosen to spurn the latest and greatest, gravitating instead to bicycles that are timeless, easily repaired, and ‘just work’.
A few months ago, I was reminded of this noble appreciation for the well-used when I rode with Daniel Schmidt, learning about his life and that of his third-hand Salsa El Mariachi. And similarly, I wondered if the word ‘obsolete’ even exists in Mason’s vocabulary after we first bumped into each other in Oaxaca, and he introduced me to his basket-toting 1991 Bianchi Advantage. Our initial roadside chat morphed into a number of local dirt road day rides, followed by two campouts in the Sierra Norte, allowing me time to unearth a number of enchanting details about this particular build – a bike that was bought brand new by his mum in 1991, making it older than he is.
With a degree in engineering, Mason works as an airplane mechanic for a company in Seattle that services Dehavalland Beavers and Otters, the iconic seaplanes that connect the mainland with the San Juan Islands and British Columbia. The acorn for this mechanical and aeronautical astuteness grew from his love of building remote control model planes, which he’s been doing since he was 11. In fact, he even found the time to assess my son’s damaged buggy and repair its shock tower using little more than cotton thread, super glue, a file, and an exacto knife.
On a number of occasions during our rides, I watched him stoop down to pocket random twists of wire from the ground, perhaps earmarking them for future repairs to the homemade bicycle light that he’s rigged up to run off a cache battery, attached to the front rack he brazed out of an airplane fuel line. I expect that those fortunate enough to have such problem-solving brains will be among the survivors in the apocalypse, while the rest of us are waving around our phones for long lost wifi and Youtube tutorials.
And, although Mason is too modest to say so, I expect he’s rather good at his job too. His employers in Seattle allow him the luxury of to-ing and fro-ing on his bicycle, offering him work when he returns from each tour. For example, before heading down to Oaxaca, Mason spent a month cycling through Chile’s Parque Nacional Conguillío, camping out amongst the grandeur of the Araucaria trees. He’s also toured extensively in the Southwest and ridden across many of the most mountainous passes of the European Alps.
“In 2020, I rode a mega loop from my front door in Seattle all the way to New Mexico, cycling through 12 states on the continental divide, going off a list of national parks and other places I wanted to see. I used a Rand McNally truckers road atlas, cutting out the pages I needed, and a front bag that I made with a map window. That trip took five months, and I rode about 8,650 miles or so.
The Alps trip was in 2019. I wanted to ride all the high mountain passes that I’d seen online, like Passo Stelvio, so I flew to Geneva and then rode one after another on my Raleigh RX2. As I was there a little early in the season, some were closed, so once I was in the Dolomites, I turned around and rode to Copenhagen and back again via Holland, Austria, and Germany.”
This post, however, is about his time in Oaxaca with his Bianchi, a bike he selected for his three-month stay as it can handle just about anything – be it loaded up with produce at the local market, exploring rural roads, or heading out on bikepacking loops like the San José del Pacifico Grand Dirt Tour. Although it doesn’t have its original quill stem, the bike is set up to be ultra-comfortable, with generously swept-back bars and a commanding, upright riding position.
And, I can vouch that despite his choice of relatively slim tyres and a somewhat limited gear range – at least compared to what my legs prefer – this 30-year-old bike didn’t hold its rider back at all. Mason pops playful wheelies and attacks every ascent like it’s a hill climb race. He gamely picks his way down some of the rowdier trails in the area and tacks his way up some of the longest, steepest climbs we have here.
As for the bike, it’s been in his family for over three decades. Originally a hybrid bike with a lugged Tange frame and fork, it’s seen a number of reinventions during this time.
“It was my mom’s when I was a kid, and later I had it set up as a fixed gear with pink track wheels and fenders. The front rack is 1/4” stainless tubing that I welded myself. It has been my auxiliary bike most of my time with it, complementing my Crust Evasion and Surly Midnight Special. After spending so much time with it in the last six months, I’ve grown to appreciate its utility and capability. I made the front rack specifically to go on another bike, so I had to fashion a few extra parts before coming here to make it work. The basket possibly held gym clothes at my mom’s high school. I pick up plastic dinos from the road and try to affix them to it. The frame bag I sewed right before coming to Mexico. A magic mushroom on the left, a poisonous mushroom on the right. Enlightenment and death.”
If there’s a cohesive story behind the components that have ended up adorning it, it’s that they come from everywhere and anywhere – all the way back to when Mason was a teenager. Each is a journey down memory lane, so let’s dig in without further ado!
Gripless Thumbie and Vintage Derailleur
“This comes from Recycled Cycles in Seattle, my local bicycle shop. Everyone in town brings their used parts for trades or store credit, so they have quite the pipeline going. They also have a great selection of vintage mountain bike frames. The XTR derailleur came from an old Giant XTC mountain bike that I owned and took up to the Sierras when I was living in Sacramento, riding singletrack around Lake Tahoe.”
Foot-polished Shimano Hollowtech 2 Cranks and Knee-popping 1x drivetrain
“These cranks happened to be on another bike, a Raleigh with a PF30 BB. I pressed a threaded insert into the frame and bought these cranks as they were nice and narrow. I like that they were polished throughout the Alps on my European tour. The drivetrain is an 11-36 10-speed cassette with a 34T, Surly stainless chainring. A lack of low gearing was my only issue with this bike here. A smaller chainring, or a bigger cassette, would have been better.”
Fuel Line Front Rack
“I made this rack for my Giant XTC, messing around with the welder when I was working for an airplane shop in Sacramento. Someone ordered stainless steel to make fuel lines, and I was able to use a section of it. It’s air-hardened, heat-treat tubing and perfect for a bicycle rack. I made it by eye, after sitting down one day and looking at the bike, bending tubing and welding parts together to fit around a Fox F80 fork, so it captures the skewer and the cantilever brake posts, which weren’t used as it was a disc brake bike.”
Mismatched Wheels, Take Off Brakes, and Lightly Used Knards
“The rear wheel came off the Raleigh, hence the disc hub. The front came from an old road bike. The cantilever brakes are from a friend’s bike that we fixed up, and she no longer needed them. The Surly Knards were bought for $5 each from a lightly used pile of tires at Recycled Cycles. I did have some issues pinch-flatting with them due to the rough terrain.”
Seatpost from a Monster Schwinn, Uncle’s Brooks, and Sweepie handlebars
“This is one of my oldest parts. It comes from my very first road bike, a massive 62cm Schwinn Le Tour that I rode with the seat all the way down. It’s now connected to a seat that my uncle gave me. When I was a teenager, he was the only one I knew who rode road bikes. I worked on a friend’s dad’s bike, and he gave me these Velo Orange handlebars as part of the payment.”
Enlightenment and Death Mushroom-Themed Framebag and Homemade Burrito
“I sewed my own framebag before coming to Oaxaca, as I knew I wanted to travel around the area. The outside splatter fabric comes from RockyWoods.com, but usually I buy my materials from Seattle Fabrics. Ufortunately, its storefront has been closed since the pandemic. I made the stem bags, and the seatbag is my own design. It’s not very complicated, so I can’t really toot my own horn too much, but it’s light and was designed for tours where I wanted to save weight and not run a rear rack.”
Dinos and Decorations
“I’m a scavenger, and I’m always looking for things I can use for something, make something out of, or make into something else. The Fireball whisky stickers are significant to me as when I cycled across the US, discarded single-shot Fireball whisky bottles were all along the road. The spoke cards are from Critical Masses in Seattle. I’m always finding dinosaurs, literally on the side of the road. My belief is that kids hold them out of the windows of cars, and they drop them, so that’s where they all end up!
Thanks for all the rides, the RC car repairs, and for taking Huesos out when I haven’t been able to! You can follow Mason on Instagram, at @metal_to_the_pedal.
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