Words and photos by Christoph Wimmer (@billobikes)
Hi, I’m Christoph, I live in Vienna and I like rebuilding 90s steel mountain bikes with modern components. I run Billo Bikes where I show off my projects. My bike is a heavily modified 1991 GT Avalanche.
The GT was in a pretty sad state when I got it three years ago, and I was totally fine with that. My only other ride at the time was a 29er enduro and I just needed a cheap, trashy beater to ride around town with. The fit was way too small for me, and it had a drop like an overly aggressive road bike. However, I enjoyed the smaller wheels and shorter reach compared to the battleship geometry of modern mountainbikes. It only cost 50 euros and I loved the “Daktari White” paint job, so I was going to make it work somehow.
The first time I took it to the hills surrounding Vienna and rode it on singletrack, I was hooked. It felt extremely sketchy compared to modern bikes, but that didn’t translate to less fun on the trail, just a different type of fun. I decided to throw a bit of money at the bike to make it more capable. Swapping the broken suspension fork for a rigid one made an immediate difference. Since the front derailleur was already missing, I just kept it 1×7. I put on some slick tires, new grips, new pedals, and a better saddle, and rode it like that for a while.
The bike has been steadily evolving since then. The wheelset built by my friend Hansi really transformed the bike—wide rims make all the difference but are hard to source for 26ers. With low-rise BMX bars, the grips are level with the saddle and I can comfortably ride all day. Before my last bikepacking trip to Croatia, I was finally able to score a Surly Troll fork. The ability to safely run fork cages is priceless for touring. With the tent strapped to one fork leg and the sleeping bag to the other, my load capacity now feels luxurious.
Bikepacking gives me a sense of freedom I haven’t felt doing anything else. I wanted my friends to experience this as well, but the barrier to entry is steep. Nice bikes are expensive, especially new ones. If you want a decent bike that can take some abuse and is fun to ride for a relatively small investment, upgrading a 30-year-old steel mountain bike with 10-year-old components seems like the sweet spot to me.
- Frame 1991 GT Avalanche
- Fork Surly Troll
- Rims SunRingle XL Rhyno Lite
- Hubs Shimano XTR M900
- Tires Maxxis DTH 2.3 or Panaracer Gravelking SK 26 x 2.1
- Handlebars Renthal Moto BMX bars (140mm rise)
- Headset Ritchey
- Crankset Shimano XT
- Pedals DMR Vault
- Cassette Shimano XT 11-46
- Derailleur Shimano XT
- Brakes Deore V-brake (front), DiaCompe Hombre 996 (rear)
- Shifter(s) Shimano XT
- Saddle Pro Condor
- Seatpost Ritchey Pro
- Stem KCNC Flyride 70mm
- Fork bags Merida gravel cages
- Frame bags Alpkit Possum and a Pro saddle bag that fits in the triple triangle
- Rear bags Ortlieb Seat Pack M
- Accessory bags Topeak Tribag on the top tube and Acepac stem bag
- Basket Wald 137 on an RFR front rack
Tinkering on my GT has taught me a lot, and I figured I might as well put all the experience to use. I did a 90s Stumpjumper for my friend Anna, and soon more friends and then their friends started commissioning bikes from me. I created an Instagram page and now I’ve built around 20 of these bikes this year. It makes me happy to think I’ve made cycling more accessible to a new audience, it’s also fun to be part of a little crew. I chose the name “billo” because it’s a slang word for cheap and trashy in German. It’s supposed to be somewhat provocative and punk, and I hope it communicates the spirit of these bikes.
You can see more from Christop on Instagram @billobikes.
Send Us Your Bikepacking Rig
Use the form below to submit your bikepacking rig. We’ll choose one per week to feature in a Reader’s Rig Dispatch and on Instagram. To enter, email us your best photo of the bike (preferably at a 90° angle), your Instagram username (optional), and a short description of you and your rig. If your bike is selected, we’ll need a total of five photos and a little bit more info.
Please keep the conversation civil, constructive, and inclusive, or your comment will be removed.