How a lockdown obsession over reconstructing a stolen 1990s Foes LTS became a community event

By Robert Bruce

Ask most retro mountain bike lovers about Foes Racing and most will talk fondly of the “golden era” of downhill mountain biking. 

Foes Racing was at the forefront of the 1990s era of full suspension mountain bike frame development, firstly launching the revolutionary LTS in 1993, followed by classics like Weasel, then DH Slammer and DH Mono. Through most of the 1990s and early 2000s, Foes was one of the must-have bikes for downhill racing, competing on the world stage against brands like Intense, Mountain Cycle, Kona, Specialized, Yeti and Trek. 

There seems to be something about Foes that makes owners (past and present) extra passionate. Perhaps it’s because they were handmade in the United States, or maybe it’s because each frame came off the production line slightly different to the one before. Some pros say they can identify who built each frame by the welds on the hollow, monocoque frame.  

In the days of three-inch travel, cross-country-influenced downhill bikes, Foes’ six-inches of travel, motocross-inspired alloy swing arms, aggressive geometry, and lightweight construction left riders and other manufacturers eating downhill dust. 

Back in 1998, I was a keen mountain biker living in Wellington’s Hutt Valley. Not coming from a super-wealthy family, I had to make do racing downhill and cross country on second-hand hardtail frames with minimal travel forks and cantilever brakes when most riders had progressed to v-brakes or early-generation disk brakes. I was fast, but would often break chains, rims, or even frames, and would routinely burn brake pads out on race day.  

One momentous day my dad, Tony, came home with a canary-yellow Foes LTS. Back in 1998, the bike would’ve cost a small fortune for my family (about $3500). Despite the cost, the bike was already at least five years old (ancient, given the speed of progression at the time). However, despite its age, it was a huge step up from the steel hardtail I’d been racing. 

That bike and I were inseparable, and we competed in many races in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Sadly, after just a few seasons on the Foes and some good results (DH Nationals, Secondary Schools, and local races around Wellington), I left home and went to university, basically giving away riding for the next 15 years. 

Despite not racing anymore, I hung on to that lemon-yellow Foes for years, taking it firstly to my university dorm in Auckland, then to various flats around the city. The bike collected dust, only getting an occasional outing. 

Then, one day sometime in 2010, the bike was just gone. Stolen. I couldn’t believe it. It was my fault really, I’d been fairly slack with storage at that time—it was in a carport out of sight but not locked up. 

Years later, in 2015, I started an adventure outdoors company called Got To Get Out (GTGO) and began hosting mountain bike tours and learn-to-ride days around New Zealand. The company runs events for both youths and adults and has taken about 15,000 people outdoors so far. The skills I’d learned racing downhill all those years earlier, were now being used to teach people to ride. 

‘The challenge to rebuild the bike exactly as it was in 1998 became somewhat of an obsession.’

When the Covid-19 lockdown hit and GTGO was forced to shut down for several months, I found myself thinking about my old Foes. 

I began scouring New Zealand and the world looking for parts. The challenge to rebuild the bike exactly as it was in 1998 became somewhat of an obsession. Finding the parts was no small task, given the rarity of the frame and parts. 

After much searching, I got pretty close to an exact replica with the following parts: 

1995 LTS Frame (from Norway), Fox Vanilla RX shock (Belgium), Rockshox Judy DH (New Zealand) with new old stock (NOS) stanchions and rebuild kit (United Kingdom), Azonic stem and handlebars (NZ), Cane creek headset (NZ), Magura brakes (NZ), Flite saddle (local tip shop), Syncros front hub (NOS) and Syncros seat post (United States), Decals (Poland), XTR M900 cranks bottom bracket and derailleurs (NZ), XTR M900 3×8 pod shifters (US), Shimano DX pedals, Yeti NOS grips, IRC Mudmad NOS tires (NZ), Mavic 217 rims (NZ).

Probably the most exciting find was getting back the actual Azonic stem and handlebars from my old bike. After the original was stolen, it was parted out and changed hands several times before the frame ended up in a UK collection. A local collector heard my story and happened to have the bars and stem. He couriered them to me at no cost—still with the original stickers and scratches from my racing days.  

Once the parts were collated, I decided to make a public event out of the build. I wanted to share the experience and make it a learning opportunity for those interested in retro bikes and bike maintenance in general. 

My mission at Got To Get Out is to bring people together to create friendships and community, so I enlisted the help of Benny Devcich from Benny’s Bike Shop. Together we took over a funky craft beer warehouse bar in Auckland, called The Fridge and Flagon. 

On the night, Benny built the entire bike from scratch with a large audience in attendance. The build was no mean feat, with a few curveballs in the form of Magura brakes that needed tweaking, a stripped bottom bracket thread, and the wrong pull front derailleur. 

In the end, the bike was built in less than three hours, and I got to ride it on the night, even pulling on a genuine 1990s helmet to complete the look. 

Attendees were invited to bring bikes and parts for donation to Eco Matters Environmental Trust Bike Hubs. These community bike hubs restore old bikes, then sell them cheaply to get the community out riding. I’d visited their hubs many times, seeking parts and advice from their mechanics, so it was nice to give something back to them. 

‘It’s great that I could share this magic with so many people. Hopefully attending the event inspired someone else to restore an old bike too.’

It’s great that I could share this magic with so many people. Hopefully attending the event inspired someone else to restore an old bike too. It was also great to get so many bikes delivered for Eco Matters Bike Hubs, keeping old bikes out of landfill and on the roads instead. 

We delivered 18 complete bikes and many boxes of parts, kindly donated from GTGO followers and fans, to Eco Matters Bike Hubs the next day. This was largest single delivery of bikes they’ve ever received.  

Building the Foes has been cathartic for me. I felt guilty for losing something that was so precious due to being a bit careless in my 20s. I wanted to honour that special memory of my time racing in the 1990s by rebuilding another bike “like for like”.