Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Refurbishing an old Kona Lava Dome frame.

ALERT - This may prove a bit boring for the non-cyclists out there, sorry!

It has been on my mind for a good few years now to refurbish an older bike frame, ideally I would have loved to have worked on a Yeti 'ARC' or a Fat Chance 'Yo Eddy'. Alas these are still much sought after frames with (quite rightly) cult status, and as you can guess are still bloody expensive to buy.

Thousands of years ago, as a teenager, I made a list of what my ideal (yet realistic) bike would be and it was based around a Kona 'Lava Dome' frame, this is their mid-price range frame. It's an ideal 'work horse', tried, tested, raced and abused daily across the globe, yet carries the 'Ford Escort' moniker as they were pretty common back then. Additionally I have run a mountain bike racing team since the mid-90's (see my other blog: and we were very lucky to have been sponsored by some of the biggest equipment manufacturers in the sport back then, as a result I still had various bits and pieces left over that I wished to start using again. Where I didn't have the right parts I sourced via a website called and eBay, one of my mates also bought a load of Ringle equipment after the brand was sold off and he's been a god send too.

It was by a chance message to a fellow member of Retrobike that I managed to source a 2001 Kona 'Lava Dome' frame, miraculously in the right size, although not exactly classed as 'Retro' as such. I could easily see through the battered decals, scuffed paint and small dents, it was still in a great condition and just needed a bit of TLC to get it turned around.

Pretty rough lookin' eh?!

I wasn't looking at a 'weight weenie' build, where only the lightest (and frailest) parts will do, nor was I looking at this bike becoming a 'garage queen', only to be looked at and never ridden (what's the point of that?!). The parts on the bike had to suit the purpose. I'm a heavy rider, and although I have another hardtail based bike made for quite literally hurling myself down mountain sides on, this bike was/is being built for 'less demanding' cross country routes, but still being able to handle the rough stuff.

I decided to dedicate the paint job to Fat Chance bikes, one of their styles was called 'Aquafade', a forest green merged downwards into azure blue, it looks stunning. At the same time they also had a colour that was called 'Team Violet', a pale violet paint job with a red flip lacquer on the top that really pushes the colour into a clouds-at-dusk-like-hue when the sun hits the frame, it's a really beautiful colour. Sadly the effect doesn't show up very well in the photographs. I decided to take the style of the 'Aquafade' and swap the green for the 'Team Violet', it worked an absolute treat. (pics of my complete bike at the very bottom!!). It took a VERY long time to find a custom frame sprayer who was able to do the Team Violet colour, and this was also not without problems, mainly down to 'lost in translation' when explaining the colour and design. Thankfully everything was rectified in the end, the paint job was by Dave at Colourtech UK LTD in Dartford.

Top - Aquafade, bottom - Team Violet

First up, the wheel rims, no question at all, they had to be Mavic's 'D521 Ceramic' rims, these were Mavic's premier downhill rim in the 90's. By no means a light weight however they build into some of the strongest wheels going and are still highly respected rims. These have been laced to a pair of blue Ringle hubs. Ringle were a very high-end American boutique brand, favoured by the teams such as Yeti and Fat Chance, they used to sponsor my bike team (and today we've gone full circle sponsored by the new firm that took over; Sun-Ringle!) so I had various bits gathering dust, the rest I sourced from one of my mates. (A brief story of my front wheel, it used to be one of the USA Team Yeti riders, Carolyn Curl's and was laced to a deep section carbon fibre HED rim which was the mutts nuts, I'd love another pair of HED rims but they are just too hard to find these days, damn it! I sourced a pair of ex-Team Yeti wheels via one of their then colleagues Betsy, who was absolutely lovely - that's one of my little claims to downhill mountain bike fame there!).

I chose Ringle parts in 3D violet (purple to you and me) for the stem and seat post as I wanted to keep the 'Marmite' aspect of the bike going too, it's a colour not to everyone's taste, I however love it! The handle bars were bought from Rody at Groovy Cycles in the States, aptly called 'Luv Handles'! He's a fantastic bloke and is known the world over for restoring Fat Chance frames to their former glory as well as manufacturing his own ( The bars give a better posture on the bike, much better for your back and they're just sooooooooooooooooooooooo comfortable it's unreal.

Brake levers were a bit of a pain, I wanted to keep the 'chi-chi' aspect going but most of the brands back then were really brittle. Someone contacted me on Retrobike and offered a new old stock (i.e. they had never been fitted/used) pair of CNC'd Real levers for the build, they were snapped up straight away! Perfect! The saddle was a no-brainer, Selle Italia 'Flite' titanium, it's just the saddle to fit for a retro steed, far more aesthetic than a Brooks too, have had quite a few Flites in my time and they last for years. I picked that up off eBay dirt cheap, phew.

I already had the cantilever brakes ready to fit. A New York company called Brooklyn Machine Works ( used to make 'Snot Rocket' cantilever brakes a long time before Shimano picked up on using the same idea for their 'V-brakes'! 'Snot Rockets' are completely, and deliberately, over-engineered more over they are incredibly powerful. In all of my time racing bikes I have not come across any other rim-brake set up that are as powerful as these. Sadly Brooklyn no longer make them which is a great shame. Obviously the hydraulic disk brakes option is there today and I have those on my other hardtail, on this bike however the Brooklyn's were a MUST.

Front Snot Rocket brake.

Forks are year 2000 Rock Shox 'Judy SL LT' ones, repainted to match the frame (I can't find any 'before' photo's, sorry) with the older style (and in my eyes much nicer than the modern ones) Rock Shox decals on them. These have been fully serviced by Tim Flooks (a fork servicing uber-guru) and I got some proper metal fork-adjustment caps to replace the horrible black plastic ones that came with the fork!

Shifting has been taken care of via a pair of Shimano's XT thumb shifters, I had to make my mind up between Gripshift 'SRT800 X-Ray' shifters, a twist style shifter, and thumbies...... Thumbies won, no contest really! These have been mated to Shimano's M900 series XTR front and rear derailleurs, probably the most aesthetic groupset they've ever produced, circa '94 I think it was (correct me if I'm wrong). Shimano XTR cables are also being used for both brake and gear systems.

Crankset at the moment is a pair of Cook Brothers Racing RSR cranks, yet another USA boutique brand from the 90's. I absolutely adore these cranks and lusted after a pair when I was much younger, however I'm a heavy rider and worried they will break so I won't be keeping them, I shall be swapping for a pair of modern Middleburn 'RS8' cranks which are far more suitable. To my defence Middleburn are an old English boutique brand, very well respected and their equipment is nigh on bomproof. Their cranks will 'fit' into the build perfectly as the company have kept a timeless design to them since the 90's. The rings are all by Middleburn too. Bottom bracket is from TA Specialities, lightweight and strong.

Cook Bros. cranks with Brooklyn pedals.

Pedals are Brooklyn Machine Works 'Vegi-Burger' pedals, they will take your skin straight off if you slip. I also have a pair of their bigger-brother pedals, the 'Shin Burgers', which look like metal meat tenderisers and resultingly have several spatters of hardened blood stains on them! Hardcore!

That just leaves tyres and handle bar grips, tyres are modern Maxxis 'High Roller's, the design hasn't changed since the mid-90's so that lets me off. Grips are from a USA company called Oury who are absolutely lovely people to deal with, and again their design hasn't changed either since the 90's so I'm OK there too!

Have you made it this far without falling to sleep?! Marvellous!

"So, enough about all that, how does it ride then?"

Absolutely amazingly! Because I've spent time getting the parts to fit, for example the first stem was 120mm which was far too long and combined with narrow bars, the new stem is 100mm and combined with lay back bars - it's now perfect. Spend time and effort with your equipment to ensure they fit you and not just jump on any old bike expecting it to be bang-on from the word go.

Say "Cheese!"...

The sprinting is brilliant as is the climbing, my old lungs however need to be worked on, phew! I love it, it ticks all of the boxes for what I want it to do. A strong steel cross country frame with good strong parts that will handle my type of riding. Steel being the weapon of choice in that, if ever it break, which I doubt it will any time soon, it is easily fixed by a frame builder, unlike aluminium which is a faff.

"In the dark, dark woods....."

"Pride and Prejudice....hmmmmm"

Et voila!

Special thanks going out to Mark for the frame (I am not worthy), Rody for the bars, the lads at Brooklyn Machine Works for putting up with me across the years!, Nick the Ringle Guru, Tim Flooks, Gil for the amazing reproduction frame and fork decals, and many a fellow from the forums on

*bows and doffs hat*


  1. He Deaf Guy
    I'm happy to see that a Old Lava Dome can be refurbished becaus ei have one and i want to put a fork like you. Could you tell me what is the fork diameter you use.
    I managed to repaint the frame and the fork all in black.

  2. Very nice ride. I'm refurbing an '06 model Lava Dome. Having fun with cranks right now :-/ Got my White Ind cranks ready but can't get the others off. Anyway, this is a sweet build!