Exclusive: An Ode to Tioga’s Tension Disc

In this installment of Matter, Joe Parkin ponders the wheel that epitomized '90s racing technology


Matter: My Tioga Tension Disk (the extended version)
By Joe Parkin

When we started to plan Bike’s 20th print volume, we found ourselves reminiscing about our young sport’s history. How could we help it? After all, a hell of a lot has changed since the first issue of Bike hit newsstands in 1994. Some fascinating products have also cropped up along the modern mountain bike’s development path—inventions that enriched the experience of riding off-road. This year, we’ll be profiling some of our favorites in a new section called “Matter”. I was lucky enough to lead off our Matter series with the legendary Tioga Disk Drive.

As an added bonus, this web-version of Matter includes some extra photos and this awesome love-poem to the Tioga Disk Drive (a.k.a “the Tioga Tension Disc”), read out loud to you by none other than Greg Herbold himself.

As HB would say, Schweeet!

Click Here to Listen to Greg Herbold’s Ode to the Tension Disc

The Disk Drive offered a bit of suspension to many of the overly rigid rear-end designs of the day. The Kevlar strands that acted as spokes allowed the hub to “float”; square-edge hits were tamed and traction was increased quite significantly. Perhaps best of all, was the wheel’s ability to store energy as it flexed into the apex of a turn, and then release that energy when exiting a turn, which made it feel a bit like you were being spit out of the corner.

And then there was the noise.

The tension disk’s sound was an ominous combination of carbon-fiber, road-bike disc and rolling snare drum. Any change in body position or angle on the bike would change the wheel’s pitch and volume. Best of all, whenever it hit even the tamest piece of trail debris, it sounded like a beaten drum—under an aggressive descender, it was rock ‘n’ roll.

John Tomac limps to the Mont Sainte Anne finish line in 1994 with a decidedly ovalized Tension Disc. Failures like this didn't stop any of us from wanting a set of our very own. Go figure. Photo courtesy of Tom Moran.

Unlike Tomac and Herbold, I never had one of these wheels catastrophically fail on me, but I did have one almost completely de-tension on one side during the Sea Otter Classic’s short-track event. About halfway through the race, it simply stopped turning. That didn’t stop me from using them in subsequent races, though.

Before writing the print article for Bike, I spoke with Herbold, Overend, Tomac and his former mechanic, Bob Gregorio, as well as Jeff Holt, who worked for Tioga during that era and likely built the wheel you see here—each one of them remembered the tension disk fondly. And I think we all agreed that the tension disk was one of the most iconic sights—and sounds—of mountain biking in the ‘90s.

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