Gallery: First Flight Bikes’ Vintage Collection

Jeff Archer houses 450 rare bikes in his North Carolina retail shop and museum

Photos by Anthony Smith

Over the past 25 years, Jeff Archer has amassed a collection of rare vintage mountain bikes that is unmatched in size, variety and accessibility, perhaps anywhere else in the world. So when we needed to dig up a handful of relics for our 20th Anniversary issue, Archer was the first guy we called. Which six bikes–out of all the great relics at First Flight–did we select as the very cream of the crop? Download Bike’s 20th Anniversary issue here to find out and to get the score on the people, places, photos and stories that changed mountain biking over the past two decades.

It’s a good thing we had already picked out those six classic gems that were to be featured in the magazine (on newsstands now) before we sent assistant photo editor Anthony Smith into Archer’s First Flight bike shop in North Carolina. Without a solid plan in place, the overwhelming options inside would have surely sent him into a paralysis-by-analysis tailspin.

Archer houses about 450 vintage bikes in his shop and museum in Statesville, N.C., the majority of which are mountain bikes. His collection traces the sport’s entire technological history, including the quirky, kooky stops along the way (ahem, Manitou FS and Ritchey Lite Beam). Displays of craftsmanship and artistry from a generation of builders rest inside Archer’s walls: Potts, Shafer, Breeze, Bontrager, LeMond, Klein and Fisher are all there. It’s truly the mothership for bike geeks.

Archer never meant to become a collector. His habit started when a couple brought in a pair of Schwinn Paramounts as trade-ins a few years after he opened his shop in 1989. They were a matching his and her set in good condition, and he thought they were too cool to sell to someone who wouldn’t appreciate their value. So he hung them up on the wall. A collector from Phoenix eventually heard about the set, and traveled all the way to First Flight to make a deal. He offered a trade and Archer accepted.

“It was the worst trade I ever made in my life,” Archer recalled. “I got a pair of balloon-tire bikes, both girls bikes. I found out later they weren’t worth a whole lot.”

Still, he was hooked.

He started looking for old Stingrays since that’s what he rode as a kid growing up in Ohio. Then, someone brought in a fillet-brazed Ross for trade-in, and he turned his attention toward mountain bikes, scouring online sites for good buys or finding classics through word of mouth or the small global network of vintage bike collectors.

“My wife calls us a bunch of inbreds,” Archer joked, referring to the 40 or 50 people worldwide whose passion for collecting bikes borders on obsession.

For Archer, who has an engineering background, he enjoys the stories each one of his bikes tells, both of the builder and the technological evolution in suspension, materials and frame design. In early 2006, he formalized the collection by starting the Museum of Mountain Bike Art & Technology website, where photos and details of his entire collection are listed.

Archer keeps his collection open to the public, and on weekends and holidays, his shop is often packed with more people ogling old bikes than shopping for new gear.

So what’s on the wish-list of a guy who seemingly has one of every vintage bike? A Breezer Series 1. Joe Breeze only ever made 10 of them, and their whereabouts are heavily documented. Archer nearly had his chance a few years ago when one came up for sale.

“We pursued it. I offered a stupid amount of money. It sold for almost double what I thought was stupid,” he said.