When I started collecting and restoring, there were certain bikes that guided my passion and served as inspiration for my builds. Unusual gems seen only in pictures, talked about in stories, but rarely seen in the flesh. Although the object of a prolonged endeavor gives a collector direction and purpose, for about a year now, this project has been my White Whale - an unhealthy obsession which led to countless hours of research, eBay snipes, and back alley deals.
In September 2007, I bought some vintage parts off eBay. Since the seller was local to me in Durango, Colorado, I was able to collect and pay in person. While chatting in his garage and workshop, I noticed he had stockpiled a large amount of what he referred to as "old Yeti junk" - hacked-apart FRO framesets, rear ends, head tubes, and more collecting dust or rusting away in the yard. And amongst it all was my Holy Grail.
Yeti had relocated to Durango from California in 1990, but following a buy-out the Colorado factory was closed in 1999. The last Yeti employee in charge of "cleaning out the place" came across many unlabelled boxes in the attic that were destined for the trash. My new acquaintance, also a former Yeti man, knew what they were - many sets of tubes and rear ends from Yeti's famous, yet fantastically rare, C-26. The C-26 was a joint venture between Yeti and Easton. Easton had come up with its C9 carbon-wrapped aluminium tubes, Yeti cofounder Chris Herting was trying to reduce the weight of the company's chromoly frames and the way forward was clear. The C-26 (C for Chris, 26 for Herting's age when he built the prototype) used hand-machined chromoly lugs bonded to the C9 tubes and mated to the loopstay rear end from the existing FRO frame. The bikes were raced by Yeti team riders in 1990, with Juli Furtado winning the first UCI World Championships XC (also in Durango) on hers and John Tomac taking 6th in the XC and 4th in the DH on two others.
The C-26 never went into production, and fewer than ten were made by Yeti. But Easton delivered tubesets for 50, and the unused ones were what my acquaintance had got hold of. Over the years, he had auctioned off many complete frame kits and tubes, and had one set remaining. Since he assumed they were useless as he had no frame with which to mate them, he basically gave them to me. I offered all the cash in my wallet and promised much more, but the deal was done for less.
I figured the project was a longshot at best, but I showed the tubes to Chris Herting himself, who laughed. We chatted and discussed the possibility of taking on the project. The concept wasn’t all that unfamiliar to him - he'd had been approached years before about building a C-26 using a donor FRO frame and a set of tubes in Germany. He was apprehensive about taking on my project, as it would require a huge time investment. Essentially he'd have to re-creating the first prototype. That would be no mean feat - the lugs for the C-26 were computer-designed, but hand-made from chromoly tubing on a lathe with specs given to him by Easton. Chris and Frank "The Welder" Wadelton built special jigs and tooling for each precision assembly step, and those had long since been tossed in the trash. But I knew what I was getting into, and in the end, with some persuasion, Chris decided to build the frame.
The project ballooned into a monster. Chris took to it with enthusiasm, and dubbed it the C-46, as he realized it was exactly 20 years since he began designing the prototype. The initial goal was to build the bike with carbon rear stays. These were supposed to have been in a box in a friend’s home in Southern California, but unfortunately they were misplaced years ago, so the rear triangle from a donor FRO was used.
But determined to go someplace he was never allowed to at Yeti, we decided to push the cool factor even higher with a carbon-legged Accutrax fork. Just two carbon forks were made by Yeti in late 1990. One of them exploded on the test table, the other was photographed on Juli Furtado's 1991 Yeti ARC race bike but never ridden and its whereabouts are unknown. Happily, the fork legs are the same diameter as the frame's seat tube. Of course, I only had one set of C9 tubes, but Herting had the answer - the original prototype had been cut up, but Herting had kept the remains. So a couple of bits of the very first C-26 live on in this reborn bike, twenty years on.
After all this work, actually building the frame up should have been the easy part. But finding the right parts in the right condition is, as any collector will tell you, always challenging. Eventually a full set of 1990's finest parts were assembled, including the Tioga tension disc rear wheel, Shimano M700 Deore XT groupset, Bullseye cranks, Yeti stem, Hyperlite bars and onZa Porcupine tyres.
Of course I couldn't finish this off without a huge public thanks to Chris Herting, not only for taking on the project, but including me each step of the way with photo updates, commentary, and just good conversation. Chris is the man.