Today’s employee bike is Christa’s 1989 Specialized Rock Combo – known as Wompabelle. Christa and Wompabelle’s story began when Christa was a Jesuit Volunteer / Americorps Volunteer working in Boise. Christa was gifted a BBP membership and used it to fix a Specialized Stumpjumper that belonged to the house where she was staying. Camille helped Christa patch a tube and from there Christa’s interest and involvement in BBP took off! She started volunteering at the shop and soon began constructing Wompabelle. The stumpjumper she was riding had to stay with the volunteer house, so Christa set out to build a bike with similar aesthetics, and try out drop bars!?!?
Drop bars on a mountain bike might sound kooky, but interestingly, the Specialized Rock Combo came stock with drop bars in 1989. At the time “hybrid” bikes were a new thing and there was no set formula for building one. Today, many hybrids sport 700c wheels (like road bikes) and flat bars (like mountain bikes). The Rock Combo is in some ways the opposite. 26” wheels (like a mountain bike) and drop bars (like a road bike). Bryant Bainbridge, a designer for specialized at the time describes the thought behind the design:
“The idea was to take a mountain bike, steepen it up a bit and then lower the BB height to gain a little more stability, while still being higher than a touring bike so that there was clearance for offroad use. The tubeset was to be lighter as well.
Unfortunately, the Rock Combo was to be a short-lived experiment for Specialized.
Ibis made me a prototype which rode very well indeed. But the manufacturer pulled a fast one and delivered a bike with a heavier tubeset than I had in mind and the BB height was wrong. I can't remember whether it was too high or too low, but I didn't like the ride.”
Specialized made one production run in 1989 of about 500 bikes and that was it for the Rock Combo. Since then, the bike has gained somewhat of a cult following for its unconventional design plus its mix of road and mountain features.
Wompabelle started as a frame purchased from BBP. Christa worked with Ben Mast – BBP Mechanic – to build it up over the course of about four weekends. The component group is all parts from BBP, and there are some cool classic stuff on there. Suntour bar end shifters, Specialized “flag” cranks, Shimano cantilever brakes, Dia Compe brake levers, Shimano XT rear derailleur, etc.
Christa has used her bike to get across town and across the country since then. After finishing with Jesuit Volunteers/ AmeriCorps, she embarked on a cross-country pedal powered adventure aboard WompaBelle. Christa said
“Discovering BBP and the concept of the nonprofit bike co-op was honestly what inspired my bike tour. I googled bike co-ops throughout the country, plotted the northerly ones on google maps (because I like the north), and voila, I had my route! I was lucky enough to be able to start out the tour riding for three days with my dad and a friend visiting from Spain, and my friend Pat rode with me as far as Pittsburgh, about 500 miles. The last 1000 miles from Pittsburgh to Minneapolis were all me! I camped in some beautiful campsites, used warmshowers, stayed on a few farms, and asked quite a few strangers if I could pitch a tent in their yards!
Of all the bike co-ops I visited, Recycle Bicycle in Harrisburg gave me the warmest welcome, and fundraised $80 in the one evening I visited for me to donate to the next co-op! West Town Bikes in Chicago had the best youth programs I encountered out of all the shops I visited.
I also stayed on and visited quite a few small organic farms! In addition to sustainability in transportation I care a lot about sustainability in agriculture, so I decided to WWOOF along the way, working a few hours in exchange for a meal and a bed!
Upon returning to Boise after the cross Country journey, Christa joined BBP staff as a mechanic and is now serving as our youth programs coordinator. Christa is still commuting and adventuring aboard her trusty Wompabelle. The weekend before we photographed her bike she was out with fellow BBP mechanics and a crew put together by Bike Touring News riding and camping in Moutour, ID – hence the mud!
Ride on Christa!