My old Townsend has been out of date since it was built. I’d bet it’s older than I am, and even if it isn’t, the technology it’s built with certainly is. What I’m saying is that I needed a new bike – it’s come a long way since it was £17 on Ebay, but it’s time for a full upgrade. I’d built up a reasonable set of components though, so I was considering just changing the frame. I wanted to stick with steel, so I was on the lookout for a bargain Reynolds or Columbus frame. I could just go out and drop €400 on a Sora equipped aluminium bike, but I want something with more character. I want the smooth ride and durability of steel. I ended up spotting this Look KG 223 at a Troc (pawn shop) – it ticked most of the boxes: Columbus frame, Carbon fork and Campagnolo 8 speed with Ergoshifters. At a price of only €90 I couldn’t say no.
Look is famous for pioneering carbon bikes and clipless pedals in the mid eighties. They started out as a small company producing ski bindings, and were bought by tycoon Bernard Tapie. Tapie also owned a line of health food shops called La Vie Claire, and sponsored a cycling team under that name led by Bernard Hinault. Look developed a clipless pedal, and marketed it through La Vie Claire. Bernard Hinault won the 1985 Tour de France with Look pedals, and within the next five years they became ubiquitous within the peloton. In 1985 Hinault rode a steel handbuilt frame branded as Look, and in 1986 he and Greg Lemond rode the new groundbreaking KG86 carbon frame. It would be twenty years before the rest of the peloton caught up, with most manufacturers making steel bikes into the mid nineties, and aluminium for some ten years after that.
Look never made aluminium bikes. Apart from the 1985 team bike, their steel bikes were aimed at recreational riders; in the mid nineties they offered a range of lugged Columbus tubed bikes. The KG 223 was the bottom of the range, made with plain guage Gara tubing. The higher end KG 243 shared the same geometry but was made with Brain butted tubing, intended for more serious amateur racers. I really like the look of these lugged frames, a classic steel frame that doesn’t look out of place with modern parts.
The wheels were a bit of an issue; the Rigida DP-18 rims were ok, but the 14-23 Sachs freewheel wouldn’t work for me in the hilly Perigord where I live. I could have re-space the cassette on my Shimano 8 speed wheels to index with the Campy shifters, but that just wouldn’t seem right (Shimano and Campy don’t mix!). In the end I opted for a bargain pair of handbuilt Campag 8 speed cassette wheels on Mavic Open Pro rims. Not only were the wheels a bargain, but the guy selling them ‘threw in’ his old 8 speed Athena levers too (they must be worth about as much again!) Along with the wheels, I changed the handlebars (too narrow), saddle (too firm) and switched out the 52-39 chainset for my 48-34 Stronglight compact. I sold any parts I didn’t need, keeping the build within the original €90 budget (although this doesn’t count parts I already owned). I built my cassette from individual sprockets, including a vintage Campagnolo Off-Road 30 tooth sprocket to get the gears right – I had to turn round the B screw to get the derailleur to shift into it, but it works fine (the Avanti derailleur is officially rated to a 28 tooth max).
Once I’d got all my parts together, I stripped the bike down and rebuilt it (including new cables). I’m very happy with the end result, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first few rides. I’ve built a bike that’s as capable as a new Aluminium road bike, at a fraction of the price, but with a lot more character. And I had a great time building it up too!
Specs: 1997 Look KG 223
- Frame: Columbus Gara lugged
- Fork: Look LDS Carbon with aluminium steerer
- Groupset: Campagnolo Avanti 8s, Athena levers
- Crankset: Stronglight Impact compact 48/34
- Pedals: Look PP137
- Cassette: Miche/Campagnolo custom 15-30
- Wheels: Campagnolo Athena hubs with Mavic Open Pro rims
- Saddle: San Marco Rolls
- Handlebars: 3t Forma SL
- Stem: 3t Stylus
- Weight: 10 kg