Fixed gear training update

I’m just back from my third ride on my winter fixed trainer. I lost a week of riding due to a nagging flu-like cold, but I’m back in the saddle now. After the first couple of rides I’ve got the bike dialed in the way I want it, and am getting the hang of riding fixed. You have to re-learn simple things such as clipping into the pedals and coming to a stop! The high cadence works well with the current cold spell (a week or two of below freezing round the clock is about as bad as it typically gets down here…) The constant movement can be a strain, I feel my feet wanting to coast for a minute, but that’s not an option. On the plus side, it seems that sometimes with a fixed wheel you can keep pushing when you would have backed off riding a freewheel, due to the crank carrying the momentum of the wheel.

One issue I’m having is with the saddle. I opted to try out the Brooks professional I’ve got hold of, judging it to be the most similar in shape to my erstwhile go-to San Marco Rolls. It’s simply not comfortable for me on this setup (maybe not quite an ‘ass-hatchet’, but still). Leather saddles will mold to the users hind quarters over a period of time, but if it’s not comfortable at all at first it’s never going to become comfortable. The Professional (as the name would suggest) is designed for an aggressive, low position. I’m probably riding more upright than that, meaning I’m not putting my weight on it as I should be. It’s also possible that it’s just not suited to my body shape at all – a saddle is a very personal thing.

I’ll put the B17 on and see if that is any better. If I can’t make that work I guess I’ll get on Ebay and buy myself another Rolls for my eventual Coppi build.

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1977 Fiorelli Coppi Campionissimo

This will be the first of many posts about my Fiorelli Coppi bike, which I am building up as a Sunday bike for myself. It all started when I spotted a rusty bike at a flea market in May 2014 – I noticed it had Shimano 600 parts, Mavic rims, and was pretty light; all signs of a good build. The owner wanted €15, and I talked him down to €10 due to the poor quality finish on the frame. I walked away with my mystery frame and an ’80s Peugeot for €25!

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The paint and chrome on Coppis is notoriously poor – as you can see!

The frame was rusty and the decals had been almost entirely (deliberately) removed, save for a triangular ‘Fiorelli’ sticker. There was a distinctive C in the fork crown, and the corner of a Columbus decal peeling away. After a bit of googling, I found that I had a Fausto Coppi bike, built by the Fiorelli brothers company in the Campionissimo’s native Novi. I found another bike online with exactly the same spec, confirming the components were original equipment. The crankset was dated 1976, putting the bike probably a year or so later.

Knowing the frame would need a repaint, I decided to keep it for myself. Repainting a frame is a costly and/or time consuming process, and is rarely worth doing if reselling is your goal. The process both costs a lot (perhaps more than an equivalent frame in usable condition) and reduces the value of the bike as it is no longer ‘original’. Knowing it would take years for me to get round to painting and rebuilding the bike, I decided to strip and sell the valuable parts.

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The remaining Coppi head tube and Fiorelli seat tube decals, along with the distinctive ‘C’ in the fork crown.

In the meantime I have been putting parts aside for my eventual build; a Campagnolo Record Groupset, Brooks saddle, Cinelli handlebar and stem. As of today then, my dream bike is in several boxes upstairs in my barn.

To be continued…

Relooking – Look KG 223

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The original spec… Relooking is the ‘French’ word for makeover – appropriate enough for my Look rebuild.

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.

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I changed the Gara decal as it was peeling.

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.

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The old campag 52-39 chainset – too much for my knees!

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).

The finished bike

The finished bike

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

The Townsend (Bike No.1)

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This Townsend Olympian is the first bike I owned as an adult, and the first bike I did any significant work on. Bought on Ebay for less than £20, to date every part except the headset has been changed (some more than once). You might ask why I’d spend my time and money building up a bike that was crap in the first place – I can give two half-decent reasons: getting a setup that works well for me, and knowing I can try new things, learn, making mistakes along the way without risking damaging a nice frame. The bike originally came fitted out with cheap chrome steel parts, but with a frame that’s just the right size for me (if rather heavy). I originally set it up for commuting, with mudguards and a rack, but as I only ride for pleasure on nice days now these have been removed.

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The bike in its original condition, with 27″ wheels and chrome steel components

I wouldn’t dream of boring you with all the modifications I’ve made. Highlights of my current setup include mismatched Shimano 105/Mavic wheels,  a white Selle San Marco Rolls saddle, fluted ITM seatpost and 110 mm Kalloy stem (I’m considering going longer).

I run a Stronglight Impact 48-34 compact crankset. This is an excellent, well-priced crankset that looks right at home on a steel frame. For now I’m pairing this with a custom “seven of eight” speed 16-30 cassette. I’m only using seven sprockets because the 16 tooth will not work in the first position as it would not engage the freehub splines. I added a 2mm spacer in place of the first sprocket so that the lockring will hold the cassette tightly in place (which it does very well, even though the spacer is not knurled to engage the lockring). In this way, by sacrificing a sprocket, it is possible to have almost any size cog in ‘first’ position (the derailleur becomes the limiting factor) .  Some may find the 16 tooth first cog laughably low,  but I’m trying to encourage myself to spin at higher cadences – Miche makes Shimano compatible first position up to 17 or 18 so I’m thinking of getting a 15 to pop on. I’m far from finished fiddling with this bike. [For more on cassettes see Sheldon Brown]

Projects for the future include installing STI brake/shift levers (I have a pair already but haven’t got the cables/stops etc yet). I’m thinking about respraying the frame, although I haven’t decided what colour yet – and while I’m at that I may as well switch out that old headset too!