Part 1: Building a classic steel retro road bike

August 15, 2018

During the start of the build, here you can see the Cyclus Headset Press being used to fit the Shimano Dura Ace cartridge headset into the SLX steel headtube.

During the start of the build, here you can see the Cyclus Headset Press being used to fit the Shimano Dura-Ace cartridge headset into the SLX steel headtube.

 

I started road cycling in the late 80s, and having started a full-time job in 1989, meant that I finally had the necessary funds to actually buy some really nice road bikes to ride/race on in the early nineties.

Whilst most of my bikes had a classic 74° seat angle for a more racy feel, my (taller, faster, younger) brother owned a classic Eddy Merckx Corsa Extra in Team Telekom colours, made from SLX tubing that he always enjoyed riding longer races & longer training sessions largely thanks to its low bottom bracket and slack head and seat angles.

As I have no aspirations to race anymore (even if I did - I very much doubt it would be on a steel frame) this blog details my quest to get my hands on and then rebuild a classic Eddy Merckx Corsa Extra that's suitable for riding and not being hung up on the wall.

 

How do I choose a retro steel frame to build?

If you decide to embark on this sort of project, the frame is central to its success. 

As I've already chosen the exact model from a specific brand, it is relatively easy to use a site such as eBay to get hold of the best example, but you can also look at sites like steel-vintage.com or retrobike.co.uk.

Eddy Merckx sponsored a number of professional teams during the late 80s and early 90s, with team-issue colours from 7-Eleven, Motorola, Team Telekom and this example Team Weinmann.

If you want to find a good example of the 7-Eleven and Motorola colour schemes, you'll pay a heavy premium, so the vibrant colours of Team Weinmann suited me just fine.

On most eBay listings, full specifications are rarely given for a frameset so it pays to do your homework.    In my case, I found a scanned catalogue from the 1992 season which gives you far more detail rather than relying on the contents of the listing from the seller.

If you are after very specific, detailed information about old vintage cycling components, then velobase.com is well worth a look.

Also in my case, there was a Campagnolo BB fitted in the shell (70mm, 36x24tpi; ITA), and the seller was unwilling or unable to get it out, so I just had to keep my fingers crossed that when it finally arrived from Europe, I'd be able to remove it!

Once delivered, the frame and forks turned out to be in far better condition than I expected. Apart from the odd chip/scratch, the paintwork was great, decals were good and the chrome-work was also ok after some polishing with Autosol.

 

Period-correct or contemporary components?

It will come as no surprise that events like L'Eroica have pushed the prices up and as demand goes up and time goes on, this will exacerbate things.  

As previsouly mentioned, I actually want to ride and enjoy this bike, so opting for a bike that is pre-1987 or 100% period-correct would have meant a higher build cost or would have got ridden less.

So this - and the fact that I prefer the newer Eddy Merckx typeface - means that this build using a 1992 frame (and clipless pedals as well as using BL-7402 Shimano Dura Ace aero brake levers) will fall outside of the rules, but that's fine with me, as it will still give me an authentic feel of riding before carbon fibre got in the way.

 

Are NOS components best for a retro bike build?

Ultimately I guess it depends on the size of your budget.

For me, I've selected NOS for a certain number of fit and forget components like the bottom bracket and headset.   I've also done the same for the rims as I don't fancy riding along on 30-year-old, worn out rims.  The same goes for the handlebars and stem.

As this is a classic frameset that will be used for weekly use, I intend on using a modern chain and cassette to save money on something that will ultimately wear out in time.    This approach is fine for an 8-speed steed, as lower end groupsets still use 8, but for 5, 6 and 7 speeds you'll probably have to go with original period components.


Photo: Shimano Dura Ace bottom bracket (BB-7400) used in the build.

 

The process of building a retro bike

Much has changed in the bike industry since the nineties and as most things in life, some things for the better, some for the worse.

For me, sourcing a frame, forks, groupset and finishing kit and then assembling it has always resulted in a great deal of satisfaction when the job is complete.   My daily ride-to-work bike, a PACE RC104 mountain bike, was assembled like this meaning that every component has been specified to be as serviceable as possible.

Apart from the obvious joys of living in Poole by the seaside in the Summer, in the Winter, my route to work is often parallel to the sea, with cycle paths are covered in salty water.

As most of you will probably know, it's now often more cost effective to buy a complete bike, which is what I did when I purchased my wonderfully versatile Orbea Terra gravel bike that gets so much use in the Spring, Summer and Autumn.


Photo: Shimano Dura Ace cartridge headset (HP-7410B) used in the build.

 

Let's start the build!

With this bike, it was about getting back to basics. 

Over the years I have amassed a number of very job-specific tools like a headset press.  Taking the NOS Shimano Dura Ace cartridge headset (HP-7410B) out of its original box and inserting it into the frame was a wonderful task - seeing the bearing cups (naturally with the logos correctly aligned) smoothly move into place was very satisfying and something that you don't get with a modern 1 1/8" integrated headset.

The same with the NOS Shimano Dura Ace bottom bracket (BB-7400). With the BB shell threads as perfect as when the frame left the factory, both Italian-threaded cups were installed with ease.  (In case you didn’t know…the reason why Eddy Merckx bikes had an Italian bottom bracket was a throwback from the De Rosa connection which never got changed.)

Photo: Fitting both the headset and bottom bracket into the frame that is over 25 years old was a rewarding experience.  Highly recommended!

 

What's next in part 2?

Now that the BB and headset are fitted, I can get on and fit the remainder of the 8 speed Shimano Dura Ace groupset.   

In fact, I couldn't wait to install the SIS shifting levers onto the down tube, so after reading the manual they were in place on the down tube pleasingly right next to the made in Belgium sticker.

As I finish writing this first part, I've just had a message from Jon at Rockets & Rascals to say that he has finished building up the wheels for this bike.  Jon's been building wheels for me for over two decades and he always does a great job for me, so I'm very much looking forward to picking those up.

I'll get some studio photographs of the complete bike taken plus I'll put a full component list produced for part 2.

 



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