Meet My New Cycling Coach - Francesco!

I had mentioned in passing that I brought a vintage frame with me from my last stay in Austria to build up as a fixed gear road bike... Well, here is the result:

The frame is from a Francesco Moser "San Cristobal" roadbike, circa (I think) 1978. I got the frame from a friend of a friend and had a chance to try it when it was still a complete bike, so I knew it would fit me comfortably. The previous owner then stripped the frame of components and I mailed it to myself from Vienna, as this was by far the easiest option. It cost 20 Euros to send the frame from Vienna to Boston via the Austrian post. They instructed me to "wrap it so that it looks like a bike frame" rather than packing it in a bike box, and that is what I did. I wrapped the frame in bubble wrap, then in brown wrapping paper, and attached the address in several locations directly onto the wrapping. The package arrived at my door just over 2 weeks after I mailed it.

As you may have noticed, the Co-Habitant has turned into a bicycle mechanic this summer - to my appreciative delight, as I have neither the aptitude nor the time for it. He bought a bike stand, has accumulated the necessary tools for most jobs, and has been enjoying learning the ins and outs of bicycle repair. This was his first complete bike build, after he practiced with the fixed gear conversion on Marianne. As a mechanic he is meticulous, and this is reflected in the quality of the results. The bicycle is tight and smooth and noiseless and just the way I wanted it.

If you are interested in components, they include a Sugino RD2 crankset, a Mavic CXP2 wheelset, and white Panaracer Pasela tires (700x28C). The seat post (manufacturer unknown), stem (Nitto), handlebars (GB) and brake (Shimano, model unknown) were recycled from various used/vintage sources. The brake levers are the same Tektro short reach I have on my Rivendell, and these are pretty much the only roadbike brake levers that I am actually able to squeeze with my poor hands. I have both brake levers despite there only being a front brake, because I like to keep my hands on the hoods. The right lever activates the brake; the left lever is inactive. Though I find it silly to have a "blank" brake lever, I cannot think of a better solution.

As for the lack of rear brake, the reason is two-fold. First, a rear brake in unnecessary on a fixed gear bike. And second, our tire choice made the rear clearance too tight to allow one. It looks in the picture as if the bridge is actually touching the tire, but I assure you it is not. There is enough clearance so that it is perfectly fine to ride, just won't fit a brake.

This bicycle originally came with tubular wheels and narrow tires, so fitting it with 700C wheels and the cushy white 28mm Paselas was really pushing the limits of its clearances. But we decided to go with them, because these tires are just a spectacular ride, as well as a safer choice for my pothole-ridden "training route".  The larger wheels and tires also have the positive effect of raising the bottom bracket - which is a good thing for a fixed gear bike, as pedaling while leaning on a turn can potentially result in hitting the ground with the edge of a pedal. Needless to say, there will not be room for fenders on this bike. That is fine with me in this case, as the bicycle's purpose is entirely athletic. (Also, I think the "naked" white tires look quite good with the red frame.)

I should also mention, that while we built this bike up as a fixed gear, we did not file off any of the braze-ons or bosses. The rear derailleur hanger and the rear brake routing have been left as they were, and the downtube shifter bosses have been covered with these rubber "boss cozies" for safety and aesthetics.

Francesco Moser frames are quite nice, and are well-regarded in Austria. I am told that this model is made of Columbus tubing, though there is no longer a decal testifying to this.

The frame is in great condition, except for some rust on these chrome parts. I plan to clean that up as soon as I determine what the safest method is.

Now that I have given all the excruciating details regarding the bike, some are probably wondering why in God's name I needed a fixed gear roadbike. Well, I'll tell you. I had been planning this ever since having ridden that trackbike in Vienna and discovering that riding a fixed gear bike helps me build up my road cycling skills. It does that by addressing my biggest frustrations, which are balance and coordination. I have plenty of endurance to cycle fast for relatively long periods of time, but I suck at pretty much every other aspect of cycling (for instance, making turns and cycling closely to others at high speeds). The aspect of fixed gear cycling that most people find difficult (the constant pedaling) I am fine with, which makes it the perfect tool to help me with the other stuff.

I have gone on two long rides on Francesco so far: a 26 mile ride with only very mild hills, and another 26 mile ride with steeper hills. Though the hilly ride was challenging, I have not experienced any pain or discomfort, despite this bicycle's aggressive geometry.  Francesco seems like he will be a great cycling coach, and I look forward to getting to know him better.


  1. That's a lovely bicycle. The story reminds me of a song:

    I'm gonna wrap myself in paper
    Gonna daub myself with glue
    Stick some stamps on the top uh my head
    I'm gonna mail myself to you.

    "what the safest method is."

    NAPA BlueMax chrome polish. Use an old diaper or handcloth that has been washed without detergent. Synthetic chamois will do as well.

    "I find it silly to have a "blank" brake lever, I cannot think of a better solution."

    Don't sweat it. Nobody else can either. Tandem stokers have two blanks. Just think of it as a functional handle rather than a brake lever that isn't.

    "why in God's name I needed a fixed gear roadbike."

    Doesn't everybody?

    "The bicycle is tight and smooth and noiseless and just the way I wanted it."

    Wait until you have a chance to ride it at night. There is something gliding through the dark on a smooth and silent fixed that's a bit special. For a bonus point, use an incandescent light.

  2. What a handsome chap Francesco is - I bet Marianne has a crush on him :-)). Love the white tyres - they do look like a really comfortable ride. Is that a new Brooks on him or have you moved a Brooks from another bike? I see you have your handlebars a little lower than on Graham (well, compared to reasonably recent photos). How are you finding that? I noticed your comment about turns and cycling with others and I suspect you're finding it a mental mindshift when using drop bars.

  3. kfg said...
    "Wait until you have a chance to ride it at night..."

    Did that tonight... from Lexington, MA... mostly downhill, with some substantial hills. It was not intentional, as I thought I could make it before dark on a less hilly (but absolutely pitch black) route. Let's just say the beauty of the night was overpowered by the horror at not being able to spin fast enough or modulate the brake properly, while wearing no foot retention. Well, what doesn't kill you... (will make you install those Power Grips!)

    Carinthia - unexpectedly, I actually (gasp) prefer drop bars after having learned how to use them. The reason I don't use a bike with drop bars for transport cycling, is the visibility factor - plus the whole clothing thing... though I wonder how a loop frame would look with dressguards, chaincase and drop bars...

  4. "though I wonder how a loop frame would look with dressguards, chaincase and drop bars.."

    Go on... you know you want to! :-D

  5. "the beauty of the night was overpowered by the horror"

    Ok, so maybe a loop around Tufts park next time.

    "I wonder how a loop frame would look"

    Like a gypsy dancer. Rawr!

  6. Sometimes I have to shake my head when I realise that less than 2 years ago you were tentatively renting a KHS Green! So much experience in such a short time, and all of it relayed beautifully for our benefit. Are you ever amazed by how much you've found out and done?

    As always I'm drooling over your new acquisition. Can I just say I'm a teeny bit sad your Princess is going (only because I yearn for one), although I know it's sensible to adjust your bike ownership as your needs change. Are you going to keep Marianne now you have Francesco (2 fixies)?

  7. BB - Am definitely amazed, especially since I am usually awful at anything even remotely athletic.

    The fixed road bike was really what I needed, and in the long run I probably will not keep Marianne; will see how the custom mixte feels once it is fully built up. Ironically, Marianne will actually be easier to sell in the Boston area now that she is fixed gear (though she can also be easily switched to freewheel single speed). Still, I am too attached to her to sell her just yet... plus she makes a great guinea pig for all sorts of crazy projects!

  8. Nice build. If it is at all twitchy or squirrelly, with that tight clearance it would be a great 650b conversion.

  9. Very nice build indeed. BTW I also prefer the right brake lever to operate the front brake caliper. In my bike racing days I would shift both front and rear derailleurs (down tube shifting) with my right hand and have the left hand available to modulate speed with the rear brake, which handily could be seen by riders on my wheel.

    Nowdays I like the cable run much better with modern shifters, plus whenever I ride a motorcycle the front brake is where I think it should be, on the right lever.

  10. Hey with those 28mm's you're ready for a Sunday in Hell and Francesco Moser starred in that movie too! Very Nice bike.

  11. This seems like a good time to confess that I have a stupid newbie question- What on earth is the purpose of a fixed-wheel bicycle? I can't figure it out.
    Whew- I'm glad I got that off my chest ; )

  12. Pretty neat! I love the look of nice 70s racers. Mosers always looked the part and really are great bikes. I used to covet my friend Marks black Moser with chrome stays and fork...

    If you ever decide to put a rear brake on that bike an offset bolt made to use short-reach brakes on bikes with too much clearance can often be flipped upsidedown and made to work for this. I rode a Geurciotti set up that way for part of a season till I killed it in a big sprint when 8 or 9 of us decided to crash and kill our bikes...


  13. great bike! the co-habitant has been busy with all these builds of late!

    as for the rust on the fork crown (and seatstay caps), from my experience with rust removal on bike parts, it appears that the chrome has flaked and is beyond salvage, at least in sections. that doesn't mean you can't get it to look a lot better. here's what i would do if this were one of my personal restoration projects: remove the fork and soak the crown in an oxalic acid bath to remove the rust, which will reveal the bare steel beneath. oxalic acid won't harm the surrounded painted areas. the shiny gray bare steel will actually blend in fairly well with the chrome sections around it (i can show you some examples of how this looks; there are parts of my jeunet chromed rear triangle where the chrome has flaked off entirely and i hardly notice it). then wipe on a layer of boiled linseed oil as a preservative to prevent rust from reforming on the bare steel. the oil dries clear to a semi-hard film, and is regarded as one of the best rust inhibition coatings. many frame builders use it as an alternative to commercial rust inhibition coatings. and never mind what the co-habitant says about linseed oil :-). you don't see frame builders spontaneously combusting, do you?

    as for the seatstay caps, you'd have to remove the seatpost and flip the bike upside down to dip the seat cluster into the oxalic acid bath.

  14. Have you had your eyes checked? I have double vision that unsettles my balance and makes it difficult for me to judge distance if I don't wear my glasses. And the squint can suppress stereoptic vision. Am I right in assuming you're an artist? There has been research done that suggests those without stereooptic vision are better at illustration, as they naturally translate a 3D world into 2D.

  15. Chris - There is zero unwanted twitchiness, it's a great ride. (But either way, I don't think 650B would work, because of the bottom bracket height.)

    km713 - See here for the official explanation : ) But for me, as I wrote, it is mostly to help me with my sense of balance and coordination, which a fixed gear bike does.

  16. Carinthia - I forgot to answer: the Brooks is from the Rivendell Sam Hillborne. I love the B17S (A being for "short"=women's, not special) for roadbikes.

  17. "it appears that the chrome has flaked"

    Wouldn't surprise me a bit to find out it's been ridden indoors a lot.

  18. Bravo! You did a wonderful job on the Francesco. I like it a lot. Enjoy.

  19. beautiful bike!!! where did you get those tires? enjoy! - p

  20. kfg - I don't think so. A couple of tiny holes have been drilled into the frame, with old wiring running through them that seems to have been used for dynamo lighting. Whoever rode this bike back in the day apparently practiced outdoors through the night.

    Patience - Several places sell these online now, including Velo Orange. Just look for Panaracer Pasela Kevlar White/Cream 700x28C. But note that these are for a roadbike and would be too narrow for a city bike. For the latter, there are the cream Schwalbe Delta Cruisers.

  21. what is your gearing?

  22. I like to practice outdoors through the night as well (or sometimes actually just try to get someplace through the night), but not in February if I can avoid it (which sometimes I can't if I want to eat and shit).

    Still, I have found my chrome work to be impervious to dark. On the other hand I have heard tell of people who can do that to their bikes riding normally. It's just more common to see that on bikes ridden in the harsh, indoor environment.

  23. you did a bang-up job on this bike. she is GORGEOUS! i'm still fairly new to bicyling after, oh, taking 20 or so years off (sad i haven't ridden since I was a wee one), but am absolutely loving your aesthetics and passion. your blog is now one of my small group of must reads. i'm in the process of beautifying/restoring my '83 schwinn world tourist, and just managed to score a '72 green raleigh sports (complete with air pump) for just $50!! it needs some work but i can't wait to play with it, thanks for all of the inspiration :)

  24. Sweet bike. I love the way the brown leather and white tires look with the red frame.

    I have used "dummy" brake levers before, for the very same reasons you have yours. When you ride a fixed gear, you need only a front brake. The only reason I have a rear brake on mine is that I have a "flip-flop" rear wheel with a freewheel on one side. If you ride with a freewheel, two brakes are a good idea.

    I'm impressed that you're riding it so much.

  25. kfg said...
    "Wait until you have a chance to ride it at night..."

    Did that tonight... from Lexington, MA... mostly downhill, with some substantial hills.

    On Sunday, after finishing a 350k from Hanscom to Westfield, I rode home with a friend, taking Mass Ave all the way from Lexington to Arlington Center at 3am. At that hour, we had the road all to ourselves and the only sound to be heard was my friend's recitations of "Jabberwocky" to keep herself awake and my laughter at her rendition.

    The fixed Centurion has an empty brake lever as well and I agree with kfg that nobody's found a better solution. It'd be nice if they made dust cover or caps for the hoods just so that it wouldn't look like it was so ... unfinished.

    I have to say that when it comes to being a budding bike builder, the Co-Habitant was wise to start with fixed/ss builds. Things can get a little more complicated and involved (but also rewarding) when you start getting into dealing with derailleurs and shift cable tension ... though, fwiw, if he's looking for new skills to master I've found that learning to build wheels has been highly rewarding and worth pursuing. especially if you enjoy being meticulous

  26. Anon 11:51 - The gearing is 48/19, which feels just about perfect.

    Cris - With these, and several other projects, he has been working up towards building up my custom mixte, which should be done in a couple of weeks!

    Re the empty brake lever - Is there a way to at least jam it, so that it can't be squeezed? I am told no, but maybe someone has found a method.

  27. Thanks for the compliments!

    But, honestly, this wasn't a difficult build. There's only so much trouble in putting together a fixed gear bike. I think it can be done from frame, wheels and components in about 20 minutes, provided everything works together. That's the part that took longest--making sure everything works together. The clearances on that rear wheel are crazy. There's about 1 mm under the brake bridge and about 1.5mm on each side of the tire by the chain stays. Good thing the wheel is true. :)

  28. Well, maybe not 1.5mm, maybe more like 2.5mm there. But still...

    I tried to jam the brake lever with a short piece of brake inner cable, but couldn't find a reliable way to terminate it on the other end. A small screw & bolt don't fit inside the brake channel. Maybe I can jam it into a piece of housing, but the crimp has to be very strong to avoid being pulled apart.

  29. oh, you can just take the lever off the assembly. It's a little more unsightly, but at least your muscle memory won't be confused about which brake is actually effective.

  30. Looks like a nice ride.

    Honestly, could you ever have predicted anything like this, less than a year and a half ago when you started thinking about riding a bike again?

    Journeys of discovery are such fun...

    Corey K

    ( funny turing word: graticio )

  31. I recently put Pasela's on my Bridgestone and am very, very happy with them. However, I didn't realize they came in white (that is white, isn't it? Or are they more cream?

  32. You can lock up that lever by using a long skinny screw inserted down from the top of the lever body and threading it into a nut located under the slotted stop in the lever itself(I glued mine with silicone to hold it in place while I assembled it). The screw in my "dead" Campy lever on my fixie is a 1 3/4" 6x32(I think, I'm not taking it apart to check) that I scavenged out of an old VCR or something. It works nicely but if you crash it will mangle it instead of just scraping it up. You might also find yourself pulling on it like a mad person till you get used to it being "dead".


  33. Spindizzy--a long machine screw + nut & silicone... Brilliant!

    (I wonder if the hole inside these Tektro short reach levers is long enough... and I'd have to kill the tape yet again... ugh... maybe another time, but the idea is excellent, thanks.)

  34. "Though I find it silly to have a "blank" brake lever, I cannot think of a better solution."

    Go to eBay UK's vintage parts section and do a search for "honking stop". Honking is Brit cycling slang for climbing out of the saddle and the stops were developed in the days when bikes only had one brake for the exact purpose you need.

    It would be very easy to DIY one. Just take the handlebar clamp from a brake lever you don't mind cannibalizing and get someone you know who's good at woodworking to make a hardwood knob in a shape comfortable to your hand that can be bolted to the clamp just like the brake lever. MAFAC levers have clamps that are ideal.

  35. There was a randonneur (I forget who) with a bell attached to the "blank" brake lever, so it's not my original idea but I liked it...

    Ding ding!

  36. This trick works great with old style levers where the cable comes up out of the top,and you don't have to remove the tape. Aero levers will probably have to come off to do this and the tape would have to come off. Also, if you have to assemble this off the bike to have access to the screw to tighten it down you will need to be able to tighten the lever on the bars without sqeezing the lever open. Do the Tectro's have a hole in the lever to insert an allen key to tighten them? If not, this trick might not work on them... If they have a hole in the lever to insert a new cable it would also be possible to do this but again, you might have to remove it from the bike to get all the gubbins in place.

    My old Campy levers were easy and the screw I used was small enough to slip down into the cable recess and doesn't even show. I'm sure there is a way to mod the ones you have too but it might be more trouble than it's worth.
    You definately want somewhere for the other hand to rest though.


  37. Thanks for the lever suggestions!

    Corey - No, I could not have imagined it. It's nice to surprise yourself sometimes!

    MandG - Yes, they are now available in cream/white (different sources describe them differently, but it is the same tire). In person the colour is more on the cream side than it looks like on the pictures.

    Charlotte - a randonneur on a fixed gear, let me just process that! (How shameful that I could barely get home from Lexington!)

  38. good to know this frame at a save place and in such an beautiful compilation :)

  39. Regarding the dummy brake lever, Dia Compe makes something just for that purpose.

  40. Ever thought of actually using a brake on your rear wheel? Just because it is fixed doesn't mean a brake won't work. Also using your wheel to stop won't engage anywhere near as fast as an actual brake on the rim. I only say this because of the numerous taco'd front wheels/warped fork and frames that I have encountered from people who were cut off by drivers and couldn't stop fast enough.

  41. Most fixed geared bikes around these parts don't employ a rear brake (unless they are also have freewheel). I've heard some reasoning for and against using only the front brake.

    Considering that, I personally would agree that it's a plus to have a rear brake on this bicycle, but the frame's clearances make fitting a rear brake a problem.

    We could try the offset bolt idea, of course, but perhaps a bit later. At that future time, we'll also buy a freewheel for the flip-flop hub to make the bike even more versatile than it is now (and suffer a re-do of the handlebar tape.. ugh).

  42. I think that the knob (or missing lever blade, or even only a single aero brake lever) make the handlebars look weird. Velouria and I appear to have a similar taste when it comes to this.

  43. There is no stopping power advantage to having a rear caliper brake on a fixie. None. Period. The only reasoning for using a caliper brake on one is because you're not comfortable riding fixed gear (yet), or because you like the redundancy (but one might ask why you aren't uncomfortable with the lack of redundancy on other braking systems).

    That redundancy comes at the cost of more mechanical system to maintain and have as extra points (and remember the rim is now part of the braking system) of failure.

    I've said it here before, I'll say it here again. People talk about "brakeless" fixies. A "brakeless fixie" is an oxymoron. By their very nature if a fixie has drive, it has a brake. People keep using that word, but I do not think it means what they think it means.

    As for the brake lever thing, the human brain is wired to like symmetry, and that's the way it is.

  44. kfg - whatever dude...

    I stand by my previous comments.

    A drive train is not an exclusive safety brake system.

    Track bikes don't use brakes to avoid goring flesh.

    Most states have laws which require a separate brake on each wheel of a bicycle.

    Insurance companies are getting wise to the fixed gear craze and denying claims for bicyclists who don't meet the requirement of the law in collisions.

    Riding on the road isn't riding on the track.

  45. space & kfg - Regardless of whether the term "brakeless fixie" makes sense, it certainly does not apply to this bicycle. I have a fully functional, strong front brake, activated by a fully functional road lever (as opposed to an interruptor lever). I do not use my legs to brake; I use the brake. My set up is not even in the same universe as "brakeless fixie" cycling.

    Keep in mind that:
    . Road cyclists are instructed to use the front brake anyhow, not the rear, except in special circumstances
    . The braking power of the rear brake on a roadbike is so weak, that having it on a fixed gear (where one is able to slow down with their feet) is redundant. In other words, activating the rear brake alone at full force would not provide more stopping power than slowing down by pedaling slower.
    . The special circumstances mentioned in the first point could all be satisfied on a fixed gear by slowing down the pedals to the same extent as pressing the rear brake would have done

    There is just no need for a rear brake, unless you have a flip-flop fixed/free hub. The front brake is a different matter entirely, and the two should not be equated.

  46. Hi - I have bought a Francesco Moser frame very similar to what you have here (I believe a 1978 model too). Can you give me some information on what size bottom bracket you procured - I know it would be Italian threaded 36mm etc. But did you face any specific issues? what BB did you use?


  47. I love this bike. The white tires are pimpin'. Looks great with the saddle.

  48. the best way to clean chrome is steel wool.

  49. Anyone here would know where I could find a similar bottle/holder? Love that bottle set.


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