Thursday, April 21, 2016

Beyond Recognition


If asked what we think defines a bicycle's essence, I believe that most of us - myself included - would say it's the frameset. Certainly the frameset, with other aspects - including components and aesthetics - being of lesser importance. It's amazing then, how much of an impact a makeover makes on a bicycle's perceived essence, as it were.

I'd be curious to know whether anybody even recognised the machine above as one I have already featured here. I probably wouldn't have. In fact, despite knowing they are the same bike, I have a difficult time thinking of them that way. And so, for those who have been following this unusual frame's adventures, I bring you the dramatic yet pragmatic conclusion of the Ralianchi saga.


Earlier I wrote about my neighbour Owen's unique bicycle. At first glance an iconic celeste Bianchi, it was in fact a Team Raleigh 753 frame, repainted in Bianchi regalia for local pro cyclist Joe Barr, who had raced for (Bianchi-sponsored) team Maestro in the 1990s. If you are interested in the full details, see this original post. But long story short, after acquiring the bike Owen decided to turn it back into a Raleigh. So he stripped the frame of components and paint, then refinished it himself and built it up with contemporary parts.

The result was waiting for me in Owen's shed one day, complete with Shimano Dura-Ace groupset and Fulcrum wheels: "Take it out for a spin; it should fit you!"

With renewed interest I examined the bicycle's construction and finish, and it was as if I was seeing it for the first time.

The most striking feature, which had been more subdued under celeste paint and Bianchi decals, was the straight fork.

Painted a glossy dark red, together with the headtube it formed one continuous, aggressive slash -standing out from the muted, clear-coated steel tubes of the rest of the frame.

By comparison, the rest of the frameset was so subtle as to nearly turn invisible - fading into the background while the front end sparkled in the sun, menacingly.

The hand applied paint and lacquer looked quite good, hard candy-like, with no visible brush strokes or bulges - an excellent DIY job. The Raleigh and Reynolds decals had been applied pretty well also, giving the frame a quite natural appearance overall - as if it had never been any other way.

An interesting detail I had not noticed on this bike when it had been a "Bianchi" now stood out: a little tab below the top tube, for attaching one's race number. Possibly, this is a feature Owen will get a chance to actually make use of. Arrrrrgh!

As far as components, Owen prefers Shimano to the Campagnolo the bike had been originally fitted with.

He sourced a new-old-stock 10-speed Dura-Ace groupset with race gearing, a few years old, and is pretty happy with its performance.

It surprised me to discover 28cm tyres on the bike.  I knew Owen to be a skinny-tyre fan, and also would not have thought that a frameset like this would comfortably fit them. But fit them it does, and regarding the width Owen explained that they were temporary - borrowed off of another bike while he decided which to get for racing.

Also temporary are the Wellgo commuter pedals. With one side flat and the other SPD, they allow for pedaling both clipped in and in street shoes.

Overall this bicycle was a long way from the iteration I'd seen last summer! The Selle Italia saddle with titanium rails, and the seatpost it perched upon, were perhaps the only parts carried over from the original build.

Although Owen told me to feel free and ride the bike, I doubted that I actually would  - expecting for the fit to be so completely off as to make any test ride pointless. In fact, the fit was very close. Turns out Owen's saddle height is nearly exactly the same as mine, as is his top tube length. However, he sets his saddle back further and uses a shorter stem. Consequently, the bicycle felt as if it fit me perfectly whilst placing me in someone else's position, if that makes sense - an odd sensation that nevertheless made it quite ridable.

As I use the Crankbrothers clipless system, the SPD sides of Owen's pedals were incompatible with my cycling shoes, so I rode in my ordinary shoes on the flat sides. Considering that my previous experiences with this style of pedals had not been great, I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected. The flat sides of the Wellgos stayed flipped up, provided an adequately sized platform, and were perfectly grippy under my street shoes. The Shimano brake/shift levers are my least favourite of all the component groups, but I find them manageable enough to use if need be. The only aspect of the bike that felt outright uncomfortable was the too-narrow saddle, but in the short run it too I could cope with.

All things considered, I think I did pretty well to take this bike on a 12 mile spin around the countryside. And while I'm not exactly sure what I expected for it to be like, my dominant impression was that in every way it felt like a modern road-racing bike... almost "too much" so, in the sense that it hadn't that quirkiness or interestingness of older machines. It was fast, aggressive, responsive. A bit rough over potholes and bumps under that straight fork, but otherwise pretty smooth. And while riding in somebody else's position made me strain to apply power at times, I got the sense that under its owner's bum this bike was a rocket. Just like an off-the-shelf modern roadracing bike.

Was it the overhaul of components responsible for this impression? Or does the Reynolds 753 tubing (about the controversial properties of which you can read in the comments of this earlier post!) deliver a particularly modern ride feel?

...Or is it the case that the look of the bike influenced my test ride impressions? It could be either, or - more likely - some combination of the three. And, of course, in the end, it hardly matters. As really it is about what the bicycle's owner wants out of the machine.

And what this bicycle's owner wanted, was not a period-perfect Team Raleigh 753. What he wanted was a bike with a lightweight steel frameset and modern components, that fit him well, and was competitive in today's amateur racing scene. With that in mind, I believe it is mission accomplished for Owen. And I look forward to seeing that tab under the top tube occupied with his race number.


40 comments:

  1. Excellent restoration. Great job Owen!

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  2. What a cool bike.

    I like the colors, the focused urgent vibe and the wide ranging but rational group of parts. I also like to think about how fun and interesting the process of building this bike was for your friend Owen(and the rest of us that were looking over his shoulder offering unsolicited advice). I don't need more bikes,in fact I've been clearing them out at a prodigious rate this spring, but I always like having a project underway to be thinking and dreaming about. I'm not planning on doing any time-trials this year but all it would take is a great old frame like this to land in my lap to get me excited about building a neat bike and going back out to see what magic it had...

    Spindizzy

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  3. Nice story and beautiful bike! Know any details of that stem?

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    1. I think the stem is of the "whatever was handy in the right length" category. But will ask.

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    2. hi there,the stem is a ITM quill stem i found on ebay for a fiver,,,,(owen)

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    3. Thanks! I've been looking for a quill stem with the ability to mount thicker, more modern bars, and they seem a bit hard to find sometimes!

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  4. Overall, I like what he's done, but I think were it me, I would have left it as it was. Now it's Provenance has basically been obliterated; makes little difference to the way the bike rides and maybe the pro who rode it was not a big enough name to add any value to it under its original guise, but now I am guessing it blends in with scores of other Raleighs out there. Maybe that was the idea though, wolf in sheeps clothing!? - Mas

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    1. I would have left it as it was as well. But then I would not have gotten this particular bike in the first place, not being a fan of straight forks. Different strokes.

      The way I understand it, the owner's interest was purely in the bike's performance rather than historical/ collector's value. And as for the refinishing, perhaps he wanted to give Raleigh the rightful credit for that performance.

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  5. Wow Just Wow. Absolutely beautiful!

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  6. Front brake on the right...rear on the left... did that give you any trouble?

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    1. It's how I set up my own bikes, so no trouble at all : )

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    2. Not familiar with brifters. Can you shift the rear derailleur while braking? I need the ability to downshift (downtube shifter) with my right hand while braking the front wheel with my left as I'm coming to a stop.

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  7. He did a really nice job in both the refinishing and the refit. It has a slightly older look of capable seriousness to it; the red color does kind of lead the eye. ( I love how he left the brass showing in the outside fork crown lug windows)
    It's a bit like the colored leading edge on a silver 1950s fighter jet's swept-back wings.

    like this one here.

    How does he like those wheels? (And how do you like them?)

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  8. Very nice - sharp and elegant - the bare metal frame is beautiful with the red fork and head tube.

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  9. The bike looks photogenic but uncomfortable. How old is this guy? I watch hundreds of bicyclists pedal by each day and rarely find one in this aggressive position, even the racers. Is fit or nostalgia the objective of this project?

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    1. The rider is in his early 40s and I'd say the objectives were fit and performance. In the "before" picture (where the bike looks like a Bianchi) the saddle to bar drop and the stem length were pretty extreme. But the bicycle's current position is actually not very aggressive at all.

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    2. I consider aggressive to be below the saddle for anything in the highest position. What about you? The drops look especially deep which suggest this guy is flexible. Good. Would love to see photos of not just a bicycle but of riders on a bicycle. As I watch cyclists go by their position is always telling. Please, more photos of these projects with the person actually on the bike. Thanks.

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    3. I would love to show riders on bicycles to demonstrate fit. Unfortunately it just isn't always possible (or more accurately: often not possible). Folks are quite happy to have their bikes photographed, but start to feel more private and self conscious when it comes to themselves being the subjects.

      Saddle to bar drop is one thing that determines lean. But there are others - such as reach, which is quite reasonable here due to the short top tube and stem. On the hoods I was more upright on this bicycle than I am on my own roadbike. And the rider has a longer torso than me, so he'd be more upright still. True, the drops are pretty deep though, which should give him a more aggressive alternative.

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  10. The stem and bars look odd. What's up with that?

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    1. Do you mean the electric tape and the little headlight, or something else?

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  11. Re clearance for 28mm tire - This bike is from about 1990? It would have been built to be used mostly with flat rim handbuilt wheels rather than with aero system wheels. It was normal that spokes could and would break. When a racer broke a spoke he continued to race. No expectation that a team service vehicle would always be on the scene in two seconds flat. While modern wheels are stronger and more reliable they are generally heavier, quite expensive, perform at all only within narrow parameters. Old race bikes often make good all around rides simply because they anticipate the vicissitudes of the road. Many pure race bikes will accept 35mm tires, albeit without broken spoke clearance, and definitely not in the 21st century.Race bikes as limited and limiting machines that require a constant cocoon of support is a very modern notion, and a marketing notion.

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    1. It's 1994 I think, maybe 1993, which I had thought was already in the "modern notion" territory.

      For what it's worth, on the 1978 Francesco Moser I once had, 28mms were a very tight fit, and in the rear only possible without a rear brake (this was in a fixed gear iteration).

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    2. It was always possible to build with minimal clearance and there have always been those who think this is cool. I am presently riding a 1958 with 28mm tires. 32mm will go in, but not usefully. This is one of the reasons that I have a 58 year old bike frame that was never built up before I did.

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  12. rather brilliant recreation of somewhat vintage frame w/ modren kit,the colourway is smashing;in a really elegant fashion! what size is it,perhaps 54-5?

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    1. It's pretty small - 500x525mm or so.

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  13. Beyond recognition? Certainly looks like a Raleigh and an aggressively set up one to boot. Toe overlap also looks like an issue.

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    1. It's beyond recognition from the celeste Bianchi version. The pictures make the TCO look worse than it is.

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    2. Indeed, that's what happens when a bike is stripped, repainted, then rebuilt with different parts ;) And overlap is overlap, right?

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  14. I was fooled when I first viewed the photos. I figured he had done a silver paint job with the maroon accents, which I like very much. But, based on above comments, it appears he left the frame bare and then clear coated? I think it looks great. When I first started restoring bikes, I gave a couple of them nice new powder coating. Lately, however, I've been leaving them untouched. I have a silver Raleigh Competition whose paint is quite weathered. But I've learned to enjoy the beusage.

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  15. "no visible brush strokes or bulges"...a brush?! Really. The fork must have been sprayed?

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    1. all hand painted,20 years of practice

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    2. It might help explain matters to know he restores vintage aircraft : )

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  16. Hey Owen (via LB), I love it! Great work. I've recently re-imagined my Peugeot and she's a gem. I enjoy watching the front fork 'work' - i.e., shake, oscillate and wriggle on rough NZ roads, when my peers are being shook to the bone with stiff carbon set ups. Great bike, rad to see it in "ride me" mode.

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    1. There are carbon forks that are actually quite amazing at dampening road buzz and steel forks that make for bone shaking rides. I regret that you never tried my carbon forked roadbike while you were in NI; might have given you a different perspective.

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  17. GORGEOUS with the clear coat body and maroon front end. Wow! Well done that man, there must be a place in Heaven for those who put these Lovely Bicycles back on the road instead of leaving them to rot away in a shed. Lovely, lovely bicycle. :)

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  18. Rode a couple of steel bikes with overlap. I'm 5'6 1/2. Then they started paving the steep trails in our place and just so happened I was able to buy a frameset without overlap. I prefer riding the latter now.

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    1. None of my bikes have toe overlap, which is quite a feat to ensure as I ride small frames. Some people just don't care though Or claim they don't. Which is of course fine.

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