If you’re a regular RBR reader, you’ll recall my stories of finding and restoring a 1974 Masi Gran Criterium, a hand-built frameset widely considered among the holy grails of road bike collectibles. [Note: We’ve pulled those two columns out of the archives, added this one, and posted them here as a complete first-to-last set. Enjoy!]
Well, I’m pleased to report that, with lots of help from the friendly fraternity of vintage velonauts at Classic Rendezvous (keep reading), I finally rounded up the period-correct components to finish building this beauty.
If you want a closer look at the finished bike, visit this link, http://jimlangley.net/MasiGC1974restored72014SideView.jpg and click on the photo. It’ll zoom so large that you can see almost every detail. (Please ignore the rather ratty and cheap tires. They’re the only vintage sew-ups I had. Eventually, I will upgrade to modern vintage-look ones.)
You’ll also spot some rust and corrosion on the parts. They’re that way because I wanted to reuse as many of the original parts as possible. That seemed right to me. And, while they don’t look perfect, they do operate well.
Besides the enjoyment and satisfaction in finding, restoring and building a classic road bike like the Masi, there’s the thrill of riding it. For this, there are retro rides where classic 10-speed lovers bring out their original and lovingly restored steel rigs, dress in period cycling clothing and hit the road.
Maybe the most famous retro ride is L’Eroica in Italy http://en.eroica.it/, which has official rules for what you can and can’t ride. But, there are smaller and less official retro rides that are lots of fun, and much easier to attend, around the country. For example, my maiden voyage on the Masi was about a month ago on Cupertino Bike Shop’s vintage ride, http://www.cupertinobikeshop.com/.
The best way I know to find these chances to show off your old road bike with others on theirs, is to visit ClassicRendezvous, http://www.classicrendezvous.com, and join their free Google email group. Every now and then, a club or bicycle shop on that group will say they’re holding a retro ride. All you have to do is show up with your cool old bike and join the fun.
Tip: The CR Google group is also where I received so much help with the information and old parts to rebuild my Masi.
If you do this, you’ll meet some cyclists stuck in the past, but usually some that are just as passionate about modern road bikes. And a common subject of conversation is how far we’ve come over the years, or how bicycle technology has gone astray -- depending on your point of view.
I think it’s an obvious and interesting question whether these top bikes from the past compare with what we ride today. With that in mind, using my “new” Masi as the example, here’s what went through my mind while building it and riding it. Your comments and opinions are welcome.
Pros: Double-butted steel tubing with classic road geometry from one of the finest frame-builders ever means a high-performance, great-handling and silky-smooth ride. Additionally, while this was a racing bicycle, the era’s designs allowed clearance for many tire sizes so you could dial in the ride to your heart’s content -- unlike many of today’s carbon wonders -- especially carbon forks with their unicrown design.
Cons: Significantly heavier, not as stiff and not as compliant as some modern carbon bicycles. Even the best steels on these 1970s frames rusted, and the Masi was corroding badly before I saved it. Steel tubing also bends and dents in collisions. Carbon will not rust or corrode or bend or dent.
My call: I love the Masi’s ride. It’s not as effortless to get up to speed, doesn’t climb as well, and isn’t as fast as my modern Cervelos. But, for anything other than racing it works just fine, and, like a 1970s Ferrari, you’ll probably get a lot more attention on your retro rocket, which adds to the fun.
Tip: If this old 10-speed bug bites you, you’ll want to get a vintage-style wool jersey. I had mine made by Portland Cyclewear, because you can choose your style and lettering and their quality is great for the cost.
Pros: I grew up working on Campagnolo equipped bicycles, so it’s hard to be objective about this. To me, the Masi’s large-flange Campagnolo Nuovo Record hubs are gorgeous, and I know they’re super-high-quality, because the bearings are still in like-new shape 40 years later. The Stella spokes with little stars stamped in their heads and the Martano tubular rims add a bit more class.
Cons: Vintage Campy hubs had a weakness: the rear axle could break -- especially if you added spacers on the right side to accommodate a 6- or 7-speed freewheel. So, for our modern 9-/10-/11-speed drivetrains, we need hubs with stouter axles. Most newer hubs have sealed-cartridge bearings, too. These have the advantage of not harming the hub when run dirty the way the old Campy bearings could. And, as pretty as they were, Stella spokes were nowhere near as durable as the DT Swiss stainless-steel spokes that I choose to build with today.
My call: If you throw in carbon rims and aero profiles and tubeless clincher tire technology, I think we can agree that today’s wheels are significantly superior.
Pros: About the only one is that down tube shift levers are simpler and lighter than shifting brake levers and electronic shifting. Also, I would say that you were less likely to break shift cables with down tube levers and that bikes looked cleaner with less cable housing and batteries.
Cons: Slower shifting, harder to hit gears, greater effort to slow/stop and exposed brake cables get in the way of your hands.
My call: This is a slam dunk. While vintage braking and shifting won’t let you down, you’ll be disappointed going from new to old.
Pros: I said I loved the Campagnolo hubs on the Masi, and I feel the same about the crankset, which is among the most beautiful ever made. Ditto for the Campy pedals with ALE toe clips and straps. Look close and you’ll also see the Regina Oro (gold) chain and freewheel, which look especially nice in the sun.
Cons: Some Campagnolo crankarms had a fatal flaw in the casting that led to breaking. Quill pedals with clips and straps can’t compare with modern clipless pedals, which are much easier to enter/exit and boost your power a lot. As nice as they look, Regina Oro freewheels were notorious for failing under pressure. Today’s cassettes and freehubs are far superior.
My call: Today’s clipless pedal and cassette technologies are great improvements. I don’t, however, feel that modern cranksets -- even with hollow chainrings, compact gearing and oversize bottom brackets and new bearing standards -- have added much to what we had with classic cotterless cranksets.
Pros: Fine leather saddle and a super-strong Campagnolo Nuovo Record post that is simple to adjust and absolutely won’t let the seat slip or change angle.
Cons: Simple saddle shape and thin padding isn’t comfortable for all cyclists, and with its heavy construction and steel rails it’s on the heavy side.
My call: Modern saddles offer much more comfort for most riders. But modern seatposts could actually improve if designers would return to the past for inspiration. What we had then is better than what we have now, in my opinion.
Pros: Like the Masi’s Campy hubs and crankset, to me, its Cinelli stem and handlebars are among the most stylish ever made. The bars have a simple bend that fits most cyclists, and the stem has nearly invisible bolts and an ultra-fine finish. Back in the day, a Cinelli stem and bar were like the hood ornament on a Rolls Royce. Plus, all you had to do to raise/lower the bars was to loosen one bolt and move them up and down.
Cons: Compared to modern bicycles with their oversize head tubes, tapered fork steerers, larger-diameter stems and handlebars, often all made of super-stiff and light carbon, vintage aluminum components can’t compete on lightness or, more importantly, in a flex test. Which means that for climbing, sprinting, cornering hard and descending at high speed, modern components have a big performance edge.
My call: I love the performance of modern carbon bicycles and their oversize front ends, stems and bars. But I sometimes get numb hands holding my carbon bars; that never happens with aluminum ones. Also, I dislike the exposed bolts on modern stems and think it’s silly to have to use spacers to raise and lower your handlebars, too.
Summing up, while we’ve come a long way, and today’s road rockets can beat the pants off my Masi, I think bicycle designers would do well by copying some of what seems to have been forgotten.
Note: After writing this column, I found out that Speedplay CEO Richard Bryne has his own compelling Masi story: http://www.speedplay.com/speedplaylabs/masi/
Jim Langley has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He's the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check his "cycling aficionado" website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim's streak of consecutive cycling days has reached 7,595.