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Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

May 22, 2009

Every cyclist has heard the mantra ” It’s not about the bike” A recreational rider just looking to get out and ride will surely believe this, especially if a they can score a smooth ride for under $300 after going into sticker shock from seeing the prices on a modern day race bike. Any hardcore racer won’t believe it though. To them, the only thing that makes them worthy and competitive is dropping $3500+ for uber light bikes made of heat treated hydroformed aluminum, 6Al/4V  titanium, or 40k carbon weave with the all new BB30 bottom bracket system. What does all that mean anyways? Components, too have fallen victim to the same marketing glitter. I could shell out $600 for a perfectly functional Shimano 105 groupset, but no, I’m a hardcore racer, that stuff isn’t gonna make me faster. I need a $1900 top of the line Dura Ace groupset! Now we’re talking!

I don’t know how or when it happened exactly, but I took on a fascination with vintage lugged steel racing bikes.  Up until the early 90’s, lugged steel was the only way to go. The frames were handmade, high quality, resilient, tough, pretty, and yes, a bit heavy-at least compared to modern materials. I didn’t get into cycling until 2003. By this time, carbon fiber was the accepted material of choice among racers. Aluminum was still a popular choice too, due to it’s value, and arguably, greater durability. I didn’t even know what lugged steel was.

Then one day I purchased a cool Schwinn LeTour II for commuting around town and fell in love with it until it’s untimely disappearance from my front porch one summer day. Just for kicks, I took it on one of the local weekend rides in Austin, the ATC Dam Loop. I wasn’t able to hang with the big boys, but I held my own otherwise on a tiring 52 mile ride that day. The ride had inspired me to learn more about these old lugged frames and a new curiosity was born.

Well, I really missed that Schwinn after a few months, so I decided to start looking around for another bike to replace it. I came across this beauty. It was a nice ride, but too small and not quite vintage enough-and Japanese. I wanted some good classic, American steel to try out as a race bike.  Several failed bids on Treks and Schwinns and I came across a little known American brand named Ross on ebay. I put in a fair bid, and it stuck, so for $137.50+ $40 shipping, I had a new (used) frame!

It was my intent to keep my Trek Madone as a time trial bike and build the Ross with a more retro build, so I didn’t want to swap out parts. Instead I found some nice old parts on ebay and got a few more from East Side Pedal Pushers down the street to finish out the build. I had planned on downtube shifters, but the ones I bought didn’t fit the braze on bosses the frame came with, so in the end I did swap the ergo shifters and race wheels from the Trek onto the Ross. Here is the end result:




Well, the 22.05 lb build got its first test last night as I took it out to the Thursday Crit. First race up, the 3/4 Category. Settling into race pace was not an issue like it was with the Diamondback. Moving up in position wasn’t hard either.  A break started to pull away and I didn’t like what I saw, so the Ross and I single handedly bridged the gap. So far so good, except that effort left me a bit winded and at the back of pack. After recovering, it was time to move up for the sprint. Make the last turn, put the hammer down, and voila, 8th out of 65. Not too shabby for some old bones, especially considering I was racing against Cat 3’s.

Immediately after that was the 4/5 race. It was hard getting into race pace this time, only because I was still winded from the 3/4 race. After things settled down, I moved up to the front and did a little work before falling back to midpack. Come the last lap, I could sense everyone’s fatigue and unwillingness to go for it, so I went for it. I was in great position heading into the s curves and saw a chance on the inside line to take the lead, so I took it. My tires held through the turn ( the guy’s I just passed did not-he’s ok, don’t worry) and it was an easy sprint to the finish line from there. 1st of 75, even better for some old bones.

So please, if you will, take the moral of this story NOT as I kicked a lot of butt out there, but that I did it on a 1985 lugged steel frame that I maybe invested a total of $400 in (not including wheels and shifters, since I already had them) To a certain extent, your bike needs to be race worthy, but not to the extent of the lightest frame and most expensive components. Get a grip on reality (unless you are a Pro racer) and only buy what you need, not what you think you need. Steel is real, and it’ s going with me to the Texas State Criterium Championship in Fort Worth this memorial day weekend! You guys be safe, and have a fun weekend.


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