AN OLDIE, BUT A GOODIE: 1991 ROAD BIKE REVAMP
Michael Stenning's beloved custom road bike has been with him since 1991 and though a cosseted low-mileage, sunny-day plaything, there’s a fierce bond between them.
He’s passed tractors at 37mph, philosophised with friends, on long, hot summer rides and being the perpetual fettler, occasionally pondered contemporary drivetrains and related mods. However, he’s too fond of the existing a la carte 80s, 90s and early naughties drivetrain and the frame’s era typical quirks.
I had wanted a lightweight road frameset with tight clearances but scope for full length mudguards, should I wish to run it as a winter trainer a few years down the line. After all, I was going to get my A levels, go to university, change the world, my name in lights, a garage cum workshop the size of ex-soviet Central Asia, and a Tomassini on my wall (Rosso red and chrome, naturally).
Being 17, I was on a tight budget, so an element of compromise was inevitable. A single bottle boss, rather than two, no chain or pump pips and a single colour enamel finish. I also wanted it dressed in European components. The latter were harvested slowly, while the frameset was on order- bought, begged, and traded.
531C (Competition) was a thinner wall version of the iconic tubeset, which saved a few grams and great for lighter riders (I was around 9st 11 back then). Given the thin gauge, repair and modification requires caution and silver solder. I was also surprised to learn that electroplating was permitted and that seat tubes were often 27.2 (Mine was 27.0 and experienced frame builders have politely declined to ream to 27.2) Thinner tubing also welcomes internal preserve to prevent moisture eating it from the inside out.
I was sat on jigs, measured, and confirmed the frame’s intended purpose. I paid a deposit and told turnaround time would be around 4-6 weeks. Colour was probably the trickiest decision There were a wealth of options. Poppy Red and British Racing Green made the shortlist. I wanted a classic, simple enamel that was attractive but hardwearing and easily touched up.
The latter won. Turnaround was longer than expected, due to the enameler and builder being away on holiday at mutually incompatible points. I also had the headset and bottom bracket installed before taking delivery, which is good practice on a new frameset.
It took a few weeks for components to emerge from my cobble 'n’ bodge fitted wardrobes but finally the day came. Now this compromise business meant some interesting deviations from my European script. The first build had a Primax needle roller bearing headset, FAG sealed bearing bottom bracket, Stronglight 80 52/42 crankset, NOS (1972) Campagnolo Gran Sport friction gear levers commanding Shimano 600 derailleurs. Eh???
Well, I had to use what I had, and these Shimano 600 came from a friend’s Carlton Kermesse. He also leant me a set of his wheels, to get on the road for a few weeks, while I waited for a Mavic MA2/Athena wheelset to arrive. Stopping was courtesy of a Campagnolo Athena brake set, contact points comprised of Cinelli bars & stem, a Selcoff seat post and a Rolls saddle. Initially I went for Campagnolo copy Gipiemme pedals, resin clips and leather straps. I rode it every day that summer, revelling in the responsive, exciting ride and handling.
October 1991 and my 18th birthday, the Shimano were replaced by 1982 Campagnolo Victory front and rear mechs, a Campagnolo C-Record aero bottle & cage. I finally went the Grey Look route that February, when I could afford them and a set of patent leather Diavolo shoes. I also invested in a wireless Vetta computer. By this point, I was thinking ahead to university, and a suitable winter trainer.
No way was I taking the Teenage Dream, or indeed my beloved Holdsworthy Claud Butler tourers. My Raleigh fixed gear conversion was the obvious choice. Fun, but not too expensive. The months passed, I secured a provisional place at university and passed my A levels, letting off steam first thing, every morning on the Teenage Dream.
During that window between exam postmortems, I noticed a large chunk of daylight where the Raleigh’s head and down tube met. Time to scrap. Thankfully, I was able to acquire a keenly priced Cro-moly winter/trainer frameset with a fluro finish and electroplated fork. I salvaged what I could from the Raleigh but went for a derailleur set-up - Simplex rear mech and retro friction shifter, single ring, Look pedals, Benotto bar wrap. Nice but too nice to ride.
I moved to London and came back to visit family during the holidays, riding the Teenage Dream during the warmer, drier visits. This theme remained unchanged for many years. I spent less time with family but would ride and wax it thoroughly, every few months. I had also drifted towards mountain bike racing at the time.
Major Refurb 2009
A chain of events- death, a dead loveless marriage prompted a move on my part, and I revisited the Teenage Dream’s spec. It was still in decent shape, but bar wrap, tyres and other finishing kit were looking a bit tired. Then of course, the lick and a promise enamel ... While pretty, it was egg-shell fragile-starting to flake in places. I got in touch with Trevor at Maldon Shot Blasting & Powder Coating, who gently blasted the frame, tidied up some braze that had run and gave it the deep green makeover you see here. Justin Burls gave the seat tube a quick chase but confirmed he would not ream it out by 0.2 milimetres, for fear of structural damage.
A one inch carbon fork (threadless steerer), Woodman Saturn Aheadset and Woodman stem, and Salsa Bell Lap Bars followed. The single pivot Athena brake set felt under-powered by modern standards, so substituted by Miche Performance dual pivots.
A budget model with electroplated fasteners but the right length.
Besides, a pad and cable upgrade brought them up a notch or two. Next came an Acor sealed bearing bottom bracket and Campagnolo Mirage crankset (53/39) and some Cinelli Mini Sub 8 Aero Extensions. Oh, and this Thompson post, which I had to machine down from 27.2 to 27.0.
I alternated between various incarnations of Look/Keo pattern pedals, before finally settling on some Time ATAC. Finally, the Vetta wireless computer was superseded by this Decathlon unit.
This major refurb brought a new lease of life and it continued to enjoy an easy life as a sunny days’ plaything.
Adding braze-on eyelets to race frames, so they could be marketed as trainers was a subtle but sneaky practice during the late 1980s and early 90s. However, getting full length guards to fit, let alone play nicely could be very tricky. These BBB BFD22 Slim Guards got around this, with some minor compromises coverage-wise, and fag-paper clearances - 25mm tyres is tops! I’d also gone from Lizard Skins DSP to some Widget Silicone Bar wrap.
Latest Tear Down
Having packed the bike away for seasonal storage, I noted the rear hub had a little play, and the wheels would benefit from a few minutes on the jig. Now, the first job was to remove the Regina freewheel.
This had been in situ for almost 30 years. Not the biggest hurdle, given its cosseted life. A liberal blast of PTFE infused maintenance spray at several points for a few days to free things a little before unleashing the Park freewheel remover. A forceful shove, some primal grunting and it spun free from the threads.
These were still in A1 condition thankfully, so I stripped the hubs. Opening them revealed little more than an oily gravy but enough to protect the bearings, axle, cones and races from pitting and corrosion. I blasted these clean using Muc-Off High Pressure Degreaser, then packed the hubs with stiff grease.
Same story up front. I outsourced truing to a local wheel builder before tackling some very minor stuff. I replaced the rear brake’s inner cable, ferrules.
Pulled the front cable through and treated the front to a few blasts of PTFE spray, then pulled the cable through a few millimetres.
Fresh bar tape followed, since the existing silicone wrap had faded like a slush puppy, over the course of five years. With the wheels returned, I fine-tuned the friction shift drivetrain.
I had contemplated going for a contemporary 10 speed setup, which would’ve brought shifting on par with braking but I’m not racing, and I’m also deeply attached to the Victory mechs, which quality aside, were an 18th birthday present from someone who is no longer around. Two chain links removed and the front mech rotated by a few millimetres. A little more tension at the lever end and the derailleurs perform faultlessly.
Summing up, this machine is quaint and arguably outclassed in sporting terms by modern frame tubing and groupsets. Purists will hate my deviation from period specific scripts and others will say I have more sentiment than sense. Nonetheless, it encapsulates the hopes and aspirations of my teenage years and more importantly, never fails to bring a massive grin to my face. The cynic knows the price of everything but the value of nothing ...
PUBLISHED MAY 2021