Friday, October 7, 2011

My First Bicycle Build and the Bianchi Rekord 848

I have been riding bikes as far back as I can remember. They provided me with a sense of independence at an early age. When you're young, your bike is your primary transportation. I still remember the first time I rode to another township, which wasn't more than a mile or two out of the way. Somehow a different, unique name made the journey that much more of an accomplishment. Bicycles are awesome. I love their practicality. I love the fitness they provide. I love the hardware. These multipurpose machines represent such a harmonious coalescence of form meets function. And materials and colors are flat out cool. So I want to build one. That's all there is to it!

After a few years on a garage sale find, the 1990(?) Specialized Allez Epic (which is by no means a slouch of a bicycle), I have developed a desire for more. Of course I want a robust bicycle with great components. But more importantly, the aesthetic-junkie within me cries out for full control over the bike's color palette. Please forgive the superficial nature of the following comment, after analyzing the kind of money it takes to build a robust, higher-end performance bike, it might as well look amazing physically too!

Disclaimer


Something I should note for those reading, especially those who are seasoned riders, I am "new here". The purpose of these bicycle-focused writings is to give information to those who also may be entering the world of cycling, and who also possess the desire to build their own ride. I have not been riding for very long, nor do I possess an acute eye for the many ride characteristics of a bicycle that a seasoned vet would have. I am discovering things. Comments are quite welcome but realize I am not speaking from the demeanor that I am any expert! That being said, in the spirit of this blog, my writings are as much to help others learn, as they are a platform for my own learning. I am eager to gain all the knowledge I can on the subject of cycling and I very much appreciate others' input!

Finding a Project Bike


If I try to retrospectively trace this desire to build my own road bike back to its roots, I think it just like photography, my first exposure to serious bicycles coincided with my experience at the Cleveland Institute of Art. A few of my friends down in the Industrial Design lab were very interested in cycling and bike builds. Some had history with bikes while others were very new to the sport. One graduate student, I recall, was actually specifically emphasizing in bicycle design and was TIG welding his own designs. I remember hanging around the shop to watch him weld a few times. It's a glorious process. Physically constructing your own frames is probably the ultimate satisfaction in bicycle building but I am not quite to that level...yet. So I would here the "shop talk" on bikes and always thought it would be a great project. I can't say I really recall ever picking up on much though in terms of where to start with it all. One thing I do remember, and it is something which has not left me, is my love for the design and color of Bianchi bicycles.

Bianchi, named for it's founder Edoardo Bianchi, is the world's oldest bicycle manufacturer still in existence (Bianchi Wikipedia Page). Their bikes are often demarked with their signature "celeste" color, a bluish green. The color has changed over the years from model to model and sometimes possesses a pearlescent quality. For whatever reason, I just love the color, the look, the details, and overall design of these bicycles. Honestly, I have no further explanation than that.

So in my quest to build a bike, Bianchi was my starting place.

Enter the Bianchi Rekord 848


I did not make any of the images of the Bianchi Rekord myself since I begun to tear it down almost immediately after I bought it. These images are from the CL listing.

Strange how life works sometimes, but the day or two after I began looking for a bicycle project to begin with, this Bianchi appears on CL (Later I would discover the bike had been listed for a few weeks, just at a higher price. A rather telling fact.) Knowing next to nothing about bicycles save for some basic knowledge I picked up in my stunt bike days as a younger kid, I was consulting a friend of mine who had also more recently picked up cycling and been working on his own projects. I knew I wasn't looking for a newer modern bike, but also, I didn't want to end up with something so old, I couldn't exactly upgrade it to modern standards either. So I called my buddy about the Bianchi listing, told him I was looking for a bike to sort of "fix up", and asked his thoughts on the price.


He pointed out Columbus brand tubing to be pretty quality and the fact that since most of the components were Campagnolo, the bike was probably not low-end. He figured I should go for it. I took a glance at eBay, searching "Bianchi Rekord" to find that a couple bikes (which at the time appeared very similar) had sold a week earlier for a hefty price. So I contacted the seller and set up a time to come see the bike.








Immediately, I was taken with all the elaborate, extra detailing on this frame, such as the Bianchi logo on the fork, matching pump, etc.. The bike felt like a special opportunity. I loved how ornate the shift levers and quick release (QR) skewers were. The color.....oh the color! Signature celeste. This bike unfortunately showed its age in the many dings in the paint but definitely still possessed a gleaming beauty about it. I had the fever and couldn't help myself. I bought it. Little did I know what I had gotten myself into.

As I said earlier, my original goal with this project was to learn how to build a bike and come up with a product that was my own rather than something off-the-shelf. My bike. I wanted to pick an older bike up and swap out a few parts to fit a color scheme I had in my mind and leave it at that. Also, I was hoping to do so for a little bit of money. As soon as I bought this bike, that all pretty much went out the window.

Bianchi Rekord 848 Specifications



Size: 60cm (24") from center of bottom bracket to top of seat tube
Bottom Bracket: Ofmega (italian thread)
Crank: Bianchi labeled (Ofmega screws on the chainring, so perhaps made by them)
Front Derailleur: Campagnolo Gran Sport
Rear Derailleur: Campagnolo 980
Drop bars: 3T (TTT) Gran Prix
Stem: unknown
Head: Bianchi labeled
Brakes: Modolo Flash
Friction levers: Campagnolo

Frame: Columbus Tretubi (Top, seat, and down tube most likely Columbus SL)
Dropouts: Gipiemme
Rear spacing: 126mm
Seat: Italia Sprint (brown)
Seatpost: unknown

I talked with a local shop owner, Paul (Paul's Recycled Cycles) who has been in the industry for over two decades and knows his stuff. He believes this bike is probably pretty close to, if not completely, original (save for the shimano brake levers, which clearly do not match the group). The other components all appear to match the period. Sounds like this was probably on the lower end of Bianchi's line at the time though. Campagnolo components would have been the higher end and this model uses a lot of Ofmega. Also, the 980 derailleur was apparently not a popular design and was in production for less than a year. Columbus "Tretubi" (three - tubes) is essentially an economical means to use nice Columbus tubing, while keeping the price down. The seat tube, down tube, and top tube are Columbus tubing and the rest is something else.

First Lessons Learned


If you are looking to buy a bike and thinking an older "vintage" type bike off of the used market is a means to saving money, think again. You could score and find a great deal, it is always a possibility. But be aware you have just exposed yourself to a whole host of variables that are not present when purchasing from a reputable dealer. Not that that info should come as a shock to anyone who has bought used before. I'm not even talking about sleazy sellers. Because that too is always a risk on forums like CL. I'm talking about the details which may not be immediately observable, especially to an untrained eye.

Tinkerers

With so many models of bicycles, outfitted for so many markets, on top of the fact that bicycles are so simple to modify (so owners may add/replace parts), the chances of you finding an older bicycle, that has any semblance to that of its original, out-of-the-catalog state get slimmer by the day. The problem with this is that despite the fact that bicycles are fairly simple machines, the components function best as designed with their original group. But owners often change out components with something close to the original thinking one part will function just as the other as long as everything sounds OK, etc. These types of adjustments can sometimes lead to poor performance, premature wear, and component failure. Sometimes components are designed to work with others outside the group (Seasoned bike builders I have talked with all seem to agree these components are never as good as just buying the whole group). A newbie to the scene would likely be unaware of just what should be on the bike and may spend lots of money dealing with the fallout from previous owners mistakes. Even a seasoned builder might have to open up some of the components to verify the make (such as some older bottom brackets).

Changing Standards

Like with most goods that are manufactured, companies and industry attempt to standardize things. Bicycles are no different. And like cars, with so many manufacturers spread across so many nations, multiple standards exist. As a beginner looking into building, consider taking a look at bicycle standards. The late Sheldon Brown is the Ken Rockwell of the bicycle world. His old shop has kept up his webpage which consists of seemingly endless pages of practical information covering all aspects of bicycles. If you are looking to build a bike, you need to be familiar with these standards so that when you buy components, you are buying components that will work together with each other and the frame you have begun with. Rear hub/frame spacing, tires, seatpost size, headset size, bottom bracket threading, freewheel threading are just a few of the components that will be built to a standard and require a match to function correctly. You could wind up spending a fortune on eBay trying to find the right components that will work together.

The Result of My First Project


After buying the Rekord 848, I read quite a bit of material and became something of a pest at the local bike shops. I realized the 848 was not an ideal project bike. Namely because it was cost prohibitive. The modifications necessary to produce my ideal result were expensive, and even still I would wind up with a product not totally to my personal specifications. So the frame sits in pieces in my room. I was able to save a couple parts I really liked but for the most part, the frame will be moving on.

Understand, that to do a project like this, will cost money. Or cost a lot of patience (waiting for deals on auction sites). Or you must "know a guy" (who can get you parts for cheap). Because the older parts in nice condition are still fairly costly on eBay and used markets. And there are more parts to buy than you may initially think. So in order to build a bike, a good bike, you will spend the kind of money you might pay for a brand new road bike at the bike shop. But again, that shop bike won't be yours. Once you accept this fact, you are ready to build your bike.

Later that week, as I was perusing for components on eBay, the soon-to-be heart and soul of my first build revealed herself to me. My first build was underway and I was ready this time.

Seller image. Bianchi Trofeo '88.

Go big or go home.

Links/Resources

Bianchi Rekord 848 - A gentleman by the name of Randy operates an extensive blog detailing his bicycle finds. It seems he has LBA (Lens Buying Addiction) in bike form, so BBA? This particular post is on the Rekord 848.

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