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What We Ride: James’s ever-loyal Eddy Merckx Alu Sprint road bike

James Spender
18 May 2022

Deputy editor James‘s first ever road bike ‘Eddy’ proves Trigger’s broom theorem

Me and Eddy go way back. Picture the scene: a young student who knows nothing about road bikes sits down at a desktop PC running a cracked version of Windows XP.

He opens Internet Explorer 6, marvels at just how awesome PC computers are, and quickly genuflects in front of a picture of Bill Gates. He opens eBay. Search: road bike frame. And then…

That was where Eddy came from, or my Eddy Merckx Alu Sprint frame to be precise.

To begin with I had no clue who Eddy Merckx was, but I liked the colour. I liked even more the ITM Millennium carbon fork.

I had come from a world of mountain bikes in which nothing was yet (within my fiscal reach anyway) carbon, but I knew carbon was special as it was expensive, and I knew it was better because more expensive things are better.

I then looked up Eddy Merckx, and happily realised he was the greatest cyclist of all time, and thus surmised this must be one of the greatest bikes of all time. I used a Bid Sniper to win it. I know. Awful behaviour. But I got the frame, fork and headset for £175.

I found a brand-new Alu Sprint for sale on a South African website for comparison and was happy when I converted the Rands to pounds. I had got myself a bargain. Bargain things are better than not bargain things, we all know that.

Building Eddy

Next I needed parts, so I started with the most important part of any bike, the rear derailleur. I went for the best: Shimano Dura-Ace 9-speed, little caring it was several years old and scratched up.

It said Dura-Ace on it and that was all that mattered (that and the fact it was £42). The front derailleur, conversely, could do one. No-one reads that label. So Ultegra, £18.

Wheels. I had no idea about wheels except that Mavic was considered really very good in MTB, so I bought a Mavic Open Pro on a 105 hub, mainly as it was black and sort of matched the Campagnolo Omega Hardox wheel I had also had my eye on – little caring the latter was for track riding so had no brake surface.

Both came with tyres, 18mm Continental Grand Prix (original, no numbers) with wire bead. The fit with the Omega wheel was so tight I broke teaspoons. [For the love of God, please don't fit tyres with teaspoons–Ed.]

Rear tyre was a 25mm Michelin something or other that was perished and cracked enough it probably inflated to 27mm. But, crucially, these tyres were free. I hadn’t paid a penny! And tyres are tyres, who cares. You have that Dura-Ace rear derailleur, remember.

Bars and stem. These needed to match! I somehow knew this deep in my soul like Adam knew the sun would rise and Eve knew Adam would stitch her up one day and tell God that it was all her fault, when frankly she was the only one that showed any real sass. Eat the apple!

And what should they match? As any roadie knows, bar and stem need to match your fork! So I sourced an ITM Millennium stem which was weirdly for a 1in steerer with an ‘oversized’ 31.8mm bar clamp, a combination now more obscure than cheese and pineapple sticks.

ITM bars followed – black, naturally, 26mm clamp diameter, wholly unnaturally. What now? I sourced a shim. 

Then an ITM Millennium seatpost. I pushed that fecker to very edge, you could almost read the entire ‘do not insert below this line’ sentence. It was so short. But then in those days, I was running my saddle high enough that my knee was all but straight on the downstroke. Straight legs = max power.

I lucked out with the saddle, buying a Selle Italia Flite original in leather, a saddle that is so good they reissued it a few years ago, the Flite 1990. That shape changed my bottom forever – in a good way – and it’s why I still choose Flites and SLRs if I can today.

Oh yes, brakes, shifters and cranks. OK, 105 brakes, that weird grey series just after Shimano 600 turned Ultegra. Cheap.

OK, shifters, 9-speed 105 to match the brakes, but with a triple left lever because I assumed it would just have one redundant click for use with my double chainset. Oh how we laugh now.

And of course, a double – we’re not on a bloody 1990s mountain bike – and we want huge, because big is fast. Bring on a five-arm Ultegra 6500 53/39 please. Arm length? No idea, don’t care, isn’t a thing. Bottom bracket? That square taper one please. Wait, what do you mean Italian thread?

OK, Italian thread. Square taper please. Wait, what do you mean ISIS splined?

Three bottom brackets in I’d cracked it, and it was another steal. FSA – which means Full Speed Ahead for added speed – and cheap too, because no-one makes Italian threaded bikes! I’m laughing all the way to the bank.

That was Eddy. And look now…

Trigger’s bike

Trigger’s broom is the broom Trigger uses in Only Fools and Horses that is so old every part has been replaced. So is it even the original broom?

Well here at least, Eddy’s heart remains, but elsewise, everything has changed. Sold to the winds of eBay to be replaced by shinier, more mechanically functional parts.

The full 105 groupset came first, then a slightly crushed and cracked but still serviceable [do you have life insurance?–Ed.] pair of 3T carbon bars (even after I got doored and it scraped off loads of laquer), 3T stem and then this weird Genetic seatpost that slides fore and aft by about 30mm, in case I need to do a time-trial on this bike.

Then Dura-Ace 7900-series wheels off an old race bike. Their brake tracks are really beginning to get very concave, which I can only see ending well, what with the sideways pressure tubeless tyres exert and their cargo of sealant. Still, if it ain’t exploded, don’t fix it, as they say.

A few years back I rode Eddy too long between replacing bottom brackets and the bearings got so loose that the chainrings wore in such a way that no chain could ever be held again.

A replacement big chainring was strangely more expensive than a second-hand Ultegra crank, so a new BB (again, so cheap the Italians!) and second-hand Ultegra crankset followed.

Then I rode that so much the crankarms tore in two halfway round the Isle of Mull (they are made from two bonded shells and the seam went, it’s a thing).

Luckily, we had just stopped in Tobermory when I noticed the odd clicking sound of metal slowly shearing, and lo there was an ironmongers. So I bought all his largest zip ties, borrowed his pocket knife and bodged the cranks enough to ride the 30km home. I rode it like this for a few weeks after actually, before finally digging out my old 105 crankarms and putting on the Ultegra chainrings, which look similar but turns out don’t quite match.

I also installed a Tailfin carbon rack a couple of years back, which is incredible for so many reasons – universal fit, superlight, and way too expensive to throw in the bin when you ride your pannier into a post and the pannier rack carbon stay cracks.

That was the best £9.99 I’ve ever spent – a carbon epoxy resin repair kit off Amazon. It’s messy but the repair worked and the Tailfin marches on. It’s been like this since summer 2020, and I load it up with a lot of beer and wine on the supermarket shop.

The saddle is a sample sent to Cyclist from Selle Italia that has been designed never to be ridden, as the sticker says. I think the base is just crappy prototype plastic, hence it being white, not black. But I’m five years in to riding this Novus and things seem fine. And again, carbon rails, as carbon things are better.

Kraftwerk, pubs, and the inevitable end of all things

So what is this bike for? Well, as you may have guessed, I ride Eddy probably more than anything else, ever. Not for all the £10k bikes in the world would I give him up.

We started in baggy shorts and trainers and laughed raucously at Lycra and shaved legs. We didn’t remove the peak on our mountain bike helmet for years.

We listened to Kraftwerk together on our first ride once built, Tour de France-pedalling around Southampton Common. He has never been stolen as I always use two quality locks and saddle cable lock – honestly I have been heckled outside pubs for being ‘lock boy’ so many times, but look, we’re still standing.

Thieves will always steal a bike with one lock over a bike with two. Also, ball bearings in Blu Tack, great to stop thieves nicking parts with naughty allen keys.

And the pubs! The number of warm summer evening rides in flipflops and two beers deep, the shear awfulness of riding back from Tottenham to Bow in a January rainstorm, also in flipflops as at least they don’t take on water.

The day we finally accepted mudguards were a good idea (front: Quick Guard, rear, as Quick Guard won’t fit with the Tailfin quick release, SKS Raceblade). All the rides with my better half as she taught me the joys of slowing down and packing a thermos. But sad to say…

Sadly, however, Eddy is not long for this world, even if he does look ace in his new Arundel Gecko bar tape and as shiny as I can get it, T-Cut polished frame (seriously, T-Cut… don’t do it a lot as it will ultimately strip paint, but it really works on old metal frames and, whisper it, carbon too).

There is a crack in his bottom bracket shell across the weld, and it has been steadily growing like the San Andreas fault. I keep an eye on it but I fear it might soon be game over. That and the incredible wear marks inside the left chainstay and right seatstay, where I’d ridden with ill-advised 28mm tyres for way too long and clearly with the wheel put in askew somehow. 

But then again, I’ve been thinking all this since around 2014. So who knows. There’s life in this old dog yet.

Photography: Mike Massaro

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