What We Ride: James’ ever-trusty Eddy Merckx Alu Sprint road bike
Me and Eddy are going back. Imagine the scene: a young student who knows nothing about road bikes is sitting in front of a desktop computer running a cracked version of Windows XP.
He opens Internet Explorer 6, marvels at how awesome PC computers are, and quickly kneels down in front of a picture of Bill Gates. He opens eBay. Wanted: road bike frame. And then…
This is where Eddy comes from, or my Eddy Merckx Alu Sprint frame to be precise.
At first I had no idea who Eddy Merckx was, but I liked the color. I liked the ITM Millennium carbon fork even more.
I came from a world of mountain bikes in which nothing was yet (anyway within my fiscal reach) carbon, but I knew carbon was special because it was expensive, and I knew it was better because more expensive things are better.
I then looked at Eddy Merckx and realized with joy that he was the greatest cyclist of all time, so I assumed it must be one of the greatest bikes of all time. I used a Bid Sniper to win. I know. Horrible behavior. 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 made myself a good deal. Negotiating is better than not negotiating, we all know that.
Next I needed parts, so I started with the most important part of any bike, the rear derailleur. I opted for the best: Shimano Dura-Ace 9-speed, uncaring, several years old and scratched.
It said Dura-Ace on it and that was all that mattered (that and the fact that it was £42). The front derailleur, conversely, could make one. No one reads this label. So Ultegra, £18.
Wheels. I had no idea about the wheels except that Mavic was considered really really good at mountain biking so I bought a Mavic Open Pro on a 105 hub mainly because it was black and kind of matched the wheel Campagnolo Omega Hardox which I had also had my eye on – not very considerate, the latter was intended for track riding and therefore had no braking surface.
Both come with tires, 18mm Continental Grand Prix (stock, 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.]
The rear tire was a 25mm Michelin something or other that perished and cracked enough to probably inflate to 27mm. But, above all, these tires were free. I hadn’t paid a penny! And tires are tires, whatever. You have that Dura-Ace rear derailleur, remember.
Bars and rod. These had to match! I kind of knew that deep in my soul, like Adam knew the sun would come up and Eve knew Adam would stitch her up one day and tell God it was all his fault, when she was frankly the only one to show some real nerve. Eat the apple!
And what should they correspond to? As any roadie knows, the handlebar and stem should match your fork! So I bought an ITM Millennium stem which was oddly for a 1 inch steerer with an “oversized” 31.8mm clamp, a combination now more obscure than cheese and pineapple sticks.
ITM bars followed – black, naturally, 26mm clamp diameter, quite unnatural. And now? I found a wedge.
Then an ITM Millennium seatpost. I pushed that motherfucker to the limit, you could almost read the whole phrase “do not insert below this line”. It was so short. But at that time, I was riding my saddle high enough that my knee was almost straight downhill. Straight legs = max power.
I got lucky with the saddle, buying an original Selle Italia Flite in leather, a saddle that is so good that they reissued it a few years ago, the 1990 Flite. That shape changed my bottom forever – in a good way – and that’s why I still choose Flites and SLRs if I can today.
Oh yes, brakes, shifters and cranks. OK, 105 brakes, that weird gray streak right after Shimano 600 became Ultegra. Cheap.
OK, shifters, 9-speed 105 to match the brakes, but with a left triple lever because I assumed it would only have one click redundant for use with my double crankset. Oh how we laugh now.
And of course, a double – we’re not on a bloody 1990s mountain bike – and we want big, because big is fast. Bring a five-arm Ultegra 6500 53/39 please. arm length? No idea, I don’t care, it’s not a thing. Pedalboard? This square cone please. Wait, what do you mean by Italian thread?
OK, Italian thread. Square cone please. Wait, what do you mean ISIS splined?
Three lower cases in I had cracked it, and it was another steal. FSA – which stands for Full Speed Ahead for more speed – and cheap too, because nobody makes Italian threaded bikes! I laugh all the way to the bank.
It was Eddie. And look now…
The trigger bike
Trigger’s broom is the broom that Trigger uses in Only fools and the horses that is so old that every part has been replaced. So is this even the original broom?
Well here at least Eddy’s heart remains, but otherwise everything has changed. Sold to the winds of eBay to be replaced with shinier, more mechanically functional parts.
Complete 105 group came first, then a slightly crushed and cracked but still usable group [do you have life insurance?–Ed.] pair of 3T carbon bars (even after I had a door and it scraped off a lot of lacquer), 3T stem and then that weird genetic seatpost that slides back and forth about 30mm, in case I have to do a time trial on this bike.
Next, the Dura-Ace 7900 series rolls off an old race bike. Their brake tracks really start to get very concave, which I can only see ending well, with the side pressure exerted by the tubeless tires and their boatload of sealant. Still, if it didn’t explode, don’t fix it, as they say.
A few years ago I rode Eddy too long between replacing the bottom brackets and the bearings loosened so much that the chainrings wore out in such a way that no chain could ever be held on again.
A big replacement chainring was oddly more expensive than a used Ultegra crank, so a new BB (again, so cheap the Italians!) and a used Ultegra crankset followed.
Then I rode so much the cranks tore in half half way up the Isle of Mull (they are made of two glued shells and the seam is gone, that’s a trick).
Luckily, we had just stopped in Tobermory when I noticed the strange rattle of slowly shearing metal, and there was a hardware store. So I bought all of his biggest zip ties, borrowed his pocket knife, and jostled the cranks enough to make it the 30km home. I rode it like that for a couple weeks afterwards actually, before finally digging up my old 105 crank arms and putting on the Ultegra chainrings, which look alike but don’t quite match.
I also fitted a Tailfin carbon rack a few years ago which is amazing for so many reasons – universal fit, super light and way too expensive to throw in the trash when mounting your pannier in a pole and the carbon saddlebag support cracks.
This was the best £9.99 I have ever spent – a carbon epoxy resin repair kit from Amazon. It’s messy but the fix worked and the Tailfin is moving forward. It’s been like this since the summer of 2020, and I load it up with lots of beer and wine at the supermarket store.
The saddle is a sample sent to Cyclist of Selle Italia which was designed never to be ridden, as the sticker says. I think the base is just a shitty plastic prototype so it’s white not black. But I’ve been riding this Novus for five years and everything seems to be going well. And again, carbon rails, because carbon stuff is better.
Kraftwerk, pubs and the inevitable end of all things
So what is this bike for? Well, as you might have guessed, I ride Eddy probably more than anything else, ever. I wouldn’t give it up for all the £10,000 bikes in the world.
We started with baggy shorts and sneakers and laughed loudly at lycra and shaved legs. We haven’t removed the visor from our mountain bike helmet for years.
We listened to Kraftwerk together on our first ride once built, the Tour de France while pedaling around Southampton Common. It’s never been stolen as I always use two quality padlocks and a saddle cable lock – honestly I’ve been heckled outside the pubs for being ‘lock boy’ so many times but look , we are still standing.
Thieves will always steal a bike with one lock rather than a bike with two. Plus, Blu Tack ball bearings, perfect for preventing thieves from gouging parts with naughty Allen keys.
And the ads! The number of hot summer evenings in flip flops and two deep beers, the horror of Tottenham returning to the Bow in torrential January rain, also in flip flops because at least they don’t take on water.
The day we finally accepted the mudguards, it was a good idea (front: Quick Guard, rear, because Quick Guard does not fit Tailfin quick release, SKS Raceblade). All the rides with my better half while she taught me the joys of slowing down and packing a thermos. But sad to say…
Sadly, though, Eddy isn’t long for this world, even though he looks like an ace in his new Arundel Gecko bar tape and as shiny as it gets, polished T-Cut frame (seriously, T -Cut…don’t do much as it will eventually strip the paint, but it really works on old metal frames and, whisper it, carbon too).
There is a crack in its bottom bracket shell through the weld, and it has grown steadily like the San Andreas fault. I’m keeping an eye on it but I’m afraid the game will soon be over. That and the incredible wear marks on the inside of the left chainstay and right chainstay, where I had ridden ill-advised 28mm tires for too long and clearly with the wheel set askew in a way or another.
But again, I’ve been thinking about all of this since about 2014. So who knows. There is still life in this old dog.
Photography: Mike Massaro