First off let me start by saying my home town and where I spent most of life is Milwaukee, that’s Algonquin for the “good land”. I now live in the Twin Cities of MSP but as a Sales Manager for a bicycle distributor I frequent the mother land and have some great customer retailers in the MKE metro.
As a kid growing up in the Lemond TDF era I was too young to fully appreciate the Cannibal for all his glory but I still knew he was the greatest cyclist ever. My first real notice of him was in his cameo appearance in a movie that I still love and watch today, American Flyers. Eddy was the official race starter in the Hell of the North stage race. The “Hell” was based on the major North American cycling race of the day, the Coors Classic and Red Zinger before then. The stage where Eddy fired the starting pistol was famous Morgul-Bismark course that I would later contest in the 1997 Jr National Cycling Championships, but that is different story.
I was working at Wares’ Cycle, a local Milwaukee bicycle store at the same time. In the days before bike shops had multiple locations and became big business for some retailers Wares’ was a big player and a 50 year institution. If you were going to work at a shop back then that was one of the cool places to be. At 16 years old I was engrossed in all things cycling. Merckx, DeRosa, Lemond, Colnago, Motta, Moser were all heroes of mine and or bikes I had to own. We sold some cool bikes at Wares but I loved visiting all the other local shops as well to see what other cool gear they had. My training days we often spent bike shop hopping. I’d ride down to the original Wheel & Sprocket in Hales Corners and then roll a few blocks down the road to the Pro Shop of all Pro Shops, Patio Bike. Today Patio still has some of the coolest and rarest NOS bikes and parts known to man. It’s like a museum of bike cool. I’d swing by Emery’s when Brent’s father was still the grand patron of the scene. Finally, there was a hole in the wall out of a house shop on Villard Ave called Wandering Wheels. It was owned by a guy that was referred to as “fat Don”. He sold only Pro bikes and specialized in hand built wheels. WW was an original bike studio. I went there a few times to drool over the frames on the wall and the kits in the case. Don was dealing high-end and clearly did not have time for a 16 year old kid with no money. If he sold it however it was for sure cool and something to be coveted. Eddy Merckx bikes were among his brands.
Later on down the road while still working at Wares’ I was becoming something in the Milwaukee cycling scene. I had a good crew of racer friends coming to the shop to purchase their machines from me. I sold a good buddy back then a frameset that did not work out so we exchanged that a beautiful Weinmann Team livery Eddy Merckx with SLX tubes. It was spectacular! Something I know I wanted to own someday.
Fast forward to modern day and the age of Facebook. Say what you want about Facebook but I love it. It’s repository of mostly useless shit, smartass comments, pics of food and people doing crazy things. I’m guilty of all that posting nonsense. For the cycling tifosi it’s a history center of old pics that you’d never seen but that you’re in. A way to reconnect with past bike Freds and relive the glory days when one might have been fast, was fit and had hair on their head but never on their legs. There are lots of vintage steel bikes, yes bikes used to be made from something other carbon fiber for all you younglings out there. Pages like Vintage Steel Bikes give us a glimpse into the past for those old relics we can’t imagine how they were ridden over the Alps or pavé. Steel is real as they say and still makes for a beautiful looking and riding bike, even one that is 25 years old.
A good friend, we’ll call him Nick because that’s his name works at a retailer I call on at a great bike shop just north of Milwaukee called BelgianWerkx. He posted on the old FB a photo gallery of an early ‘90s Eddy built with a period correct Campagnolo Chorus kit. It was a blast from the past and a beautiful machine. I’d asked if the owner wanted to sell it. My man said “no, it’s just in for some service”. I put a shot across the bow and said if he ever had another bike of the sort come in, in my size that I would be an interested buyer. Of course I never actually thought it would happen. At the same time I was having fun trying to collect a classic late gen Campagnolo Super Record, the type before it changed over the C-Record Delta era type. I’d already had some pieces in the collection for that project. My goal was to collect the rest parts over time and find a frame to mate them to. I was in no hurry. This was a long term project to be completed when the hair on my legs was more robust than on my head, still numerous years off if I have a say in that action.
It was only a few weeks later when my same good friend, Nick, posted another gallery of an Eddy. Before I could ask the same question to him as before he had already pinged me in bold letters, “IT’S YOUR SIZE AND HE WANTS TO SELL IT”. My heart began to race as if I just got the 1 lap to go bell. As you could imagine I was on the phone straight away trying to find out more details and if this could really be the ticket I wanted to have but all at once vs. having it come to pass over time and into my retirement. The story was this; the gentleman was moving to FL and did not want to load the moving truck with things he was not using. In fact he’d not used it in nearly 25 years. It had hung on the same garage hook so long that the gravitational pull of the earth had made the rims oval. Well, not really but you get picture. The bike was pretty worn, dulled, rusted and dry rotted from its extended dormancy. Imagine opening a barn in the middle of nowhere and finding a car covered in dust and dirt so thick you can’t tell what it is. You blow the muck off to find what you have is a ’72 Daytona in Verdi Green with 1500 miles on it that is 100% original from the day it left Marinello. This Merckx is the equivalent to that Ferrari.
After some conversation with the owner to get a bit more 411 on the specifics we struck a deal. I negotiated him a bit but in reality I was in no matter what he was asking. I bought it based on the pics and Nick’s comment’s of, “dude this is pretty clean, if you don’t buy it, I will”. It had good bones but needed lots of TLC. That was good enough for me and my main goal was to get him a check before he realized that he could have gotten twice what he was asking if he’d only put a hose to it and glued on some new tires. If he did not want to move it I was glad to provide a service to him so he did not have to. The only info he could recall about the bike was approximately when he bought it, where he got if from and that he’d only ridden it a few hundred miles before life took over and he hung it up never to used by him again. Like a thoroughbred horse bikes like this need to be ridden. If this bike could talk I’m sure it would have been screaming to the owner each time he passed by, “please take me down from this hook and take me for a ride along Lake Michigan. I promise to not get a flat or crash”. Luckily for me it stayed in hibernation waiting to be rescued.
Once I took delivery of the bike and did some serial # research I realized just what I had. I found this to be a 1985 Eddy Merckx Professional with Columbus SL tubing in the Faema Team livery. Along the way I have saved a few bits of cycling memorabilia, old Winning magazines and some clippings etc. While paging through one such Winning from the ’86 TDF (I saved it b/c Lemond won), low & behold I see a Gita ad for the very same frame that I now have. Total irony.
The bike needed a complete restoration to bring it back its full glory. After all this was the bike I had wanted nearly 30 years ago that I saw in Wandering Wheels and was supposed to be my dream project bike to collect over the next 20 years. I wanted it to be perfect. I went about the nut and bolt restoration with the meticulousness of an archeological dig of a complete t-rex. I burned through more Dremel tool brushes and polishing bits, semi-chrome and Q-tips than one would think possible cleaning every nook and cranny. I think in some cases the parts are cleaner than when they left Vicenza in ’85. The parts that were too far gone from rust were replaced with NOS of the exact part taken off. To say the least my eBay and PayPal account were lit up red hot buying hardware, toe clips, the brake cardboards, rims and more. Lucky I have some great connections locally who still have the Campagnolo small parts chest filled with all this useless stuff that only nerds like me walk in every 3-4y ask to see. We then buy a single bolt that you are holding like is 40 karat diamond. They can cost as must as well, but hey, where else are you going to get it right. Flander’s Bros is the place for that rare part. They, unlike Wares’ did not throw all that stuff in the garbage thinking who would ever want this crap. We had a rule back then; if we did not sell it in the last 10 years then we’re probably not going to sell it in the next 10. That was correct. Too bad we did not think that those parts could pay a current college tuition if we added “but in 30 years we’ll be rich”. For the parts I could not source locally or on the ‘Bay I had to dig deep in the favor cave. My good friends at Campagnolo NA were a great resource as were the crew at Contender Bicycles in SLC, UT. We were able to source NOS Benotto tape, Regina SL hollow pin chain, and the matching Silca pump body, not part of the bike originally but is incomplete without it. The Super Record chain rings show virtually now wear. These cranks were never revolved in anger. The chain never jumped the rail to impress its jagged edge on the jewel like finish of these strada crank arms. The paint is original. To respray this beauty would be repainting a masterpiece from Belgian artist René Magritte. The frame only needed to be well cleaned to show it the respect it deserves. The small paint chips and rust spots are part of this Cannibal’s history. The bike today is as it left the store other than the current gen Conti Sprinters that replaced the original but dry rotted Sprinters.
Here’s the final piece. People have asked why go to so much trouble to find the original white Campagnolo pump head rubber tips. Or why would you spend $50 on the blue cardboards on the brake barrels that were there only to hold them on and should have been removed upon brake installation. Or why the bearings had to be Campagnolo and the grease Campagnolo and the tools Campagnolo. It’s because the devil is in the details and it’s the little things that matter in perfection. I’ll never have to look at this masterpiece and say I wish I’d done that. It’s already done. Going back to the Daytona barn find, you’d never put a generic oil filter on that, you get the same one it left the floor with that was approved by Enzo himself. The Enzo in this story is “fat Don”. Turns out the seller of this fine bicycle purchased the bike new from Wandering Wheels in ’86, maybe even on one of those days I was in the shop. Don may not have had time for a punk kid but he did do nice work and had a reputation for doing it right. He’d have used only the proper tools and grease. The store that I’d gone into as kid to salivate over the euro machines and components, which I could never afford then, are now mine. The desire to own an Eddy Merck has finally become a reality. The journey has come full circle for this Milwaukee Merckx. It’s taken nearly 30 years for its wish to be exercised again in its full glory. It has been worth the wait and I can’t wait to ride it.
By Todd Schmidt – Photos By Marty Wood