Here’s how you make a racing bicycle on a mum-funded student-athlete kinda budget. If you’re here reading this because you’ve been thinking of getting into it, I must tell you that you do not need big money to get started with the sport. You really don’t.

Sometimes older racing bikes turn out fantastic. I have a friend who rides a 1980 Panasonic 10-speed race bike. AU$25. That’s twenty-five bucks. If you’re just getting started, don’t waste time and money on a fancy bike. You can use that time to start training.

I initially did wonder if the small frame would slow me down, my own frame is 6 feet + an inch. This definitely was a rushed buy, because I was SO EXCITED by the idea!

Then, I remind myself why I really needed a bike to ride, and that soon. Couple that with a ‘mum-funded student-athlete budget’, and you get a great bike for (relatively) little cash. Here’s how this was put together.

This one has been mine for a couple months now, and although the bike is small for me, it works for now.

Here are the visuals, before I introduce you.

As you will find out over the next few articles, my life spins around a bicycle wheel. I didn’t notice it happening, but it did. It’s become my primary mode of transport, and it is my sport.
Let’s go back 3 months. Now at this time of my life, I’m fully into rowing. I’m two weeks out from the biggest regatta of my life, and also the hardest. I’m 14 days out from a regatta for which I trained for 6 years, and over all those years, I had taken a month off at most, maybe. (Without that, my growing mind/body would never have been able to cope with the intensity and sheer volume of training. I would’ve burned out early, and that would have been a shame. Burnout is as much mental as it is, physical.) Okay so we’re 2 weeks out now and I’m cutting it close, leaving home for training on a busy Friday morning, and I’m riding my steel single-speeder. I’m easing up the last hill on the 3km ride to the rowing centre, I’m off the saddle, and as I shift my bodyweight onto the bars, I skid to a stop and my rear wheel’s up in the air and I’m coming down onto my (very fortunately) open palms and one leg, braced for impact and all. So now I’m lying face down in the middle of the road wondering why my rear wheel flew up like that.

Apparently, my fork-end had snapped off, jamming the front wheel nicely.

“Yeah machan, I’m okay. Nothing’s broken. Thanks for stopping.”

I got to training, sure, but what I realised was that that could easily have been a fatal accident. I’m trying to find an analogy for brass-necked stupidity, but I can’t. I didn’t offer up much dough to buy the frame, but I nearly paid in blood later. I had put in well over 3500km into a cheap steel fork, but money’s cheaper than my health, I figured.

If you haven’t got big money to spend on a bicycle, the quality and strength of the bike – which ultimately translates to safety – will be undermined. If you’re not careful. My mistakes were a bike too small to support my 85 kilos, and a fork with an improperly cared-for finish. Bad paint slowly eats away at the metal, weakening it over time without your noticing. So watch out.

Moving on,

The frame: Longoni Maxime 2001, manufactured in Italy using 7003 HT aluminium tubing. This article, from 2002 is the only reference to this frame on the internet, and did help me prove its authenticity. 19 years have treated it well, and it has no visible damage, under the badly aged paint. I got rid of that soon. Centre-to-top seat tube measurement is 57cm. This one’s a carbon fork. 😉

The bike I ride, in its original form
The factory form of the frame/bike . The article is in Italian.

All the other bits:

  • Factory carbon fork (labeled Mavic??) through a Cane Creek headset
  • Campagnolo Delta (1995) V-profile clinchers wearing Kenda Koncept rubber
  • Ritchey PRO ergo-bend 44cm handlebar under my favourite handlebar tape
  • Campagnolo Centaur 10s ergo-shifters with carbon levers
  • Shimano Ultegra 53-39 chainrings
  • Miche PRIMATO 10s cassette
  • Campagnolo Centaur front dérailleur
  • Shimano Ultegra 10s rear dérailleur
  • Campagnolo Record dual-pivot brakes
  • Cinelli Groove 120mm stem
  • Selle Italia Flow saddle
  • aaaaand Shimano R540 pedals

The ergo-bend bars are very comfortable, and the reassurance of well-defined grips that won’t get uncomfortable fast, is very nice on the longer rides.
10-speed works.
The Campagnolo shifters pair up without an issue with the Ultegra shifter and the MICHE cassette. (More on how that works out, later)

The bike isn’t everything though. It matters, but it isn’t everything.

She weighs in at around 8.5kg, which is okay. The wheels make for the most outdated parts, weighing 3.2kg !!! with cassette, tyres and tubes. (Naturally, I’m eyeing a new set: DT SWISS Tricon 1550s). When that becomes reality, I’ll do a comparison, and we’ll be able to see just how much of an impact it has on an amateur cyclist. Pro’s need every gram, sure, but is the amateur’s money better-spent on other things like nutrition and a bike fit?

6 months ago, all that was available to me was my steel single-speeder, and if I remember right, it ran a 16-44 gearing. It weighed well over 10 kilos but I was too scared to ever weigh it. The less I know the better. 😉😉

This is she. I had some writing on the top tube which read: ‘How bad do you want it?’.

My point is, more often than not, the beliefs we have about our limitations are self-imposed. You know the ones I’m talking about. When that inevitably does happen, I ask myself an easy question, the answer being one which I cannot run away from. I ask myself, that if the humble cyclists I see training to win the National Time Trial Champs, or the ones who really can’t afford much more than a simple steel single speeder, can do that much on them, why can’t I? It’s an easy way out for me to make an excuse on account of ‘bike not good enough’ but it’s, without a doubt more satisfying when you’ve outdone someone with the shiny bike, with nothing more than a steel single speeder.

Cyclists on standard roadster-style steel single speed bikes.
These ones.

Of course, I was given the opportunity, and I didn’t want to miss it, and say ‘oh I can manage with any crappy bike so I’m good no thanks’. That naturally led to this.

Do you know what it is about this bike that puts me at ease when out riding? The photos don’t show you the Merida hand-pump attached to the bottle-cage mount, on the bottom tube. This is the closest in design, to the one I use currently, which is a 2011-made Merida aluminium-bodied hand pump. (The first thing I did was take it apart and use some silicon rubber grease on the 9-year old rubber seals. I picked it up NOS but rubber doesn’t age well.)

Hand-held air pump
MERIDA 2-stage High-volume/High-pressure hand pump

A puncture-repair kit is essential, if you ride long distances.

I haven’t yet had to use it, but I know that if I have a puncture mid-way through a 200km ride – which is ONE HUNDRED KILOMETRES away from home!! – I definitely want to be able to make it back the same way I went.

What’s in the saddle pack?

Keep an eye out for an article soon, I will explore and explain to you, the contents of my saddle pack. It’s only the bare essentials, and a few lifesavers, but when it counts, it really will count. I don’t carry much else. Comments section is at the bottom: share with me, what you think is an essential part of your emergency kit. If you were restricted to taking the bare minimum on a 100+km ride, what wouldn’t you go without?

I almost forgot to mention the fit. The bike fit.

When I did that 605km ride, I had heard of professional bike fits. Only that much though. I didn’t realise that a few centimetres here and a few centimetres there could make such a big difference to the way I ride a bike, and how I feel, doing that. Well, I was speaking to Yasas Hewage about this: he runs the Retül USA-certified bike fit lab at his cycling cafe: Spinner, and is the man behind the ultra-endurance events I’ve mentioned. I didn’t realise at that point, and it went right over my head, the first time he mentioned it to me. And then I did some reading. And some Google searches. The mistakes I was making, slowly became very obvious. I’m so thankful he didn’t mention these mistakes to me when I didn’t need to hear them. The less I know, the better (in THE moment). The bike fit itself, and its relevance to the amateur cyclist, is a whole other writeup, and one which I will send your way in the near future. But, point is, how your measurements size up with the measurements of your bike are very relevant and critical for 3 things: injury prevention, performance and comfort.

The bike was fitted with parts purchased through this gentleman living in Rajagiriya, who everyone calls ‘Hinni’. Linked here is his Facebook page. He’s been importing racing bicycles to Sri Lanka for much longer than I was born, and is a great guy to go to, if it’s bicycles.

Do leave a reply to my question on what items(s) you can’t do without, in your saddle-pack, and I will respond soon. E-mail me about topics you want to hear more about, and subscribe!

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