One Last Ride on My 1998 Lemond Zurich

UPDATE, JUNE 2021: I sold my Lemond Zurtich a few weeks ago. And not to some collector — to a guy who wants it as his near-daily ride. I rebuilt it with a nearly full Ultegra 6800 group (the main exception is a set of FSA Team carbon cranks), including tubeless wheels and tires. He’s already had a few rides on it and is completely nuts about my old bike. So glad I found the right buyer!

After being my bike since 1999, my Lemond Zurich took its final ride with me this past weekend during the 2018 Tour de Mesa. It deserves a tribute.

Here’s a little story about it that epitomizes what that bike was all about.

Confident Handling, Smooth Riding

I was riding in the Taylor House Ride in Flagstaff. Sarah (my wife, for newer readers) and I were both on our Lemonds, and a third Lemond rider joined up with us. We had a nice little group going, but I noticed a nearby rider right from the start and I knew he was trouble. I don’t know if it was the socks pulled all the way up his ankles, the neon windbreaker or his 1970s pornstache, but that guy was full of bad vibes.

lemond zurich
My Zurich fresh back from the paint shop with a little Liberace sparkle.

Sure enough, we encountered him on the roughest patch of Route 66. It was a pot-holed mess, and this guy had no idea how to handle his bike. He was about 50 feet ahead and slightly to our left, and he was just all over the place. My sixth sense told me to back us off a little bit, so I signaled the group that we were gonna slow down.

Right then, Pornstache slammed his rear wheel so hard into the trailing edge of a pothole that his tube blew out explosively – as in so hard I could see vapor escape the tire. He tried to turn and head to the side of the road, failing to realize that’s a really bad idea with no pressure in your tire. As I knew it would, his rear wheel slid out from under him.

lemond zurich
Getting advice from my coach before the start of El Tour de Tucson.

And he was headed straight for me, sliding along the ground toward my front wheel. My first thought was that Sarah would get taken out if I crashed. So I had to get around him.

I took us to the right toward the space that Pornstache didn’t yet occupy. I refused to look at him, even when I could hear the spokes of my front wheel chopping at his windbreaker. I braced for the feeling of sliding along pot-holed, cheesegrater pavement.

But I never fell. Sarah and our third Lemond rider sailed right through. No problem.

I’d never been that scared on a bike before. I was riding to save not just my own skin, but Sarah’s.

Why I Retired my Lemond Zurich

I probably could’ve done this on any half-decent road bike. Probably. But my miles leading up to that gave me a ton of confidence in that bike. And that near-miss made it seem even more unflappable and capable. Really, I am that bike’s only limitation.

Well, that and time. Today, road bikes are a little different. They have cool mountain bike-inspired stuff like disc brakes, through-axles and frame clearance that allows bigger tires (which allow us to venture off the pavement – great for shortcuts and getting away from cars).

lemond zurich
My Lemond Zurich before repaint and reassembly.

My hope is to find a new home for the frame and fork, plus a few of the other bits. The drivetrain will go straight onto my new ride (AS PART OF THE UPDATE: One of my bike shop friends bought a new bike with Dura-Ace, which he immediately upgraded to electronic Dura-Ace. He sold the old stuff to me, and it went on my gravel bike. My Ultegra stuff went back to the Lemond).

I’m excited by the thought of riding a capable, modern bike that can do a little bit more than my 1999 Lemond Zurich. But it will always be a special bike to me. It was dependable, elegant and confident in its domain. I hope its next owner appreciates it as much as I did.

Just in case you’re wondering, my Lemond Zurich went out on a high. My time won’t compare well to the top finishers, but it was my fastest 60 miles ever. I’ll have a full race report of the 2018 Tour de Mesa soon – be sure to watch for it! LOOK, HERE IT IS!

How to Buy a Modern Steel Road Bike

steel road bike
Conan’s dad knew it – steel is what you can trust whether bike or sword.

This post is really outdated. The bikes here are no longer modern. This post has what you REALLY want.

Awhile ago, I let you in on the bike industry’s big secret: the secret of steel, that strong, relatively light, reliable, repairable, smooth-riding wonder material.

Fact is, you can’t find a steel road bike like my 1999 LeMond Zurich growing on trees. The odds of finding one used are ever out of your favor. So what is a steel-curious road bike owner to do? Let me share a few ideas for you. These are the steel road bikes I’d consider if someone swiped my LeMond and I had a bunch of insurance money to buy a new ride. (BEFORE I GO ANY FURTHER: None of the companies mentioned have in any way compensated me for mentioning them. I would genuinely put them on my list. They earned their way here by making products that caught my attention.)

Kona Roadhouse

steel road bike
My Zurich fresh back from the paint shop with a little Liberace sparkle.

The Roadhouse oozes class, even with its many modern accouterments – disc brakes, carbon fork, 1-â…›" headset. a mix of Shimano Ultegra and 105. Of course, the heart of this bike is Reynolds 853 steel tubing. That’s the same stuff as my LeMond. One question that remains is -- where is the frame made? I’m not saying it has to be US-made to be quality stuff. But I like to support American people doing skilled jobs. This is a question I have about many of the frames in this blog post. Still, you could do a lot worse for $2,400-ish.

Ritchey Road Logic

steel road bike
That is a classy custom steel road bike – for a reasonable price.

This is a beautiful, elegant lightsaber of a steel road bike. It’s made from Ritchey-branded tubes. If I’m reading the website correctly, the Road Logic comes with a Ritchey carbon fork for a very reasonable $1,050. The downside here is that it’s frameset only. That might be good for someone out there with a garage full of parts. The rest of us are gonna have a hard time not getting bent on the components.

Curtlo Custom Road

If you’ve been riding bikes awhile, you’ve probably heard a few whispers about Curtlo. It’s a small operation that somehow makes quality hand-made custom frames for a very reasonable price. My guess is Doug Curtiss found the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine, and just makes frames for nice people because he likes to -- and he doesn’t mind barely making money. Or perhaps he kidnapped a bunch of Santa’s elves, and has them wielding blow torches in a dimly lit basement somewhere, subsisting only on fruitcake and eggnog. The frame-only price is $990 for a frame with a single powdercoated color. I think it’s entirely feasible to get a made-to-order Curtlo Custom Road with a mid-level component group and a carbon fork for about $2,500. One custom item I’d be sure to add is pegs for a full-size frame pump.

steel road bike
A fine, classically influenced steel road bike.

Raleigh Record Ace

If you want to go full-on retrogrouch, the Raleigh Record Ace is your bike. Steel fork and Campagnolo parts – none of this Shimano or SRAM nonsense! (Disclosure – I’d happily ride a mid-level group from any of these companies -- Veloce, 105, Rival, whatever.) I have some quibbles with this bike, even at its $1,900 price point. They are: shitty hubs, a lower-end Reynolds 631 tubeset, iffy rims. The wheels are an easy problem to overcome. The tubeset is still decent – but you’re only a few bones away from a better one. And again, where is the frame made?

Breezer Venturi

A few weeks ago, this bike was making me drool with its Ultegra/105 mix and really, really ridiculous good looks. But I can no longer confirm that Breezer still makes the Venturi. It no longer appears on the Breezer website. You might be able to find a few on closeout, but that usually means limited sizes. I’m not sure of the tubing’s origins or where it’s being welded.

Greg LeMond Washoe

steel road bike
This Gunnar Roadie is absolutely stunning.

It’d be wrong not to mention the latest iteration of a LeMond steel road bike. That’s the Washoe, and it’s a US-built Reynolds frame with a top-end ENVE carbon fork. I have to say, though, that Greg might be putting a high value on having his name on the bike: A list price of $3,150 for a bike with a Shimano 105 group doesn’t sit that well with me – especially next to the artisan Curtlo frames. Honestly, there’s something a little off aesthetically, too. I won’t say it’s ugly … but it doesn’t make me drool.

Bianchi Vigorelli

I love the color many people know as Celeste Green. If you feel like fighting over whether it’s blue or green, go somewhere else. That’s not all that’s nice about the Vigorelli, though. $1,750 (Street price, not MSRP) for a mostly 105 group. I’d definitely ask some pointed questions again about where its Reynolds 631 tubes are welded. But I’d almost feel like a heel at that price.

Gunnar Roadie

Oh, these Gunnar Roadie frames are awfully nice: An off-the-shelf frame for $900, with another three-and-a-half Benjamins getting you a full-custom fit. True Temper OS frame tubing, US made. Not bad at all. I see one big downside: You’re on your own for components, or at the mercy of your local dealer. And honestly, it is never as economical to piece it all together. Still, I will not quibble with Gunnar quality, and its frame prices are very reasonable. I also do like the option of selecting my own color.

So What Steel Road Bike Would I Buy?

I love small companies. I like picking my own damn color. So unless the waiting list is 6 months or more, I’d go with the Curtlo. I’d ask him to mirror the Zurich’s measurements because it’s always been a nice fit for me. But – and pay attention, I say, pay attention here – I’d also want Doug’s input for my measurement. For all I know, I might think the LeMond fits me perfectly without it actually being true. Doug’s expert eye would likely notice what I really need versus what I think I need.

Do you have a favorite source for steel frames that working people can actually afford? Let me know if I missed it!

Your Bike Frame – What it Says About You

bike frame
Muddy aluminum – the frame material of choice for the Average Joe.

I amazed a new mountain biker a few weeks ago. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t my riding that did it. It was a bit of trivia I shared – that you can actually buy a mountain bike frame made out of bamboo.

It’s a shocker for many, especially newer riders who think the old flavors of bike frames are aluminum and carbon fiber. I’ve made a list of bike frame materials I know about, and what they say about the people who ride them. Pitch in with your own in the comments!

Aluminum – You’re everyman, a card-carrying member of Average Joe’s Gymnasium rolling into work with Dockers and a pale blue shirt. Sticking out, making a statement? Not for you. Keep it real, keep it cheap, keep it real cheap. Your aluminum bike frame is common and functional. You won’t feel guilty about replacing it when the bell tolls for it.

bike frame
Bamboo – it looks cool. But not as cool as the rider thinks he is!

Carbon Fiber – Just put a revolving door on your garage: You’re going to ditch your carbon fiber frame soon – probably as soon as your brand of choice releases a new version that’s 21.2 grams lighter. You’re all about going fast. You don’t ride: You only train and race. When you go wild at parties (the few you get invited to), you share a bottle of Michelob Ultra with five friends.

Steel – Your bike sleeps beside you on your ratty futon You boast about how long your frame can last, about how any welder can fix it, how smooth it rides. You’ll shed tears when the $300 custom paintjob on your latest handmade, fillet-brazed wonder gets scratched. But you never bat an eye as your car drops parts in its wake while rattling down the freeway.

Titanium – Custom steel is not exclusive enough for you. So you tracked down a bearded Ukrainian recluse who used to weld ICBM fins to whip up a titanium bike frame for you -- back in 1993. You’re still riding it, and it looks just as good as the day you bought it. Too bad it doesn’t have disc brake tabs or suspension-adjusted geometry.

Bamboo – Well, hello, Mr. Fancy Pants! You’re bicycling’s Bono, cruising smugly on your very pricey, sustainably grown bike frame. You’re saving the world while oh-so-gently scorning those who lack the bank account to save the world like you do. You just better hope a panda doesn’t start munching your frame while you’re inside the local coffeehouse sipping a shade-grown, fair-trade caramel latte made with non-GMO soymilk.

 

 

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