Awhile back I started putting down into words things I fear I’ll forget as time goes by with the idea of putting these writings on the website. This particular article is about working at Serotta and building the Coors Light Team bikes in the early 1990′s. At some point this will find a more permanent home on the site but for now we’ll give it a test ride here in the blog. Enough with the introduction -
The Coors Light years –
Serotta was the bike sponsor of the Coors Light Professional Cycling team in the early 1990’s and I was the truly lucky guy charged with building most all of the bikes that the team used. It was a large percentage of my yearly workload and kept me busy but it was rewarding knowing that these bikes were being raced and tested by some of the strongest and most accomplished racers on the pro circuit. I built almost all of the steel bikes the team used in the first 3 years that Serotta sponsored the team but in time we switched to supplying them with titanium bikes and at this point I was no longer the builder (they went through the general production shop as a ‘custom’) and I only worked on the designs.
I received much valuable feedback on the bikes and of course they were tested to the extreme. Over time most of the bikes changed some to better suit the riders preferences and to give the ride they were looking for. Different tube weights and diameters were often chosen and there were often subtle tweaks to the steering geometry from bike to bike.
I never tracked of how many Coors Light team bikes I made over those years but it was a BIG number. As odd as it seems to me now no one kept much track of anything. There was little thought about keeping notes for the sake of history – we were just too busy to dwell on stuff like that. I did keep a file for a few years that had the geometry and tubes used for every Team bike but I have no idea where it ended up. It just wasn’t important at the time I guess. It would be interesting to read those notes now.
Another thing we didn’t keep track of was the race results that the Team got using the Serottas we made for them. And of course this was pre-internet so we didn’t usually hear how the boys did until someone picked up a copy of USA Today or the next issue of Velonews was dropped on the break room table.
Most of the bikes I built for the team were pretty straightforward road race bikes. At first the geometry was short and steep and twitchy as was the fashion of the day but in time we tweaked things so the guys could spend all day on the bikes and still feel fresh. In fact they ended up being much like the ‘stock’ Serottas we built and shipped everyday. The tubes were often a bit lighter and some things were fussed over more but they were very much like regular bikes. There were a few exceptions. Davis Phinney went through a phase where he wanted his bikes fillet brazed and not lugged. He said they felt better to him and while I couldn’t see how they could ever feel different from one another, but who was I to tell Phinney that he couldn’t feel the difference? The other really notable exceptions were the bikes I made for Alexi Grewal. Alexi had hurt his back in a car accident as I recall and needed something special to make it possible to ride hard all day in a reasonable amount of comfort. When he came to the team he was riding a rather odd Clark-Kent bike that has a super steep seat tube angle to open up his hip joints and a super short rear end to help with weight distribution. I was asked to copy this bike and was sent a copy. It was a very interesting design with a curved seat tube with a special front derailleur braze-on to place it in the proper spot, super short chainstays (36.2 cm!) with the back of the bottom bracket shell cut out for tire clearance and a super long top tube. Because the geometry was so odd it needed a very long down tube and we didn’t have the tapered Colorado tubes in a long enough version so it got a straight tube from a tandem. It took forever to build one of these bikes. A regular team bike would take about 1½ days to build but each of Alexi’s took 3-4 days in total. They were a lot of work. In time the ‘standard’ Alexi bike gave way to the Softride Alexi and that was even more unusual and more work – but I really enjoyed each one as a challenge.
There was one thing that surprised me a bit at the time but now makes perfect sense and that was the braze-ons some of the riders asked for on their race bikes. One would think that there would be nothing extra at all on the bikes to keep things as light and simple as possible but many of the riders requested special or extra non-race braze-ons. I built some team bikes with pump pegs because the riders used the same bike for training as well as racing and they would often ride in the middle of nowhere alone and needed to be able to fix a flat to get home. I put a 3rd set of bottle bosses on a few bikes because the rider would want to do long unsupported training rides and needed to be able to carry enough water. This seems to be strongly out of fashion at this point and even the idea of a pump peg on a race bike is considered blasphemy. I say that if a racer like Davis Phinney wants a pump peg on his race bike he can have it.
One thing that I remember like it was yesterday was dealing with the team guys when I built their bikes. Some were very cool to deal with and others not so much. But it was my policy to call each of them in the early spring to talk about the coming years bikes and what changes they might want. I really wanted the guys to love the bikes I built for them and I put my heart into each one as if I was the one that would be racing the Tour on it. So we’d talk and use the words we all use like ‘stiffness’ and ‘compliance’ and ‘snap’ – and then make a plan for how I’d build the bikes. The one conversation that sticks with me to this day was with Ron Keifel. I called Ron and we shot the shit and then I started asking him if he wanted the bike stiffer or softer or if it should handle differently than the bikes of the past and he didn’t really have any answers. He was quiet and kind and kept telling me whatever I did would be fine. This was killing me, as I wanted it not to be fine but to be the best! He then said something like – “look Dave, as long as the bike is 59 x 57 with a 73° seat it will be fine………if I have good legs I’ll win and if I don’t. I won’t”. This was hard for me to believe but it was the sign of a true professional who knew where the responsibility of winning lay. I love a pragmatist.
I wondered what races were won on the bikes I built for the team and I did a bit of research and looking through old notes and came up with just a partial list –
Mike Engleman – winner of the Mount Evans hill climb 1991-1994
Alexi Grewal – 1st place Nevada City Classic 1993
Scott Moninger – 1st place Nevada City Classic 1994
Roy Knickman – 1st place Hotter N Hell Crit 1992, 1st place Hotter N Hell Road Race 1993
Roberto Gaggioli – 1st place International Cycling Classic
Davis Phinney – 1st place/ Gold medal US Nationals Road Race 1991, 1st place Fitchburg Longsjo Classic 1993
I know I’m short changing these guys as well as the others and that there were many more wins and places so the above is just a short sample.
It was a fantastic opportunity to work with The Coors Light Team and to play a very small part in their history and success. I learned much about what makes a bike a ‘real’ race bike by building for these professionals and consider myself fortunate to have been given the opportunity. I’m now ‘friends’ with many of the Coors Light Team members on Facebook and it’s very cool to see that so many are still involved with cycling in some way. I’m not what most would consider to be a sentimental guy but I wouldn’t mind having one of those old Team bikes to hang on the wall now, to remember that time and all the wonderful hard work of building all those Team bikes.
Thanks for reading.