Steel bikes have a ride quality that is unlike carbon fibre, aluminium or titanium. Italian bikes seem to carry an aura unlike others, particularly when they exude flair and panache through the details of the lug work and refrain from the pings, tings, and clumping sounds you hear when riding frames produced in other materials.
De Rosa brand bikes always fascinated me in the way a supercar parked in the street does, surveying that loud painted eye-catching brashly geometric Lamborghini Murcielago, you can’t help but not look, kind of not wanting to be seen looking at it, but also wanting to drop straight into the cockpit and know what’s lurking under that gregarious skin. And thus when this used De Rosa Neo Primato Italian Dedacciai Steel 55cm road bike appeared on the second hand market, it immediately sparked a deep curiosity and found its way into the quiver.
Neo Primato Background
In 1975 Ugo De Rosa designed and fabricated the bicycle which none other than The Cannibal, Eddy Merckx, the Belgian professional road and track bicycle racer, would ride in the 1975 Tour de France leading the Italian Molteni road bicycle racing team.
The fact that Molteni were Italian salami manufacturers from near Milan had nothing to do with the moniker Eddy had earned as the monster or cannibal of the Peloton. He in fact acquired the nickname when a teammate’s daughter suggested it after being told by her father of how Merckx just would not let anyone else win. Eddy’s some 525 victories over an eighteen-year career, including a record eleven Grand Tours (five Tours de France, five Giros d’Italia, and a Tour d’Espagne), would surely justify the sharpness of his cleavers.
It was only after his retirement that he began his own bicycle enterprise, producing bikes under Eddy Merckx Cycles. I was even fortunate to meet the grand tours cyclist excelsior at the Bicycling Australia Show in 2006, during his short visit to Melbourne to help promote his range of bicycles as well as attending the headline Jayco Herald Sun Tour professional road stage-race.
And so it was, with Eddy’s blessing the 1975 De Rosa built bike in flamboyant Molteni Orange livery became an iconic two-wheeled steed that many would desire to own. In fact, at one point a new lucky owner procured one of Eddy’s actual 1975 De Rosa bikes ridden in the Tour de France when it found its way back onto the market, after being in the hands of former Belgian champion soccer team captain, Kresten Bjerre, to whom Eddy had gifted the bike for Bjerre’s own sporting prowess.
The renaissance of steel frame bikes in the early 2000s was a fun time in the bike industry. Carbon fibre had become the ultimate choice of material for high-end bikes and prices began to exceed the cost of purchasing a small hatchback car at the premium end. Aluminium, and its princess-cut diamond equivalent, Scandium, had held the mantle for a time, the light-weight and stiff tubing resulted in a super-responsive ride and agile handling at a low manufacturing cost.
Carbon fibre took innovation into a new direction as molds could be fashioned into almost any shape and tubing thickness, the technology driving frame weights into the 900 grams range and overall bike weights well below 6kg, a completely irrational thought when the steel frame and forks of old would number well towards 3kg on their own, and complete bikes weighing 10-12kg. With this, steel had faded into obscurity, and for a time you’d be mocked by the bunch if you were spinning away on an old lugged-frame Repco Sportif, Superlite or Olympic 12, unless it was built up as a fixie and you shunned the others with your insane cadence and bike-courier style nonchalance.
The Neo Primato Project
Thank goodness for commemorative endeavours then as bike brands revealed tastefully executed hallmarks to past achievements. To this example here then of the De Rosa Neo Primato 55cm Serial #QB492 bike, what’s it all about you say?
De Rosa in their wisdom launched an honorary look back to those heady days of the 1970s racing bicycles, revealing this modern interpretation of the original in the years of the 20-tens. “Neo Primato”, a New Record that means.
Revealing style and the subtlety of Italian Dedacciai Zero Uno tubing it was solely for those seeking to add a retro-steed to the ever-present [N+1] bike ownership algorithm, probably for those already at the [3+1] gateway, without the pain of five and six speed 11-16 straight block clusters and pre-SIS friction levers on the down-tube. It definitely didn’t appeal to the weight weenies, but it does appeal to those with an eye for the classic look, seeking the unmistakable silky smooth ride of steel and the simple elegance and beauty of curvaceous lugs and sultry clean thinly-tubed lines.
As a project build, I wanted to play fair justice to the Tour de France of 1975, when 11 out of 22 stages were over 200 kilometres long, with the longest at 260kms, so the build had to resemble dreams of days in the saddle without a ticking clock. Days when you simply start pedalling and aren’t so much thinking about when you’ll return, but just how far can you go until sundown?
But nowadays long days in the saddle aren’t constrained to the bitumen, with more and more riders leaving the black tar of Beach Road and heading out on all day missions to the ridges and undulations of Gippsland, the rail trails and gravel pathways of Warburton and the towering Californian Red Woods out Acheron Way.
The build had to support the demands of heavy usage, gear that lasts under constant load and spatters of dust, grime and why the hell not, even burnt coal if you can find it out there sputtering around Grantulla Road with the whistle of Puffing Billy echoing about the ether.
Wrapped with Vittoria Randonneur burly 28c tyres, they fit much more neatly on the new version of the Campagnolo Zonda WH17 wheels with their wider 22.5mm rims, accepting the 28c clincher tyres invitingly and rewarding you with increased performance, comfort and a much more efficient tyre/rim integration.
As a slight deviation from the discussion, for me, Campagnolo wheels have delighted me ever since I decided to splurge on my very first set of Zonda’s with the tall rounded 30mm profile. The ground-breaking G3 spoke pattern on the rear wheel had me in its clutches from the first sighting, they just oozed style and I never looked back, they’ve been a staple ever since, no matter the model.
Upholding the need for heavy demands and high performance, the carbon-fibre adorned Campagnolo Centaur 10-speed drivetrain was selected for its harder wearing ambitions, rather than uber-light record setting. The compact 175mm carbon Chorus crankset with 52/36 rings mated to 11-25 cassette for the taller rider is better suited to the more relaxed pace of the all day escape, or for the grind of the daily inner city commuter cup bragging rights on St Kilda Road.
When it comes to the cockpit, it’s hard to look beyond Deda Elementi components. Like my personal affinity with Campag wheels, when I first saw Deda bars and stems, there didn’t seem like there would ever be a reason to consider any other. I could say here that sometimes though it pays to try something else, just to test your intuition and maybe understand that there are other components that serve you better, or that reinforce your gut feelings from the first time around. Yes, there’s been Ritchie WCS, Easton, Syncros, Specialized and others that have graced the palms resting upon them, but they’ll never be Deda to me. And Deda couldn’t say it better actually “If you got here, it means you know what you are looking for…Deda Elementi is a point of view… a state of mind”. Founded in 1998 by brothers Luca and Stefano, they’re known for more than being the innovators of the now industry standard 31.8mm diameter handlebar, but let’s save that for another project off-topic talking point…
Deda Zero 100 handlebar and stem it is, there, I got it out at last. Which tape wraps the bars you ask? Yes, that’s right Deda Elementi bar tape too!
For durability a simple alloy seatpost connects the paltry 180 gram weighted Selle Italia SLR XP saddle, slimly finishing off the sleek lines of this rather stylish Italian bicycle.
And to the heart of the matter, or perhaps the soul, the frame itself. This frame has all the character of a well-lived in face, the crows feet, the blemishes, the crinkles, wrinkles and grooves that tell a thousand stories that you wouldn’t know before you know, but you know well already from the joys of a life well lived. A 55cm size, the Ugo De Rosa designed frame Dedacciai Zero Uno steel bars weigh in at a combined 1700 grams, accompanied by a carbon fork in the vicinity of 400 grams. It professes these technical and geometry specifications to round out the data table:
Geometry and Technical Specifications
Seat-tube: 55cm (measured centre-centre)
Top-tube: 55cm (measured centre-centre)
Chainstay: 40.7cm (measured centre-centre)
Seat-tube angle: 73.5 degrees
Headset: 1-inch threadless
Bottom Bracket: Italian thread
Seatpost diameter: 27.2mm
Make it Yours?
|Frame||55cm Dedacciai Zero Uno Steel Lugged Frame Serial #QB492|
|Fork||Carbon Fibre Fork 1″ Steerer|
|Shifter/Levers||Campagnolo Centaur Carbon 10spd QS|
|Brake Calipers||Campagnolo Centaur Alloy|
|Bar / Stem||Deda Elementi Zero 100|
|Bar Tape||Deda Elementi|
|Headset||Chris King No Threadset Headset|
|Crankset||Campagnolo Chorus Carbon 11spd Compact Crankset 175mm 52/36|
|Rear Derailleur||Campagnolo Centaur Carbon 10spd Rear Derailleur|
|Front Derailleur||Campagnolo Veloce Front Derailleur|
|Wheelset||Campagnolo Zonda WH17 700c Quick Release Wheelset|
|Tyres||Vittoria Randonneur 700x28c Tyres|
|Seatpost||Concept CEX Alloy Seatpost 27.2mm x 350mm|
|Saddle||Selle Italia SLR XP 180grm Saddle C|
|Pedals||Shimano SPD SL|
With Sorrento Hotel situated at the typical turn-around point of the 180kms return route from St Kilda, what better place to capture the essence of this re-born De Rosa Neo Primato, than before this splendid white limestone building standing proudly atop the hill overlooking the glorious ever-changing colours of Port Phillip Bay, quietly brashly creating its own stories in the Italian quartiere of the Mornington Peninsula. The first commercial business in Sorrento, since 1872, the hotel echoing my first encounter with a famed De Rosa!
And if you’re still left wanting for inspiration, this is a great short clip of The Cannibal’s best moments.
Thanks for visiting.