Phil Anderson’s 1991 Motorola team-issue Merckx
We revisit the ‘Retro Review’ series with this online version of Andy White’s write up about Phil Anderson’s bike from the 1991 season when he raced with the US-registered Motorola team.
It’s over 20 years old but for some fans there is no finer bike than the Motorola team edition of 1991 that Phil Anderson used in the twilight years of an amazing racing career.
– By Andy White
(Originally published in #RIDE48, April 2010)
Phil Anderson’s racing years covered a period of great change for the bicycle. Recently I had the privilege to ride with him and challenge his memory not only on a remarkable career but one that spanned an era of huge technological advances.
Integrated brake and gear shifting was introduced during his time as a professional and he played a role in the development of these systems.
Other innovations included a wider range of gear ratios with the freehub design, advanced frame composites such as aluminium and carbon-fibre, clipless pedals, the use of protective head and eye wear, garment innovations, race radios and components that were not only lighter but stronger and stiffer.
Let’s go back to 1991.
Phil Anderson won the 10th stage of the Tour de France, from Rennes to Quimper, during his 10th appearance in the race, outsprinting names to be long forgotten with the peloton a mere six seconds in arrears.
Australian cycling fans watched in awe as, thousands of miles away, a compatriot crossed the line in first place. A delayed snippet of the stage highlight on the scratchy reception of SBS was all we could relish of Anderson’s victory.
The iconic Merckx bike in bold red, blue and white was equally etched into my mind. No longer did I wish for an Apollo Kosciusko. To me, it became the Ultimate Bike, and the poster of Phil and the Merckx was blu-tacked to bedroom doors next to pin-ups of Elle Macpherson back then.
Now it may be an overweight and clunky classic but no less cool in the minds of us ‘kids’ who were inspired by the greatness of that single event.
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Phil Anderson surveys a replica of his bike from 1991. Dan Hale, in the background, watches on as the former rider admires a beautiful piece of cycling equipment.
When Anderson became the first non-European to wear the yellow jersey in 1981, his Peugeot bicycle was far more primitive than the bike he used in 1991. The French brand’s sophistication ended with milled groupset components to save weight.
His Peugeot had down tube friction shifters, non-aero brake levers, and pedals with clips and straps. A 42-tooth was the smallest chainring a rider could select; a six-speed block at the rear might include a 21-tooth cog to be used “only in situations of emotional and physical catastrophe”.
Compared to the Merckx from 10 years later, the Peugeot was “a horse and carriage,” remarked Anderson.
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Phil Anderson’s Motorola Team bike Merckx Columbus MAX with Shimano Dura-Ace, 1991.
Photos: Andy White
Anderson was a pivotal development rider – alongside Jesper Skibby and Andy Hampsten – for Shimano’s bold move to integrate the brake lever and shifter.
“I was riding for the TVM team when I first saw a clay mould of the STI lever,” he explained. “The design had cables routed out the top of the hood then, later, to the side. The alloy lever blades were really soft, but the shifters worked well instantly.”
The bulky levers were unbranded. He used them in training and was pleased with how they functioned, but he was eager to test them in a race.
“I needed permission from the bigwigs in Japan. Shimano engineers were in the team car just in case, and I had a spare bike on the roof with the old set-up.
“There was a lot of laughs from other riders who thought they were a joke.
“It was the Tour of Ireland where there are short steep pinches similar to those in Belgium. On the first big hill, I bolted.
“With down tube shifters you had to be seated to change gears, but I could change while out of the saddle.”
Riders watched in disbelief as Anderson sailed up the climb and onward to victory.
“They weren’t laughing any more.”
No longer would a rider need to move their hands from the bars, fumble with the shifter, and switch glances from the road ahead to the rear cogs to change gear. This new-style shifting was the future.
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Anderson was one of the pioneers of STI use… he was the original test rider for Shimano Integrated Shifting.
Like with many innovations, success brings credibility. Anderson gave that to Shimano STI on many occasions. If they performed well under race duress, why weren’t they immediately adopted by others?
“Cycling is resistant to change to the point of superstition,” is Phil’s take.
Slowly, more riders adopted the STI levers.
Climbers and GC heavyweights like Andy Hampsten and later Lance Armstrong opted for one of each style to save weight – an STI lever on the right for the rear derailleur and a down tube shifter for the front changes.
Yet some, like Sean Yates, rode down tube shifters to the end of their careers. “Probably because Sean was stubborn. He was superstitious too,” said Anderson, recalling Yates’ magical undershirt.
“He lived about 30km away from me in France. I went to his home to collect him on the way to a race and he was wearing this awful shirt which, according to him, was lucky and he always won races when he wore it. Years later he still had it and there were so many holes you couldn’t tell which hole was for what.”
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Scroll down the page for more galleries.
The SIS freehub on Anderson’s 1991 Merckx allowed for eight cogs. This gave greater flexibility to the range without sacrificing close-ratio gearing.
The forged and beautifully anodised crankset was a lighter and more refined rival to Campagnolo’s C-Record design. The 130BCD allowed for a smaller chainring (39), and the larger one was milled to an elegant shape to reduce weight.
Shimano continued to refine the STI system and lever through a series of five editions before releasing it onto the market at the end of 1990.
Two years later Campagnolo finally released its answer to Shimano with Ergopower levers.
To compare the effect this technology had on racing, watch Anderson bounce his body up the muddy and cobbled final climb in the 1985 Ronde van Vlaanderen riding a 42/21.
These days riders can fly up, shifting out of the saddle with more grace using 39/25 or even smaller ratios.
(Note: this article was originally published in 2010. ‘Compact’ gearing has since further revolutionised the ratios used by recreational and professional riders alike.)
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Eight indexed cogs with shifting controlled from the handlebar..! With the advent of STI, Shimano was a force to be reckoned with in component manufacture and although the original test pilot was mocked when he first appeared at a race with the system, other riders would soon follow his example.
The 7403 Dura-Ace derailleur: sealed bearings for smoother and longer function, ceramic pulleys, and cable adjustment by means of a barrel. Almost 20 years later it still looks sensational!
In 1987 Columbus introduced a radical tubeset using patented Nivacrom steel, elliptical in profile for increased frame stiffness. It extended to the lugs including a specific bottom bracket shell, with beefy chainstays and similarly solid fork blades.
A Columbus MAX tube set weighed 1,900g and the lugs added another 340g (not including fork).
Anderson’s first taste of MAX was riding for Dutch team TVM on a Zullo frame. When he changed to Motorola in 1990 he again opted for the MAX over the standard Corsa Extra which used Columbus SLX.
“I like a stiff bike.
“We had some lighter bikes made up for the Tour, but they were too soft for me.”
Anderson’s bikes were also changing in size. “When I started racing I rode a 23-inch bike (59cm). We all rode bigger bikes back then.
“By the end of my career I was on a 57cm. Now I ride a ‘large’ Malvern Star Oppy,” he adds with a wink.
(Note: Anderson was an ambassador for the revival of the Australian brand in 2010.)
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Anderson’s Motorola team bikes would be custom-fit based on his measurements and consultation with Merckx. The days of a professional’s bike being tailored to the rider are a thing of the past.
The first Merckx MAX bikes used the complete tubeset.
Unhappy with the crude lugs and durability issues with the fork crown, the Belgian cast his own lugs to suit and replaced the top tube with a Columbus EL tube.
The MAX frames remained popular and were ridden by professionals as late as 1998 when lightweight alloy and carbon-fibre frames were making a big impression.
Lance Armstrong won the world championship in 1993 on a Merckx MAX frame and Stuart O’Grady claimed his first Tour stage in 1998 on one when the French Gan team was supplied by the Belgian manufacturer.
These frames are often referred to as the last bike you will ever need, such is their durability.
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The Columbus MAX frame cast an intimidating shadow in cycling ranks. Its unusual shapes and exceptionally thin tube walls were a breakthrough at the time.
“Merckx is very conservative with regards to his frames and geometry which is evident even today.”
With a laid-back seat angle of 71.5 degrees, Anderson’s saddle was 9.4cm behind the bottom bracket: not quite as extreme as Steve Bauer’s Stealth bike, also made by Merckx. The Canadian came up with a radical design that had him sitting a long way behind the bottom bracket which he unveiled at Paris-Roubaix in 1993.
“It wasn’t specifically for Roubaix but his results spoke for themselves,” said Phil of his team-mate’s bike. “It didn’t work, and looked horrible. Eddy Merckx was happy to never have to build another one.”
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The 7-Eleven American team experiment created by Jim Ochowicz in 1981 was more refined by the time Motorola took over as the key sponsor in 1991. But it still raised eyebrows in the peloton.
“No one would ride near the 7-Eleven guys [because] they’d always be crashing,” said Anderson. “They were a bit of a joke amongst the other pros.”
Anderson was lured to Motorola with a one-year contract as the team set its sights on World Cup and Tour de France stage wins. The sponsor also introduced two-way radios for each rider to aid communication.
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Shimano’s links with major US teams began with 7-Eleven and Motorola, continuing with US Postal Service and Discovery Channel, with Lance Armstrong giving the company its first win in the Tour de France (in 1999). The bottom bracket used sealed bearings, dispensing with the loose ball approach.
Anderson’s testing of the STI concept and subsequent racing successes paid off; the first generation of integrated shifting became ubiquitous for Shimano supplied teams.
Bike aficionado Dan Hale was riding for Australia as a junior mountain biker in 1991. Anderson’s victory in Quimper is as vivid today as it was back then for him and the win got young Dan pumped for the upcoming MTB world championships in Italy.
Dan and I initially completed a Motorola team bike replica project with an SLX frame. Then I uncovered one of Anderson’s actual MAX frames, so we started from scratch again. Extensive searching for the correct period parts began.
We collaborated with Greg Softley of Cyclomondo to recreate Motorola team-specific artwork and felt we covered all possible bases. Dan completed the bike – from hand-built wheels through to assembly with cables and correct bar tape colour.
With Winning magazines from the late 1980s and early 1990s, a keen eye and an elephant’s memory as guides, we aimed to build something as close to the real thing as possible (with a few minor personal preferences).
Seeing the bike in the flesh, Anderson was quick to recall his own special requests for bar tape, or for the mechanic to chop down the Cinelli bars, and preferred spoke count.
He agreed that we had achieved a very similar end product, and the Look pedals earned a special mention. “Those were gorgeous. Clipless pedals were another leap forward, but again not everyone saw it like that. Sean Kelly is probably still riding clips and straps,” Anderson said laughing.
Shimano’s 7403 Dura-Ace groupset had also evolved to include more powerful dual-pivot brakes, sealed cartridge bearings for the headset, bottom bracket, and jockey wheels, and also within the body of the freehub.
A collaboration with Easton Aluminium resulted in a super-light seat pillar. The complete bike tipped the scales at 10kg.
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On the wall near where the Motorola Merckx was perched when Phil came to see it hangs the next bike we plan to restore, a PDM Concorde with C-Record ridden by one of Anderson’s greatest rivals, Sean Kelly. Phil recalled the introduction of the Delta brakes. “During the first Tour after they were introduced we were riding a section of road that had been resurfaced. It was really hot, the tar was sticking to our tyres and picking up little stones. Then we heard a loud ping! It was one of the Delta face plates flying off. Then came another. Ping!
“It started happening so frequently that there was a roar of cheers in the peloton every time one flew off.”
The mechanics would not have seen the funny side to this, and the popularity of this iconic (yet flawed) calliper in racing quickly diminished although they remain sought after more than 20 years on.
Towards the end of our ride we cycled past a bunch on Beach Road, passing a young boy on a Malvern Star Oppy. “Phwoar! Nice bike,” exclaimed Anderson with a grin.
The perplexed kid didn’t understand the humour in the exchange, possibly not knowing who the man delivering it was either.
Anderson’s physique belies his age: you’d think he was ready for the 2010 ProTour. His muscles hold the memories from a career full of gritty wins and many painful second places. He now recreates his Tour days leading boutique guided holidays in France each July incorporating beautiful rides, snippets of the race and landmark hotels.
“It’s a lot more of a relaxed pace than the race,” he concludes.
– By Andy White