Kevin Thompson's bike wholesaling business at Commercial Road Fortitude Valley holds legendary status in the Brisbane bike scene. You'd walk in off the street and there was a counter, off to one side was Kevin's office and through a door was the place where all the fun began, the workshop. At one stage Dave Stones was building up a motorcycle out the back. Sometimes guns were brought into work to "show them off", it was a fun place to work if you were a bike rider. I worked there once myself, you really couldn't call it work, it was like a week long party the only downer was when the weekend came. Ben puts it this way "Commercial Road .... where every day was a mélange of frivolity."
Kevin was always easy going, so in 1982 when a young seventeen year old Ben Smith walked in to try and buy a couple of training singles he got more than he'd bargained for. Ben asked Kevin if he needed a mechanic, Kevin didn't really have a job going for a mechanic, but Ben said he'd worked on bikes and wanted to give it a go, so Kevin just walked him round the back of the counter and set him to work stripping down a broken Daccordi race bike that had come in under warranty. "So that's how I became a bicycle mechanic, I'd just said I could work on bikes but the only bike I'd worked on was my own". Thrown instantly in the deep end, now thirty years on Ben is still working in the industry.
During the early nineties Ben Smith decided to chuck in his job at Kevin Thompson's bike wholesale business and headed off to Europe. Six years in a row, Ben booked himself a spot on Grahame Baxter's Sporting Tours to go ride his bike along the routes of the Tour de France.
Ben's a collector and when collectors occupy their minds with "owning" something, the effect is so complete they will stop at nothing until the newly sought after possession is fully and completely in their hands. From the moment Ben saw the Motorola team bikes, his plan was to have one, no matter what. Ben said "If you like something you stick to your guns and you end up with it. For all I knew the team would disband and you'd never get one, so by hook or by crook I was determined to get my own Team Issue MX Leader."
At the 1991 Tour de France Ben spotted Andy Hampsten's team issue Motorola Eddy Merckx MX Leader bike. Ben said "The seed of 'Merckx' was implanted to my lust bank in early '91, but the '92 TDF was the immaculate inception, and all followed from there. Like a stalker my priority at any opportunity was to seek out a Motorola team car to scrutinise the uber cool bikes. I remember being with Dave Stones at a stage finish in the alps wandering around the cars and bikes and magnetically drawn to Hampsten's machine left near his car. A month later I'm interloping and infiltrating Merckx's tiled front display room, having walked into a long rectangle stone building off an unassuming street in Meise that looks like a large cow shed with white Eddy Merckx font style sign above the door."
Leaving nothing to chance, when he visited the Merckx factory Ben armed himself with a completed spec sheet.
You weren't even sure that the Merckx factory would supply you with a bike, what was your approach?
You couldn't pick up the phone and call a bike shop and order a Motorola frame, they wouldn't help you at all. It's not like today where everyone rides a replica of their favourite team bike and you'll be laughed at if you're not on one, everything's official team issue these days. Back then it was the opposite. Back then they would supply to certain people, fanatics, but early 1992 they were flat out in their season of building team issue frames, especially with the Merck team editions. After that say about 1994 the team edition frames were readily available to the public.
I went in there all fired up but luckily I had my spec sheet all filled out so I gave them that and they said they'd only accept orders through a certified agent.
Eddy was there, you could see him working away in his office at the back and he was sitting there with his trophies. The staff gave me a tour of the factory, some of the frame builders were pro racers from the Molteni team, he's kept them on and employed them. That's why the Merckx bikes are so good, some of the staff are ex pro's and they know what it takes to build a good frame, they are fastidious.
You said you'd had the number hanger removed at the factory?
I was so focused on having a Motorola, so that's why I got a quick tour. They were showing me some of the Motorola's hanging on the racks, there were lines of Motorola team frames hanging there, all with each pro rider's names. I'd shown them my specs so they knew my size, so I'm pretty sure the one they supplied had been originally earmarked for Sean Yates. He said there's the size, we have one ready, we can supply this one if it's not required by the team. It's got a number hanger on it, so I asked if they could remove the number hanger so I could fit a pump. That's why it took four months, they weren't in any hurry to paint my frame in case they needed it. Sean Yates was such an animal he'd break about twenty frames a season, so they had to have frames on standby for him. Yates didn't like MXL'S anyway he preferred SLX'S or TSX'S
So I filled out an order and gave them a deposit. I then chose Parker Mail Order in the UK to fulfill the agency role and they took the balance of payment on delivery. It took another four months for Parker to receive the frame, I then had that shipped to Bex Hill and it eventually arrived in Australia. Once it arrived, Australian customs put a big slice along the top tube. So once you got your hands on the frame what were your plans for the groupset?
I already had most of the parts ready to go including the Dura Ace 7400 groupset. I took my time to build it up. It had to be as close to the Hampsten team issue machine as possible. I then rode it for more than ten years, slowly upgrading the parts to the current editions. By the end it had a 2005 Dura Ace groupset.
In 2005 you restored the bike to your original 1992 Spec.
I took all the new gear off the bike, I'd kept the original groupset and other components then put it all back together exactly how it was in 1992. I got Joe Cosgrove to tidy up the paint work. I've never ridden the bike since then. There's not many MXL'S around, there's a few in the team colours, maybe SLX'S.
Tell us a bit about what makes up a Team Issue Motorola Eddy Merckx MXL Leader.
The Leader is built from a Columbus MXL tubeset. Leader stands for the top model, it uses a smaller diameter top tube. It's an adaptation of Columbus MAX tubing, Merckx specified a smaller diameter top tube because that's what he preferred to build with. MXL had specifically produced lugs to accommodate the smaller top tube for MINI MAX, essentially everything else is MAX. The tubeset was only produced for Merckx and nick named MINI MAX, it's all Nivachrome and up to about 1992 was only available on team issue bikes. Columbus only produced a limited number of tubesets. The last nivachrome MINI MAX sets were used up on consumer bikes mainly destined for the US market around 2005. Roughly 200 were produced using the last of the MINI MAX, 100 Motorola and 100 Molteni.
Grey cables came with this groupset. On my bike they are blue team issue cables which were very hard to find. To keep it true I kept the original rear grey factory cable because the team kept them too.
The bar wrap is not exact team replica, Motorola used Cinelli white bar wrap, I kept the Cinelli finishing tape like team issue and combined this with Silva bar wrap. Also I used a Selle Italia Turbo saddle which was not the same as the team issue saddles. The bottle cages on the team bikes are usually Specialized, I chose King powder coated titanium cages because in the early 90's you just couldn't easily find the Specialized cages.
The seat post is a 27.4, team issue posts were supplied to the team by Shimano, you could not get your hands on one for love or money in 1992. I installed an American Classic 27.4 210 mm post. Even if I could have accessed a Dura Ace factory post, they were 180mm which revealed about an inch more than minimum recommended insertion.
My bike to be 100% correct as a team machine for '92 would have had an Avocet titanium saddle, Cinelli white cork tape and Specialized mountain bike white cages, and most had an Avocet 40 red computer.
The cog set is Dura Ace with blue SRP spacers. I installed a blue SRP 32 piece titanium bolt upgrade kit for Dura Ace. The SRP kit is all through the bike and was bloody difficult to install. There's anchor bolts for brake cables, derailleur pivot bolts, derailleur pulley wheel bolts etc. The stupid thing is I weighed all the old bolts and all the new bolts, the weight saving was 16 grams. I did it to make a Dura Ace groupset look cool not to weigh less. Motorola did that to their team bikes they were all SRP equipped.
It's interesting to note that a lot of Eddy Merckx Motorola team bikes form then were Litespeeds painted over because they were lighter.
I rode it for ten years, lots of Tour de France tours, handles alpine descents like a dream, it steers itself.
- FRAME Eddy Merckx MOTOROLA MX Leader "Mini Max" Columbus tubeset MXL rare Team Issue
- FORK Columbus tubeset MXL, forks are essentially Columbus MAX
- PAINT Eddy Merckx factory paint in 1991 Motorola Team Colours HEADSET Shimano Dura Ace 7400 ball bearing not cartridge
- STEM Cinelli Grammo 130mm
- HANDLEBARS Cinelli Eubios 44s
- BAR TAPE Silva Merckx
- FRONT BRAKE Shimano Dura Ace 7400
- REAR BRAKE Shimano Dura Ace 7400
- BRAKE LEVERS Shimano Dura Ace 7400
- FRONT DERAILLEUR Shimano Dura Ace 7400
- REAR DERAILLEUR Shimano Dura Ace 7400 Alloy anodised sealed bearing after market pulley wheels, non team issue.
- SHIFT LEVERS Shimano Dura Ace 7400
- CASSETTE Shimano Dura Ace CHAIN Shimano Dura Ace
- CRANKSET Shimano Dura Ace 7400
- CHAINRINGS Shimano Dura Ace 7400
- BOTTOM BRACKET Standard 7400 ball bearing bracket just before cartridge brackets
- PEDALS Look Carbo Pro mod.PP96 ARC
- FRONT HUB Shimano Dura Ace 7400
- REAR HUB Shimano Dura Ace 7400
- FRONT RIM Wolber Profile for tubulars
- REAR RIM Wolber Profile for tubulars
- FRONT TIRE Wolber classic 290
- REAR TIRE Wolber classic 290
- SADDLE Selle Italia Turbo special white
- SEATPOST American Classic 27.4
- SEAT BINDER Campagnolo of course!
- COG SET Shimano Dura Ace with blue SRP spacers
- 32 PIECE TITANIUM BOLT KIT by SRC," was fuck'n difficult to install"
- CHAIN RING BOLTS Blue Shimano
- BOTTLE CAGES Titanium by King Cages powder coated white
- DECAL KIT, American Airlines and Motorola plus Columbus, Shimano on left hand stay.