At first glance my new Fuso looks like any other race bike; if I were to replace the Brooks saddle with something modern looking and jack the seat post up another 3 or 4 inches, it could sit alongside any other and not be immediately detected.
But the point is it is not a race bike. It is a bike designed specifically for me; an aging ex-racing cyclist who is looking for a little comfort in my old age. It is designed to fit my needs. My body is no longer flexible enough to ride in a low tuck, aero position.
I no longer need to go fast, but I do like to ride fairly long distances. My previous bike a 51 cm. Recherché that I built in 1985 was comfortable to a point, but it had a 3 ½ inch (90cm.) drop from the top of the saddle to the top of the handlebars.
I could only ride on the tops of the bars or on the brake lever hoods; the dropped portion of the handlebars was much too low for me to comfortably ride. The problem is setting up a race bike to do something that it was not designed to do. This was the problem back in the 1980s and is a problem still today.
People see bikes being raced in the Tour de France; they are being ridden by young professional athletes, who have trained their bodies to ride with their backs in a horizontal position at great speed, for insanely long distances.
This is not like buying a set of golf clubs and knocking a ball around a golf course; you will eventually get the ball in the hole, so you are at least playing golf, albeit badly. However, you need a certain amount of athleticism to just ride a road “racing” bike.
When Russ Denny offered to build me one of the new Fuso frames, it would be a one off, custom built for me. Here was an opportunity to have a frame built that would not only fit me, but would match my current needs.
We achieved this by making the bottom bracket height 10 inches (25.4cm.) as opposed to industry norm 10 5/8 inches. (27cm.) This is a considerable amount lower, and by doing so we have lowered the saddle by that amount in relation to the handlebars.
The great thing is that this has not affected the ride at all; and I really can’t tell the difference visually, as you can see by the pictures. The only difference I find is that I can put my toe to the ground while sitting in the saddle when I stop, which I feel is a huge plus.
By lowering the bottom bracket we have lengthened the down tube and chainstays, but the oversize tubes more than compensate for any loss in stiffness. The longer chainstays make for more tire clearance; I am running 25mm. wide tires, but with 40mm. of clearance between the stays at the tire’s widest point, means I could run a much wider tire if I wish.
The other design aspect of the modern frame that we were able to utilize to our advantage was with the sloping top tube, a head tube can be almost any length you wish. By lengthening the head tube we ended up with my handlebars just 1 ¼ inches (32mm.) below my saddle. Compare that to 3 ½ inches on my previous bike; a huge difference. I can now use the whole handlebar, including the drops.
I was a little concerned that the big saddle/handlebar height difference would take me a little while to get used to. This proved not to be the case; the new bike seemed a natural fit right from the start.
The one thing that seemed strange at first was the wider handlebars; 42cm. as opposed to 40cm. I was using before. However, since finishing the build on Friday, I have put over 150 miles on it and now I am used to the difference.
What I do love is the Campagnolo brake hoods with the top of the hood level with the top of the bars, and the large hand rest knob that sticks up above that. My favorite position is to have the side of my hand resting on the brake hood, and my hand lightly around the extension part like I was holding a pair of ski poles. My arm bends naturally, and my forearm rest lightly on the top of the bars.
I went with the Campagnolo Athena group, you can’t beat the quality and the price was competitive when compared with the other two choices. The only drawback with Campagnolo at the moment is availability.
I got the whole group except the rear derailleur, and after searching the whole United States found there were only two black Athena derailleurs available. I got one of them; a crazy situation that Campagnolo needs to get a handle on.
The gears work flawlessly; they are so smooth and quiet that I had a problem at first noticing that it had actually shifted. I have now learned not to listen for the “Clunk” of the old friction shift, but rather watch for the subtle change in the feel and cadence through the pedals.
Speaking of pedals, I am using Shimano double sided mountain bike pedals. As I said at the beginning this is not a race bike, and I am not racing. If I am out on a long ride at some point I am going to have to walk off the road to answer a call of nature.
I tried road pedals, but found on such occasions the shoe cleats became clogged with dirt or mud and do not work properly. Mountain bike pedals are designed to handle mud, and the double-sided feature is nice; I never have to worry whether my pedal is up or down. If I were racing, I would use road pedals.
The same with tires, if I were racing I would use tubulars; I gave these up a couple of years back. I found the cheap tubular punctured easily, often on the first time out. The modern tubular is just about impossible to repair because the base tape seems to be permanently vulcanized on.
I am using Continental Gatorskin clincher tires. I didn’t even buy the ones with flexible beads; I bought the slightly heavier and cheaper wire bead kind.
Finally I could write a bunch of bullshit clichés that one often reads in magazine road tests, but I don’t feel the need here. My new Fuso rides and feels exactly the same as if I had built it, so I really didn’t expect any less from Russ.
When he took over my business in 1993 he could do anything that I could. Since that time he has added another 19 years of his own experience. He has embraced all the new design aspects, materials, and building methods.
I think now he and I both have shown that you can design and build a frame that is comfortable for someone like me who is past their peak of physical condition, and proving that the bike can still look good.
Simply because this bike is designed to have 1 ¼ inch handlebar drop; rather than having a bike designed to have a 3 or 4 inch drop, or more, then trying to raise the handlebar after the fact.
Anyone seriously looking for a new frame or bike, and have similar needs to the ones I have described here; might consider contacting Russ Denny and have him build one for you.
Framebuilding methods have changed since I left the business, and it is now practical to build one off frames to suit the individual. I am happy to help out with design input if needed.