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« Climbing out of the saddle | Main | High Point »

Campagnolo Athena: A joy to work with, a joy to ride

Some ten weeks ago I bought my wife Kathy a 1985 1st. Generation 49cm. Fuso frame in really nice condition. I built it up with parts I had laying around and bought a few items on eBay. My wife had expressed for some time that she would like a frame that I had built.

We are neither that much into material things, we like the possessions we do own to have some special meaning, so naturally a frame I built would fall into that category. Kathy immediately took to the Fuso, and she put several hundred miles on it. However, the limited gear range of a straight up 6 speed freewheel, and friction shifters left a lot to be desired.

So after I sold her previous bike, (A carbon fiber Schwinn Peloton.) I took that money a bought a Campagnolo Athena 11 speed group. I have a black Athena group on my new Russ Denny built Fuso, for Kathy’s Fuso I got a silver group. There are other Campagnolo groups that are lower in price, but the Athena group is the lowest price 11 speed group. It is also available with carbon fiber components, which is more expensive of course.

I thought readers might like step by step account of how the bike went together. Any home mechanic who has worked regularly with vintage Campagnolo and Shimano equipment, would have absolutely no problem building a bike with this group.

In many ways I find the modern stuff is easier to work with than the vintage equipment. The only special tools I needed was a special wrench to screw in the outboard cups into the English threaded bottom bracket. And a set of Star (Torx.) wrenches. If you are not familiar with these, they work like Allen wrenches, but are star shaped rather than hexagonal. I already had both these items in my tool kit.

The combined brake/shifter levers may look intimidating but could not be easier to fit and set up. First peel back the rubber hood from the front end of the lever. I becomes apparent that there are special parts molded into the inside edge of the rubber hood, that fit into little slots and holes in the metal housing to hold it in place.

Peel back the hood from the front and turn it inside-out. About half way back in the top of the lever hood is a screw hole, (Picture left.)

Insert the star wrench into the screw head. Loosen the screw and slide the lever on the handlebar until the top of the lever hood is level with the top of the bars. Tighten the screw.

When satisfied with the lever’s position, repeat with the second lever, laying a straight edge across the top of the two levers and sight up with the top edge of the bars to see if the levers are level.

As a double check set the handlebars on a level table top, resting on the tips of the brake levers. If the levers are not level the assembly will rock like a four legged table with one leg short. Adjust one lever until level, and when satisfied, pull the rubber hoods back in place making sure all the little holding tabs are where they should be. The bars are now ready to attach to the handlebar stem.

The brake and gear cables are also easy to install, which makes it nice, not only when assembling the bike, but for routine maintenance when re-greasing or replacing brake and gear wires. The rubber hoods need to be peeled back, this time from the rear end nearest the handlebars.

First I fitted the outer cable housing. (Brake and gear cable.) I cut back the plastic sheathing about 1/4 inch to ensure in went all the way into the lever and sat firmly against its stop. The gear cable exits at the top of the hood, where there are two channels the wire can run in.

This gives the option for the cable housing to run along the rear edge of the bars, or the one I chose, to run it along the front edge next to the brake housing. The brake cable exits inside, just below the gear cable.

I placed two pieces of electricians tape on either side round the bars to temporarily hold the cable housing in place. (Handlebar tape was later placed over this.) Next I cut the housing to length at the down tube cable stops and at the brakes, and all that was left was to grease and feed the inner wire through.

I placed a rubber band around the handlebars to hold the brake lever open, this allows both hands free to feed in the wire, possibly hold a flashlight because the inside hole where the cable enters can be a little hard to find. Make sure the roller that holds the pear shaped nipple on the end of the brake wire is facing the right way.

Once you poke the wire through the hole in the roller, aim slightly downwards and keep fishing until the wire goes through the tunnel and into the cable housing. The hole for the gear cable is underneath the hood, push the wire up through this hole. When it exits at the top of the hood the wire needs to be fed along the channel and into the cable housing.

Campagnolo’s gear shift lever design is so simple. When holding on the lever hood, the rider’s fingers are on the outside, the thumb on the inside. The fingers work the lever to shift down, the thumb clicks the little lever on the inside to shift up.

Once the gear cables are installed, pull on the wire with one hand while clicking the down shift lever two or three times with the other. Feel it pull on the wire, then click the small thumb lever until is stops clicking and the mechanism is in top gear position.

The rear derailleur needs the star wrench again to attach it to the gear hanger. Adjust both limit stops so the jockey wheels line up with the small sprocket, and the large bottom sprocket when the derailleur is pushed by hand all the way across against the spring. (Assuming wheels are in place with a cassette. There is no chain fitted yet.)

Cut a piece of cable housing to go from the chainstay stop to the adjustable stop on the derailleur. Don’t make the loop too big or too tight, but let the inner wire follow a natural line at the entry and exit points.

Thread the inner wire through, remembering to grease it, and pulling the wire tight, attach it to the clamp just below the adjuster.

Operate the downshift lever one click at a time and see if the rear derailleur jockey wheels line up with each sprocket on each click. If they don’t adjust the cable stop until they do.  Fit the front derailleur in the normal way, this frame had a braze-on fitting.

Adjust the inner and outer limit stops so the derailleur yoke centers on the inner and outer chainrings. Operate the up and down shift levers to check they are working correctly. After fitting the chain and test riding the bike, I found the front and rear derailleurs shifted perfectly and no further adjustment was necessary.

The frame is the heart and soul of a bicycle, it determines how the bike fits and how it will ride. Naturally I am prejudiced towards my own frame, and it is natural my wife would want a frame I built.

Building it up with modern equipment, especially Campagnolo, makes a bike that is a joy to ride. It will last for years, and should someone in the future want to rebuild the bike again with period correct equipment, the frame has not been compromised.  


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Reader Comments (8)

Nice Dave. New compact c/set and cassette too i assume?

August 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJW

12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 23, 25 cassette. 50/34 chainrings.

August 8, 2013 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

I had to look up "Star" wrench! Having worked in the high tech product development as an engineer (mechanical), I thought I knew nearly all types of tools used for these products. So I googled it and was surprised to find a ton of sites referring to "Star" wrenches!

The reason they are differentiated with a T in front of the number is that they were originally called Torx drives. The advantage is the ability to apply a higher level of torque to a fastner without deformation of the tool/fastner interface, which often happens with Allen drives/wrenches. Just look at any AL dust cap (Stronglight 93) requring an Alen drive tool!.

Good call on your wifes side to ask for a Fuso! Good call on the Campy drive train! Quality on quality!

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSJX426

I was surprised too, to find these had been out since 1967, I have been seeing them only recently on electronic stuff. I have now placed a link to the Wiki page in the article.

August 9, 2013 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Nice looking bike for your wife Dave. Wish I could get a nice bike FOR MY WIFE (Of 50years 17 Aug) would be real good swop I am sure.can a bike cook and do the laundry? Star wrenches as I found when trying to adjust the doors on my 1970 Porsche 911, as you found out have been around for some time, but I have not seen them used on bikes up to now.

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Crump

Nice looking Fuso Dave. I'm curious though, isn't the rear spacing needed for the new rear hub 130... and the old frame spacing is 126? I would like to do this same type of build also but I wonder did you do a "cold set" to expand the spacing or just squeeze the hub to fit or is there some other way?

August 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterC Creamer


I work for Kincaid Furniture Company. We go to Highpoint every year to the furniture market and we still have quite a few pieces made here in the USA. If for example you go to our webpage, kincaidfurniture.com and click on the "Bedroom" category, then on the left select for example, "beds" you will see something on the right that you can click to see all made in USA beds. Click that. I think that you will be amazed how many beds we still make here in USA. Also click on the "night stands" category and likewise, click on the see items made in USA link on the right and you might be surprised at the number shown.


August 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDaren Wilz

Nice instructional piece. I just upgraded from Centaur 10S Compact to Athena 11.

The minimum needed was:

new Athena Rear Mech
new 12 - 29 Casette
New Athena 11 Speed Leavers

All works well using old chainset and old front mech.

What I was really disappointed about was the plastic internal workings of the 11 Speed levers. I cannot see them lasting more than a few years. The old centaur 10S alloy levers appear to be a much better build quality.

January 8, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterczcarroll
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