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Building A Retro Replica Bike | 1920’s (ish) Giro Challenge Part 1

Building A Retro Replica Bike | 1920’s (ish) Giro Challenge Part 1

(logo whooshing) – Now what with it being the Giro d’italia I was having a chat to Si in the office about how tough the riders
were back in the 1920s. How they battled over mountains with just two gears on their bikes. One on either side of a flip-flop hub. And I said to him, how ‘about I build up a bike for you to try and do that, too? And he obviously wasn’t listening, because he somehow agreed to
this, well, weird idea of mine. Either way, today we’re going
to run through the components of what I’ve chosen for
him to do this exact feat. (jazz music) Now, let’s start with
the frame of the build, or the chassis, if you like. Some of you will remember
the Cheap Bike To Super Bike upgrade and renovation series that I did. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that for this I headed over to Ebay, too. So here it is, the Elswick Whirlwind. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, it’s not a 1920s original,
but to be honest, I set myself a do it as cheap
as you can style budget, so, obviously, an original
bike from the 1920s certainly wasn’t going to fit within that. But this bike, it’s not
an all-out race machine. I do estimate it comes from the 1970s, hence the interesting paint
job, to say the least. But is does have some slack angles on it, as you can see. So it is slightly
resembling that 1920’s bike that I’m trying to go for here. Importantly, this frame is
actually built from Reynolds 531, and from memory, more Tour
de France’s have been won using the Reynolds 531 tube
set than anything else. So it’s certainly reliable, and, well, it looks the
part doesn’t it, too? Why this bike then? Well, it was fairly local, and also it’s going to be easy to work on, because I’m going to be stripping it of virtually all of the parts from it. The only thing that’s
going to be remaining, frame and forks, the head-set, the bottom bracket and chain-set, brake calipers, and brake levers. At least, I hope! I want it to be modern, yet old. (jazz music) So, first up handle bars and stem. These had to go. I don’t really trust something
quite as old as this, and I wanted it to, well, be
a bit of a showpiece, really. So I contacted the folks at Velo Orange, over there in the United States, and they kindly sent me
a handle bar and stem. So these Grand Cru
Randonneur style handle bars, first of all, just look at them. There’s that little rise up there, either side of the actual
central part of the handle bar. And then we’ve got 30 millimeters
of flare on the drops. So, all those people out there who believe that, well, Gravel handlebars
are a new innovation, and all that, they’re not. These have been around
for many, many years these are just a modern
day replica of them. And I think they look great. We’ve got kind of a satin finish here on the bits that are
going to be covered up. Then on the important bits
that are going to be revealed, nice engraving and a polished finish. Then of course, we’ve got the stem to match up perfectly, too. I absolutely love that, that is a really nice bit of kit. And, safety first, (bell rings) got a little bell on there, too. So Si can alert anyone who’s
getting in his way to, well, just move over whilst he
smashes up those climbs. (bells rings) And lastly, well we need to
wrap up those bars, don’t we? And, well, there’s nothing better than period-correct handlebar tape. So I’m not going to give Si the pleasure of cork handle bar tape,
or anything like that. Instead, I’m going to give him, well, something quite as nasty
and horrible as this. And it’s the cotton handlebar tape. Essentially, it looks like rim tape, but you wrap it on your handlebars. This was used up until,
I believe, the early ’80s when the Benotto shiny ribbon took over. That was just as bad, if not worse, because when it got
wet your hands slipped, and you would let go of the handlebars. With this though, its going to offer him a little bit of grip, I imagine. (jazz music) Sticking with the cockpit, then well, I’ve decided to upgrade this quite tired looking
seat post with this one. So a much more classic
and classy looking affair. Well, kind of the same, really, but just not quite as rusty. So this one, as you can
see, is pretty short and probably not long enough for Si’s legs or, well, any of the GCN presenters, to be perfectly honest. So this clamp here, that’ll easily go on to this one, and then we’re not going to use this nasty old vinyl saddle, oh no, no, no. I want Si to have a little bit of comfort, so I’ve treated him,
here, to a Brooks saddle. Check that out, the B17. An absolute beauty. They say that these never
wear out, they just wear in. I think really though, that your bum just gets used to it. Right, let’s talk wheels, then, because I wanted 700C
wheels for this bike, but it came with 27 inch. So there’s about eight
millimeters difference in the actual total
diameter between the two. Not the end of the world, but I could run into a few problems when it comes to building it up, but we’ll tackle that
bridge when we come to it. But still, why did I want 700C wheels? Well the reason being tire choice. Tire choice. Well, you’ve got way more
options with the 700C wheel, and ultimately, tires can really transform the feel of a bike. So, that’s why I went for it. So, alloy wheels, 700C, with
a flip-flop dual sided hub meaning that, well, you’ve actually got two
different gear choices, just like riders had back 100 years ago. In fact, some riders, even back then, had a very simple derailleur
at the back of the bike and had a free-wheel mechanism with two sprockets built onto it. Sadly, I couldn’t find one of those, and I didn’t really want
to risk one, either, because the chance of it still
working would be quite slim. So what’s Si going to have to do? Well, he’s just going to
have to unbolt the wheel and swap it around if he
wants to have an easier gear. Probably not going to do that very often ’cause it would be quite
tiresome, I would imagine. So, the sprocket size that
I’m going to be putting on to this dual sided flip-flop hub is going to be a 16 tooth on one side and an 18 tooth on the other. And then it’s going to be paired up with this 48 tooth chain ring. Now, apparently Maurice Garin, the first winner of the Tour
De France back, what, in 1903, he used a gear that was just
two inches smaller than 48/18, so I reckon that this bike, when it’s had its modern day upgrades, if you like, is going to
be a little bit lighter, so it shouldn’t be a
problem for someone like Si to be able to ride along. And besides, if he wants to
just push on a little bit, if he’s feeling nice and fresh, he can just take out the
wheel, flip it around, put it in the 16 tooth sprocket, and have an even bigger gear
to be able to play with. (jazz music) Now, I gently touched on it, earlier, and these tires, they’re not really going
to be up to the job. They look very cheap and nasty. Instead, I’ve opted for some of these. Challenge Strada Bianca gum wall tires. How great do these look? Now, they come in 30 mil in width, which is just a touch narrower than these inch and a quarter ones. But I reckon this is
really going to transform the feel of the bike. (sniffing) They smell great too! Would do you reckon? (sniffing) Take my word for it, they do! (jazz music) Like I mentioned at the start, virtually everything’s going
to be going from this bike, including this very tired,
saggy old looking chain. And it’s going to be replaced with this. The piece de la resistance, if you like, a pink chain. 1/8th of an inch, absolutely great. I had to get one long enough
to be able to accommodate the 48 tooth chain ring there, as well an an 18 tooth
sprocket at the back. But by the time that’s fitted, it’s almost going to match! I do like a pink chain. Or a white one. Or a gold one. (jazz music) Now, this crank set is one of
the old cotter pin style ones. Some of you out there
will know about them. If you don’t, essentially, the chain set attaches onto the bottom bracket axle, and then you use these
wedge-shaped like bolts that then have a nut on
the top which you tighten, and it kind of wedges itself into place. Now, they wear away and then they become dangerous, because everything starts to
become very loose on the bike, and quite frankly, I’m glad to see the back
of cotter pin chain sets, because they were a pain in the backside. Another thing, though, that was a pain in the backside was toe-clip pedals. Oh, I remember numb toes
from using toe-clip pedals when I did up the straps nice and tight. But yeah, Si can live with those memories of numb toes from now on. But like I said, the bike
has to be period-correct, and toe clips were
actually used from about 1907 up until the early ’90s, and, well, some riders
still use then to this day. And of course this then put me
into another troublesome area trying to find some toe clip cleats to fit on the bottom of a modern day sole, because as much as I tried and tried to get Si to wear some retro shoes, he wasn’t keen on the thought of it. So I had a look on the
depths of the internet, and I managed actually
to find these ones here. A pair of DHB shoes
for Si to use, instead. A real traditional classic looking shoe. I didn’t have to actually look
quite that hard for these, but they’re going to be up to the job, and they’re going to look
the part, aren’t they? Let’s face it. But, those toe clip cleats, then, to fit onto that three-hole sole, I contacted a company a company called Yellow Jersey Cycles, in
Arlington, in the USA, and Andrew, who works
there, was really kind and sent me over a pair of these cleats. I tried to buy them locally, just nobody had them whatsoever. So, a big thanks, actually,
to Andrew for those. Just check ’em out! So they’re going to
slot into the pedal body and will give Si that power that he’s going to be
craving on this beauty. (jazz music) And finally, we need to
talk braking, don’t we? And you know what? I’m not going to change the brake levers, nor the calipers, unless I really have to, because I want Si to have that authentic feeling of, well, truly terrible brakes. I just hope there’s not too
many downhills on his ride, because I don’t want to be using them! Only joking Si, I’m sure
they’ll be absolutely fine. So I have bought some new outer cable and inner cable. So I’ve got Jagwire ones in white. They’re going to stand out beautifully. And to match up, too, I’ve
got some new cable clips that I’m going to be using
here on the top tubes to replace these rusty old ones. They’re just going to
look a little bit better. (jazz music) So there we are, the components and bike for this kind of 1920s retro feel bike that someone, sadly Si, has
to ride over mountain or two. Ha-ha! Rather him than me. Right, let me know what you think of it down there in the comments section below, because next week, we’re going
to be building this one up. And I’m so excited about it,
as you can probably tell. Also, why not check out the GCN shop at We’ve got a whole heap of
limited range of goodies, too, including this rather cool sweatshirt. So head on over there. And now for two more great videos how about clicking just down here and near this manky handlebar tape! Ew.

100 comments on “Building A Retro Replica Bike | 1920’s (ish) Giro Challenge Part 1

  1. As a youth rider, I had a bike very much like that one. It was just a Gitane.
    I remember those clips to hold the wires, the cotton bar tape, the gearshifters…
    How you in those days could go for a training ride and not meet a single other one on a racebike, for several days.
    Now they are everywhere, and quite posh.
    They should try and do 200 km's on one of those old bikes, in whool pants with a leather inlay and a nylon shirt.
    With their feets all strapped up (with clamps as you remember 😁 ).

  2. Have you done any research in to periode correct equipment (like the saddle), or are you just guessing ?
    Tyres are so not like in the 20's !

  3. Nice part list, looking forward to see the build. Btw. Kool-Stop have brake pads that fit those old brakes, just in case you want to give Si a chance to survive the descents 😉

  4. Jon, Jon, you have out done yourself, this time. Can't wait to see Simon climb, that will be the icing on the cake.

  5. Cleats…..Exustar ec101 track cleats Jon… Come in plastic or alloy and a little easier to get hold of.

    Also ekoï "70s vintage" shoes are a nice option over the dhb's IMO.

    Are you going to show us how to shellac the cotton tape?

  6. Those brakes look pretty rusty. Hope you are able to clean that up so they glisten like the new seat post and handlebars.

  7. Period correct? Nope. Period-corrupt. Awesome.

    great stuff working with Velo Orange, my own bike uses a few of their parts. Can't argue the quality, and I love their company philosophy of riding more relaxed bikes for recreation.

    For 1920's, wheels would have been 28" (630mm BSD) x 1 1/2". You'd have done best to start with an old 1950's Raleigh "roadster" style bike, and converting it into a "club" bike like those used around the English Countryside before Ten Speeds became the norm.

  8. To set up the pedals properly:
    (1) Decide which size of toe clip (they come in different sizes) will locate Si's foot where you want it in relation to the pedal spindle. Ideally, choose a clip that's a little too short and then use washers as shims to get to the correct length, by putting them on the mounting screws between the clip and the pedal cage.
    (2) Send Si out for a spin without clips. The back edge of the pedal frame will mark the soles of his shoes.
    (3) Mount the cleats so that the rear edge of the slot lines up with that mark, or move the cleat even 1-2mm further forward. That way Si's feet won't mash into the clips as Jon's did.
    (4) Si will still get a dose of pain from the straps where they go over the outer edges of his feet.

  9. Oh come on now Jon, we all know that you’re secretly hoarding a box full of Maillard flip-flop hubs and a pile of wooden rims. 😁

  10. I heard you say that you got your toe clips from Arlington in the US. That wouldn't happen to be Arlington Texas? The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex?

  11. How about a pair of Weinmann side-pull brakes Jon? Something like these 730's would be better than the originals on the bike but still have a retro look/feel –

  12. I could care less about authenticity. Better to make it a functional and comfortable machine. If we're my bike, I'd throw on a compact bar and complete Shimano 105 groupset. Obviously it needs a strip and paint, along with fresh BB and head tube bearings. Will need adapter to go from cup and cone to sealed cartridge.

  13. When it's time for Simon to do this epic ride, get some old time cycling kit too. Some wool shorts with a real chamois. Getting a hold of some old time chamois cream and embro should be real easy …… just mix up some lard and bacon grease.

  14. Speaking of slotted cleats, i believe the british website planet x bikes sells them. I think they call them track cleats. They also have some nice looking retro vintage looking parts as well.

  15. that is indeed a blast from the past, but not so long ago that I didn't have a bike like it with Reynolds 531 tubing, a (single) Huret derailleur, Weinmann brakes, clip on brake cable holders, and cotton bar tape! Can't wait to see the results!

  16. Just bought 1970s vintage Road bike and looking into fixing it! So far done a good job: changed the saddle to Brooks B17 narrow, changed the brake pads and wires. Now of to buying aluminium wheels and better ratio freewheel. Thanks for the tips 😊

  17. Found a great bike part website for you,

  18. Now Si has seen this video. I am wondering if he wished he'd listened more carefully. Is Si going to have to practice riding a fixed wheel bike? Would Si's sparrow legs get him and this bike over any big hills or mountains? I can't wait to see how Si does with this bike. I can't wait to see his reaction when he tries to slower down and stop.

  19. YOU SHOULD MATCH THE BAR TAPE TO THE SADDLE !! White looks nice but gets dirty way too easy!! YUCK .But l look forward to the results of this build !!

  20. though it wont be staying, its nice seeing an old cassette on a bike. im not a fan of the 1×11's etc

  21. The identical lovely looking Brooks B17 on my new bike needs some more breaking in. The horrible saddle sores due to the concrete brick feel of the first 400 kms are almost gone. Almost 1000km now and it's feeling more like a sculpted pinewood plank. Getting there slowly… Couldn't be more happy with the Strada Bianchi's (in a 36mm width) on my gravel bike.Can't wait to see Si enter the Eroica with the finished bike!

  22. Nice project! Here is a modern dual-sprocket freewheel:

  23. I have a bike I believe from the early to late 70s. My grandfather got it as a retirement present. He left it to me when he passed. I’m trying to restore it to its former glory. However, I can’t seem to find new brake calipers for it and the rims are steel and hookless. Does anyone have any recommendations for brakes and tires? Do I just need tubular instead of clinchers?

  24. Does Jon know how to ride a bike? He is always building bikes for someone else to ride!
    I love this concept!!!
    Hope this bike leads to GCN riding Eroica

  25. I have dealt with Yellow Jersey for parts for my 1972 Torpado. Andrew Muzi has often had NOS parts, even Campagnolo Nuovo Record such as I put on my Torpado over four decades ago. His web site,, is not particularly well developed, but, if you have a vintage bicycle to keep up, you may well find the part you need there. Andrew posts frequently to the Usenet group,, which, before YouTube and GCN came along, was my go-to source for information.

  26. Fixed not free, but something like this ( would have been easier than having to take off the wheel for a flip-flop.

  27. 00:50 I had one of these as a kid! They must have done a junior version as mine had 24" wheels IIRC, and I was something like 4'6" at the time. Proper nostalgia trip 🙂

  28. You'll need a new pair of brake calipers anyway because you're swapping 27" to 700c wheels. Maybe a long reach silver Tektro brake caliper would do the job

  29. Yessss, retro bike tech content! More of this please!

    I'm just disappointed you're going for a flip-flop 2-speed, because I love to geek out over old derailleur tech. Simplex retro-friction levers are the best shifters ever made, fight me.

    Didn't want to spring for a Campy Cambio Corsa system? I still don't quite understand how those things work… you open the quick release while riding to change gears…

  30. this couldn't have come at a more perfect time! I was just gifted a 1970's Medici that I'm going to be restoring!

  31. Hi Jon … seeing that bike reminded me of when I 16 and used to race back in 1967 – 69 …. my bike was build up the same with only 5 gears and a drop post gear lever 🙂 …. now I have a 30 gear crossbike and a 21 gear fatbike … in case you're wondering I'm now 67 🙂

  32. How abaout a "2-speed freewheel"? So you dont have to remove the wheel to change the gear? or are those the derailieurthings you talked about jon?

  33. The only bad thing with those brooks is that if you dont treat the leather or cover it up during the winter, the leather stretches and sags, and once it hardens it can cause some serious chafing on your thighs.

  34. My first road bike had 26 x 1 3/8 " tyres and woods valve inner tubes. My very first bike came with rod brakes ( Raleigh Rocket ).

  35. 1. Main tubes only 531, I think
    2. Cotter pins, yup, still used by Shimano, in effect, on LH side
    3. Tyres should be tubs, if we're being "authentic"
    4. Old cleats used to be nailed on

  36. GCN Tech Retro Corner- every week, Cannings builds an old bike up with cheap interesting kit. what do you think?

  37. Mechanical advantage is lost when brake pads have to be moved to tips of calipers in order to reach 700c rims.

  38. My enthusiasm, or at least my experience, with bike tinkering is no where near yours, but I do enjoy building, fixing and cleaning bikes at least as much as riding them. Specially my 80' Helkama Kuningaskulkuri with the original Shimano 600 EX. Just google that model and look for the blue ones. Love this series / format of you just going nuts an all in on "theme" builds.

    Fixie videos where great, but the pedals looked too cheap to me. Something one piece, one colour flat pedals would still be inexpensive.

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