Friday, August 19, 2011

The world's rarest Univega.

About a year ago, I was riding a lot with my neighbor, Chris, and was extolling the virtues of having an old steel framed bike to turn into a singlespeed, beat around on, etc. I had finally talked him into it (of course, offering my mechanical services, as I am wont to do) and I was on the lookout for a nice steel bike for him when I saw an ad for a "Univega Race Bike" on Craigslist. Reading the ad, I got very excited, because it said nothing about the bike other than it said "Univega", "Prestige", and "Ultraleggera" on it, and that it was white. The ad was coupled with a terrible photo taken in a dark garage, and I was the first person who emailed the seller. He was shocked at my response speed and agreed on a meeting time. His asking price was $120 and I didn't try to bargain over the phone at all, which I find pretty rare as a seller, so I assume he appreciated it. When we hooked up to make the exchange, I took one look at the Dura Ace STI levers hanging off of the weird Profile triathlon bars, gave him his money and went on my merry way. I did have to ask why he was selling it so cheap, and he told me his roommate had bought it, rode it a bit, then moved out and left it behind. He had stored it for years, had lost contact with the ex roommate, and decided he'd looked at it for long enough. Incredible.

Unfortunately Chris (my neighbor) didn't end up with this bike as his "beater".
Sorry Dude. 
After letting him down easy, I examined my treasure and immediately found $20 in the seat pouch. Laughing to myself at my rebate, I took the crazy handlebars off and tried to fit a set of drop bars I had in my parts box to the Cinelli stem - only to find that this stem was one of the ones that was larger sized than your standard drop bar. I farted around with cheap bars and shims cut from beer cans - I got plenty drunk making shims, but had no luck with getting my bars to stay in place while I rode until I put some roof flashing in as a shim - but I was not pleased with the result. The bars had a black finish near the stem, but it had been beaten pretty bad during the shimming process, and they looked terrible. This bike deserved much more.
In the midst of trying to fit bars. 
This photo shows the original Flite titanium seat and Dura Ace pedals, both of which have been since removed and sold - bringing the my total out of pocket cost on the bike down to $20, which is really amazing.  I was never satisfied with the stem/handlebar arrangement, as it looked cheap, so while I did ride the bike, it didn't make me happy, and I didn't ride it very often. Finally a set of bars and a stem came up on craigslist that fit and were perfect - a set of 3TTT Anatomic bars with a 3TTT Evol stem. The price? $30 and a drive to Rowlett.

That stem is sexy. 

When I installed the new stem and bars, I went ahead and did a complete tune up on the bike with new cables and a a quick regreasing all the way around. Since making that change, I have ridden a ton of miles on the bike, and I love it more each time I ride it. The bike weighs in at a svelte 20.5 lbs at 58cm, and I'm sure that's mostly because I put a relatively heavy saddle on it - but I love my Selle An-Atomica and would never change it. 

The bike is constructed from Tange Prestige oversize MTB tubing (details here), and is actually fillet brazed, which is a much less used but very fine construction method.

Clean lines at the headtube

There is also a graphic that says "Oversize 858" on the top tube, and I assume that it references the type of tubing, but can't find any reference to it anywhere on the web - except for things that I have written. The only serial number I can find on the frame is a number "50" stamped under the bottom bracket. The dropouts are rare Shimano forged models, both front and rear, with adjusters on the rear. 

Rare Shimano forged drops

The bike was fitted out with the full Shimano Dura Ace 7400 gruppo, including the headset and pedals (though I did get rid of them because I am a speedplay kind of guy), and it is a beautiful, very functional setup. The gears change with a solid "click", and it functions like a Swiss watch. Or, like a Japanese gruppo, if you prefer.  

The brakes even had the protective plastic on the label. 

I have actually been in contact with someone who worked for Univega, and he informed me that this was an exceptionally rare bike - and it makes sense that it would be so. It would be odd for someone to buy the full DA setup and hang it off a "Univega"  - while Univegas were solid bikes, they didn't sponsor racers or teams, and it would be hard to justify putting such a high end racing group on a frame that wasn't a marquee brand, so the frame must have come with the full DA setup. I have manged to find one other Ultraleggera out there on the interwebs, and though he bought his as a frame and headset only, that headset was indeed DA 7400 series. The Dura Ace is what makes me think that it is from 1992 or so - the 8 speed STI setup debuted in 1991, and I assume that the frame was built to showcase the new group.

Artsy shot

I used the bike on my trainer over the winter, and when we had the snow days this year, I spent several hours detailing all of the pieces of the bike, so I know that in addition to being the rarest Univega in the world, it's also the cleanest. 

Downtube - that says "Prestige" 
Unfortunately mine has a few paint chips, most likely because it was in someone's way for 5 years before I bought it - I'm sure it got moved around in the garage plenty before he had had enough and decided to make his $120. While the paint looks white in these photos, up close it is a pearly white with very gentle pink undertones - it reminds me of cherry blossom time in Japan, and I'm sure that was the intention. I'd love to fix the chips, but I think that a hacked together patchjob would make them look worse, not better.

Chips from a frame pump

Here you can see the worst top tube chips

I love rare things; in my life I haven't owned a ton of them, but I do love them. I would certainly qualify this bike as probably the rarest thing that I own. The irony is that while this bike is exceedingly rare, it's not very well known, and as such has little value aside from the components on it. Such is my life. I have cool stuff, but I'm the only one who knows how cool it is. Hopefully this indepth examination will change that.

Not a bad $50 bicycle

If you are reading this because you own a Univega Ultraleggera, please do post in the comments below; I would also ask that you post your serial number if at all possible - you can email it to me if you would prefer. 

This is the bike that I will most likely be riding in the Tour De BBQ this year, though I am giving serious consideration to riding my 1973 International, mostly because the ride is actually on my birthday and the bike is the same age that I am.  The only thing keeping me from doing that is the fact that I'm not entirely sure if I want to rock the 10 speed downtube shifter setup in hilly Kansas City for 60 miles. 

I'll close this with one more plea for you all to DONATE to my fundraising campaign for the tour. I am raising money to fight cancer, and the funds raised go directly to the University of Kansas Cancer Center and will do good things, I'm sure. As of this writing I am 45% to my goal of $500 raised, and I for sure would love to be at 100% before I have to start the ride. I'd like to be at 110 or 120% even more, but I won't get into that until I reach my first goal. 

2 comments:

  1. I actually just received an identical Ultraleggerra from my dad who has graduated to riding recumbents exclusively. I can send you photos and a serial number a little later if you're interested in collecting more information.

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  2. I am very interested - please just leave the serial number here.

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