When I made the decision to buy a vintage road bike to ride the 2016 Eroica California, the only bike I wanted to do it on was a replica of the orange and yellow Rossins that the 1987 Hitachi Team used.
My research and efforts to find one started with the Google Machine. Besides a handful of photos of Hitachi rider and Belgian Classics specialist Claude Criquielion, I found three photos of a Hitachi Team bike displayed at some sort of bike show. The info attached to the photos was a claim that it was one of Claudy’s personal bikes. A claim that seemed legit. I hoped it had been for sale at that show and that it was still for sale.
A few more days of research and I leaned that Rossin never sold frames in the orange and yellow Hitachi Team livery to the public. There were similar color ways, but not the exact colorway. I also hit a dead-end trying to find out who owned the Criquielion bike or if it had been for sale. I moved on and bought an Eddy Merckx in the 1988 Hitachi livery.
Sometime later, new photos of the Criquielion bike reappeared on one of the Facebook pages I follow. The details are unclear to me now, but I reached out to someone and eventually made contact with David Verbeken, the 43-year-old owner of the bike.
David willingly answered all my nerdy questions about his bike, took measurements and shared the dimensions with me and kept me in the loop when he found other Criquielion bikes. He even sent me a stack of magazine clippings from the 1980s featuring Criquielion and the 7-Eleven Team. I sent him a portrait of his Hitachi bike that was part of a series of Claudy’s Splendor and Hitachi bikes I did.
This past April, David invited me to his hometown of Serskamp, Belgium, to see the Hitachi bike—it’s a holy grail for me—and then to visit a collector who owned a couple Splendor bikes, one of which had been Criquielion’s.
David gave me the chance to sit on Claudy’s bike and give it a thorough look. I had always wondered if Criquielion’s bikes would fit me. We are both around 5’8” tall. Well, he was. He died of a stroke in 2015. And although he, like I do, rode a 54, his frames had long top tubes generally ranging from 56 to 57 centimeters.
Very interesting to me were the bars—believed to be original to Caude’s build. They are Cinelli Criteriums, as expected, but they are 65-40s, not the wider 65-42s I assumed he would have used. I was also interested the stickers. When I did the portrait above, I used David’s photos of the bike a reference, but exactly how the stickers were printed was a mystery. The Hitachi sticker on the top tube, for example is black ink on clear with two logos, one on each side of the bike, on a single sticker.
David generously spent much of his day driving me around Belgium and looking at bikes before heading to work. He works evenings for a security company. It was awesome to meet him in person, spend some time with him geeking out on bikes and to get a look his bike collection and small stash of Hitachi stuff.
What follows is Q&As with David focusing mainly on his 1987 Claude Criquielion Hitachi bike.
44-16: Have you always been a cyclist or fan of cycling? Were you a Claude Criquielion fan?
DV: I started biking when I was around 30. Before that I wasn’t very athletic, although I have always been a huge sports fan. I have always been a football (soccer) fan first. When I was little, like most Flemish-Belgian families, we watched all the Spring Classics on TV. It’s a kind of family happening in Belgium. We are born with cycling in Belgium and it’s everywhere. When I was 11 years old, I watched Claude Criquielion win the Ronde Van Vlaanderen in 1987 on TV at my grandma’s place. I wasn’t specifically a Criquielion fan, for us the most important thing was that a Belgian won. I remember victories of Eric Vanderaerden, Eddy Planckaert and Edwig Van Hooydonck. I also remember (like every Belgian) the 1988 World Championships in Ronse and that fatal finish. It was only a few years later that I began to have more interest in cycling, specifically Johan Museeuw and the Mapei team. I was a Museeuw fan and it’s from that era that my love for Colnago bikes comes. The Mapei Team Colnagos were gorgeous. My first road bike was an aluminum Colnago I bought when I was around 30.
44-16: How did you get into collecting vintage bikes?
DV: When you ride regularly, things break or need to be replaced. In the beginning, I couldn’t even change a tire. When I had a problem, I had to go to my local bike shop. I was fed up with paying for overhauls and maintenance and decided to take some bike maintenance classes. I went to class for three hours once a week for two years. It was very nice because everyone there was a bike enthusiast. At the end of the class, we had to assemble a bike and write out the whole assembly process. I took an old, steel Sannino frame that I found at an old bike shop. I immediately fell in love with it. That was the beginning of my love for classic bikes. Little did I know it would become a sickness. I had an aluminum Colnago, but now I wanted a steel one. I found a Nuovo Mexico and started to search for parts. A new project was born. That’s how I rolled into the vintage bicycle hobby.
44-16: What is it you like about vintage bikes?
DV: I really love classic bikes because of the fine tubing in contrast to modern bikes. Classic bikes are more graceful. There is greater craftsmanship. The builders had more of an eye for detail. When I went to Stalen Ros Belgium for the first time a whole new world opened for me. Stalen Ros is a fair where you can buy and sell vintage parts and show off your bicycles. Suddenly I was among people contaminated with the same sickness. I met a lot of people. My world began to expand on the internet via Facebook and different forums. I have been collecting for seven years. Throughout the years, plenty of bikes and parts have passed through my hands. I sell a lot of them and that’s how I finance my projects. The Sannino was sold a long time ago. I’ve had some luck and some bad luck. I collect bikes from the 1970s through the 1990s. I really don’t know much about earlier bikes.
44-16: What bikes do you have in your stable?
DV: Currently I have nine vintage bikes. I keep my number of bikes low on purpose. I have a Colnago Super from around 1978, a 1987ish Colnago Master, 1995 Colnago Master Olympic—my favorite because of Mapei—a 1974ish Kessels Molteni, a late-1970s Kessels L Hirondelle, a 1992 Eddy Merckx Corsa Extra, a 1997ish Eddy Merckx MX Leader, a 1974 Masi Gran Criterium, a 1987 Rossin Professional Team Hitachi and the aluminum Colnago, which I still ride in the winter. Most of them mounted with Campagnolo groups like Nuovo Record, Super Record, C Record, Chorus 9-speed, and Ssuper Record 11-speed.
David and his Eddy Merckx Kessels bike.
44-16: How did you come to own the Criquielion bike?
DV: At the beginning of my new hobby, I was constantly in search of old bicycles. I restored them and sold them or disassembled them and kept the parts. I placed an ad in a national paper that I was looking for old bikes. One day, I received an email from someone who had two bikes for sale. As he lived around 160 kilometers/100 miles from where I lived. I asked him to send some pictures of the bikes. He promised to send them later when his children could help. A couple days later, I received photos of a Colnago Super and a Rossin. Although I am a Colnago fan, the Rossin immediately grabbed my attention. I saw it was something special—still not knowing it was Criquielion’s bike. I told him I was interested in the Rossin. He told me it was an old bike of Criquielion’s and asked me to make him an offer. I did some research on the internet. I was even more excited. I made him an offer, which wasn’t very high. (Back then, there was a lot less hype around vintage bikes.) To my surprise, he accepted my offer. I was very pleased.
44-16: Who was the guy and how did he get the bike?
DV: I made an appointment to meet him at his house where I received a warm welcome. We looked at the bikes. He asked if I wanted the Colnago, too. But the Rossin had my full attention. I fell in love with it. His wife insisted I stay for dinner. While we ate, he told me about his life. He was a real cycling enthusiast. He survived two heart attacks and cancer. Back in the day he was a banking director. He knew somebody with the Hitachi Cycling Team and at the end of 1987, when the season was over, he bought the bike through that person. He told me they had said that particular bike was used in the 1987 Tour de France. I promised to take good care of it.
44-16: What conditions was it in when you got it? Was it all original?
DV: At home I began to research the bike. To be honest, until then, I had never heard of the Mavic SSC group. Funny, because as a child I saw Criquielion win the Ronde Van Vlaanderen on a Rossin. A lot of parts had been replaced over the years, including the front and rear derailleurs, the brake levers and shifters, which were all Shimano 600 tricolor. The brake calipers, bottom bracket, crankset, headset, bars, seatpost and wheels were all original. The crank is engraved Mavic 87 and the hubs have Mavic 87 logos.
44-16: Was it difficult to find replacement parts?
DV: My first concern was to find the correct Mavic SSC parts. I put ads on the local Craigslist asking for the parts. To my surprise it went very easy. I got responses almost immediately from someone who had a rear derailleur and someone else who had the Mavic-branded Modolo brake levers. I had worried about how hard it would be to find those levers. Again this was seven years ago, just before the big vintage boom. The most difficult part to find was the front derailleur. I ended up buying one off eBay from someone in the U.S. It was the most expensive part. Because I had a lot of projects at the time, I didn’t start the second phase of the rebuild until four years later. In the second phase, I concentrated on the handlebars, stem, pedals, seatpost, saddle and tires.
44-16: What resources did you use to rebuild the bike?
DV: Between phases, I found some old magazines from 1987, but all the pictures were from the Spring Classics. In the spring, the Hitachi Team rode the Rossin Ghibli frame. Mine is a Professional. I always kept in mind the bike that it was used at the Tour that year. But there were very few clear photos of him racing in the Tour. Most were from the mountain stages when he used A Vitus frame. When I got the bike, the saddle was a Selle Italia Novus Italia. Criquielion used a Selle San Marco Rolls. Finding a replacement wasn’t so difficult, but I wanted one dated 1987. I had one dated 1987, but it was white. I had it recovered in black by Corne Bouman. The handlebars were the original Cinelli Criterium handlebars Caludy used on all his bikes. I replaced the stem because of the length. I needed a 130mm stem. It isn’t the right Cinelli stem, though. I haven’t been able to find the right one with a bolt in the front [1A], but mine [an XA] is era-correct. When I bought it, it had Nuovo Record pedals. In 1987, Claudy had gone clipless, but finding clear images of which pedals he used was difficult. I found some footage of the 1987 Ronde Van Vlaanderen on YouTube where I could see his pedals were white Look PP65s. I found a pair in good condition on Craigslist. I could also confirm that he used a San Marco Rolls saddle. Next was to find out which tubulars he used and which freewheel. Because Clement was the team’s sponsor, I knew it had to be Clement tubulars and most likely Criteriums. The freewheel was an aluminum 7-speed Maillard. Maybe it wasn’t bad that I started the second phase four years later because I had accumulated a bunch of parts over that time. I was surprised to find the tubulars on a set of wheels I had in my attic. Even better, they were barely used. And I acquired an aluminum, 6-speed, Maillard freewheel when I bought my Kessels frame. I have never been able to find a 7-speed model, so the 6-speed has to do. It only weighs 147 grams. I learned the seatpost was original.
44-16: Are there any interesting or unusual parts on the bike?
DV: The handlebar is drilled for aero cables. The chainring has Rossin pantogrpahs, which is remarkable because it should be a Mavic chainring. But I tend to believe it’s original. I don’t think the previous owner replaced it, but, I never asked him. It’s a 53-tooth though. Claudy always rode with Campagnolo brake pads and not the original Modolo Sintered pads. At some point I replaced the original Campy pads with Modolos, only to find out later that the Campy’s were correct. The seatpost is a round, non-aero, C-Record. They are fairly rare. At some point the rear rim or whole wheel was replaced. It’s an Ambrosio Durex rim with a Mavic 87 hub. The front is a sponsor-correct Mavic SSC rim with a Mavic 87 hub. Two things that aren’t original are the handlebar tape and the chain. For me this is not a big deal because these things tend to wear out and are easily replaced. I used white, Fizik, perforated, handlebar tape. The chain is a KMC X8.
44-16: Do you ride the bike?
DV: I take it out about twice a year for a spin. I use other wheels because I don’t want to puncture the tubulars and aluminum freewheels tend to wear quickly. I use Ambrosio Nemesis Durec Servizio Corsa rims with Mavic 86 hubs, which are close to the originals. Two years ago, I rode the bike to Criquielion’s grave in tribute.
44-16: Do you have any other Hitachi stuff?
DV: Throughout the years I’ve collected a short sleeve jersey, a long sleeve jersey and a skinsuit.
44-16: Thank you for your time. I love, love, love the bike. Your Kessles bikes are sweet, too.