Merckx Mondays Nov 23, 2009

At first when Jeremy and I were discussing the history and controversy over Eddy Merckx’s hour record bike I wanted to make a post that took a stab at laying out the facts. Then I realized how massive a feat this would be. There were guys who spent their entire adulthood painstakingly researching the subject and studying every subtle nuance in historical records. Was I even close to achieving a level of documentation worthy of even citing their work? Sure. Why not. So here we go, a very special Merckx Mondays.

image via Bicycle Guide, March 1991’s article “Eddy and the Hour”

On October 25th, 1972, Eddy Merckx set his hour record. He had been planning on setting the record since his first year professionally racing in 1965. In fact, when asked what his professional ambitions were, he was quoted “To win the Tour de France and set a new hour record”. Words that will ripple through his professional career. In the beginning of 1972, he stated his intent to train for the hour record.

Ernesto Colnago, a long-time friend and famed frame-builder consulted with Merckx on how to design his frames for that year. Knowing that he was a road racer, Merckx planned on training for the hour record as a roadsman. He was quoted saying “I am, above all, a roadman. I shall attack the hour record as a roadman must. I must finish the season at the peak of my road form. For that is how I shall have the best chance at beating the hour record.”

Merckx trained on Colnago-built Molteni-sausage sponsored frames that year and went on to win fifty races. He had achieved his so-called peak. After deciding against the Vigorelli as the location for the hour record, he boarded a plane to Mexico. As the events unfolded, Merckx set his record on a Windsor-decaled bike, coming in at 49.431 km. Up until that point, the bikes Colnago made Eddy were unlabeled. They simply said “Eddy Merckx” on the down tube. There were no labels to a brand because the Eddy Merckx brand had not yet existed. Merckx felt it was a polite nod to the Mexican people (and Windsor) to label his bike as a Mexican-built bicycle. Obviously Ernesto Colnago was not happy with this move.

No one touched his hour record until 1984 when Moser beat it by a kilometer. Everyone felt that Moser’s record had been tainted with advancements in aerodynamics, claiming Merckx to be the last true hour record holder. Merckx even went on to say “For the first time in the history of the hour record, a weaker man has beaten a stronger man.”

So, who has his bike?

components from Bicycle Guide, March 1991’s article “Eddy and the Hour”

Some things to note prior to taking on this debate:
-the decals
-the Pino Morroni drillium components
-the Colnago touches
-no dustcaps, anywhere

Merckx Hour Record Bike #1 – Brussels Underground

picture via Wikipedia

This is widely-regarded as the actual hour record bike from Mexico. So why wouldn’t the Brussels Underground bike be the actual hour record bike? At first glance, it looks very similar to bike Merckx was photographed riding during his triumphant hour record (see the first picture in the post). But if you look closer, the Pino Morroni components are not all there. Morroni drilled every component he could on the record bike. The chain, handlebars (Cinelli Champione del Mondo), seatpost and cranks. Campagnolo made a custom Super Record-style chainring and Morroni engraved “Eddy” with the arc-en-ciel stripes (as pictured). These components were what made the bike weigh in at just over 12 lbs. Coupled with the Pino Morroni stem, everything was approved by the Cannibal himself. Morroni even engraved the stem with “To
Mr. Pedilvella” which translates to “To Mr. Crankarm”, his nickname for Eddy.

It’s hard to tell if the chainring is identical because the picture is a non-drive shot. The handlebars are not drilled and again, because of the angle, it’s hard to tell if the seatpost is. For now, this bike could very well be a training bike, but according to Bicycle Guide’s March 1991 article on Merckx’s hour record, Il Vecchio in Seattle had the bike throughout 1990 and those pictures do not match the bike in Brussels Underground.

Merckx Hour Record Bike #2 – Il Vecchio

image via Bicycle Guide, March 1991’s article “Eddy and the Hour”

Everything matches here. Aside from the bike being obviously re-decaled in the 1980s with the Eddy Merckx factory logo, everything checks out. The components are all drilled correctly, Pino’s engravings are there and minus DNA testing on the saddle, I think we can say that this is indeed the hour record bike.

Merckx Hour Record Bike #3 – traveling hour-record bike


This bike was touring the US as the “Record dell’ora”. It has the drilled bars and similar cranks. The image is too low-resolution to see the detailing on the cranks or again, the post, but it looks very close to the bike Merckx road in 1972. Except one thing; the decals. Look closely at the first image in the post. The seat tube decals are blue and they do not have a white border. The headset also does not match. Nor does the lacing on the front wheel and correct me if I’m wrong, but the seatpost clamp looks off as well.

I think it’s safe to say that this bike, while it may have been an hour-record training bike, was not the actual hour record bike.

Merckx Hour Record Bike #4 – Eddy’s own

image via Chained Revolution

Does the Cannibal own the actual bike? Sources say yes, but there is no official documentation. Cue this up to the ‘unknown’ category.

Merckx Hour Record Bike #5 – Cinelli

As previously-stated, Cinelli claims to have not only the actual bike, but a training bike as well. Again, I cannot find any sources documenting either claim, so we’ll mark this up to the ‘unknown’ category.

Merckx Hour Record Bike #6 – Tom Pham’s hour record (?) bike

image via Chained Revolutions

Tom Pham has a mind-boggling bicycle collection. In his stable is this Colnago-built, Morroni-drilled, Molteni sausage orange, Eddy Merckx labeled track frame. Tom makes an interesting connection from a quote from the Bicycle Guide March 1991 article “Eddy and the Hour” stating,

“Many riders care little about the machinery they use, but as in many things, Merckx was an exception. His attention to detail bordered on fanatical. It was he who designed his hour bikes, and some special road frames with similar geometry.”

Surely if Eddy Merckx made custom geometries for his hour record bikes, then one could overlay a picture from the supposed bicycle in the article with his acquisition. Which is exactly what he did.

custom drilled drivetrain via Chained Revolutions

Tom goes onto purchasing a Pino Morroni stem, custom-engraved Super Record ring, Morroni-engraved chain and numerous other period-correct components. Remember, Merckx never used dustcaps on his hour record bikes!

image via Chained Revolutions

The final build is awe-inspiring and even though Tom Pham readily admits that his bike is not an actual hour record bike, it sure makes you wonder. Just how many bikes did Ernesto Colnago and Pino Morroni make for Eddy Merckx?

I hope everyone enjoyed this and feel free to leave comments or shoot me emails with your information.

Big thanks to Tears for Gears, Chained Revolution and Classic Rendezvous for the information.

illustration via Vintage Bicycle Press

Edit: Jeremy just forwarded me this modern-day illustration of Merckx’s drilled components. Really nice! You can click the image for full-resolution.

  • I know that Eddy used FT hardware for a while…

  • Nice sleuthing and a good read. However, (I’m sure you might agree) these issues are often best left unresolved. More cycling mystery to fuel another issue of Rouleur.

    But seriously, good work.

  • Horatio

    Nice post- but what about a conclusion? You sort of leave us all hanging!

  • There really is no conclusion. I was just trying to lay it all out as is and compile everything I could find. It’s one of the greater “mysteries” in the vintage cycling world. Some have said that the Il Vecchio is the Brussels bike and is also Eddy’s personal bike. It could explain the change in bars and varying decals.

    You see how this is a quagmire?

  • I have the real Eddy merckx hour bike in my attic!

  • I conclude that John is a huge Merckx nerd!

  • Nick in NOLA

    Sweet post, and those are some cool drawings.
    Is it time to take my drill to an old group I have here? haha. Thanks.

  • erik.b

    NICE! Good one prolly, really glad to have all this info in one spot.

  • Thank you! I enjoyed reading this! Great work.

  • mike

    i could swear i saw a film where eddy was showing the interviewer some of his bikes, and he had the hour bike and he said it was made of titanium. maybe i’m nuts, but i seem to remember this?

  • chris

    Really good stuff in here John. Thanks for laying it all down.

  • thanks man. awesome post.
    to me it was obviously to see that none of the bikes are the original one, just look at the stickers on the frame (eddy on track and in the movie)… on track the name is written in blue like in te brussels pic, but then there’s the big sticker missing on the seat tube (more like in the pic from bike 3)… i am sure eddy keeps it for himself

  • Great post, definitely had me looking at the hour record on wikipedia for another 30 minutes after reading this.

  • wade

    this bike seems a perfect candidate for a Craigslist scam (you know the one, “I’m out of town, but I’ll post it on ebay for a buy it now” …)

    since Eddy is still around, isn’t it possible to confirm #4? someone should have asked him a few weeks ago when he was in the Park …

  • Search for merckx on my blog,some more hour Merckx/track pix i fyou need ’em.

  • Darwin

    I sure wish I had copies of all issues of Bicycle Guide. Boy did I love that magazine. I do have quite a few but not nearly all.

  • Just a quick note to say thanks for a great post. Really enjoyed reading it.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Eddy at Eurobike this year where he kindly agreed to record an introduction for our podcast. I found him to be a really approachable guy – although I was “bricking it” beforehand!

  • One more thing to note; Ernesto Colnago claims to have a bike in the Colnago factory as well…

  • Molnar

    Sorry to be late to the party, but I would just like to add that the story I heard at the time was that Merckx put on the Windsor decals for about $12,000 US, not as a polite gesture. I don’t know if this is true, but you have to keep in mind that professional cyclists made a lot less money in those days, and no one was more professional than Merckx.

  • Molnar

    Also, I believe it was the Bike Barb who wondered whether the Colnago/Windsor should be called a Windago or a Coldsore. But that was back in the crass ’70s, and we would never say such things today.

  • Jim

    I remember looking at the bike that was in Il Vecchio’s in Seattle. It was really nice. I remember being told it was the hour record bike. I doubted it based on how it vibed… I have no idea if that bike is the real bike ridden, but I seem to remember it looked somewhat different than the bike seen in the film. I like this posting. THanks!

  • David I

    The stem was titanium by Morroni, the frame was specially drawn Columbus tubing, with the trademark Colnago lugs. The headset was not titanium but a prototype of the upcoming Super Record alloy model. When the Super Record was first displayed the headset was anodised black, see pictures of Roger de Vlaeminck and his Gios at the Milan show.
    The Cinelli claim is interesting. I remember back in 71 and 72 Cinelli claimed he had helped Colnago build the bike but nobody believed him. He said that he had several ideas that would have made the bike even better,a narrow more aerodynamic front hub and fork for example, Colnago would not include them because he wanted the bike to look like a Colnago not a Cinelli. Even if Cinelli did help Colnago would never admit it.

  • Chris Protopapas

    “There were no labels to a brand because the Eddy Merckx brand had not yet existed.”

    There certainly was an “Eddy Merckx” brand in 1972, he licensed the use of his name on bicycles manufactured by various companies during his racing career, before he started making them himself in 1979 or 80. While Colnago and DeRosa never seemed to have marketed “Eddy Merckx” branded bikes, his Belgian builder, Kessels, definitely did as early as 1972. I know because I had one, and I still have a 1973 Eddy Merckx as well. Kessels continued selling Eddy Merckx branded bikes until at least 1978. The important thing to note here is that Kessels built actual race bikes for Eddy and the Molteni, FIAT and C&A teams.

  • Chris Protopapas

    “Merckx felt it was a polite nod to the Mexican people (and Windsor) to label his bike as a Mexican-built bicycle. Obviously Ernesto Colnago was not happy with this move.”

    The Windsor representative offered Merckx $10,000 to put the Windsor decals on the bike; being a professional bike racer, he took the check. Ernesto was furious.

  • Mark Pounders

    The Eddy Merckx Hour Record Bike is owned by Eddy Merckx and is housed in his factory in Meise, Belgium. The bike is not steel, but titanium (probably one of the first titanium bikes built). The Windsor labels were removed and replaced with the Merckx face labels from the 70’s. In an interview with Paul Sherwen, Merckx shows the bike which is identical in every way to the one photographed during his actual ride (with the exception of the Windsor decals). Merckx also says the bike will never be for sale.

  • Cudak888

    FYI, until Cinelli can come up with a picture of a different Merckx track bike, they can stick their claim where the sun doesn’t shine.

    Not only does the bike in the photo have a solid steerer and the wrong decals (granted, decals can be changed), the biggest whistleblower is the chromed fork crown. Coupled with the original paint job, I’d question whether this frameset had ANY involvement in the hour record.