Old vs. New – Serotta vs. Kirk Onesto

It’s hard for me to process that it’s been 30 years since I walked into Serotta for my very first day of work. In many ways it feels like yesterday. Time flies as they say.

A lot has changed in those three decades but a lot is the same…or at least very similar. A few years ago I had the opportunity to buy one of the actual Coors Light Team framesets that I built for the team in 1990. There was no way I was passing it up as it happened to be the only one that’s my size. I got to wondering recently how the state of the art lugged bike I built back then would compare to my current offerings. It’s hard to test ride a frameset so I scoured eBay and the Paceline Forum and was able to piece together a Shimano Dura Ace 7400 kit for the build. This was the hot ticket when I built this frame and it just seemed right to test it with period components.

What follows is a purely subjective take on a top shelf lugged bike from 1990 and what I build today….both of them being built with my own two hands.

First the Serotta – this frame is lugged and it’s built with Serotta’s proprietary tapered (down and seat tubes are 1 3/8″ at the big end and 1 1/8″ at the small end) Colorado tubing. In the case of this particular bike, being so large (62 c-c by 59) I built it with an oversize 1 1/8″ top tube (1″ being more common at the time). The tubing in this frame was made by Columbus and it featured what passed for thin walls at the time. Most of the tubes have the thick end butts of .9 and the thinner center section .7 mm.

I’d not held one of these in my hands for a very long time before this one arrived and frankly I was shocked by how much it weighed. By today’s standards it’s a bit of a tank. In 1990 it certainly wasn’t.

As mentioned above I built it using period 8 speed Dura Ace 7400. It’s got a Cinelli bar/stem and the classic Selle Italia Turbo saddle. The wheels are built with Dura Ace cassette hubs, butted spokes and and Mavic Reflex clincher rims. I’ve mounted new Continental folding 23 mm tires (never ride vintage tires!).

The complete bike as shown weighs 22 lbs even without pedals. I recall that being a respectable number for such a large bike back then.

Now onto my current offering – the Onesto XL. It’s a 61 by 58.5 cm. and like the Serotta it’s lugged but in this case it’s built with Reynolds 953 stainless tubing. The tubes are XL in size (1 3/8 down and 1 1/4″ top and seat) and the steerer is 1 1/8″ compared to the smaller 1″ on the Serotta. The 953 material is so much stronger than the old Columbus that the tube walls can be made shockingly thin…in this case the main tubes are .55 – .35 – .55 or just a bit over 1/2 the thickness of the Serotta tubes. If you want to cut the frame weight by a shit-ton then making the tubes 1/2 the thickness is a good start. Since the tube diameter is the main contributor to stiffness the Kirk Onesto is stiffer than the Serotta while being much lighter. All of the main tubes on the Onesto are larger than the Serotta counterparts but the thin walls keep the weight down and reduce road shock in comparison. This frame is built with the optional curved Terraplane seat stays which add to the surefootedness of the bike.

The Onesto is built with 11 speed Dura Ace 9100. It has a Deda aluminum stem and Deda carbon bars. The saddle is a Fizik and the post is Fizik carbon. The wheels are by HED and they feature the 25 mm wide Ardennes rims and bladed spokes. I’ve mounted 30 mm Challenge Strada Bianca clinchers (measure an actual 32mm) – interesting to note that these tires measure 10 mm wider than the ones fitted to the Serotta.

This complete bike weighs 17.6 lbs without pedals. I have to admit that this surprised even me….that’s a 4.4 pound difference. I’m far from a weight weenie but any way you cut it 4.4 lbs is a lot.

I was excited that the day I completed the Serotta build was warm and dry enough to take it out and test it and it was very interesting. Of course one can’t compare directly the ride of one frameset against the other and that was never my aim – I wanted to see what the best bike I could build in 1990 felt like compared to what I can build today. That said……

I rode the Coors Light Serotta first. It felt well damped despite the fact that the tires are so narrow and hard. It feels a bit harsh on sharp edged bumps but not painfully so. The BB is plenty stiff. I’d like to have been better able to feel the torsional stiffness of the frameset (vital to proper steering and handling) but the vintage Cinelli quill stem and 64-42 bar combo is so flexible that at first you wonder if something is broken. The stem twists like it’s made of damp cardboard and of course this colors the ride of the bike in a big way. I knew this would be the case but it’s even more so than I expected it to be.

I like the steering and tip-in of the Serotta very much. It carves a turn nicely and lets go of it just as it should allowing you to adjust the line on turn exit with ease. We used good numbers back then and not-surprisingly they still work.

The control weighting is much heavier then the current Shimano offerings and it feels more like Campy than anything else today. The brakes take a firm squeeze and the shift lever action is very precise, if a bit heavy. The shifting makes a serious “CLICK” compared to the subtle modern ‘click’. Not good or bad but certainly different.

The saddle (one of my favorites back then) feels fine but not great compared to my modern saddle. The shape’s not quite right and it’s pretty damn firm up the middle. But the big ergonomic challenge is the Cinelli bars. Of course riding on the tops is fine and the drops aren’t an issue but the hoods are not pleasant. It made me remember the hours spent with my wrist cocked at that unnatural angle on the short hoods. The wrist angle and support is one thing but the low elevation of the hoods is another. Modern bar/lever combos place the hands MUCH higher and a bit further out.

Taken as a whole I really like the ride and if I were to put a modern bar on it I could enjoy it for fun rides. I’d for sure be slower, and I guess that matters to a certain extent, but it would fun to spend the day on…at least with better shaped bars!

Jumping on the Onesto directly after getting off the Serotta was fascinating. They share some DNA but there are some profound differences. The first impression is that it rolled easier, smoother and faster. The frame is stiffer and more responsive while at the same time being more compliant…and the handling is much more precise. It feels like you could put a penny on the road 100 meters away, in the middle of a turn, and pick a line that would have you run it over at 35 mph….and tell if it was heads or tails up. No doubt the stiff and precise bar/stem combo help this in a big way but the torsional stiffness of the frame’s main triangle can be felt from the first corner and is very welcome.

The control weights are much lighter but even more precise. The modulation of the brakes is better which is saying something. The saddle fits me just perfectly (Fizik Antares EVO) and the bar/lever combo is much more comfortable while giving more hand placement options.

One can’t overlook the wheel/tire combo. The 25 mm wide rims covered by 32 mm tires are a revelation. The roll faster, ride smoother, handle just as precisely and weigh less. It’s hard to grasp that last point.

This particular Onesto won the “Best Road Bike” award at NAHBS in Salt Lake City a few years back and it’s my daily ride. It gets used hard and put away wet. I love it and for the first time in a very long time I can’t think of anything I’d like to change on my bike.

All this brings something to mind for me – I have often read online “I had a 1990ish Pinarello/Colnago/Ciocc…etc so I know what a steel bike rides like.” I would agree that they know what an average 1990 steel bike rides like but they have no idea what a modern steel bike rides like until they’ve ridden one made with modern materials. Frankly my old Serotta rode better back then than did most anything else out there and even it falls far short of a modern steel bike with it’s thin, light and oversize tubing. It’s interesting to me that no one says “I rode a carbon bike back in 2000 and I didn’t like it so there’s no reason to try a modern bike like a Crumpton.” Times change, materials change, and the bikes built with them change.

I’m proud of the bikes I built 3 decades ago. They were top shelf at the time and they helped set that. It was a big deal to me to play a part in that. That said I’m so much more proud of the rides I make now…..but there’s no way I’d be able to build my current bikes without having built all those bikes, all those years ago. I stand on the shoulders of the giants that helped teach me this craft. A huge thanks to them all.

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