Saturday, August 27, 2016

1992 Cunningham Racer #14D

This bike has had me smiling every time I walk into the shop. I still can't believe the string of events and the sheer luck that I not only had a chance to restore this bike, but that I get to throw a leg over it anytime I want! My previous Cunningham (Kirby) took over two years to get once I found it and then it never really felt quite right to me. I've known about #14D for at least a year before the owner finally agreed to let it go. So, all in all it's been five to six years in the making. Unlike some other long term projects which leave you a bit empty once the hunting and searching is over, this bike is so much more about the ride and partnership between the rider and machine, and so completing the build is really just the first step and all of the excitement and joy are still and always ahead!

Although the previous owner appreciated the bike and knew what it was, it wasn't fully trail ready when I first saw it.


While all the important bits and pieces were there, every bearing assembly was either rough or loose, the cranks were cracked, the bars painfully short, drivetrain worn or incorrect and so on. The bike needed a total overhaul and some new parts to replace the old worn out ones. I decided to do a complete refresh of the frame and start everything from the ground up.



The fork has the previous owner's name and dimensions written on the steerer, guessing Charlie had several bikes in his queue at the same time and this helped keep things together.


You can see the internal butting of the headtube here, the bottom bracket shell received similar treatment.




Working on these bikes is really a pleasure and privilege. Not only do you get chance to work on something rare and special, but you get to discover all the unique touches and features that Charlie chose to include on his bikes. While some design and fabrication elements were common to each series or batch of bikes he made, each one is still different and unique. Aside from the obvious things like the long top tube and down tube gussets there are more subtle elements like the externally formed and internally butted head tube and bottom bracket shell. All done by hand and in the name of an optimal mix of light weight and strength. Then of course are all the little modifications such as filed down brake arms and cam plates for maximum clearance, hand made cable stops, seat post clamps, slo-releases and so on. The final bike is as much a work of art as it is a machine. Every part is tweaked and massaged to get it to work as best as possible. The end result is nothing short of extraordinary.


There are flashier bikes, there are more exotic bikes, and there are definitely rarer bikes... but there are no other bikes quite like a Cunningham. No other builder has ever commanded such a complete dominion over every element and component of a bike resulting in a masterfully executed machine.



The bike came with M900 XTR drivetrain and a modified 8-spd cassette to fit on the 7-spd freehub body of the early WTB momentum rear hub. The old cassette was badly worn, but luckily a spare was included and once I had it modified (material removed off the back of the spider) the drivetrain snapped back to life.



Simple, elegant and beautiful...


WTB Speedmaster brakes equipped with a toggle cam and modified to accommodate 2.5" tires. The bike originally came with hardware to run the brakes as roller cams and was later converted over to toggle cams. I kept the toggle cam setup up front and reverted back to roller cam in the rear. Not sure I'll keep it that way, but the cable routing seemed more direct with the RC hardware.


The bike really rides great with the 2.5" tires, too bad they disintegrate with each rotation...


The original WTB Titanium bars were cut down to a scant 19", luckily I had a full length pair left over from the Potts CCR. Although 24" is not considered wide by modern standards it's about as wide as it gets on these vintage bikes.


Custom made Type II fork with 118mm hub spacing and a WTB GG hub.



The original cranks were cracked, typical for these Specialized units despite Charlie's attempts to remove the stress concentrations by enlarging the radius between the arm and spider.


Even the famous WTB/CK headset didn't escape Charlie's clutches unmodified. The lip of the lock nut is machined away and threaded to properly fit over the taper wedge stem mount. The original one was cracked to I had to manually modify a replacement lock nut.



The original grease guard bearings were long gone and the replacements quite rough, so a brand new pair of FAGs took their place.


Quite possibly the worst part on this entire bike is the WTB rear hub. Although the classic hubs have their flaws (get loose over time) these design really is inferior. The Grease Guard system only work on the non drive side, and drive side relies on loose ball bearings no different from a standard Shimano hub. I would have expected at least cartridge bearings on the drive side.



The fixed angle seat post (or FASP) is one of Charlie's patented inventions and offers a very clean way of mounting the seat and keeping it aligned with the rest of the bike. The Turbo may not be the ideal saddle for a Cunningham, but I like the suede version and feel that it looks the part.






The D series was the last of the original bikes made by Charlie. He has since made a small batch of E series bikes, but this bike is one of the last of the originals made in the 80s and 90s.



I suppose I could run drop bars on this bike and really transform it into what most people think as an ultimate representation of a Cunningham or WTB bike. But, having tried drops a couple times I just don't think they are a design that really works for me. So, aside from some minor tweaking and massaging this is pretty much how #14D will remain while in my care...

Thus far I've put about 20-30 miles on the bike and the fit is spot on. Everything seems to work as it should and the bike feels hooked up, stable and yet very maneuverable, something I could not say about Kirby. At 26.75 lbs it's no featherweight, but much of that weight is due to the 2.5" Ground Control Extremes. Some modern tires should shed 1-1.5 lbs off the total weight, which will put it on par with a majority of bikes from that time and just fine for me. I'll write up a ride report once I get a few more miles on it. Stay tuned!

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