Francesco Moser stunned the cycling world when he smashed Eddy Merckx’s Hour Record on a silver dream machine with disc wheels
When Ernesto Colnago built the bike Eddy Merckx rode to a distance of 49.431km in 1972, he believed the lighter he could make it the further its rider would go. He even inflated Merckx’s tyres with helium.
Twelve years on, Moser’s team of engineers, led by Antonio Brandazzi, understood that it was aerodynamics, not weight, that would allow the Italian, aged 32 and nearing the end of his career, to break the longstanding Hour Record.
For Moser’s team, bicycle weight was something to be harnessed rather than shed. The lenticular carbon-fibre disc wheels weighed 4.6kg between them and were intended to work like flywheels, allowing Moser to maintain a constant pace once up to speed.
The total weight of Moser’s bike was 9.6kg — nearly twice the 5.75kg of Merckx’s machine.
The mirror-polished steel frame, although supplied by Columbus like Merckx’s, was a world away from the Belgian’s.
The arcing seat tube appeared to set Moser in a radical crouch, simultaneously bringing the rear wheel almost underneath him, while the smaller 650C front disc allowed a shorter head tube and the use of a bullhorn bar — aerodynamically superior to the standard drops used by Merckx.
Get more aero, go faster
Although Moser’s position looked revolutionary, the contact points were in fact based on those of his regular road bike.
Heavy though the disc wheels were, they rolled round the outdoor Mexico City track at 51.151kph on super-light, super-narrow 16mm tubular tyres with carcasses made from pure silk yarn that weighed 100g apiece.
Moser had enough confidence in his extraordinary wheels and tyres to have his mechanic inflate them with standard air.
Fellow Italians Campagnolo made custom components for the project: the pedals had titanium axles but were manufactured in magnesium, as were the cranks, the hubs and the aerodynamic chainring.
No aero stone was left unturned: Diadora even made special strapless shoes that were fixed to the cranks.
How much difference does it really make?
No description of Moser’s record is complete without noting his association with pioneering sports doctor Francesco Conconi. Blood transfusions, not illegal in 1984, were at the cutting edge of sports science.
Regardless of his ‘preparation’, the Hour Record would never be the same again. Moser had not just raised the bar, he had blown it into orbit with his space-age machine.
Compared to the Pinarello Sir Bradley Wiggins rode to take the Hour Record in 2015, Moser’s bike is a dinosaur, but cycling fans still marvel over its preposterous silhouette like schoolboys over a T-Rex skeleton.