Holy grail, Batman!

1989 Waterford Paramount, 60cm frame

I’ve a short list of bicycles on my “grail list” – legendary bikes that, short of a miracle, will most likely never grace my collection. Certainly an Alex Singer or a Rene Herse, either one, would fall into that category. Adding to the complication is that a grail bike really isn’t – a “grail bike”, that is – unless the size and geometry fit me. I mean, what’s the point in wishing for the unattainable unless one can actually enjoy it, right?

It took some finagling – actually, in retrospect, quite a lot of reorganization and re-prioritization took place in the makeup of my bike herd – and the sort of horse trading that must transpire in a five-way professional baseball player trade, but at this moment a grail bike stands proudly in my driveway. (And to John in Overland Park, you’ll never know the complexity of the realignment that took place between my collection and that of a couple of other vintage enthusiasts for me to pull this off. I hope you enjoy your new Specialized Roubaix!)

I present for your consideration a 1989 Waterford Paramount in a 60.0 cm frame size, the 192nd frame from the month of September. The Schwinn Paramount was American’s leading custom competition bicycle from 1938 until the early 90’s. The Waterford Paramounts occupy a very special place in the hearts and minds of many riders.

Mine is built up with Campy 9-speed in the rear and a triple chainring up front, a 3ttt bar with Campy brifters (I get it: it’s a decidedly NON-vintage configuration!); I added Speedplay pedals and a Selle Regal saddle. For now, no bottle holder or saddle bag or computer

I was anxious to get out on the bike. But would the ride measure up to the hype? Would it, in fact, ride like a grail bike ought to?

Today dawned with promise… the promise of a humidity and a heat index of 105! So I headed out early. I’d had the foresight to make some fairly precise saddle and bar adjustments yesterday to dial things in pretty tightly to my favored ride position and I was able to simply dress, hop on, and ride. The wheels came with Continental Super Sport tires mounted and I’ve never ridden on them before, so I wanted to see what they were capable of as well as the bike itself. For shakedown rides, I’ve got a couple of routes I use to see how a bike handles on long and short downhill runs, long flats, wind (there’s always some wind around here it seems like!), some long gradual climbs, and some short steep inclines. Due to flooding of the Missouri River several of my favorite rides are truncated, so I planned out a 30 mile conglomeration of a couple of different routes, never really venturing too far from city limits

As already noted, I was ready to get this bike on the road. Yesterday was a very light ride day and so I began today fully rested and fully psyched, which may certainly color my initial reactions. Nevertheless, I rode off, beginning with a false flat with a gradual rise. This is a visually deceptive run and I find myself frequently downshifting about 2/3 of the way up the road: this action really messes with my brain, which is telling me, “Hey! This is flat road, dummy!” Chalk it up to excitement then, because I flew up the road and shifted up rather than down.

What became immediately clear is how smoothly this bike rides for me. The frame fit is damn nice – much like the Freschi and the (much heavier) Peugeot P8. The jury is still out for me on the bars. I prefer a longer reach stem and a more traditional curved bar. But riding on the hoods was very comfortable; riding in the drops was impossible and I think that the bars may need to rotate down in order to use the drops at all.

So I’m riding along, in a relatively upright position. I come to the first downhill and about ten seconds into it I’m thinking to myself I gotta get a computer on this thing as soon as possible. How fast did I take the hill? I have no idea, but it sure felt fast. About a third of the way down the hill, the road bends. I’m not up to speed yet, but pedaling hard. The steering is solid and confident; it’s not an opportunity to carve a corner but I’m already impressed by the lack of any twitchiness whatsoever. Approaching a stop sign, the bike brakes with authority and I note for future reference that I never came close to using up the highest gears.

Riding through the flats is pure joy. I kick it into high gear and the bike has wings. I remember this feeling the first time I took the Freschi out for a test run. I loaded it and the PX-10 into the van and drove to a nice long segment of river bottom highway, then took turns riding the bikes on a nine mile circuit. As much as I love the Peugeot, the Freschi became my immediate darling; she fits me perfectly, the gearing shifts like butter, and she’s clearly the faster of the two bikes. Although I didn’t have two bikes to test side-by-side this morning, the thrill I felt on the flats was the same I experienced when I took the Freschi out and cut her loose. My heart was racing! It was great; even with a stiff crosswind, I felt in control and was able to spin the cranks as I wanted.

Coming into a series of small steep hills was, for me, the test I was really looking forward to with some apprehension. I was not surprised at the exhilaration, nor the performance on the flats. It’s what I expected and would have been disappointed had the performance been less. I’m not a fast climber, but I never have to dismount; a steady cadence and rhythm works well for me.

But hills aren’t always enjoyable, especially on doubles with big chainrings like several of my bikes have. The Paramount has a triple and I knew the granny ring was there for a bailout if I needed it. So what the hell, I charged up each of the steep hills, knowing that I had lots and lots of low gears to get me over the top. I was stunned when I crested the first hill on the middle ring with a whole lot of cassette unused. Let’s try this again, I thought. And again. And so on, until I came to the long, gradual climbs. These too were far from challenging: maybe it’s the adrenalin, huh? But the bike seems very stable on the climbs and there was no side-to-side swaying or unwelcome frame flexing to counter my attack. Again I wished for a computer to confirm what I felt was a much faster climb than usual.

On the home stretch is a short steep climb that I euphemistically call “the beast,” a short-ish hill of perhaps two hundred yards that always has me thankful for a granny ring (and gasping when I’m on a double.) But this morning: Zip! And I was up and over and homeward bound.

Yes, I’m quite happy with the inaugural ride!

Detail photos of this bike can be found here.

Specs

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4 thoughts on “Holy grail, Batman!

  1. chris says:

    Mark,

    I hold the highest respect for collectors in general. Preserving, saving, restoring, retaining value on some part of our past is so important to our culture. It’s been a huge part of my life and I found a great deal of joy from it. Its never about money either, in fact we as collectors often loose oour shirts on certain deals. These stories of bike restoration are the best! Keep it going!

    Chris

    • Chris,

      As my wife will attest under oath: it certainly is not about the money, and that is a fact! In any event, I feel a certain connectivity with our past – and especially so with the ephemera our recent culture tends to create, embrace, and then wantonly abandon. My intrigue manifests itself with cycles and cycling as my own particular daily pathology, but also in my art (when I’m not riding, my world is art and visual art education.)

      I’m happy to share my interests and glad you’ve found a connection here.

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