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by James Huang
May 19, 2017
Photography by James Huang
Brett Horton is no ordinary cycling fan who was in search of a bike for his son. As a senior investment management executive for international consulting giant Mercer, he most certainly has the means to simply go out and buy something. But as the founder and purveyor of the Horton Collection — arguably the most comprehensive collection of historical cycling memorabilia in the world — he also usually has a finely honed idea of what he wants, as well as the right connections in the industry to turn that vision into reality.
So when it came time for Trevor to transition from his first mountain bike to his first road bike, something off-the-shelf just wasn’t going to do.
As with many fans of the sport, the elder Horton has long been enamored with all things Eddy Merckx, so it was natural that the Belgian would play a key role in the project. In this case, Horton tapped the skills of Johan Vranckx, who has worked in Merckx’s frame shop since it was founded in 1980.
“Johan is the person who built Merckx’s EDDY70s that came out this year [a limited-edition, high-end steel bike],” Horton explained. “Johan built every one of those himself, start to finish. For me, what I thought would be cool was, because Eddy obviously doesn’t build anything himself, if we could get Johan to be the one to build this. This is built entirely by Johan, and this is the first time Eddy has ever done a custom kid’s frame.”
Brett Horton – owner and curator of the Horton Collection of cycling memorabilia – was a highlight of this year’s NAHBS event with a custom Eddy Merckx he had built for his son, Trevor.
“The backstory is that when Eddy was starting his shop in 1980, he went to one of the local welding schools, went to the teacher, and said ‘I need four, five of your best welders,’ and the response was along the lines of, ‘Well, I don’t have four or five; I’ve got one.’ And it was Johan. This guy was 16 years old and gets offered a job at Eddy Merckx. My understanding is Johan went home, explained this to his parents and grandparents and they thought he was lying, so they went with him to Eddy’s shop to find out if the kid was lying, and sure enough, he gets the job and is the guy that is there today.”
The bike that Vranckx ultimately built was based on the Merckx Liege 75 steel model that currently resides in the production Eddy Merckx range, but with a custom geometry. The dimensions obviously had to be chosen such that the bike fit Trevor properly, but Horton also wanted standard 700c wheels and normal proportions overall.
Horton started with a standard Campagnolo Potenza group, but sent it off to CycloRetro in Melbourne, Australia, for a dramatic transformation.
“In talking to the guys at Eddy’s shop, the challenge was, how do you make a 700c-wheeled bike small enough that my son could fit it, but not have really funky geometry to go with it? This was the first time Eddy has ever done a custom kid’s bike, so they spent quite a bit of time on the geometry.”
Dressed in classic Molteni orange paint with period-correct graphics, the end result certainly seems to satisfy Horton’s main goals. But the fact that it was based on a Liege 75 also held some sentimental value.
“It was in 1975, when I was 12 years old, that I first became aware of Eddy Merckx,” Horton recounted. “That’s when I really started getting into cycling. My kid turns 12 this year, he certainly knows who Merckx is, but what’s really cool about Liege 75 is that that’s the year Eddy won Liege for a record fifth time, and I’ve got the jersey he wore when he won, and the photo [at the finish line].
“So I’ve got the jersey he was riding, the namesake frame, my kid who’s turning 12; it just seems right.”
A fun tribute to Eddy Merckx.
As nice as it is, a frameset is just a frameset; it needs components to be ridden, and Horton had an idea in mind for the build kit, too. Despite the classic aesthetic, he says he didn’t set out to build Trevor a throwback machine. Instead, he secured a new Potenza groupset from Campagnolo and sent it directly to Chris Howard at CycloRetro in Melbourne, Australia. There, the original anodizing was stripped off, the surface was polished to a gleaming luster, and then each of the components — even the quick-release skewers — was custom pantographed.
That treatment was also extended to the aluminum seatpost, stem, handlebar, bar plugs, and headset cap, and the reach on the Ergopower levers was even adjusted to better suit Trevor’s smaller hands. All told, it’s remarkably well-finished and complete from tip to tail.
Perhaps most amazing about the project was its duration. From concept to delivery, Horton says the entire timeline spanned just three weeks.
“I am absolutely looking forward to my kid beating the living crap out of this. I will be disappointed if, in a year from now, it looks like this, I’ve failed.”
The chainstay was signed by the frame’s builder, Johan Vranckx, a long-time master frame builder for Eddy Merckx.
CycloRetro not only polished all of the Campagnolo Potenza aluminum bits, but also went to town with the pantographing.
Sorry, Campagnolo, but this is how Potenza should be done.
The old Campagolo script logo was etched into the front derailleur.
More pantographing on this NOS Campagnolo aluminum seatpost.
The standard Potenza brake calipers also get the polish-and-pantograph treatment.
As is this.
Campagnolo’s winged logo has stood the test of time.
A masterclass in how to make a modern crank look timelessly classic.
Even the quick-release skewers weren’t left untouched.
Sadly, the plastic knuckles on the Campagnolo Potenza derailleur can’t be polished.
According to Brett Horton, one of the biggest challenges was settling on a 700c-wheeled frame geometry that would be well suited for a 12-year-old.
A small pin inserted into the lever body cleverly limits the reach.
Even custom aluminum handlebar end caps were commissioned for the project.
These hubs were once anodized black, but no more.