Bikes of the Bunch: Eddy Merckx MX Leader

by James Huang


Peter Chisholm is not your average cyclist.

As the former long-time owner of renowned Boulder, Colorado bicycle shop Vecchio’s Bicicleteria, Chisholm’s love for metal bikes and all things Campagnolo has been well-earned. The shop primarily concentrated on service, and the complete bikes it sold came from more traditional outfits such as Moots, Waterford, Gunnar, and Ritchey.

Chisholm’s skin is adorned with four tattoos, and although he spent two decades as a pilot for the United States Navy flying F-4 Phantoms and F-14 Tomcats, none of them are related to his years of service. Instead, his Scottish family crest is inked on to his right arm, and a tattoo on his left ankle depicts the cover from The Tao of Pooh (except with Pooh wearing a kilt); his other arm and leg are decorated with Campagnolo icongraphy.

When he sold Vecchio’s to business partner Jim Potter in 2013, Moots and Campagnolo surprised Chisholm with a gorgeous custom road bike, built with modern tubing and an 80th-anniversary Campagnolo Super Record EPS groupset, but adorned with retro features such as polished seatstay caps, polished chainstays, full-length rear brake housing, and custom decals with throwback graphics.

Most cyclists would spend every possible moment riding such a creation, but today, that bike hangs on the wall at Vecchio’s; Chisholm feels that, as wonderful as it is, it’s simply too special a machine to ride regularly. Instead, he spends the majority of his pedaling time on an old Eddy Merckx MX Leader.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
Small-diameter steel, a level top tube, shallow-profile aluminum tubular rims, and a deep-drop classic-bend bar – it doesn’t get much more classic than this. But wait, is that Campagnolo EPS?

“When I was at Vecchio’s, I was talking about how I loved MX Leaders with Michael Robson [a local photographer],” Chisholm recounted. “I had one of the last 100 Motorolas [Eddy Merckx sponsored the US-based Motorola team from 1991-1994] and I said I’d love to have a spare — and he says, ‘I have one!’ He brought it over and showed it to me, and it was kind of knackered up, and he wanted to trade stuff for it. I said, ‘thank you, Michael, but I don’t think so.’

“About three years later, my wife and I were doing our Christmas lists, and on mine, I wrote, ‘Michael Robson’s MX Leader — ha ha ha ha.’ So Christmas comes and goes, but my birthday is on January 3, and we’re doing it here with our two sons, and my wife says my oldest son, ‘Go get it.’ And there it was.”

That bike originally came to Chisholm with a Campagnolo C-Record groupset that included friction shifters and Delta brakes, but after seeing a fellow cyclist in town with a “retro mod” EPS-equipped Ciocc, he was inspired to replace it with an EPS setup.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
Campagnolo intended these Athena EPS shifters for use on aero extensions, but here they’ve been repurposed for drop-bar use.

Chisholm broke his back when he was hit by a truck while riding in 2002, however, and while he thankfully recovered from that completely, his spine shortened significantly, to the point where he had to alter his usual bike fit. Swapping from a 12cm-long stem to 10cm one mostly did the trick, but there was still the issue of the longer reach of modern Campagnolo EPS levers to contend with if he wanted to pull off the upgrade.

As it turned out, Chisholm wanted to keep the original levers and Delta calipers, anyway, so he instead decided to repurpose the time trial shifters that Campagnolo normally intends to be used on the end of aero extensions and instead use them as traditional bar ends.

“I talked to Dave Wages [of Ellis Cycles] and David Kirk [of Kirk Frameworks] and told them I’ve got this MX Leader and want to drill holes in it for EPS wires, and they both said, ‘Go ahead; you’re not going to hurt anything.'”

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
Chisholm drilled holes in his frame, but only after consulting some other industry folks with a bit more experience on the subject.

Chisholm and Potter were already deep into the process of transferring ownership of the shop, and it was but a small matter at that point to work in the cost of an Athena EPS groupset into the cost. With that in hand, he was off to the races.

“I confirmed with Campagnolo North America that the wires would be long enough, and then I got my Athena EPS group, took out my 5/16″ drill, and drilled holes in the damned frame.”

Why Athena EPS, you might ask, instead of Super Record EPS?

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
Peter Chisholm easily could have gone with one of Campagnolo’s nicer EPS groupsets, but he wanted as much aluminum (and as little carbon fiber) as possible.

“It was going to be a daily driver and I wasn’t going to upgrade it,” Chisholm explained. “I wanted metal derailleurs, and I wanted a metal crank.”

Chisholm’s preferences in componentry are also reflected in the wheels: a set of aluminum Campagnolo Lambda shallow-profile tubular rims he built himself with DT Swiss straight-gauge stainless steel spokes and brass nipples (36-hole and three-cross, natch) and Campagnolo Record hubs.

“I do not own a clincher wheel or rim; I only ride sew-ups. I haven’t had a flat in two and a half years. [This bike is] just a magical ride. You get on it and just go, my god, this thing is amazing.”

Although now happily retired from the mayhem of retail life, Chisholm still regularly gets his hands dirty, spending part of the week helping tend to his young grandchildren, and much of the rest doing what he loved most when he was at Vecchio’s: building wheels. Chisholm Custom Wheels now operates out of the back of his garage, and he estimates that he’s built roughly 400 sets just since March 2014, with every set recorded by hand in a small notebook.

Peter Chisholm has recorded each of the custom wheelsets he’s built since retiring from Vecchio’s in a small, handwritten notebook. Suffice to say, he holds Campagnolo in high regard.

Those remaining days, however, are still spent doing what pulled him into the bicycle business in the first place: riding bikes.

“I prefer to ride alone,” he says. “The who/where/when/how-fast/how-far gig is tiresome. I also ride with no electronic stuff (except for EPS). I seldom know where I’m going to ride when I pedal out my driveway; I kind of decide on the run. And, although I know where I’m going, I don’t know a lot of the road names I’m on. I ride because I like to ride; I don’t care if I ride the same place everyday.”

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
This Eddy Merckx MX Leader “daily driver” isn’t new, isn’t carbon fiber, and isn’t aero – but it’s undeniably beautiful.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
If you’re wondering to yourself what this bike weighs, you’re asking the wrong question.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
Airbrushed paint jobs like this are rarely seen these days, particularly on production frames.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
This MX Leader was built when Eddy Merckx was still producing in Belgium, and well before the industry’s widespread move to Asia.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
Eddy Merckx developed the MXL oversized and shaped tubeset in conjunction with Columbus. The goal was a stronger and stiffer steel tubeset that was better equipped to handle the rigors of day-to-day racing than what was available at the time.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
The ovalized main tubes required similarly shaped lugs to match.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
As compared to other steel forks of the time, which were more round or oval in profile, the Eddy Merckx MX Leader used a distinct teardrop-like shape.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
Tube shaping is common today, but it was much less so when this bike was originally built.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
The deep-drop, non-anatomic handlebar is a perfect match for the rest of the bike.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
The two-bolt chromoly steel stem was built by Colorado framebuilder Mark Nobilette.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
Thankfully, Campagnolo already made rubber grommets to help produce a nicely finished look.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
There was little guesswork involved in where to drill the holes, since those locations had already been well established on more modern frames.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
Unlike Shimano Di2 and SRAM Red eTap electronic drivetrains, which automatically go into sleep mode after a prescribed period of inactivity, Campagnolo EPS requires users to manually shut the system off to prevent battery drain. A small magnetic switch plugs into the back of the battery module on this first-generation EPS unit.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
Aluminum derailleur construction was a high priority for this build.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
Campagnolo’s gorgeous Delta rim brakes are renowned for being tricky to get right, but these are impeccably set up with a light and snappy lever action.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
The patron saint of cycling watches over Chisholm as he rides the roads surrounding his home in Boulder, Colorado.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
Few road cyclists these days have ridden tubular tires, and the ones that do typically reserve them for race days. Peter Chisholm rides nothing but, and doesn’t even own a single set of clincher wheels.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
Chisholm sold his bike shop, Vecchio’s Bicicletteria, back in November 2013. It took only a few months before he decided to spend much of his free time post-retirement doing what he always loved most about working in a shop: building custom wheels. Since getting his home business started in March 2014, Chisholm estimates he’s built roughly 400 wheelsets.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
It was once common for spokes to be tied-and-soldered at the crosses in an effort to boost wheel rigidity and solidity. As with wheel building in general, it’s fast becoming a lost art.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
These wheels are as traditional as can be, built with old Campagnolo Lambda shallow-profile aluminum tubular rims, Campagnolo Record hubs, and DT Swiss straight-gauge stainless steel spokes and brass nipples, all arranged in a 36-hole, three-cross pattern.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
That’s not the modern remake of a Silca Impero neatly tucked away beneath the top tube; it’s the real deal.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
A spare tubular is secured beneath the Selle SMP in classic fashion: stuffed inside a sock and attached with a leather toe strap. Note how the seatpost is knurled to prevent slipping, too.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
Naturally, Chisholm’s Silca Impero pump is fitted with a Campagnolo head.

Eddy Merckx MX Leader
Chisholm says he almost never gets flat tires (even with tubulars), but it looks like this one is due to be replaced!

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