Bikes of the Bunch: Look KG 176 with Mavic ZAP

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In this edition of Bikes of the Bunch, we take a close look at a period-correct build that honours the bikes that Team ONCE were riding in 1992 while showcasing the industry’s first electronic road groupset, Mavic ZAP.

Stefan is an avid cyclist and collector who lives in Switzerland. He has an eye for unusual equipment and experimental products, and since 2012, he’s been cataloguing his builds for his blog Vive le Vélo! While some collectors may strive to capture a cross-section of the sport’s history, Stefan is drawn to the curiosities that demonstrate how inventive the industry can be.

“I’m not interested in 100% replicas of catalog bikes or team bikes,” said Stefan. “I especially like the special and rare parts and then try to come up with a build that is more or less period-correct.”

Stefan’s approach to every project is meticulous, which won’t surprise anybody that is familiar with the Swiss stereotype. “I can spend hours researching details on the bikes and parts,” he said. “Building the bikes is one thing I like, but the search for all the details around the bikes is important to me as well.

“Whenever I plan a new build I gather many pictures of frames and parts and catalog scans as well. These serve me well in selecting the right parts for my bikes.”

For the bike featured here, it was inspired by a frameset from a brand that Stefan is fond of. “I have always liked Look bikes, and the KG 176 in this plum color has been one of my favourites for a long time. My intention was to complete the frame with a Mavic mechanical groupset as it was used around 1992 by the ONCE team.”

carbon road frame and electronic gear shifting from 1992
A carbon road bike with electronic gear shifting is nothing novel today, but for a bike from 1992, it was cutting-edge stuff.

Anybody that was a fan of the sport from that time will remember team ONCE, if only because the team’s iconic yellow jerseys were both unmissable and unforgettable (though others may be more likely to remember the role that the team’s manager, Manolo Saiz, had in Operation Puerto). Look provided the team with its carbon framesets for several years before Giant brought its compact frames to the team and the peloton in 1998.

The plum KG 176 sat in Stefan’s apartment for a couple of years before he had all of the parts he needed for the build. “I prefer bikes in good condition, but NOS [new old stock] is not a must for me,” he said. “What’s important is that the condition of all the pieces should match. Because the KG 176 was in very good condition it was clear for me to use only parts that were new or nearly new.”

Needless to say, tracking down parts from the early ‘90s that are in near-mint condition can be a time-consuming process, however Stefan was happy to bide his time. He normally has a few projects on the go, plus, he is a very patient person.

Mavic ZAP rear derailleur
The ZAP system is only concerned with the rear derailleur.

That patience also allows for a certain amount of serendipity, and in this instance, it changed the course of the project. “By chance, I found a Mavic ZMS 8000 (ZAP) groupset. That was a special experience,” he said. “I don’t think there are many ZAP groupsets around these days.

“It’s hard to find the group piece-by-piece, yet I was lucky to get the whole groupset in one box, including the original boxes and a 6V battery dated from 1992. And best of all, I could get the ZAP testing device as well.”

For the uninitiated, Mavic’s ZAP groupset was the first commercial electronic road groupset, pre-dating Campagnolo’s EPS and Shimano’s Di2 by over a decade. “ZAP is a very interesting groupset,” Stefan said. “There are many stories about the quality of the mechanism and the experience pro riders had using it. If I recall correctly, it was Tony Rominger who got so upset about the malfunctioning of ZAP during the Tour de France that he got off his bike and literally threw it away.

“The special thing about ZAP (and Mektronic, introduced around 1998) is that it’s a electro-mechanical group. Only the signal is transmitted electronically, the shifting itself is mechanical. The rear derailleur uses the energy from the jockey pulley to move the derailleur up or down. Therefore, the shifting speed depends upon how fast the rider pedals. But… when you pedal too fast, ZAP does not change gears properly. In fact, it works best at a low cadence, so I can understand why the ZAP group was not so popular among the pro riders.”

Mavic ZAP shifter buttons
ZAP provided a simple set of controls for the rear derailleur.

Stefan’s first inclination was to leave the ZAP groupset in its original boxes as a display item, but that didn’t sit well with him. It really demanded to be installed on a bike, and he just happened to have the perfect frameset for it. “To use the ZAP group with the KG 176 was a simple decision,” he said. “I think it matches perfectly the time period. Both the group and the frame are related to the pro teams of that time, so it is easy to imagine that someone would have selected this setup in the early ’90s.”

Stefan was able to source new old stock for most of the bike. The frameset and the seatpost were the only parts that had ever seen any use, and even then, the original finishes were intact and in great condition. For some, assembling a near-new bike 25 years after the fact may seem a little futile, however Stefan is enormously satisfied with the outcome.

“I think this is really one of my best builds so far,” he said. “The parts are period-correct, and it’s a very rare bike in this setup. I especially like that the color of the frameset and pedals match, and that the label on the hubs is nearly the same color.

“What is not perfect [is] the tyres. That’s often a problem for me to find tubulars in the right size that are period-correct.”

Mavic ZAP manual front derailleur
The front derailleur shifter was a purely manual affair.

Build details

Frameset: Look KG 176
Headset: Mavic 305
Handlebar: Mavic 350
Stem: Mavic 370
Seatpost: TVT carbone
Saddle: Selle San Marco Rolls
Crankset: Mavic 631
Bottom bracket: Mavic 610
Front derailleur: Mavic 862
Rear derailleur: Mavic 800
Shifter: Mavic 821
Brakes: Mavic 451
Chain: Mavic 650
Hubs: Mavic 571
Rims: Mavic GP4
Tyres: Continental Giro
Pedals: Look PP196
Cages: Elite Ciussi
Weight: 9.3kg

As for the ZAP groupset, Stefan worried there would be difficulties during the build, so he did his best to prepare for them. “That was the thing that I feared most, that it would simply not work,” he said. “What can anybody expect from an electronic groupset that was 25 years unused in a box? I strictly followed the manual and I was lucky to have the diagnostic/testing device.

“It also helped I had researched the experience that others had with the ZAP groupset. For example, many problems occur when the cable-ties are over-tightened: the ones that Mavic provide are razor sharp and can cut into the cables.”

In the end, installation of the system went smoothly and the rear derailleur started shifting once Stefan had booted the system. “As you can see in the videos, shifting is slow. I mean it’s really slow,” he said. “But what’s interesting is to keep in mind what bikes and parts were common in 1992. This shows how advanced this groupset was, and how risky it was for Mavic to launch such a product.”

All of Stefan’s experience with ZAP has been limited to his workstand so far, because he hasn’t taken the bike for a ride yet. “I’m not sure when I will try it on the street. As it is now, it’s more a museum bike, but maybe I will ride it some day.”

Bikes of the Bunch is a long-running series on CyclingTips that showcases interesting bikes and the stories behind them. If you’ve got something truly special that you want to show off, or a bike with a unique story, take a look at our submission guidelines.

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