Bikes of the Bunch: Zullo ’91 and Shimano’s Dura-Ace 25th Anniversary groupset
In this edition of Bikes of the Bunch, Stefan from Vive le Vélo! shares another bike from his collection. This time, it’s a classic steel bike made by Zullo with a unique (and quite stunning) edition of Shimano’s Dura-Ace groupset.
Shimano released the first Dura-Ace groupset in 1973 with the lofty goal of challenging the supremacy of European component manufacturers, especially Campagnolo. At that stage, Shimano had been operating for over 50 years, but it had never taken serious aim at road racers.
That first groupset comprised a five-speed transmission, friction shifters for the down tube or bar ends, and the company’s Crane rear derailleur. All of the parts were finished in silver and chrome, as was the fashion at the time, but as the Flandria team put the groupset to use during the 1973 season, it was clear that it fell short when compared to Campagnolo’s best efforts.
Nevertheless, Flandria celebrated a few wins with Shimano in 1973, including a silver medal at the World Championships (thanks to Freddy Maertens), before the team dumped Dura-Ace at the end of the season. The exposure proved invaluable for the Japanese manufacturer, and while it would be some time before Dura-Ace would find favour in the peloton, the experience taught Shimano a lot about the needs of professional cyclists.
Some of that new understanding shaped the design of the second and third generation groupsets, but it wasn’t until the release of Dura-Ace 7400 in 1984 that Shimano started to capitalise on its ingenuity and meticulous manufacturing. The new groupset featured SIS (indexed) gear shifters, then evolved from six speeds to seven before Shimano added another sprocket to the transmission along with its game-changing STI levers in 1990.
After that, Dura-Ace 7400 continued essentially unchanged for another five years until 7700 was introduced for 1996. By that stage, Shimano’s position in the road market, and regard for the brand had grown considerably, however, the company wasn’t ready to rest on its laurels. 7700 ushered in a nine-speed transmission, hollow crank arms, and a new axle interface dubbed Octalink.
We now know there was plenty more innovation and refinement ahead for Dura-Ace, but in 1998, Shimano took a moment to celebrate an important milestone for the groupset — the 25th anniversary of its inception — by creating a special edition of 7700.
A high gloss finish, some titanium, a special case, and even a watch
The 25th-anniversary edition of Dura-Ace was an exclusive offering that boasted a variety of special touches and upgrades. Every part in the collection was polished to a high gloss and then painted, stamped or etched with the number 25. Many of the bolts and locknuts where replaced with titanium versions, while stainless steel pivot points were added to the rear derailleur.
The actual number of sets that were produced is unclear: some sources suggest 5,000 while others maintain there were 6,000. Whatever the final number, all were boxed in a silver display case with two moulded inserts along with a 56-page booklet and a self-winding watch from Seiko.
By today’s standards, the anniversary groupset was a generous collection of components since it included a pair of 7700 hubs as well as pedals. Shimano went one step further, in the name of celebration perhaps, by adding a seatpost (with titanium bolt) and headset from the 7400 series to complete the collection. It made for an opulent offering, and while immediate sales were modest, it has since become an attractive collectible.
An irresistible opportunity
The last time we featured a bike from Stefan’s collection, it was a classy Look KG 176 sporting Mavic’s novel electronic transmission. He’s an avid collector that has filled his apartment in Switzerland with road bikes from a few different eras, however, he has a distinct preference for bikes from the ‘90s.
With that in mind, it’s not really surprising that the 25th-anniversary edition of Dura-Ace had been on his radar. It wasn’t exclusivity of the offering that caught his eye, though, it was its beauty. “The finish of the parts is just stunning,” said Stefan. “I think Shimano did its best to celebrate this anniversary. These parts are perfect, in my opinion. Discreet, yet eye-catching, much better than Campagnolo’s 50th-anniversary groupset (ouch, I think many collectors will disagree with me on this one).”
Acquiring his own edition took some effort, a bit of persistence, and a measure of luck. “I was fortunate to find the group new in its original case. I don’t think the case had ever been opened before I had it in my hands. I was in discussion with the previous owner for some weeks before he was prepared to let it go.”
Stefan stowed away the groupset in his apartment for some months as he wrestled with the temptation to leave it in its case. “I thought the group was too perfect and that I would never find a suitable frame for it. But I could see that it would be a real pity not to use the group for a nice bike.”
After considering, and rejecting, many period-correct frames, Stefan was almost content to let the project end there. That is, until he started thinking about commissioning a frame for the project while browsing Tiziano Zullo’s work.
Zullo’s Tour ‘91
Tiziano Zullo is an Italian framebuilder with a long history in the craft. He started cutting tubes in 1973 at the age of 21, and just a few years later, he opened his own workshop. From there, his business grew and he wound up supplying the TVM squad with his steel frames from 1986 until the end of the 1992 racing season.
From there, Zullo was able to move with the times, first adding aluminium frames to his catalogue in 1994, followed by carbon fibre in 2003. Interestingly, neither material has persisted, thanks in part to a resurgence of interest in steel combined with Zullo’s distinct preference for the material. He has a long history with brazing lugged frames, however, he is equally adept at TIG-welding modern steel tubing, which explains the split between traditional and contemporary designs in his current collection.
Stefan discovered Zullo some years ago, and with a pair of Tiziano’s contemporary creations in his collection (a Vergine, which is made from Columbus XCr and a Pantarei), it’s clear that he admires the Italian’s work. On this occasion, it was the lugged Tour ’91 that caught his attention, and upon reflection, it seemed the perfect platform for putting the Dura-Ace anniversary groupset on display.
“I asked Tiziano if he could build a Tour ‘91 with some special touches,” explained Stefan. “Because of the integrated brake/shift levers, I wanted to have gear cable stops at the head tube rather than on the down tube on this type of frame. To give the bike a classic look, I asked for a headtube and fork crown with pantographed logos. And finally, I requested chromed lugs for the head tube.”
Stefan worked with Zullo to decide the colour of the frame, which he hoped would work to highlight the beauty of the anniversary groupset. “Tiziano sent me some samples to help me decide on a colour. I started with a much colder blue (nearly silver), but in the end, Tiziano convinced me that the blue he proposed was the better choice.”
As for the subtle pattern that appears on the top and down tubes, that was Zullo’s intricate “orologio” design. “I have admired that paint scheme for quite some time, so it was an easy choice. It is discreet and stylish at the same time, and therefore, a good match for the anniversary parts.”
Building the bike
While Stefan was waiting for Zullo to build the frame, he was able to assemble all of the parts that he needed for the build. The finish of the anniversary groupset inspired him to find matching parts, hence the polished stem, bars, and rims. A pantographed stem with Zullo’s name makes for another traditional touch while the branding on the 3T bars was removed to keep the cockpit clean.
“The saddle was a difficult choice. It looks a bit too modern on this bike, but I really wanted to show off the head of the post. The Archetype rims are also a little tall for a classic build, but there are very few polished rims on the market. I later tried a set of low-profile rims, but I found the bike looked a little too traditional to my eye, so I’m much happier with the wheels now.”
Stefan finished building the bike in December 2013, yet five years later, it has yet to be ridden. For some, that will be easy to understand, especially given the rarity of the groupset, while others will be left wondering why the bike was built in the first place. Ultimately, it’s a decision that rests entirely with the owner, which is about to change. He’s just waiting for winter to pass.
As for the Seiko watch, Stefan recalls wearing it for a time, including a trip to Australia in 2014, but now, it is his wife that makes use of it, wearing it nearly every day.