The Olmo Project

Steve Maas, Long Beach, California, USA

January, 2003

Although I was already immersed in a restoration project (my Allegro), I couldn't resist the chance to get a bike that was old enough to be distinctly different. This Olmo showed up on eBay, and I was taken by the front Campagnolo "suicide shifter" and its single-jockeywheel Campagnolo Sport rear derailleur. I bid on the bike and got it for a moderate price.

At present, it is waiting for earlier projects to be completed. As with my other projects, the goal for this bike is not slavish recreation of every original detail, but to have a good-looking, rideable bike that respects the original design and appearance. I believe that this approach makes the project enjoyable and creative, while the former could turn it into an obsession.

 

I. Evaluation

As with any bike deemed worthy of a restoration project, this bike is in sad shape. It is covered with rust and has been repainted badly. The wheels are clearly not original, but the brakes and gears seem to be. The (steel) bars have very old tape, perhaps original. The wheels, 27-inch clinchers, probably replaced tubulars. As with my other bikes, I plan to use clinchers (either 27" or 700C) that look period-appropriate, at least to the casual observer. I just won't mess with tubulars.

More than anything else, the derailleurs give the bike a sense of period. The front shifter is the infamous Campagnolo "suicide shifter," so named because the rider has to reach down between his legs to operate it. The awkwardness of this maneuver probably caused a lot of spills. The rear derailleur is the Campagnolo Sport, which appeared around 1953. The single jockeywheel of the Sport derailleur allowed only minimal chain wrap around the sprockets, probably resulting in clumsy shifting.

The chrome-plated lugs on this bike are interesting. The first time I saw a picture of a mid-50s Olmo, I wasn't sure that they were actually lugs; they look like a sleeve or some such thing, fitted to the frame after it was built. In fact, they are real, brazed lugs, but somehow there is not even the slightest fillet of brazing metal around the edges of the lugs. I don't know how this was done, or why.

As with many older bikes, the frame has been repainted, so there is no original artwork. Finding pictures of the artwork may be a real challenge.

The pictures below show the bike as I received it. Click on a thumbnail to see a larger version, and use the "back" button of your browser to return to this page.

 

II. Component Restoration

I found a set of Campagnolo hubs (Nuovo Tipo, I think) for building an appropriate set of wheels. The heads of the skewers, unfortunately, were badly scratched, to the point where the chrome plating was completely gone. I restored these by first sanding out the rust and scratches with coarse emery paper, polishing with 400 grit paper, then replating with my "copy-chrome" brush plating kit. (This is actually nickel plating, with a little cobalt to create a bluish, chrome-like appearance.) Finally, I polished the plated area with a buffing wheel. The results, although not as nice as true chrome plating, are quite acceptable. The pictures below show the skewers in the unrestored hubs.

The hubs required a little work. The bearing cones were pitted, so I chucked them into my lathe, wrapped some emery paper around a 1/8" drill shank, and carefully ground them smooth. To restore the hub bodies, I scrubbed them with Barkeeper's Friend, buffed them on a buffing wheel, washed off the remaining abrasive, and finally polished them. The reassembled hubs now are pleasantly shiny, and their axles spin with the traditional Campagnolo smoothness.

The Brooks saddle was in sad shape. It had numerous scuffs and gouges, was extremely dry, and had started to crack. Moreover, the underside of the frame had started to rust. I obtained some leather paint from a local leather store and painted over the scuffs and gouges. I also derusted and painted the rusty parts of the frame. Neetsfoot oil, which I used on both sides of the seat, tends to expand the leather, so the cracks largely disappear. Polishing with Proofhide finished the job, and now the saddle looks much better.

The main problems are the brakes and derailleurs. All the steel hardware on the brakes is heavily rusted. The derailleurs show a combination of damage, rust, and miscellaneous kinds of filth. The chrome-plated areas are rusting and probably can't be disassembled easily for replating.  Part of the cage of the front derailleur is broken off; not replaceable, so I will probably just grind it smooth. After all this, I expect the shifting and braking performance to be pretty bad. Ah, what we put up with for originality!

III. Frame Refinishing

I stripped the paint with Jasco paint stripper. I found at least two layers of paint: the obvious black one, a red layer under the black, and a silver layer beneath the red. The silver might have been aluminum paint, used either as a primer or as the original color layer. There was also some evidence of the use of red lead primer on the frame, but it wasn't clear if it was used over the whole frame. Paint stripper makes such a mess that it's hard to tell. After cleaning the stripped frame and fork, I put them on the shelf while I worked on components. Rechroming the frame will have to wait until I have all other parts ready for plating. 

 

 (This project was delayed by my Allegro project, which was not finished when I bought the bike, subsequent acquisition of two Hetchins bikes, which had a somewhat higher priority, and finally the fact that I'm just too busy with work. Bummer how trivial things like jobs get in the way of bicycling...)