Interview with
Fritz Bruehlmann.
September, 2012.

Fritz Bruehlmann (=fb=) is a prominent Swiss figure as the long-time mechanic and supervisor of the Swiss National Cycling Team. Since late 1960s Fritz is in action for the street-, track- and cyclocross athletes and even today he takes care for the national track teams of switzerland.

Towards the end of 2012 summer Speedbicycles had the chance for to overhaul a 1977 Fritz Bruehlmann built road bike. A nice opportunity to have a talk with Fritz about his road bikes and the seventies decade.

 

Interviewer: Stefan Schaefter

 

 

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The Fritz Bruehlmann =fb= road bike in the Speedbicycles Virtual Museum Collection

 

 

 

 

 

Speedbicycles (SB): Fritz, thank you that you gave us your documents of the = fb = road bike. Your detailed records have helped, to put this bike correctly on it's wheels again. The files tell us that this bike was ordered in late 1976 and delivered it in early 1977?

Fritz Bruehlmann (FB): I remember well, a couple from Zurich ordered two equal bikes at that time.

 

SB: How many =fb= bikes did you built over a year?

FB: I started around '73 /'74 in building own bikes. These were then maybe 6 up to 8 bicycles per year, nothing more. Through my job as a mechanic at SRB (Swiss Cycling Federation) I was constantly on the move and found not much off-hours. So =fb= bikes had been built alongside, mostly after work.

 

SB: What kind of people ordered a bike from you?

FB: I had no shop at this time, just a small stall inside the Zurich Stadium under the grandstand. People that bought a bike from me mostly knew me personal or had been employers of the Stadium or so. It was never a big thing with the bikes and never a great deal.

 

SB: Have you built the frames yourself too?

FB: No, well known Leo Estermann from Zurich built all my frames to my specifications. Mostly from Reynolds (531) tubes, later then sometimes with the Italian Columbus tube sets.

 

SB: How long did you needed for to build up a road bike?

FB: If i had the frame back from the paint master it was built up completely in about one and a half hour. Therefore i had prepared all needed parts before of course. For a new road bike I calculated totally five hours including offers, surveying, wheels building, threads trimming, etc.

 

SB: Had there also been different colour variants then the greyish light blue of the Speedbicycles =fb= bike?

FB: No. The light blue became colour of the house. Leo Estermann once made two bikes in this colour which i liked and cloned then (laughes). My painter quickly learned about this colour and all =fb= bikes became this finish then.

 

SB: Which components did you used for your bikes?

FB: For me there was Campagnolo or nothing. I am a Campagnolo fan. I theretimes knew the old Mr. Campagnolo personally. I did not had to live from bike sales and could afford this spleen. The others (bicycle dealers) had to earn money and had to offer other stuff too.

 

SB: How much one had to spend into a new =fb= bike with Campagnolo equipment?

FB: In principle Campagnolo had three categories: the Super Record, the Record and that Gran Sport group. Even with the Gran Sport you could send very well a cyclist for racing, this had been good parts. A =fb= bike with the complete Super Record remained mostly below 2000 Swiss francs.

 

SB: Lots of money at the time.

FB: Yes, a lot of money. For many this meant to cut back their wishes and i mounted some well-priced parts instead. Usual I spoke to the people and built the bike according to their budget.

 

SB: Campagnolo parts had been expensive already theretimes?

FB: First problem was even to get Campagnolo parts. This was not easy. Campagnolo company always preferred the big buyers. And as there was a real road bike boom then they could not even produce enough. In the seventies the hobby racers came up and all wanted bikes and parts. Anyway, at that time i usually had about ten full Campagnolo groups in stock. Often even the others (bicycle dealers) came to me when they needed parts. Our margin was rather modest, price lists did not excisted. We calculated the purchase price plus an additional mark-on.

 

SB: How did you get to the stuff?

FB: I drove down to Luigi Guerini at Ticino (South Switzerland) twice a year and shopped what he had in stock and what i needed and could afford. Guerini was the Campagnolo wholesaler in Switzerland, he was the former mechanic of Koblet and Kubler and later moved south to Ticino. Up to the aera of the Super Record group everything went very well. Later Campagnolo had built his new factory and something went wrong then. At one time they where behind the development, with designers not smart enough. Campagnolo wanted necessarily always own constructions. The first indexed gearing systems did not really worked, later with the Syncro-7 it went reasonably again.

 

SB: And what about Shimano, Suntour and others?

FB: I was near by when Shimano came up. Several racers had parts from them. That stuff did not work in the beginning, nothing suited even the Dura Ace parts. Later it was OK and after the release of their 7-speed indexed gearing it worked properly well. Suntour was of good quality and quite cheap, mostly half as much as Campagnolo.

 

SB: But for yourself only Campagnolo was the thing?

FB: Despite the product qualities there had been good additional reasons. For example Campagnolo always came to the races with a truck full of parts. Then Mr. Agostini, the race mechanic of Campagnolo, exchanged defective parts. He wrapped the broken one, came out with a new and wrote down his delivery note. After that you could take the new part with you. An invoice never was sent. Once a replacement driver came to our team for a race with a horrible built up bike. Mr. Agostini packed a full Super Record group on the table and helped during assembly. After two hours the bike was as new and ready to race prepared. Also Shimano usually had a service truck at the pit lane, but an empty one. Once i had to wait for some brake pads over two days until i recived them.

 

SB: Did you mounted clincher or tubular wheels onto your bikes?

FB: Tubulars of course, clinchers did clearly not existed at that time. Road bikes always had tubular tires at this time.

 

SB: Your bike does have french threadings like almost all Swiss bikes then.

FB: In the early days all cycling stuff came from France. Switzerland was oriented clearly in that direction then. That was the standard. You even did not know how strong the Italians dominated the upcoming race scene.

 

SB: What's about special parts and tuning at that time?

FB: Weight was nothing we took to much care then. A road bike was lighter than a city bike, that's it. The special parts that existed then had been an issue among some bike people. But not for me. I also have never drilled or milled on parts. For me material had to be a strong as possible, especially for the race cyclists. These ergal and titanium parts often cracked already while mounting. I think they had been only a chance by the makers for to make some money.

 

SB: Did you offered a free-first-service for your sold bikes?

FB: No free service. I built up all my bikes in ready-to-race manner. Reoperations had not been neccessary on my bikes. Like in the races you could not stop a cyclist for a wheel trueing or so. I did not like subsequent works. Also i almost had no warranty cases then.

 

SB: Had there been any problems because of assembly mistakes?

FB: As i said, I liked no warranty work and have made the assembly very conscientiously. What happened often by other mechanics had been torned up cranks at the taper when they tightened axle screws hard with giant wrenches (he outstretches his arms). Also you should mount the crank without grease onto the taper square to avoid crank slides. I mounted without grease as Campagnolo prescribed that way. If old Mr. Campagnolo had seen you using grease he might gave you a knock on the head.

 

SB: Tullio Campagnolo watched you while mounting bikes?

FB: Mr. Campagnolo was quite popular because he visits the races with his small note book and his small pencil and then came to us mechanics and asked after problems. For example i told him that the screw of the new released single-screw Super Record seat post will need a washer because otherwise the screw will damage the post and clamping could be unstable. He wrapped my seat post and i had got a new one sended. From the next batch on the seat posts had all washers on the bolt.

 

SB: Until what time you built road bikes?

FB: I stopped when the first carbon bikes came up. Generally every thing changed then, including the customers. People wanted to buy complete bikes that the companies offered.

 

SB: Dear Fritz, thank you for that talk.

 

 

 

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Zuerich Oerlikon © September 2012, Speedbicycles Ltd liab. Co, Switzerland
Original German issue: Speedbicycles GmbH
Pictures courtesy: Fritz Bruehlmann, Stefan Schaefter,.