I have a vintage Italian racing bike I picked up many years ago when I lived in California. It’s a 1972 Lygie with full Reynolds 531 and chrome lugs and highlights.
Typically, I would have little interest in racing bikes but this one was tall (66cm) and in great shape. It also had the Campy 1010 dropouts with eyelets for fenders, which make it a bit more useful.
There aren't many Lygies around in the US and there is not a lot of information on this marque, but there must have been a bike shop in the Los Angeles area that sold them in the 1960s-70s. That seems to be the place in the US where they seem to turn up most.
I’ve built up my Lygie a few different ways over the years – fast rider, sport tourer, single speeder – but I never really liked the ride much. It just wasn’t comfortable. Yeah, I know, it wasn’t built to be comfortable, but still I continued a quest to make it so.
I did notice a glimmer of hope for this bike when I tried 700x34 tires. But with the combination of the very tall frame and the steep head tube it felt unstable at any speed other than a leisurely coast. It was easy for me to overlook the Lygie.
But I hate to see a nice frame go to waste. Especially since it has a longish top tube (61cm). It was my duty to explore all the possibilities with this bicycle before I gave up on it. Of course I’d have to do something to improve the comfort transcend the oversteering and instability.
It occurred one hot day this past summer that perhaps the Lygie might make a nice light weight commuting alternative to my standard workaday ride and, hence, a more pleasant, less perspiratory (I checked, it’s a word), summer riding experience. This epiphany came to me whilst riding my standard daily commuter: a 1984 Fuji Sundance.
Ostensibly, the Sundance is a mountain bike but it’s a first generation, so it has some unique characteristics for a “mountain bike.” Most notably, it has smaller diameter road bike sized chromoly tubing and it’s lugged. Of course I like to haul stuff, so I added a set of Surly racks. While robust, they add about 5-6lbs in weight to the bike. It’s a mule, fun to ride, and I love it; but with racks, bags, etc. it comes in at 45lbs, so it's not ideal for when riding in a long sleeve shirt and slacks on a 95 degree day.
So, I decided that I would do a 650B conversion with super-wide (55cm) Nitto Albatross Bars. I figured that would help with comfort and perhaps stability. And if I still didn’t like the ride, I’d retire the frame or find someone else who could appreciate it.
After some quick measurements, I determined that the Mafac Racers that were on the bike would reach the rims just fine. I went ahead and cold-set the rear triangle from 120mm to 130mm to add a few more gears. Fortunately, I had an extra set of 650B wheels sitting around the shop.
I decided to go with a 1x7 gears and use an indexed barend shifter that I fashioned from a Shimano barend pod and a 7 speed shifter lever from a clamp-on Sunrace set. This requires a different lever boss and Dremel tool to create space and a pathway for the shifter cable.
I went with Panaracer Col De La Vie tires. They’re inexpensive and supple. I added a set of vintage Bluemel Popular fenders in white to keep it classy and classic. To top it off I went with an internally wired lighting system that makes use of a small rechargeable lead-acid battery with a teeny tiny toggle switch under the saddle.
I’ve been pretty happy with the result. The bike is stealthy and smooth. With the fatter 650B tires the ride feels like moccasins on a fairway. If I’ve been riding something else and then jump on the Lygie, it takes me a couple of minutes to adjust to the steering.
I’ve ridden it often since I built it up. Only its lack of cargo capacity prevents me from riding it more. I think I've finally found the bike it was meant to be... for me, anyway.