"For sale old Lotus Champion bike unique frame needs some work." ~~ Local craigslist advertisement ~~
If you're anything like the Lotus enthusiasts here at VintageLOTUSbicycles.com, it's just not a normal day without checking the local craigslist for any new Lotus listings. We're not always buying bicycles, but we are always looking for photos and craigslist is an excellent source of Lotus contacts.
The town listed in the craigslist Lotus advertisement was only a short drive for us, so with our curiosity peaked we responded to the ad and asked for some photos of what we assumed was a Tange Champion frame Lotus Unique.
Within a short time we received this photo from the seller.
We knew immediately, of course, that we weren't looking at a Lotus Unique because the Unique was never available in a Mixte frame. Using our finely tuned Lotus identification skills we were pretty sure that the "unique frame" bicycle we were viewing was a very original looking first-generation Excelle Mixte. The photo shows what appears to be the original saddle, vintage pump, and a full complement of reflectors. These are all good indicators of a relatively unmolested bicycle, so we made our offer and dashed off to pick up the bike.
What we found when we arrived was a very dirty and somewhat neglected Silver Excelle Mixte, but it was in completely original condition. The bicycle had been purchased as a gift in 1981 and was only ridden a few times, most of it's life it hung on a hook in the family garage. We purchased the project bike and happily returned to Lotus headquarters to begin the reconditioning process.
The photos on this page show the bicycle after the reconditioning process with the addition of some custom accessories. The vintage Zefal pump is period correct for the model year, but takes up space for the water bottle. Our solution was to fit an original Lotus water bottle and OGK brand bottle cage to a Minoura BH-60 handlebar mount.
As Lotus bicycles go, the Excelle is perhaps one of the most abundant models available, so we knew right from the beginning that we wanted to personalize the bicycle, but without taking away from it's originality. While the Excelle is indeed a common model, well- preserved original condition examples are difficult to find.
We decided to add some shorty fenders to the bike, because we think they look cool on a Mixte, although some people may disagree. One advantage to the shorty fenders is that they are inexpensive and can be removed in less than 5 minutes. They do serve a minor function in that they help keep debris off of the front brake, headset and rear tool bag. The fenders we chose are Wald Model 80's to which we added a pair of Lotus head/seat tube flower decals
. We also added a mini Lotus flower fork decal to the Zefal pump.
The photo above right shows the original Kashimax Super saddle and the very interesting Tange Champion Cr-Mo decal with Tsunoda Bicycle designation. The photo below shows the detail on the original MKS (Makashima) model QU-2K pedals with original MKS RR-6 Cat Eye reflectors. These pedals are very nice quality and use an alloy cage with chrome steel body and dust cap. The center tube is painted silver and easily scratched. MKS QU-2K pedals can be difficult to find in good condition as the chrome steel is prone to rust. MKS pedals use reflectors with a chrome steel bezel that are also prone to rusting.
To us, a Mixte just doesn't look complete without a rear carrier rack, so we were happy to find this vintage Nagaoka rack to fit our Excelle. Nagaoka is the original equipment supplier for the racks used on the Lotus Odyssey and Eclair touring bikes, so this rack feels right at home on the Excelle.
No changes were made to the Excelle to fit the rack, the seat stay bridge was already factory drilled for mounting the rear reflector and the forged rear drop outs are threaded for mounting a rack or fenders. We re-used the reflector hardware to mount the rack and the rear fender and moved the reflector to the bracket already welded to the Nagaoka rack. Everything fit perfectly and the Excelle can be restored back to original in just a few minutes. We also saved the original reflector bracket.
Lotus accessories are few and far between, so we decided to make our own Lotus branded tool bag. The original bag started out as a Planet Bike Little Buddy. We removed the rear Planet Bike tag and added a replica of the Lotus head badge that we designed and then had cut out using gold iron-on vinyl.
The Excelle still rides on the original IRC Super HP 27 x 1 1
Tires in good condition, although the rear tire side wall has turned a slightly darker shade of tan than the front. The bike was hung in the garage by the rear wheel, perhaps the rear tire baked a bit more in the summer heat than the front tire that hung closer to the floor. The tires were just scrubbed with soap and water and came out very clean. We will replace and store the original tires when we start to ride the bike, we just don't trust 30-year-old tires.
The photo below shows the original Ukai 27 x 11
LA Made in Japan alloy rims. The valve cap is marked IRC showing that the tubes match the tire manufacturer.
When we began the reconditioning of the Excelle we knew that it was important to respect the originality of the bike, so we took a minimally invasive approach to it's restoration. We only removed and disassembled what was absolutely necessary to clean the bike and replace the old bearing grease. The components were only lightly cleaned to remove the accumulated gunk and given a light polish to restore the original luster. Over-restoration can do more harm than no restoration at all.
The photo on the right shows the Excelle frame stripped down as far as we took it, the components still bolted to the frame were carefully cleaned in place using small brushes and tiny rags and left exactly as the factory installed them.
The paint on the frame was polished and any chips were filled with a silver paint marker using a magnifying glass to aid in the repair. Luckily the paint matched perfectly and when the frame was waxed the few minor repairs all but disappeared. Nothing screams ugly like poorly touched-up paint, we'd rather see no touch-up than one poorly done. If we couldn't get the paint to match perfectly we'd have just waxed over the chips and left it at that.
The photo below shows all of the parts removed from the bike, except for the wheels. The hubs, bearings, rims, and spokes were carefully cleaned and the bearings re-packed with Phil Wood grease. The pedals were given the same careful cleaning and lubrication, the old grease was as thick as tar. The original Shimano Uniglide chain cleaned up like new, the old grease and dirt had protected it from rust for 30 years.
The handlebar tape and wrapping job is still factory original and will remain on the bike to use as a reference when wrapping other vintage Lotus handlebars. The tape was factory wrapped from the bottom of the bars, around the brake levers and finished at the stem. The ends were sealed at the factory with a spot of glue to prevent them from unwrapping. The original end plugs are actually OGK Cycle Sport caps that fit over the outside diameter of the bars, the tape is wrapped around the caps to hold them in place. OGK was the supplier of the original LOTUS water bottles and the alloy cages for many of the early Lotus bicycles.
The 1981 Excelle Mixte is a wonderful bicycle and it's easy to see why it gained such popularity with the cycling community. The Excelle utilizes a high-quality Cr-Mo Tange Champion frame with forged drop outs, the paint is very well done and is still shiny even after 3 decades of neglected storage. All of the major components are alloy and of good quality. Only the headset, pedal body and seat adjuster are steel components that could be upgraded to alloy components, and would be in the more expensive Lotus models. The durable and attractive Sugino Super Maxy crank is all alloy and uses a spider and arm that are swaged together into one piece, more expensive models would be cast, forged and machined as one solid unit for extra strength.
Lotus designed and hit an important balance between price and quality with the Excelle. All of the important upgrades are included and it's just the details at this point that would make the bike more expensive.
Top left: Shimano Uniglide chain in black, clearly marked 1A on some of the links, designating it was produced in January of 1981.
Top right: SR stem marked 81 A, January 1981.
Bottom left: Original rubber OGK Cycle Sport handlebar end cap.
Bottom right: Shimano VIA alloy hubs. The hubs are of high mechanical quality but cosmetically do not have the finish of the higher end Shimano components. The hubs are marked FB and were produced in February of 1981.
All photographs by VintageLOTUSbicycles.com