It’s something of a nostalgia fest on the 60th episode of the road.cc Podcast this week, as we’re joined by retro bike restorer extraordinaire and leading proponent of the lost art of ‘drillium’, the Campag Kid, for a fascinating and, yes, nerdy discussion about the roots of his obsession for classic bikes and illustrious Italian components, the lengths to which he’ll go to satiate that 50-year-long obsession, and how his real-life career in the automotive industry can often butt up against – literally – his love for cycling.
For those unfortunate souls unaware of his beautiful builds, the Campag Kid – better known in non-internet circles as Alan – is a cycling enthusiast and former racer who has acquired a cult online following restoring and building Campagnolo-equipped bikes.
He’s also one of the few devotees keeping alive the retro art of drillium, the practice of hand drilling holes in components for aesthetic and weight purposes, pioneered by Eddy Merckx for his Hour Record attempt in Mexico in 1972 and picked up by British time trialling great Alf Engers (before dying out with the rise of all things aero).
During his chat with Jack, Jamie, and Jo, Alan waxes lyrical about his introduction to the sport as an inquisitive 12-year-old, half a century ago, when he joined a club after happening upon a group of cyclists at a café, and quickly became obsessed with Campagnolo at the local bike shop, earning him his lifelong nickname from the shop’s exasperated owner.
“The name sort of stuck with me forever, but it’s only since social media that it’s become nationally and internationally known,” he says. “I don’t know many other people on social media who call themselves after a product!”
He also dissects his favourite projects, including a custom Brompton (a bike he describes as “the ultimate urban transport machine”), and a vast range of envy-inducing classic bikes, singling out his work on the relatively less heralded Italian brand Olmo as a particularly pleasing refurbishment.
However, Alan’s all-time favourite build – one that he says was half a century in the making – is his stunning pink 1970s Mercian time trial bike.
“That was the bike I wanted to have when I was 12,” he says. “It was modelled on one of my schoolboy heroes, Alf Engers, the first guy to break 50 minutes for 25 miles in 1978. I was 18 then, and just loved Alf Engers, but couldn’t afford to do anything like that.
“So the pink TT bike, really, was a homage to him. I must have spent three years building that bike, during Covid and before, so a lot of the bits are 50 years old. I had to make some of the tools myself, because some of them aren’t available.”
And, in typical Campag Kid style, the build itself wasn’t exactly straightforward.
“The pink TT bike was probably the most memorable build, and the one I put the most amount of effort into. I even sourced a chain from America, made by a Japanese company called DID… It took me 18 months to find one of those chains.
“I had to have that chain on that bike. And that kind of detail is really pretty obsessive, along with all the drilling of course – 260 holes, by the way, in that rear mech.”
Due to his clear and vibrant obsession with all things two wheels, it’s perhaps surprising that Alan’s career has largely focused on modes of transport with engines. As a transport designer, he has worked on everything from Triumph motorcycles, aircrafts, and “most of the cars you see on the road everyday”.
That dichotomy between his private working life and his public online persona certainly isn’t lost on him, as he details an incident on the road during which that sense of irony was all too clear.
“When you embark on a career in transportation you’ve got to be really careful, because there are lots of things that don’t fit right with the way you want to do things,” he admits.
“The irony of life is that I’m riding down the road on my bike out training, and I get hit by a four-wheel drive vehicle that I had a hand in designing. And I get run over by the bit that I actually signed off! I haven’t been run over by any of my supercars yet, though…”
Describing the Campag Kid as his “alter ego” – “the person you want to be when you’re at your best” – Alan nevertheless says his online persona gives him the freedom, beyond his work life, to design what he wants, and to share his experiences as a cyclist with the world.
With his reputation based largely on unabashed nostalgia, it’s perhaps no surprise that Alan isn’t a massive fan of the modern trend of constant innovation and ‘trickle-down technology’, such as disc brakes (ducks for cover), which he says leads to bikes, and prices, unnecessary for the vast majority of cyclists.
“For me, riding around town or going out training, a good quality handmade steel bike with rim brakes and a good selection of gears is perfectly adequate for most of the time,” he says. “If you want a top-end race bike, that’s absolutely fine, but [all the innovation] will never stop.”
Nevertheless, despite the seemingly never-ending search for the Next Big Thing in technology, Alan believes that the cycling community’s love of all things retro will continue to endure.
“Everybody always likes something that’s old, that’s lamented, with the modern stuff they’ve got,” he notes. “And it goes on in waves – in another ten years’ time, people will think Pogačar and Vingegaard’s bikes are classics, and they’ll go, ‘Oh, I remember those days’.”
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Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.