Dale Brown's 1982 Tommasini
Cycles de Oro shop owner Dale Brown owns a 1982 Tommasini aero road bike that used to belong to Panasonic-Shimano team member David Ware. It features Shimano Dura Ace AX components that were far ahead of their time.
Dale Brown is the proprietor of Cycles de Oro in Greensboro, North Carolina, and his shop is as much a museum as a retail operation. Mounted on racks high on the walls near the ceiling are Brown’s collection of vintage bikes that span several decades. Near the front door is a striking, champagne-colored Tommasini, equipped with Shimano Dura-Ace AX Aero components from the early 1980s, several years before index shifting and STI levers would solidify Shimano’s role as the leading innovator in cycling technology.
The bike is from the 1982 Panasonic-Shimano team, one of the top North American teams at the time. The team was organized by Onion River Sports in Vermont, under the tutelage of the late Jack Nash, who also served as directeur sportif. The team was comprised of riders from the U.S. and Canada, and famous alumni include Chris Carmichael, Louis Garneau, Wayne & Dale Stetina, Chris Chastain, Bruce Donaghy, Matt Reni and the former owner of this bike, David Ware.
David Ware (left) and 1982 Panasonic-Shimano teammate Wayne Stetina. All photos courtesy Classic Rendezvous
Ware is a fast Floridian who won many of the top races in the U.S. during the late 1970s and 1980s, particularly criteriums in his native southeastern U.S. One of the top races in the southeast that Dale Brown has been involved since 1973 is the Carolina Cup, which takes place in Greensboro’s Country Park, not far from Cycles de Oro. Based in part on the reputation of this race, and on the miles of suitable roads for training, Ware eventually settled in Greensboro and ended up building many of the wooden fixtures and furniture at Cycles de Oro after his cycling career wound down in the late 1980s.
The frame is built from aero-section tubes with oversized lugs and top-mount shift-lever bosses, a feature that would become common on specialty aero bikes in the mid-1980s. Brown claims that only 14 of these frames were made, and the design was never replicated.
“According to Bill Lewis (longtime US importer of Tommasini bikes), Irio Tommasini hated that aero tubing and swore never to use it again!,” said Brown.
The Dura-Ace AX group was Shimano’s first real effort at technological innovation, with a number of cutting-edge components that were ahead of their time. Ironically, the Dura Ace AX rear derailleur was a one-off departure from Shimano’s earlier slant parallelogram designs, and its svelte lines closely resemble then-market leader Campagnolo’s later version of its C-Record rear derailleur.
Campagnolo would find inspiration for its 1986 C-Record rear derailleur in Shimano's Dura Ace AX rear derailleur design
Perhaps the hallmark of the Dura Ace AX group were the aero centerpull brakes, again foreshadowing later Campagnolo designs like the famous C-Record Delta brakes. Also worth noting are the rubber, color-coordinated shrouds that fit in the brake center bolts; a less-expensive if more functional version of the blue jewels that Campagnolo would fit in its Cobalto brake center bolts.
The very same Shimano Dura Ace AX aero brakes would resurface some twenty years later on Lance Armstrong’s time trial bikes, proof of just how far-advanced the designs of these components were.
The marketplace wasn’t ready for these innovations in 1981-82, however, and Shimano pulled the plug on the Dura Ace AX group after just two years. Most of the technological advances of the AX group were abandoned by Shimano but appropriated by other component manufacturers. However,the Dura Ace group would reemerge in 1986-87 with its SIS index shifting, taking the cycling world by storm and revolution. Shimano would in a few short years find itself the market leader in bike components, never relinquishing its position at the top of the heap.
And who has been employed by Shimano USA as its chief for much of this reign? None other than Wayne Stetina, David Ware's teammate and the top rider on the 1982 Panasonic-Shimano team.