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What's In Your Closet?

Monday, December 1, 2014
Big-time Barn Find - Mint condition Specialized Allez, circa 1982. One of the very first road bikes designed for the emerging triathlon market

There is a tale attached to antique car collectors that goes something like this:

"Well, I was driving through the wheat fields outside of Hastings, Nebraska on a warm spring day when I spied a familiar shape. She was inside a barn, covered in canvas and straw but the taillights gave her away and I had to stop.

'Excuse me, Sir, I hate to bother you but is that 1956 Porsche Speedster in your barn around back?'"

"Why yes it, Son. Why do you ask?"

"I've been looking for an old one to love and restore for many years. It's not for sale is it?"

"Well, truth be told, Son, I've been thinking about it for a few years now. It was my boy's car. He bought it before he went off to Vietnam."

The old man scratched his head, stared at the ground and I said I was sorry, much obliged, and turned to leave.

Then a voice from the past asked, "Five hundred bucks be too much?"

Barn-finds are near impossible now with the proliferation of professional stuff-collectors scouring the musty, moth-eaten corners of the world. Reality TV's scripted treasure hunts have given cause to collectors and hoarders alike to consider the value of the crap they used to donate to the Salvation Army. When the rusty and riddled Porsche-in-the-barn is well over worth $50k, the farmer shuts the door.

Yet this was how I stumbled on one of the first triathlon bikes ever produced and directed to the multisport market. It was the August of 2014 and I was visiting an old friend who lives in a rambling estate outside Aspen, Colorado. When I visit I stay in the original cabin on the property he purchased in 1970 and on occasion I skulk around place looking for pieces to our 33-year friendship. On this occasion I spied an original Specialized Allez in excellent original condition stuffed in a back closet of an outbuilding. Being a good guest, I lubed the chain, pumped the tires, and rode it up the hill. The backstory is this:

In the summer of 1981, Rodney Jacobs owned a small, roguish film company appropriately called FreeWheelin' Films. It was a ragtag bunch of shooters and editors who had carved out a niche covering the fringe sports. Rodney had secured funding to do a 30-minute documentary on the Ironman in Hawaii and made a point being better prepared than the networks. This included having all the best products at his company's disposal; including a brand new model from the small start-up company based in Morgan Hill, California—Specialized Bicycle Components.

Specialized had introduced the Stump Jumper earlier that summer of '81. It was the first production mountain bike. Two months later they followed it up with larger run of their road bike, the Allez. While there were a few Allez floating around in spring 1981, they were hard to find. The bike was designed by Tim Neenan (a chief designer on the Stump Jumper) and originally built by Yoshi Konno of 3Rensho, one of the premier Japanese frame builders at the time. There were three models offered for 1982: a track, road, and something called "aero" that utilized Shimano Dura Ace EX components instead of standard Suntour Superbe.

Specialized, riding high after making history in the off-road market, was looking for emerging sports with a cycling component. Triathlon was identified and with one phone call, Rodney Jacobs had secured one of the coveted bikes four months before the February 1982 Ironman. In Kona that year, Dave Scott rode an Allez, and by the time the first USTS event was staged in San Diego on June 6, of 1982, Scott Molina was on one as well.

How Jacobs has come to hold onto the bike for 33 years is as much accident as anything else. Like the Nebraska farmer, he had little idea of its historical value. The only thing that isn't original are the circa mid 90s SPD pedals. Because of the dry Colorado air and the bike's climate control storage it rested in for three decades; my hunch is that the tires are original as well.

The Specialized Allez found success in triathlon and by late summer of 1982 was the sought-after bike for anyone who was serious about the sport. Sadly, for Specialized that year the number could be counted in two hands. Of course, all that changed very soon thereafter.