Celebrating classic Italian bike heritage

cropped-epoca-header.jpgThis is the first of my Christmas holiday posts where I catch up on some of the missing subjects I promised myself I would write about at the time and never quite got round to. Some reflections, maybe a few thanks, but above all else the things I can catch up on when the rain is howling in horizontally across the countryside and it is time for another piece of cake.

Among this year’s new discoveries that I wanted to share were some of Europe’s communities of vintage racing bike enthusiasts. I had frequently marveled at the massive queues for what I could only characterised as a “load of old scrap” when I visited some of the popular bike rallies in the UK but the scale of the sector had passed me by.

However I do know that I always enjoyed seeing a restored classic and this year I have learned so much more about the community and culture behind the world of classic bikes.

GB, WeinmannFirstly I started a rather urgent mission to reduce the volume of cycling stuff I was going to relocate to Belgium. I knew I had a couple of nice classic bikes that needed a good home because I was never going to give them due respect. But I had no idea that when I delved into my old bits box I would be uncovering the items that power a whole community of collectors and restorers.

Crossed flad head badge Freddie Grubb FixieSecondly I began the long drawn out process of restoring my own period classic.  I conceived the project over a year ago on my 50th birthday because the bike itself is of a similar vintage and frankly at fifty there are not so many toys you can buy a bloke. But it was only this year that I got the frame refurbed and started to think properly about the parts.

In both cases I have been hugely impressed by the community over on www.retrobike.co.uk , there just doesn’t seem to be anything that they don’t know about bike bits. And the ability to identify a part or a bike from just a single photo or a clumsy description is only matched by their ability to conjure up just the missing part from a secret store, often in mint condition.

I had carried a bit of a prejudice that this was a mainly British community of eccentrics with some similar enthusiasts in North America. The tribe runs on a diet of old English handmade frames and the period components that go with them.  However it hasn’t taken long in my travels this year to discover that there is an alternative theme that runs across Europe, one that runs on pure Italian vintage, with Colnago and Bianchi at its head. Just goes to show how little I really know about anything when I make assumptions about national character.

First I found the amazing Bikelager in Vienna – café, galley and homage to the finest Italian frames and bikes which I mentioned in one of my Vienna posts in May.  I am looking forward to paying them another visit next year for one of the coolest coffees in town.

Bikelager Wien

Then I in September my newest discovery was Bici D’Epoca, (“Bikes of the ages”) the period bike exhibition at the Padua Cycle Show. As with everything Italian and cycling from this period the twin gods of Coppi and Bartali looked down on everything. I guess it is a form of insurance for the company that they have to give equal billing to both.

It was a feast of Campagnolo, Bianchi, clothing and parts stretching over more than 50 years. Coppi’s 1954 World Championship winning bike as star, but I enjoyed just as much bikes with local histories such as the tandem from the local Padova club which was used to win an Italian national championship, complete with black and white photos of its riders. Coppi's 1954 Bianchi

Vintage Cinelli TandemSo despite being surrounded by some of the most exciting modern bikes on the planet I kept sneaking back to their stall at the Padua fair to soak up some of the legends.

Bici D'Epoca Bici D'Epoca Classic Italian Cycling Tops

The spiritual home of this stuff and one of the drivers of the rediscovery of the era has become the classic ride L’Eroica (“the heroic one”)  which has spawned a whole generation of spinoff rides including a Giro d’Italia d’Epoca. These rides only allow riders to compete on classic bikes with period clothing to preserve the classic images of the sport. L’Eroica itself was created to draw attention to the paving over of the legendary white dirt roads of Tuscany. It can be credited with the decision by the organisers of the Giro D’Italia to take one of the monuments of cycling over little known dirt tracks, days which have changed the destiny of the race. And a professional version of the L’Eroica in the spring is fast becoming a classic. Together they have rehabilitated both the strada bianchi and the classic bikes of Italy.

I almost imagined I had a small part in the original Eroica this year because one of the participants was credited in the event reports with wearing “some natty punched leather Gianni Motta shoes”,   the ones I had sold him just a few weeks before just for the occasion. Now I know that this is a proper missing link in my cycling CV, one for the bucket list to be sure.

So when I could be putting up more blog posts, riding my bike or restoring my own bike I seem to be able click around for ages www.bicidepoca.com for their events, parts, accessories, clothing, historical articles and some great photos of the bikes including the story about that Coppi championship winning bike. And if not I will be sneaking my regular look at www.retrobike.co.uk to see if anyone really does need some of my old tat, for say the price of a cup of coffee?