Each year we travel through Italy aiming to return with unique product. We want to share secrets behind Chainsmith's fascination and love for both Italy's Cycling History and her Innovations.
I was recently astounded. In two weeks I'd two separate comments directed toward me regarding the deficiency of Italian engineering in cycling. Both were as ignorant as they were biased. Having worked in the cycling Industry for 10 years, I have certainly seen my fair share of faults in the cycling world, and to date the largest portion were certainly not Italian.
What these comments highlighted was the success of mass marketing... of which I am making it a mission to expose.
To be clear, we are dedicated to Italian Cycling. Why? Because we believe in it. We believe in the people we now call friends, the Companies who open their doors to embrace us as we visit and who kindly share their time and their spaces. We believe in the workers employed for years by the same families that generationally manufacture cycling products. And we are dedicated to the products themselves, of which we more than often have viewed the entire manufacturing process, understand the materials, the engineering and construction, the stringent testing processes, and that we then test ourselves to ensure their practical and aesthetic qualities meet our own personal requirements.
Many Italian Companies remain either blinded to the power of mass media and marketing, or at the very least are slow to understand that an audience can be greatly reached through social media. Its well known Italy's passion for cycling continues to develop in leaps and bounds. However, its not often professionally advertised. We more likely see Italy through a good cycling tour with its magnificent landscapes, her celebration of seasonal food and renowned wine. Their current manufacturing prowess is somehow hidden behind the bravado of mainstream brands.
So I'd like to highlight a few brands that David and I, over the course of many yers, have had the privilege to visit.
We look to Campagnolo cycling evolution as the first to produce a 12 speed Groupset (Super / Super Record), with its disc brake option and reach adjustments. Check in on Ursus Components with their latest wide rim allowance and beautiful integrated Magnus Handlebars. And when it comes to Apparel, look to NEXTTOSKIN carbon base layers, the first to construct carbon into antibacterial, breathable and quick-wick base layers.
Its not only large Company's pushing Cycling's boundaries. Small Independent Italian craft makers of components are currently thriving.
Alpitude Component's beautiful front-out computer mounts, handmade carbon cages wrapped like no other on the market, lightweight saddles prove the Italians are second to none when forming relations between engineering and design.
Frame builders, of which I will discuss in a second post, continue to deliver the most incredible constructed frames to meet the personalised demands of any cyclist.
Custom frame builders Epoca, Bixxis, Casati, DeAnima, Cicli Barco (to name a few of the masters), continue to build unparalleled custom carbon frames with their proficient skills backed often by generational experience.
We've also experienced first hand the frame building from Chesini in Verona, the oldest bike shop of this region, that continues to customise steel frames defying traditional opinions in weight or competitive use.
Another attested Italian Company contributing to Cyclings History is Vittoria Shoes. A Company born by Pro Cyclist Celestino Vercelli, the Vittoria family have supported the soles of many cycling Champions.
Winning Grande Tours, Vittoria podium clients include Italian Marco Pantani and Stefano Garzelli, as well as Irishman Stephen Roche.
Pantani's lasts remain in the Factory, of which we've been provided a generous tour.
As the innovations coming from Italys Cycling Industry press on, the Italians paradoxically hold onto the past. At times this can be irritating as experienced via Pinarello's recent outdated advert that successfully and globally isolated a multitude of offended women with their "condescending mansplaining" (1). Pinarello, Colnago and Assos (2) are just a few among the many who've been forced to change their marketing game plan from the outside in.
Yet, on the other hand, traditional Italian convictions that value history provide the foundations for today's Cycling inventions.
The manner Italian business is run, the ways that Companies see; from an internal and thoroughly Italian perception of Cycling, allow it the fortune of focus. I think if the many Italian contributors of the Cycling Industry look through those walls, they risk being tainted by the ever expanding diversification and increasingly commercial savvy demands of a global Amateur Market.
While the pride and resistance of Italian cycling could be wrongly accused as arrogant or interpreted as vaguely annoying, and perhaps a tad naive, (as seen in the recent comments by Giro d'Italia Cycling Director Mauro Vegni who refuses to "give up" Podium Girls) (3), the Industry's insistent grip on history reflects both Italian appeal and strength. Theirs is a unique, successful, creative and innovative Industry which, as a Nation, holds the limelight.
"Infact, Italy's appreciation for cycling is woven within the very fabric of Cyclings' History."
Italians understand that this greatest of sport Cycling, drives the toughest of athletes beyond their very limits to often defy injury and even risk death. Throughout the many years, between stories of turmoil and moments of triumph, beyond the bitter tragedies and broken dreams, and woven into new beginnings and technological innovation, the unwaveringly support of an intense and passionate Italian fan base stands faithful in glorifying the bicycle.
Cycling is not only glorified, it's also a part of life. And in Italy you're able to walk inside an unassuming corner bike shop and find what in Australia would be akin to a Cycling Museum filled with vintage parts and apparel. Ask questions and the shop keeper will retell stories of glory days and we eagerly listen like children with a bedtime story.
For us in Australia and excepting the extreme times spent at the TDU, this support for cycling, this ... applauding of the cyclist as Champion, is unusual. Though the keen Australian cyclist can discuss the latest expensive gadgets used by the Elite Cycling Pro's, the general Australian Fan heralds Rugby, Cricket and Swimming as the main populist cause for sport gatherings. It is important to note that these sports: Rugby, Cricket and Swimming, are each defined by borders, fences and specific manicured grounds.
Cycling, however defies confinement. It represents freedom, potential, movement, travel, exhilaration, and yes sometimes danger! And all this occurs on and off roads, both sealed and unsealed. Low and behold, cycling can even traverse over gravel and through trails, over snow and sand alike. No other sport can challenge someone's sense of territory like cycling. In its very being cycling defies rules as it defies sense of ownership in territory.
In relation to this sense of freedom that cycling provides, Australia has little respect for those who brake "our" rules. Look at the laws that govern cyclists in NSW, allowing 439$ fine for running a red light, 330$ for not wearing a helmet (4) , and 104$ for daring to be bell-less. As a population we're opposed to being restricted by rules while paradoxically angered by those who brake them. Perhaps this is a bizarre reference to an embarrassment of a colonial past settled by convicts and supposed dredges of society.
Italians apparently flourish in defiance and face freedom like its a right. Anti authoritarian they readily argue their ideals with passion and debate (5).
What has this to do with our love for Italian Cycling? Its all connected, because our love is borne from Italian Cycling innovation as much as it is in history and their passion.
"Our love extends to the Italian geography where roads are seemingly carved for the intense pleasure of riding a bicycle."
So too do we love Design as epitomised by the Italians and is synonymous with high-end Cycling Culture. But we cannot forget to mention our last important love inspired by Italian Cycling... their own love of Cycling.
In Italy it would be rare (and for myself, so far, non-existent) to receive direct rage expressed violently from an aggressive territorial motorist who believes their monetary payment of registration allows possession of the actual bitumen as well as time itself.
Yes, in Australia this territorial right is expressed as an explosion, and everyday we hear and experience rage against the defiant bicycle rider. In our store, tourists share their fear of motorists behaviour here. It is shameful to say the least. These tourists in their European Countries, are confident habitual riders but often won't dare travel on Australian roadsides beyond dedicated bike lanes.
"But I believe this dire situation on our roads is less about a cycling/driver dichotomy and more reflective of a declining Culture".
For myself, I understand that cycling permeates Italy. When I travel to this Country I do so with a bike, I speak about bikes and stop to eat between either riding a bike or chatting about them. And as I ride, I'm also reminded constantly about my attachment to the land by my two wheels. There are women especially of older age groups who are regularly seen on bikes used throughout towns and cities as everyday forms of transport. On hills and high up mountains bikes freely and without harassment explore every facet of the Country.
Speaking of which, where else can you find monuments of fallen icons such as Marco Pantani, as you escalate some of the most glorious peaks - peaks that manage to have you feel simultaneously insignificant and heroic (6). Where else can borders of towns be highlighted by the bike brands people ride!? In these areas a manufacturer or head office of a brand (such as Wilier) is exemplified by the communities use of that brand. Dedicated to the history of the sport, Museums perch on isolated hill tops protecting the stories of heroism and tragedy while housing the very bikes ridden by the protagonists (7).
As you meander the streets of old towns, you can trace an abundance of stoic Italian manufacturers, makers of Cycling components, bicycles, apparel and accessories. Many have opened their doors to us, warmly welcomed and invited us to their factories. We've been privilege to join and celebrate Wilier's 110th Anniversary, and Ursus 50th.
We've seen Fireworks, cakes as big as tables, gorgeous hotels, numerous factory visits, an abundance of product testing, small independent studios and the generous catered events at the Giro and beyond. All this in the name of the bicycle.
Importantly, our retail buyer David was born and bred in Italy. Moving to Australia David's passion for cycling has intensified. With an intimate relationship with the very nuts and bolts of Italian Design and innovation, David's knowledge is unparalleled.
I think this gives a strong idea of the influence and the passion we hold to Italian cycling, as a sport, as a culture, as a language with which to experience a Country. And we hope that you can share some of this inspiration by enjoying the products we bring home and the knowledge we share.
Our trips through Italy have us trailing through the most spectacular of landscapes. In Italy we are offered staggeringly beautiful scenes, and the opportunity to ride with staff and business owners. We thank each and every one, and we hope that, through our own meagre posts, we give back for some of the experience they've provided us.