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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tires, tires, tires.

Photo courtesy of Challenge Tire

After going on in past posts about a floor pump for putting air in your tires, what about the tires themselves? Larry's hands-down favorite tire is Vittoria's cotton casing "Open Tubular". But our friends at Challenge have one of the most informative websites about tires and their construction that we know of. Check it out HERE. Their tires are nice too, though we have yet to try their cotton tire. Their SuperPoly casing feels not quite as supple as Vittoria's cotton but the difference is small. Riding on handmade, "open tubular" tires will spoil you, so don't try 'em unless you dare spending more money than on cheapo, vulcanized tires. Even if you upgrade only to a higher thread-count vulcanized tire, say 150 tpi instead of 60, you'll feel the difference and enjoy the ride much more.

The current marketing trend seems to be towards "road tubeless" tires these days, though many of the venerable tire makers have stayed out of this market. Fans tout a great ride, no flats and the ability to run much lower tire pressure with no fears of the dreaded pinch-flat, also known as a "snake bite" since it leaves two holes in your tube like it was bitten by the fangs of a snake. The drawbacks seem to be much more challenging mounting, the need for some sort of liquid sealant that eventually dries out and must be replaced and the resulting mess if a major hole causes failure, meaning you have to insert a tube to get home. This means you need tools to swap out the valve stem and will need to carry a spare tube as well.

Larry's been doing some experiments with lower tire pressures since receiving the Silca Ultimate Super Pista pump with its 1 psi +/- accuracy and has been enjoying rides with Challenge Strada 25 mm tires inflated to 75 psi in back and only 65 psi in front. A comfortable ride, no pinch (or other) flats with none of the expense or drawbacks of the "road tubeless" setup.

Experiment for yourself with tire pressures. Larry bets you'll find more comfort and control with pressures far less than you've been led to believe are optimum. This assumes you're using a reasonable sized tire for your weight (at least a true 23 mm width) and that you don't blindly crash through massive pot-holes in the road. Anything less than 23 mm is asking for trouble, while doing nothing for rolling-resistance or comfort.

Disclaimer: CycleItalia gets nothing free or discounted from either Vittoria or Challenge, we buy 'em!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Air Pleasure

Those of you who have joined us for a guided tour in Italy know that Larry's a bit of a nut when it comes to high-quality cycling-related stuff, whether it's Campagnolo-equipped Italian bicycles (he'll pretty much ride nothing else) roof racks custom made by the same guys who create them for the Italian pro teams, amazingly high quality workstands, tools and even floor pumps.

More than efficiency, some things just feel right and are a joy to use, making tasks that are sometimes repetitive or unpleasant almost a joy to perform. These things just look right too, Larry likes to call 'em eye-candy.

When he learned Josh Poertner had purchased the venerable SILCA name, he scrounged up an email address and sent a message of encouragement, even though at this time his only products were spare parts for the venerable Italian-made floor pumps. While a LOT of venerable Italian cycling company names have been purchased over the years only to have their products made cheaply in Asia while trading on the heritage and passion of Made-in-Italy, Poertner seemed different. Larry asked Josh if there might be any way he could help him promote the new SILCA, which started an email conversation.

We didn't do anything promoting the company right away, feeling the product line was just too narrow while knowing sales of the classic, Italian-made pumps were not benefiting the new owner.

Now the SuperPista Ultimate has arrived. As you may have seen HERE we posted a feature recently on this gorgeous piece of functional art. While not Made-in-Italy, we think the founders of SILCA, all three generations of them who have now passed on, would be proud of this product.

I won't (and you shouldn't) stick this on a shelf just to admire. Just like a fine Italian bicycle, a Ferrari (Enzo Ferrari was said to hate the idea of his cars being purchased as trophies, only to be admired and rarely if ever driven, let alone RACED!) or any high-quality tool, it begs to be used.

Using this is truly a pleasure. There really is something very satisfying about using the best tool money can buy and any cyclist (as long as you pump your own tires!) will enjoy using this tool for a lifetime. Of course Larry would like a bit more tricolore in the color scheme and for this kind of dough he thinks perhaps each pump should be individually serial-numbered, but otherwise this is a hit, very likely to join the iconic bike tools on the list of cognoscenti worldwide.

At present we have our pump's base plate down at a local trophy engraving shop, putting our name on it, just to discourage any borrowers who might not want to return it!!

(This product was provided to CycleItalia under a special demo program.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

RIP Alfredo Martini

Photo: Alfredo Martini (in the shirt and tie) holding court at l'Eroica 2010

Alfredo Martini has passed away at 93. To Italian cycling fans he was like Vince Lombardi was to NFL fans. More details on his career HERE. In his later years he became sort of an oracle that riders and those taking over his position as national team director would visit at his home in Tuscany, hoping to glean a bit of his legendary wisdom about all things cycling. Larry's sure there are a few Italian authors out there with book manuscripts that will finished soon. With luck one of the better ones will be translated into English so the wider world can understand Martini's influence on the sport.

RIP Alfredo Martini

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

NOT Made-in-Italy, but...

Photo: The world's finest bicycle pump?

Italy's not the only place great things are created. This is a fine example. Larry doesn't have one (yet) but other than lacking a green-white-red paint scheme he sees little room for improvement. Before you say WTF? and say we're nuts, read a little background:

Italian Silca floor pumps have been the gold-standard for pretty much ever. Larry can still remember buying his first pro-quality bicycle and looking at an Italian pump that was 3 or 4 times the price of the typical sporting goods store item with its tin barrel and flimsy hose. The shop guy said "A Silca is the last floor pump you'll ever buy. They last forever and you can buy replacement parts if it ever needs service or rebuilding. Truly a lifetime investment." Larry took the advice and STILL has that pump and it still works, more than four decades later.

When we began CycleItalia we had bike-industry friends who wanted to help us with equipment. We created an "Official Supplier" program and happily let one supply tire pumps. These Asian-sourced pumps died a quick death and were replaced with pumps from another "Official Supplier". These too died a quick death while not doing a very good job of inflating tires. 

Being a CycleItalia tire pump is no easy task - not only do we use 'em a fair amount during each season, but some folks insist on pumping their tires every day, quite often not bothering to "burp" the Presta valve to loosen it from its seat. Trying to push that valve off the seat, against the internal air pressure of 100 psi or more, would often cause the pump hose to swell like a balloon or stress the connectors to the point of failure.

After these failures, we decided to "bite the bullet" as they say, pull out our wallets and purchase the finest, most durable pumps we knew of, which were still the venerable Silca PistaSince then we've replaced a broken gauge (caused by the pump falling out of the van a time or two) and taped up a damaged hose (from being jammed under a van seat track) but that's all - they continue to work just fine, all after more than 10 seasons of abuse.

The Italian owner of Silca passed away awhile back, leaving no heirs to take over the venerable company. You can read the rest of the story here, and those great pumps are still available, though production has ceased. 

Now, with the new owners of Silca, comes the new work-of-art in the photo above. We're certainly not going to suggest you throw away a perfectly good, original Silca Pista and replace it with one of these, but if you're not happy with your current floor pump (and we know there are a lot of poor ones out there!) and you appreciate finely-made tools and equipment, you might want to put this on your holiday gift list.

Or, if you have an original Silca Pista in need of a new gasket, etc. you can find all that stuff and more here.

Buon lavoro Josh!

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Photo: Fondriest TF0 (Bill McGann photo)

Back-in-the-day many bike brands (including some of the largest non-Italian ones) had their steel bicycles manufactured in Italy. In those days, if you wanted quality work done by people with a passion for and understanding of bicycles, you found a contract builder in Italy to make frames with your brand name on them. Our friends at Torelli had their best bikes made by Antonio Mondonico, for example. These trusted builders also created made-to-measure bikes for a lot of pro riders, which were then painted to match the team sponsor's machines.

As steel was replaced with aluminum and then carbon, Italians were slow to take up the new materials and saw the contract builder business shift to Asia. Quality was good enough and the price was usually low, but I think something was lost along the way. Meanwhile, some of the same contract builders created bikes in carbon fiber for their pro customers

Now the pendulum seems to be swinging back, and not just for the old-school steel frames we know and love. The owners of the venerable MERLIN name have introduced their first carbon fiber frame, the Empire. This is NOT built in Asia, but in ITALY, just like the good old days!

The Fondriest TF0 bike shown above is also made by the same contract builder in Italy, as is their TF1 1.4.

And amazingly, the prices are not a lot higher. The top of the line carbon frame (made in Asia) sold by that big company whose name starts with S has an MSRP of $3750 while the Made-in-Italy Merlin is $4200 and the Fondriest is less than $5000.  On top of this, we believe the Made-in-Italy frames can be made-to-measure, something it would take a last name like Boonen or Cavendish to get from the S folks.

We couldn't be happier with this news!


Friday, August 8, 2014

Shocking secrets revealed!

Photo: One of our standard rental bikes "Bugno" set up for Larry

We're rarely fans of the "enthusiast press" those bike mags and websites with the "10 Ways to beat up your friends" or "What you must buy right now" headlines. Too often the content seems tailored to advertising rather than genuine information or reading enjoyment.

Now and then there ARE exceptions like this one on  Read "Bike weight and the myth of fast bikes" for example. Chances are this article will be next to an advertisement touting "world's lightest bike" or "sub 900 gram frame" or something similar.

We give them credit for the courage to publish information like this, despite what those advertising clients might say. Here's another great article on the same subject.

We harp on this subject because we see too many obsess about how much their bike does or does not weigh, especially to the point of choosing equipment that is fragile or just unsuitable to the kind of cycling most of us do, even when it comes to climbing the Passo Stelvio. (Larry rode the bike in the photo above up the Stelvio this year in fact)

We love lightweight bikes when it comes time to load them on the roof rack. The rest of the time weight (or lack of it) is not noticed, but when it comes to climbing steep hills, proper gearing and attitude make much more difference in enjoying your ride than whether your bike weighs fifteen pounds or twenty.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

25 days until 2015

Photo: Heather celebrates atop Passo Gavia

Twenty-five days until 2015 RESERVATIONS will be accepted, to be more accurate.
The website is 99% updated already, confirmations are coming in from our partner hotels and the latest issue of La Gazzetta dello CycleItalia is almost ready for your email inbox.
Don't forget, each guided tour for 2015 will be limited to just seven participants, first-come, first served. We're already looking forward to seeing your smiling face in La Bella Italia next year!