Con Bici in Italia
Any adventure worthy of the name will involve complications. Missed trains, reservation mix-ups, absent transportation services, lost luggage. These challenges are often unforeseen, and the overcoming of them is what makes travelling so rewarding, though at times, stressful. My recent trip to Italy began almost immediately with an inconvenient and unwelcome frustration of a mechanical nature.
My rationale for visiting Italy was threefold. First, I had just finished my bachelor’s degree in economics, and felt that after four years of university, two of which were spent studying from home, I had earned a post-graduation voyage. Second, wine is rather important to me in both a personal and professional capacity. During the summer, I work at a winery in Kelowna, B.C. where I have had the pleasure of learning about the intricacies of both the product and the industry. Naturally, a wine-focused trip to Italy was something which I’d been waiting to do for quite some time. Third, and perhaps most importantly in the context of this piece, was cycling.
As I’m sure most of you know, L’Eroica is an annual ride which takes place in Autumn in Gaiole in Chianti, located in Tuscany, just south of Florence. It tastefully combines Italian festivities like dancing, meeting new friends, and consuming copious amounts of food and wine, with a grueling and incredibly rewarding bike ride. In order to participate in said ride, the cyclist must use a vintage bicycle, and sport classic kit. Steel frames and tiny cassettes make what would already be a challenging ride even harder. Ever since hearing about L’Eroica from our very own Curtis a couple years ago, it had been my goal to participate in it. In the fall season of 2021, as I was beginning the final year of my degree, I learned that the Gaiole ride was not actually the only Eroica to take place in a year, and that there were in fact numerous Eroica’s around the globe. As I browsed the list of rides, I saw one which was to take place in May of 2022, and was captioned L’Eroica di Montalcino. “Hmm,” I thought, “that might be convenient”. Montalcino also happens to be the region where Italy’s best wine, subject to personal taste of course, is produced: Brunello di Montalcino. The presence of L’Eroica presented an opportunity which I knew had to be taken. It wasn’t long before both my father and I were registered for the ride.
Half a year prior, the spring of 2021 to be exact, I had acquired a vintage bicycle, which I was now planning to bring with me to Italy. It is a late 1960’s Adriatica from Pesaro, Italy. When I bought it from Curtis, it was in rough shape. Some of the components were bent or broken, and the decals were flaking. The frame was in fine shape however, and the chrome was, for the most part, still shiny. Over the course of two months, in between my classes, I committed myself to restoring the Adriatica to its youthful beauty. Facebook Marketplace delivered a lovely Italian groupset called Cambio Rino (note the copper coloured chainrings). Despite reaching out to several of Curtis’ friends in Italy, as well as the Adriatica factory itself, I could not find authentic decals. The internet once again provided, and I custom designed new decals to match, as closely as possible, the original ones. The frame was sandblasted (I protected the chrome and the metal badge with my life, and also duct tape) and re-painted in a slightly deeper red. Yellow cable housing and cloth bar tape were added to match the decals, and lo, the bike was finished and Eroica-ready.
The second bike that came to Italy, which my father used, was not attained until a few short months before my departure. I did have an old Bottecchia frame which I intended to restore for the ride, but none of the components I had fit it, and I didn’t have the resources to find the right ones. However, as I like to say, “The Facebook Marketplace gods provide”. In this case they provided a mid-1980’s Marinoni. Built in Canada by Italian hands, Marinoni bikes are of high quality and, I felt, an appropriate choice for a Canadian cyclist in Italy. I fitted it with full Campagnolo Triomphe (with exception to the crank and front derailleur, for which I used the bike’s original Campy components) as well as white cabling, bar tape, and saddle. It was test-ridden and tinkered-with just weeks ahead of the trip.
As I was leaving for Italy two weeks before my father, in order to spend some time travelling and experiencing the country solo, I brought with me only the Adriatica. Being the bike which I had spent more time building and riding, I have a stronger attachment to it, and wouldn’t have traded it for the world. I gingerly packed it up into a borrowed travel case and excitedly set off to the Airport. What followed was a frantic blur of checking luggage, redirections toward the oversized area, boarding pass attainment, security, & finally sitting down on board the plane. From Calgary, I flew to Toronto for a brief seven-hour layover, followed by a seven-hour flight to Rome. My luggage was returned into my weary hands, & I was shuttled to my hotel, where I was to spend a single night before moving on. When I arrived, I took a sorely needed shower & proceeded to unpack the Adriatica. At this point, I distinctly remember reflecting on how smoothly things had gone so far. No luggage had gone missing, my shuttle had arrived on time, & the hotel check-in couldn’t have been easier. So far, so good. Unfortunately, everything in Rome seems to be built from marble, so there was no wood for me to knock on, & upon opening the travel case, I found that a key piece of the puzzle had gone missing. The bolt which holds the saddle firmly on the seatpost, as well as the specialized nut which it threads into were nowhere to be found.
The next day, as my bulky train careened toward central Tuscany, my mind raced it there. What would I do if I couldn’t find a replacement bolt? What were the chances that the bike shop in Siena would have the exact part I needed? Would I even make it to L’Eroica? My worried thoughts continued to pace in my head, despite my eyes perceiving the gradual and breathtaking transition from Rome to Siena. After the passage of three days, during which I checked in to my Airbnb, explored, ate, and drank, I decided to locate the bike shop and try to find a solution. Google maps, my most trusted guide in this foreign town with streets sprawling & winding in a random yet organic manner, navigated me toward the southern edge of the city, well outside of the towering medieval walls. There, I was supposed to find the only bike shop in town. After a half hour of walking, I arrived at my destination: an empty building with its lights out, & the faded outlines of the place’s previous name on the glass. Luckily, there was a small note explaining that the store had relocated to Via Nino Bixo. Unluckily, the note was in Italian, with no explanation as to where exactly Via Nino Bixo was. Jumbled directions & confused looks from locals eventually guided me back into the city center & on a road leading in the opposite direction. After walking far enough to make me wish I had a bike, I came across a beautiful sight: celeste. The iconic shade of the Bianchi greeted my eyes on a signpost hanging above a small door & indicated the presence of a bike shop within. Not the same shop as I had been seeking, as it had a different name & was nowhere near the still elusive Via Nino Bixo, but it was a welcome sight nevertheless. Inside, I met a young man who, to my delight, spoke English, & was able to communicate my dilemma to the store owner who, rather pointedly, did not. The shop’s interior was a litter of bits and pieces, nuts & bolts, and was exactly how I would have envisioned an old Italian bike shop. The owner machine-gunned Italian at me despite my clear ineptitude, & mumbled to himself as he disappeared into the back of his shop with my seatpost. A moment later, I heard the whirring of some sort of machinery, followed by a metallic grinding, a pause, another bout of grinding, and finally, “Bene”. The owner re-emerged with my seatpost bolted together again. He had used a bolt of the correct length coupled with a custom nut which he had had to grind down in order to fit my post properly. A customized job such as this would be pricey, I thought & as I inquired “quanta?” I braced myself for the charge. The scruffy Italian man scratched his chin, shrugged, & dismissively replied “cinque”. The bolt did the trick and the very next day I went for my first ride in Italy, & my bike’s first ride back home for nearly 60 years.