Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Campagnolo - the future

 Where have you gone Joe Dimaggio..er..CAMPAGNOLO?

Remember the old "Mrs. Robinson" song? Look closely at the photo above. Zio ordered some "Original Parts" for his new Campagnolo EKAR-equipped e-gravel bike from a reliable and trusted online shop here in Italy so he doesn't think these are counterfeit.

WTF? As recently as here (claimed to have been updated less than 6 months ago) the folks in Vincenza were claiming “We’ve always stayed true to building things in the European Union and 100 percent in-house,” Riddle said. “Nothing’s offshore and nothing is outsourced. Everything apart from circuit boards and batteries for EPS is done in-house.”

Not anymore (or even then) it seems. The two designed-for-OEM groupsets mentioned in the story (Centaur and Potenza) are gone now (and it was rather obvious their brakesets were Taiwanese*) despite working quite well and getting positive reviews but Zio can remember unboxing a set of cantilever brakes for a Campagnolo 'cross group a decade ago and reading "Made in Taiwan" (*seemingly by Tektro) on the package. He wasn't happy about it but figured it was just a few 'cross brakesets so did it really matter?

It matters and the marketing guy quoted in the piece is no longer there either as far as Zio can tell. Tullio Campagnolo's grandson seems to have taken over after some time at their wheel brand Fulcrum.

Campagnolo's market position seemed to be aiming at the high end of the market with the exception of their gravel EKAR groupset. But how long will people pay a premium price for "Designed in Italy Made in Taiwan"? EKAR costs more than a Shimano GRX groupset for example but how much of it is made in Asia like Shimano? 

Meanwhile, they just announced EKAR GT, a product of what Zio likes to call the "product cheapening department" (what do companies really call these?) with aluminum rather than carbon crank (something that would have been just fine with Zio!) and some other cost-saving changes, all to offer a gravel groupset at a slightly lower cost.

Zio remembers a carbon fork sold by Columbus back-in-the-day. A bike industry friend told him these forks were actually made in China, shipped to Columbus for stickers and a fancy box and then sold at a premium price to customers who assumed they were made by Columbus in Italy. This same friend said the guy who first told him this story arranged for the friend's company to buy the same forks but put his company's name on 'em instead of Columbus'. The friend stopped buying 'em from Columbus and instead got 'em directly from the maker through this "sales agent". Seems there are lots of these folks around, experts at getting stuff made cheaply in Asia with whatever branding you like on it.

Is Campagnolo destined to be come nothing more than a "designer name" like so many other "luxury goods" that are produced in Asian factories for pennies on the dollar only to end up commanding premium prices when it's time for the retail customer to cough up the cash? Do they care that most of these same products have counterfeit (though ya gotta wonder if they're perhaps cranked out by a midnight "third-shift" at the same sweatshop producing the originals, so how "counterfeit" are they?) versions hawked on side streets of most major cities?

At the same time some Asian companies are now offering super-cheap groupsets that have no famous "designer" name, so if you're gonna buy Made-in-Taiwan (or mainland China) stuff, would you pay more for an Italian name and "design"?

If Campagnolo's sales are decreasing, Zio would point to this as at least part of the cause. But are profits up since production costs are lower? Will Ferrari set up a factory in China next...or have they already? Would people buy "Designed in Maranello, made-in-China" cars?

It works for Pinarello I guess? Zio wonders if some confuse "adrenalina" (andrenalin) with "Made in ___"? He remembers a client one time insisting that Pinarello bikes were still 100% Made-in-Italy, so...?

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

MV Lucky Explorer E-gravel bike - First Impressions

 MV's e-gravel bike- First Impressions

The bike (finally) arrived! Zio quickly got it ready to ride, swapping out tires, bolting on water bottle cages, etc.

You can see how small the rear hub motor is - total system weight is 3.2 kg, (around 7 lbs) making this bike about the same weight as his un-motorized ancient MTB turned into SuperMonsterGravel.

Control button on the top tube with Homer Simpson as Superman just below. This bike also has tiny buttons near the brake hoods to shift assist-levels up or down rather than pushing the top tube button.

A nice surprise! Zio has a Torelli 20th Anniversary bike that's #70/100 so "Homer" is in good company.

Another nice surprise - Made-in-Italy, though Zio doesn't know who actually makes the frames for MV. The bikes are assembled and shipped from Varese, MVAgusta's home from the start. MV comes from Meccanica Verghera and the founder Giovanni Agusta.

Zio bought this bike not really needing an e-bike right away, but more as a way to get used to playing with one before it WILL be needed. He thinks of it as sort of an electronic "granny ring" on a triple crank...always there but nobody says ya gotta use it...at least if the bike is fun to ride without the e-assist.

This one is! Ready-to-ride it's under 30 lbs and with the motor off or in the 0 assist mode, rides just like a normal bike. Zio's put 100 kms on it so far and really likes the fat 38 mm Rene Herse slicks he mounted to replace the 45 mm gravel tires it came with. The 50+ mm slicks on SuperGravelMonster are great while Heather likes the 38's on her Bianchi gravel bike. We don't plan to ride the kind of gravel that requires knobby tires,

So far Zio's only cranked the motor up (Level 1 assist) one time - going into a stiff headwind on the bike trail. Otherwise he's ridden it "acoustically" and is pretty happy with how it goes, stops and turns. You can watch a good review of the Campagnolo EKAR component group HERE. Zio's not doing any video, who wants to look at or listen to him?

MAHLE's X20 assist system has some reviews online though since the MV's not sold in the USA, this one about it on another brand of bike still applies.

The bike itself? Zio bought this despite the branding. MVAgusta is great but the reference is to the Dakar factory motorcycles based on the Cagiva Elephant, which were sponsored by the cigarette brand Lucky Strike in the 1990s. Why? He wanted Campagnolo EKAR and MAHLE X20 and this was pretty much the only choice. He'll cover-up the logos and maybe slap-on some MVAgusta stickers eventually.

The frame geometry charts suggested this wouldn't be a slow-steering "desert sled" despite the name and riding it is proof. Frame sizing was a challenge as Zio seems to be smack-dab in-between both MV's and Bianchi's size ranges. He's almost too tall for the S size and too short for M, but just like the Bianchi, settled on M. 50 cm center-to-center on the seat tube is good while the top tube measures 53 cm. A rather short 8 cm stem connects to the carbon handlebar with all the hoses/cables routed internally.

All this means the fit is OK. The size S would for sure require a longer stem and with hoses/cables routed internally would have been a real pain to swap-out. As-is the M's a little short and upright while the bars are a bit wide but once he rewrapped the tape to cover more of the tops (and stuck some foam padding into the curiously depressed sections) things seem OK.

A straight top tube means a frame pump will fit! WOOHOO! Bottle cages are mounted low, another plus. Seatpost is round with an alloy clamp, both big plus factors in Zio's mind. Frame-build quality looks good too, I wonder who actually makes them?

What doesn't he like? The flat paint finish isn't a plus but what can ya do...it's the rage these days. We've already covered the logo issues. For this kind of money Zio wishes they'd plugged the bazillion threaded holes in the frame/fork (so you can bolt-on bikepacking stuff) with some snap-in things to keep dirt out of the threads and water out of the frame and sprung for better quality inner tubes than the rather thick CS ones. But they probably figure buyers are gonna yank 'em out and go tubeless with the no-name carbon tubeless-ready rims anyway? The 40 mm rims are deeper than Zio would like but they don't seem too bad in cross-winds so far.

100 kms over 3 rides and Zio's pretty happy. He can see this being his "do it all" bike even without the motor assist. He splurged for a MAHLE head-unit rather than slapping-on a Cateye cyclometer. This reads the bike's stats along with the usual speed, distance, etc. and includes a "range" feature - how far you can ride on the current battery charge?

With the assist level at 0 but the bike turned ON, the range numbers actually go backwards - as in higher rather than lower. A 2 hour ride today used 1% of the battery while the range-counter topped-out at 999 kms. On his first ride, when he switched to level 1 the range dropped to under 400 before he switched back to 0.

Next up, a ride with a real climb, one where Heather usually has to wait for him on her MAHLE X35 powered bike programmed to assist when her heart rate reaches a preset level. Will Level 1 be enough? If not, there's 2 or 3!

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Bike Weight Part ?

 How much does your bike weigh?

Remember this?
The UCI requires bicycles used in competition to weigh at least 6.8 kg (more-or-less 15 lbs) but a recent look at the bikes used by pro teams showed wide variations.

None of 'em weighed just 6.8 kg! Not one. The lightest was 6.98 kg while the heaviest was a whopping 7.7 kg.

WTF? What happened to all the hype about how a light bike makes such a huge difference in performance? Not that long ago it was lightweight this or lightweight that, marginal gains, saving a gram here or there touted as the key to victory.

What happened? Zio will reply with two words - disc brakes. But that doesn't explain why one World Tour team's machines weigh a pound and a half more than another's while the riders don't seem to care and it doesn't seem relevant to who wins.

Have they realized that 700 grams (1.5 lbs) really doesn't make that much difference?

Friday, January 26, 2024

MV-Agusta Lucky Explorer



That's what the electric toothbrush advertisements say and we caved-in to our dentist's pleas awhile ago.

Heather went electric awhile ago with bicycles as well and Zio scored a used Bianchi E-Impulso Allroad at a good price in Piedmont at the end of last summer, but this brand-new one's on the way to Sicily for Zio to play with.

He wanted to try the newer MAHLE X20 electric motor* and also wanted a Campagnolo EKAR groupset for what's soon gonna be his only bike in Sicily other than the Bianchi for shopping and the other Bianchi for vintage rides. Zio hates to part with some of our beloved steel bikes, but we don't have enough room on the ground floor for a bike museum, so some of the old ones have to go! 

For a new e-bike there wasn't a lot to choose from matching Zio's requirements for a gravel bike with MAHLE X20 and Campagnolo EKAR but when a shop in Rome put MV's Lucky Explorer on-sale, out came the credit card!

More when (if?) the new bike arrives**.

*Regular readers may remember we planned/hoped to get Favaloro to make us custom e-bikes, but it seemed he was just too busy after that Italian TV spot showed what he could do.

**After a lot of back-and-forth with the dealer in Rome it looks like the bike will finally arrive February 8th. Far longer than the 5-6 days from payment they claimed, but a price more than 1000 euros off MV's listed price is worth it I guess? Turns out the shop doesn't even stock these bikes, despite what they said before Zio handed-over the euros. Seems like they get drop-shipped directly from MV, so it's coming from much farther north than Rome.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Marco Pantani

 Marco Pantani

"Il Pirata" would have been 54 years old yesterday. He and Fausto Coppi are probably the most revered cyclists in Italy.

Why? An early death under tragic circumstances explains part of it but Zio likes to think it's a lot more than this and their racing records.

Both men overcame injuries and other obstacles to win and win again - something that can't be explained away as a product of doping.

Both men endured scandals, but overcame those too and both were revered by former teammates for their generosity.

Books in English about them are more rare than they should be. Matt Rendell's "The Death of Marco Pantani" is still available as is Manuela Ronchi's "Man on the Run: The Life and Death of Marco Pantani. Zio thinks both should be read to get a balanced take on The Pirate.

William Fotheringham's "Fallen Angel: The Passion of Fausto Coppi" does a pretty good job of describing Il Campionissimo. Sadly, most of the other books about Coppi Zio likes are no longer in print, his favorite being Herbie Sykes' "Coppi: Inside the Legend of the Campionissimo".

Monday, January 8, 2024

Winter Reading

 Winter Reading

Glad we don't have this anymore!

We're really happy the only frozen water we deal with now is the ice in our Aperol Spritz instead of our frozen backyard in Iowa but if you're looking for good reading this winter, take a look HERE. His Alfa-Lum team story is really funny!

Zio Lorenzo really likes the work of Herbie Sykes. If you like his work on that website you'll probably enjoy his books, though some of them can be hard to find.

Zio's reviews of a couple of them can be found HERE, and HERE. He's going to contact Sykes directly for details on finding his books, so check back later*.

*Sykes says most of his books are now out-of-print so suggests AbeBooks or Ebay to buy copies. Sad, but true.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

A Nice Surprise!

 Cycling like it once was...

And still is, at least if you're into vintage bicycles like we are. Our second favorite magazine's latest issue (see photo) came the other day along with the announcement they finally have a website!

Now you can read it in your choice of language at no charge. How great is that? We'll still pay the money for the print copies even though not much in 'em is news, but you'll have to wait awhile to see 'em online.

But what's not to like? We're excited already about La Barocca. May will be here before we know it. Heather's DeRosa is ready-to-ride while Zio needs to check over his epoca Bianchi as well as dig out the wool jersey and shorts while there's still time to do something if the moths have eaten them.