Sunday, May 22, 2016

Another Sunday in paradise...another in the series

We've been extolling the virtues of May in Monferrato...here's another installment:

We can't claim it never rains here in May, but after it does, we enjoy views like the one below. A Sunday ride on a day like this is truly a gift from the gods!


Of course it's a bit of a climb to get up here to admire these kinds of views, but that's what low gears are for!

This Sunday we had another mission as well....a big Sunday pranzo out in the countryside. One of our favorite stops is Trattoria Saroc in Vignale Monferrato. We've visited many times  since they opened to enjoy a simple, but traditional lunch with wines from a vineyard one could almost throw a rock into from the trattoria's terrace.

We wanted to arrive soon after the pranzo service started since we didn't reserve a table, but where to ride first? We wandered around a route including some of the other hilltowns, a bit on the flats with a final climb up to Vignale  to put the finishing touch on our appetites, where we found all the panoramic terrace tables reserved, but they had a nice one in the cortile for us.


There's "bike friendly" and then there's BIKE FRIENDLY...something this place has always been. Now they even have bike parking and a little workshop in case your ride needs some tuning or repairs. We're not sure that our visits inspired this nice touch but we've tried to encourage the brothers over the years as their place is not the easiest spot to find in the tiny hilltown. But it seems plenty are finding it these days!

We started with their version of carne cruda followed by agnolotti with butter and sage before a second plate of grilled fassone beef. A Ciaret (rose) from nearby Bricco Mondalino was perfect on this warm day. A wonderful hazelnut cake with gelato topped off the feast before we downed an espresso and climbed back on the bikes for the 20 kms or so back "home".

Would you like to enjoy a similar experience? We could add a couple more guests to our More Monferrato tour group if you can act fast.

Grazie amici!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

SILCA - a "Chorus-level" floor pump?


Regular blog readers have no doubt read Larry's glowing review of Silca's Ultimate floor pump. As soon as Larry got his hands on one, he was emailing Silca owner Josh Poertner begging for another model. He said, "You've now got the equivalent of Campagnolo Super Record when it comes to a floor pump. How about something more like a Chorus-level pump? One with all the great functional features of the top-of-the-line, functional art piece but with a little less in the fancy looks department while keeping the important functional bits but at a lower price?"

One of Campagnolo's strengths in the market was that their stuff always worked well and lasted a long time. Paying more money for the higher-end groupsets got you more exotic materials which resulted in less weight and a lower cost.

Josh replied that they were already working on it. This guy know what he's doing!
Now it's available - click HERE to get yours!

Buon lavoro Josh & Co!!!!




Monday, May 9, 2016

May in Monferrato

We're not sure why exactly, but we have a tough time getting folks to join us in May. Generally the weather is great this time of year - clear blue skies, a fresh breeze, warm temperatures during the day with a nice cool-down at night. As you can see below Monferrato has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its unique vineyard landscape. Miles and miles of paved roads with little to no automobile traffic, fantastic food and wine, what's not to love?

Some have said May is "too early" in the season. Too early for what? You're not 100% "in shape" whatever that is? What better place to ride yourself into "shape" than over the dolci colline (sweet hills) of Monferrato? Think of it as spring training. That's what Larry's doing now.



Sunday was warm and sunny, perfect for a bit of exploring, though by now Monferrato is truly our backyard in many ways.  So off Larry went, leaving tiny Terruggia and riding through Rosignano, Ottiglio, Grazzano, Casorzo and out towards Grana, a place we don't get to that often. 


Montemagno is always interesting, both in the approach, where you can admire their medieval castle and once inside through the narrow streets. From there it's just a few kilometers down...and up ...to Castagnole Monferrato, home of the cult wine -.RUCHE



Where, totally by surprise, a festival celebrating RUCHE was being held! Che fortuna! Normally a sleepy village when we visit, today Castagnole was full of people, many of them wearing little sacks on their chests, just big enough to hold a wine glass. Think of one of those baby holders but instead of a baby there's a glass of Ruche.


Even better, in the same spot where we take a break on our tour through Castagnole during our annual Vineyards to the Sea tour (where there are two places left if you act quickly) was this smiling young lady, offering two great buys - first, 5 euros gets you a generous portion of the famous carne cruda of Monferrato + grissini and a glass of RUCHE. Second, 4 euros gets you some wonderful hazelnut cookies and yet another glass of vino, your choice from various producers they featured.

Some of you might recoil at what looks like raw hamburger but rest assured this is raw beef, usually from the Fassone breed of cattle, grass-fed critters so lean that it's tough to cook 'em, hand-chopped rather than run through a potentially disease carrying grinder like in the USA and served with a bit of lemon, olive oil and salt/pepper.

This, combined with the excellent cookies was a fine snack on the ride, which meandered through some of the Ruche vineyards of Bersano and Ferraris (two Ruche wines we enjoy) before turning back towards Terruggia. 65 kilometers with a pause for a snack = a perfect Sunday, especially when one can tune in the Giro d'Italia on TV in the afternoon!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

EROICA Primavera 2016 Part 2

Our second and final post on EROICA Primavera 2016. 

First, we want to say GRAZIE to Giancarlo Brocci and everyone who helped with this wonderful event.  Some negative comments were posted by a US cycling blogger about his non-participation in EROICA California and we want the EROICA organizers to understand this clown's whining doesn't reflect the opinion of other folks from the USA like us. 

We stayed about 30 minutes away from Buonconvento at a place called Conte Matto. a true Slowfood place. We staggered up the stairs Saturday night after a wonderful meal to hear raindrops against the windows. We'd purchased the vintage rain capes hoping they'd be cheap insurance against the bad weather forecast for Sunday, but Larry woke up to the sound of rain more than once!



As you can see, the forecast was a little off, with just a few clouds in the morning and damp roads..but there'd be no DUST, no complaints from us! Perhaps the crazies who started at 7 AM for the longer routes got rained on, but for us it was just about perfect.


Heather takes much better photos than Larry. The drawback for viewers is that most of the pictures are of Larry rather than Heather. You could have a terrible photo of Heather or a great photo of Larry. We figured you'd take the latter since it's about the cycling anyway?


There were certainly some "greasy" spots and plenty of puddles to dodge, or at least try, but we thoroughly enjoyed every one of the 56 kilometers. Doing the shorter option lets one get up at a reasonable hour and enjoy breakfast even when staying 30 minutes away. We were on the bikes shortly after 9 AM. We'd securely pinned our numbers on the night before which turned out to be a good idea as the stick-on numbers provided this year didn't stick very well....the roads were littered with numbers that had fallen off.


A huge thing that makes EROICA events special is the rest stops, "RISTORO" as they're called here. No energy bars or isotonic swill at these...it's pecorino cheese, prosciutto, salami, fresh fruit, bruschette and more, all served up by smiling folks in period costume, just like the riders.


And of course there's VINO!!! And not some cheap, out-of-a-box swill, but good quality Sangiovese from bottles with corks. This is a civilized bike ride in a civilized country after all!


While you're enjoying your vino you can feast your eyes on a....LINO. The owner wasn't around so we couldn't find out any details on this beauty.


Same with this way-cute OLYMPIA, a bike a little too big for its rider. Heather loitered around hoping the owner would come by (since it looked to be her size) so she could make an offer to buy it, but....


Part of the fun is shooting the bull with your friends old and new. These guys were having a great time!


Now THERE's an old one! You really gotta be a hero to make it around the course on one of these old things. Lots of pushing uphill and scary downhills with pretty marginal brakes. Most of the short route is dirt, which makes this a great ride. The old-time brakes on our bikes lack pure stopping power and take a mighty squeeze, but once you remember this, they actually work very well on dirt descents where the last thing you need is to lock up the wheels and crash - better to "ride it out" even if you're carrying a bit more speed than you like.


The cute Fiat 500 or Cinquecento as the beloved cars are called here was actually used as a service car. Following this thing uphill inhaling the exhaust wasn't a treat but seeing it out there WAS. I complimented the driver on his cute car and he told me it was for sale....how's THAT for an EROICA souvenir? Luckily Heather was there to keep things under control.


The bikes looked tired at the end, but happy, even with the crust of dried strada bianca on them. Note the saddle on Larry's Bianchi, something that's going on ebay right away! He wanted to be more period-correct so this Selle Anatomica was an experiment - one that failed. The instructions said to tilt the thing up to the point you wouldn't slide forward...but that put the nose in, well, a place you don't want it. Larry's favorite SMP Glider will go back on, hidden under a cover as on Heather's bike.


Heather got an old-time crankset and rear derailleur this year which Larry slapped on just days before and crossed his fingers there's be no problems or teething issues. He re-torqued the ancient crank bolts a couple of times with the old "peanut butter" 15 mm wrench and everything was fine, though the 36 tooth inner chainring made Heather grunt a few times uphill vs Larry's 30, but she was EROICA!!!!


We couldn't find a single photo online from the guys selling shots they'd taken out on the route, but we thought this one was cute anyway - especially since Heather's in it!! 

Note to the photo guys - rider numbers are on the back so why not click off a quick shot from the back and note the rider number? It would be much easier to find photos on your website using the number instead of wading through page after page or trying to remember what time you passed through a spot on the course described on your website.

Larry's already signed up for La Canavesana next month and we're working on bikes for EROICA California 2017. Meanwhile, an invite from Marco Gios to ride in a GIOS-only ride later in May was received, complete with a vintage GIOS to ride. Larry will try to be there!

Monday, May 2, 2016

EROICA Primavera 2016 Part 1

Ciao from Tuscany! 

This is a great video explaining why we love bici d'epoca so much. Worth the five minutes for sure.




Some folks don't get EROICA and that's OK with us since we enjoy these events for the reasons outlined in the video clip and really don't want them to become so mainstream they lose the special atmosphere. Those who just want to bomb around on upaved roads can do that anytime they like. The old bikes and old-time clothing are what make this special.


We love everything about these events! The atmosphere reminds us of why we took up cycling in the first place, something that's too often lost in today's "you are what you buy" culture. Above you see the entrance to EROICA Primavera in the tiny village of Buonconvento, not too far from the famous Montalcino.


Pretty much the entire historic center of the town is decorated for this event. This year, the second had around 1300 participants, far less than the original October event in Gaiole. But we like this smaller event much more, for reasons we'll go into later.


Everybody seems to get into the act.


And wine is a central theme, as this bike demonstrates.


We couldn't resist a photo of this bike with all the wooden parts. GORGEOUS!


Then there were the old-time support cars, something Larry really likes.


Right out of "A Sunday in Hell"


And there's the cutest of 'em all!


Saturday was our time to pick up our numbers and schwag, roam the expo looking for that perfect old part (and we found more than one!) before grabbing a porchetta panino and watching the "famous old guy" race through the town.


Even the creator of EROICA got out there for awhile.


Round and round they went with the speed gradually increasing until a few actually looked tired.


But they still were all smiles when it came time to pose with guys like Larry.


Remember Roberto Conti? A gregario for Marco Pantani? He's way into bici d'epoca, Larry can remember him out there in the rain and mud ahead of the Giro d'Italia stage into Montalcino a few years ago.


Some of these old pros never seem to lose their love of the bike, especially when they're ones from back-in-the-day. Remember Eric Vanderaerden?

The weather forecast for Sunday's event was bad, rain getting stronger all day. Saturday was nice and we scored some old-time rain capes at the vintage expo just-in-case. We headed back to our lodging to take a quick shake-down spin on our epoca bikes before a wonderful Tuscan dinner and a night's sleep while the rain tinkled against the windows.

All about our Sunday ride in the next post....

Monday, April 18, 2016

EROICA California 2016

As regular blog visitors know, we're big fans of EROICA, the bici d'epoca events. We're off to Tuscany for EROICA Primavera in a couple of weeks but here are some photos from EROICA California 2016.



Larry had plans to be there, though it was more about helping our friends at the event expo than riding, as his bike for this event has not been completed yet. Instead our friends from Albabici manned the entire thing for us, doing a great job promoting our ciclismo come una volta (cycling as it once was) philosophy, which we think should be a perfect fit with those who attended this event, the second edition.


In addition to our latest jersey, the blue Nalini one you can see in the upper photo, visitors could also purchase items from the Nalini 70's collection - perfect not only for bici d'epoca events but great any time you're on the bike. Heather likes the wool bib shorts so much she wears them even when riding her "modern" bicycle. She's not alone as the entire stock (except xxxs and xxxxl) sold out!


If you missed this event but still wish to purchase some of the retro-inspired clothing, click HERE or on the link above.


Mille grazie to the nice guys at Albabici for taking care of this for us. We WILL be there in 2017 to ride the event and help out at the expo, we promise!!

Finally, if you want to come and experience ciclismo come una volta in Italy with us this season, there are 1-2 places still available on most 2016 tours if you act fast. Don't miss out.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Campagnolo Potenza?



Regular readers and friends know we're fans of the equipment from Vicenza, Italy - CAMPAGNOLO.

When Larry spoke with them about becoming an Official Supplier to CycleItalia he described the partnership as probably the worst kind of "sponsorship". Why? He explained that first, both of us grew up in cycling using Campagnolo equipment and have enjoyed using it ever since, meaning they would not be stealing any customers from their rivals. Second, even if they turned us down, we were not going to run off to seek support from one of those rivals and third, we'd likely keep using it for the rest of our cycling lives. So why should they bother helping us?

Luckily for us, they saw some wisdom in a more formal relationship and have become good friends over the years. Just as in our other Official Supplier partnerships, we don't require agreements to "get X and provide Y" but just agree to help each other out whenever the opportunity arises. For this season they fixed us up with skewers to hold your bike atop our van's roof rack. Campagnolo wheel skewers are the ONLY ones we trust with your (and our) bikes!

So now we're going to tell you about their new groupset, POTENZA. This is NOT a $multi-thousand.00 groupset used only by pros or rich folks - not that there's anything wrong with those, but they wanted a 11-speed groupset that bike makers could equip their bikes with so potential customers could try Campagnolo out on a test-ride.

Back-in-the-day, customers wanting higher-end "pro quality" bikes most often chose a frameset from their favorite maker, then a component groupset, wheels, etc. to end up with a complete, custom-assembled bicycle. Sadly, those days are long-gone.

Now the trend is to buy a complete bike right-out-of-the-box. Campagnolo's competitors have been very good at supplying component groups to the big bike companies who now dominate the market. Just take a look at who sponsors pro teams these days - they're the only ones with the sales volume and budgets to pay teams millions to ride their bikes in addition to supplying a large fleet of them. Unless you're a big star (and sometimes even then) the days of having custom bikes made-to-measure for you by a trusted builder and then painted in the team livery are gone.


This means potential clients start out with bikes equipped by Campagnolo's competitors and with the shifting mechanisms varying from the most (we think) intuitive like Campy's "thumb does one thing, finger does another" to fingering two different levers or fingering the same lever but a little bit or more than a little bit, depending on which way you want to shift, people tend to stay with what they're familiar with - meaning unless you have groups spec'd on entry-level bikes, you lose out.

Campagnolo's known this for awhile but now they finally have an answer to this issue. The Potenza group claims to offer all the engineering and function of the top-end groupsets, but saves money with less expensive materials. Aluminum, steel and some composite bits vs carbon fiber and titanium for example. This used to be the case back-in-the-day at Campagnolo but they drifted away from it awhile back. Our standard rental bikes are equipped with 9-speed Mirage components that work just as well (and have lasted just as long) as the high-end stuff from the same production period!

What else do you get? How 'bout a 34 X 32 low gear? Finally Campagnolo offers a larger cogset for that "after-lunch gear" or to get you up the Passo Mortirolo. The  rear shifter, unlike many of Campy's competitors, lets you shift up THREE cogs with one motion, making that "Ooops, I need to shift up to bigger cogs NOW!" moment much easier.

The new crankset looks like the latest 4-arm carbon fiber versions but is aluminum, something some of us prefer, as well as the polished silver finish available in addition to black. The new Power-Torque + crankset comes apart with no special tools. We STILL wish there were three rather than two chainrings for more individual ratios and to eliminate the rather large gap from 50 to 34 if you want low gears for real mountains, but we'll save the whining for another day.

We just put a Campagnolo Athena 11-speed triple groupset on Heather's bike in order to promote it a bit for our friends, but now it seems it'll be going away in favor of Potenza? We'll need to get our hands on one of these new groupsets sooner rather than later, so we can share more information about it's performance with you.

Why do WE even care about these lower-priced groupsets? First, they're affordable. We'd rather spend money on a great frame instead of on components that are lighter since we're far from featherweights ourselves. Second, we think Campagnolo's idea is a good one, we find those who rent our bikes and have never used Campagnolo often end up preferring it once they've spent a week riding around Italy with it. Potenza can only help that process!