Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Letter to Vicenza

Cara Vicenza (Dear Vicenza)

Clock in the shop. Clock movement long gone

I loved you Vicenza (hometown of Campagnolo, but let's pretend she's a beautiful Italian woman and Vicenza's her first name, OK?) I really did. The first time I rode a pro-quality bike with your Nuovo Record components I came back to the shop saying "I don't like this bike but I love the components." after first trying a bike I liked with Shimano parts that I didn't. The bike shop guy said they could build me something so I put a deposit down on a Swiss-made Mondia (Reynolds 531) with Campagnolo Nuovo Record parts, Fiamme red-label tubular rims and a Selle Italia Turbo saddle. 

Was I biased? Perhaps, as my first quality bike (meaning one without a one-piece steel crank and Schwinn on the downtube) came with then-new Shimano 600 parts, the newfangled "cassette" rear hub promptly failing with nobody seeming to care about warranty/repair. I caved-in and bought another rear wheel and screw-on freewheel but never had much love for Shimano from that point on.

But this Italian stuff was only gorgeous, it worked very well after a short break-in period. Later when I worked in bike retail the shop joke was "Shimano wears-out. Campagnolo wears-in." 

It was true back then, especially after I spent 2-3 days in a Campagnolo Technical Seminar (still have the certificate of completion, shown above) while working in a Southern California bike shop.

It was still true when the bike tour company we worked for received some Campagnolo groupsets as part of a promo deal yours truly was instrumental in creating. We got their new-fangled "Ergopower" 8-speed groupsets with triple cranksets to get us up the Passo Mortirolo, etc. Some of those parts from 3+ decades ago are still in-service on our vintage bikes!

4 decades old and still going

A few boxes from when Campagnolo meant Made-in-Italy

It was still true when we created CycleItalia and needed a rental bike fleet. Our friend at Torelli provided some beautiful, tricolore versions of their Gran Sasso bicycle with Campagnolo's Mirage 9-speed triple groupset. One of those bikes is still in-service as my winter bike, complete with the original cables!

Still going strong after 2 decades

Still true when we added more bikes as the years went by and we needed more modern machines to please our clients. Every one was Campagnolo-equipped, I even had to argue/insist on this with our carbon bikes as the maker previously had nothing to do with Vicenza. Once they met he seemed a bit smitten too.

It was still true when I bought an EKAR-equipped gravel bike a few months ago.

But I'll admit to feeling a bit cheated-on years earlier when unboxing a set of cantilever brakes for a 'cross bike. Made-in-Taiwan by Tektro!!! Part of a 'cross groupset Vicenza was selling back before gravel bikes pushed 'cross off the "newest-latest-coolest" list.

I tried to ignore it and tried to ignore it again when the brakes on Vicenza's new Centaur and Potenza groupsets were so obviously Tektro products and so certainly NOT Made-in-Italy. Sure, they worked just fine, but....  
We touched on this HERE.

But I can't ignore it any longer -- it seems Vicenza has dumped me and moved to Taiwan. Despite my fidelity, she's gone. 
Am I sad? Certainly!

Vicenza's gravel groupsets, EKAR and EKAR GT seem to have a lot of Made-in-Taiwan components based on the labels on the spare parts boxes arriving here. Hard to believe it's only the brake parts. They originally admitted to working with Magura on their hydraulic stuff but obviously are having it made now by Tektro. Their hydraulic fluid color changed from blue to red like Shimano's. How much of the rest of their groupsets are Made-in-Italy rather than just designed and boxed there?

The romance is over now, especially since I've been riding a bike with Shimano's GRX groupset. All of this new gravel stuff is rather ugly, especially in boring matte-black, but GRX works pretty well in direct comparison to EKAR, based on back-to-back comparison rides done recently.

This all makes me wonder how long Campy-fans, not to mention those new to the sport will continue to pay a premium price for component groups made-in-Asia with Campagnolo's brand-name on them vs products from the same place that work just as well but cost less but have names on them that begin with "S"?

It's interesting to note the famous Q/R skewer, (the thing in the center of the clock in the photo, the invention of Tullio Campagnolo that legend has it launched his company) has been rendered obsolete with the adoption of screw-in "thru-axles" made necessary by disc brakes.

Rumor has it the petro-sheiks that bought Colnago recently also wanted to add Campagnolo, but the privately-held firm wouldn't sell. Rumors go on to point out the UAE pro cycling team on Colnago bikes no longer uses Campagnolo components.

And now that Vicenza has "dumped" me, I'll certainly think twice about what components will go on my next bicycle.

Arrivederci Vicenza, it was great while it lasted! 

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