What's Cool In Road Cycling

Bici Expo 2012: Fatta In Italia, Part 1

All trade show’d out? Wait, there’s another, a special one in Padova, Italy called Bici Expo. Pez spent a day there uncovering the real, true meaning of Made in Italy… or thereabouts.

Gaerne Shoes
I had a great time flirting with Marta Gazzola a few years ago when I toured the Gaerne factory. It’s been awhile, so she was the first person I had to see – luckily their booth was located right next to the Press Sign-in area, so even I could find it. We enjoyed a coffee and talked about the newest Thing from Gaerne. It’s called the G Chrono and it replaces the G.Myst that I’ve been wearing for the past few years. This new shoe seems to address my main complaint with the G.Mysts, that they are a bit over-engineered, overbuilt and a bit on the heavy side, like those old Mercedes from the 70’s. These new ones license Boa’s lacing system, shedding quite a bit of weight. The carbon soles are lighter and thinner, yet Marta said, “they are still as stiff and as well built as the G.Mysts.” Pez should be getting some of these for review, so stay tuned.

The lovely, Marta Gazzola with a coffee and the new G Chrono

The next cool thing at Gaerne were two mid-range shoes featuring a reflective material that is nearly impossible to photograph (I’ve used their catalogue shot, where they inaccurately look like a dull gray). What makes the shoes cool is that the material feels soft like a synthetic leather. It’s not the typical reflector paint or plastic they use on vests. It’s a great idea, this should really help motorists see us in those dark tunnels through Alpine passes.

These G Futuras glow and shimmer from different angles, reflecting light.

The last cool thing at Gaerne (that makes three for those counting) is that they are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. My investigative reporting with Marta went like this:

Me: “So any special edition shoes, touch of gold type stuff?”

Her: “No”

Me: “Really? You know if this were an American company, they’d plaster that fact over everything, promote it big time, suck it dry and charge you extra for it too.”

Her: “No, that’s just not us.”

Me: “So does this (lack of self-promotion) make you more authentically Italian.”

Her: “I think so.”

Bressan Biciclette
The next Italian thing I stumbled upon was a stand full of nicely finished, old school steel creations. Thoughtful lug work and shiny chrome on racing bikes, a track bike or two and some fancy city bikes. And typically Italian, there was no one there. So I grabbed a brochure and gave myself a guided tour. It seems that there is a man, a frame builder with 30 years of experience named Roberto Bressan behind the Verona based brand. In addition to steel, he offers titanium, aluminum and a carbon model.

A very slick His and Hers city/touring bikes

Bressan also offers clients cool track bikes

Darren Crisp (aka Dario Crocante)
There are two things a journalist aims to do at trade shows, catch up with old friends and contacts and see if there’s anything interesting worth reporting. So I was off to see Darren Crisp hoping that he might give me both. Darren is the greatest American titanium frame builder in all of Italy and also a buddy. Pez interviewed him awhile back and his wisdom still rings true.

Me: “So what brings you to Padova?”

Him: “Consistency. [note: you can tell he’s been living in Italy too long with this shaky English – a language that usually requires more than one word for poignancy – so I give him an odd stare until he explains] You know, I’ve gotten so busy that I’ve had to scale back customer visits to my studio. Also, if people don’t see you or hear anything from you, they kind of think you’ve disappeared. So this is a great opportunity to meet back up with my customers.”

Me: “You mean show face since you’ve become such the Prom Queen?”

Him: “I wouldn’t say Prom Queen, but basically yeah. Hey nice shoes. You’re all done up.”

Me: “Well, ya gotta walk the walk. Dude, don’t worry, I won’t publish any of this.”

Darren with a customer that drove up from Naples (that’s far) to see the Prom Queen

Me: “Hey man, these are cool lamp, operating table, bike display things. You made ‘em?.”

Him: “Yep, and I’ve already sold two.”

Me: “Time to ditch the bike gig.”

It was also time to move on, no story here.

In addition to welding up frames, Darren can handle lamps, too.

Every now and then I’ll come across a vintage Rauler from the 70’s or 80’s. A few, savvy cyclists bought these handmade steel machines crafted by the Gozzi brothers. I was under the impression that this Reggio Emilia brand had disappeared, but maybe they were just not showing enough face – Darren’s theory in application. Their booth had a few vintage bikes next to a couple of newer things. Rauler’s catalogue presented these two models: a TIG welded Dedacciai steel thing and a lugged one that can be had with Dedacciai or Columbus Spirit tubing. I waited around, hoping to talk to someone about the company, but niente. Though frustrating, according to Marta Gazzola, I must be racking up the authenticity points for this report.

Way cool, vintage tandem

This is the lugged steel model from the current catalogue.

A Step Back
Now’s a good time to take a step back and explain a thing or two. The Milan Bike Show used to be the biggest deal in the world in the late 90’s, at the apex of the Italian bike industry. Milan has been on a steady slide since. They even moved it to Verona. It went down the week before this show and supposedly was a flop. Note to organizers: don’t schedule it on the same date as Interbike.

In the meantime, this little, intimate show in Padova has grown and grown, yet it’s still a rich, manageable experience. Even though major (Milanese) players like De Rosa and Colnago avoided this gig, regional heroes, Pinarello, filled their shoes quite well. I didn’t bother taking pictures of their huge booth, museum or outdoor testing area because they’ve been covered enough.

OK, I lied; here’s a shot of Indurain’s time trial machine from the Pinarello museum.

In addition to the four main exhibition halls, lots of bikes could be tested outside.

Caam Corse
OK, now back to our story. After being stood up by my second bike company, I made a new rule: no pictures if they aren’t there to answer my silly questions. This was actually my second rule, the first being only Made in Italy… which is much harder than you think (sometimes I settled for mostly Made in Italy). Putting the two rules together lead me to Caam Corse, a company that’s been around for six whole months and already has a pretty full line of rides.

In a very quick time, Caam has launched four road models and two mountain bikes.

Here’s the deal: Italy still has a bunch of terzisti or bike subcontractors that can put together whatever you want. They used to focus on steel and aluminum, now many have shifted to carbon fiber. Pretty much all of them use the tube to tube method, where carbon fiber tubes are cut and joined by wrapping them in more carbon fiber (as opposed to monococque or lugged construction). The beauty of this system is that you can quickly offer clients a custom frame because it doesn’t require any costly molds.

Caam’s Jarno Soncini, who happens to look like Davide Cassani (not sure if he took that as a compliment when I mentioned it), is the brand’s bike designer and worked with CM Composites in Modena. The frames are painted by another subcontractor. Caam is a store and a bike brand backed by New Line, distributors for Merida, Catlike, Vision and others – so they know what they’re doing. We can assume. Even though the craftsmanship looks high, their bikes look like so many others out there. Sometimes I wonder how our niche market can support so many bike brands, but I kept these sentiments to myself, instead wishing them luck and went to another company exactly like this one.

What do you get when you put a couple of fashion designers with a passion for cycling together with a band of supporting friends and access to one of Italy’s best carbon fiber subcontractors? Yep, another Made in Italy bike brand. This time it’s called Hersh. Design and marketing focused cycling products have certainly worked for Rapha, so I’m not mocking it. Passion goes a long way in this industry. Then I noticed that these frames are very well made, clearly a step ahead of Caams.

Hersh has a complete line of eight racing bikes and three mountain bikes too

I also noticed a well known, American bike geek/journalist named Howard or Leonard or something taking pictures, too. Damn, his camera is bigger than mine! I called over to him in a warm greeting, like it’s been awhile. He was squirming because he didn’t recognize me – and he shouldn’t, we’ve never met. Our exchange went like this:

Me: “So seen anything interesting here?” [note: we’re a smaller pub than his, so I’m hoping with his tips and our speed, we can out scoop him]

Him: thinking… still thinking…

Me: “Screw it, what’s The Most interesting thing you’ve seen today?”

Him: …his mind is still churning the cream… the bastard’s on to me

Me: “OK, forget about it. What do you make of all these outfits that get Italian terzisti to fill out their catalogues in 6 months? Does this kind of labeling ‘Made in Italy’ mean anything?”

Him: (after telling a longish story about how the Chinese screwed up steel bikes in the 90’s, he cuts to the chase) “If the guys working in those Chinese factories weren’t making bikes, they’d be making something else like washing machines. The guys making bikes in Italy are making bikes because that’s what they want to be making.”

No scooping this bike geek today, but thanks for the insight.

Now that is a very sage point. Thanks, Leonard. So I decide to head straight to the source – there were two or three details on these Hersh frames that pointed to a certain company that I had on my radar screen anyway.

Stay tuned for Part 2, I think I’m on to something…

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