English-de­signed, Ital­ian-made and mir­ror-fin­ished

Cyclist - - Modern-vintage bikes Ride test - James Spender is fea­tures ed­i­tor at Cy­clist and will do any­thing for a free ride

MODEL Con­dor Clas­sico Stain­less FRAME AND FORK Fil­let brazed Colum­bus SLX and XCR; 1 ⅛in lugged Colum­bus XCR GROUPSET Shi­mano Ul­te­gra 6800 GEAR­ING 52/36t chain­set; 11-28t cas­sette WHEELS Am­bro­sio Ex­cel­lence rims on Shi­mano Ul­te­gra 6800 hubs TYRES Con­ti­nen­tal GP4000 II 23mm FIN­ISH­ING KIT Fizik Cyrano R3 bars, R1 stem, R3 seat­post, Fizik Aliante VS sad­dle WEIGHT 9.00kg (56cm) PRICE £1,800 (frame­set), ap­prox £4,500 as tested CON­TACT con­dor­cy­


I ab­so­lutely love this bike. If this is what steel is like, I’m a con­vert. I spent all day try­ing to pick holes in the Clas­sico, to find even the slight­est chink in its Colum­bus ar­mour, but I failed. When I first picked it up it felt heavy, but that ap­par­ent heav­i­ness just didn’t come across when ped­alling up­hill. A sprinter could be­moan a slightly flexy frame, but given the tubes are so skinny that’s hardly a sur­prise, and the bike was more than stiff enough for me.

If I can fault it at all it’s that I would have en­joyed an even higher-end build. Con­dor sells this as a frame­set so any­thing is pos­si­ble, but the colour re­ally draws at­ten­tion and the com­po­nents should back up the state­ment the frame is mak­ing. It would look even more amaz­ing with Cam­pag­nolo Su­per Record and Mavic’s new Open Pro rims with stain­less spokes laced to shiny hubs. Con­sid­ered as just frame and fork, though, the Clas­sico is fan­tas­tic.

Chris sug­gests you may need a fair bit of luck get­ting a L’eroica com­mis­saire here to ac­cept it. Ap­par­ently they’re pretty dyed in the wool.

To this end, my Bianchi has non-in­dexed down tube shifters, which to be­gin with makes find­ing a gear about as ac­cu­rate as a car­ni­val ring toss in a force-nine gale. Made by Di­aCompe, an en­try-level Ja­panese man­u­fac­turer that’s been busily mak­ing ev­ery­thing that no one else will make since 1930, the shifters do have an en­dear­ing ratchet mech­a­nism that acts as a kind of brake to stop the ca­ble un­twiz­zling un­der ten­sion. Any­one who re­mem­bers down tube shifters of old will know how of­ten you had to wind up the lit­tle pre-load wingnut to stop this from hap­pen­ing, so in cer­tain re­spects my prim­i­tive shifters are highly ad­vanced.

Si­mon and Nick both have in­te­grated gear/ brake levers, the De Rosa’s cour­tesy of Cam­pag­nolo Su­per Record and the Con­dor’s from Shi­mano Ul­te­gra. They also have mod­ern dual-pivot cal­liper brakes, while mine are old­fash­ioned cen­tre-pull. They’re finicky to set up, re­quir­ing two span­ners (re­mem­ber span­ners?) and a tis­sue to mop up the blood from my fin­ger af­ter an al­ter­ca­tion with a frayed ca­ble.

Style over sub­stance

It’s clear from our open­ing de­scent through the Chi­anti hills that my brakes aren’t very good.

The De Rosa’s stout head tube and short chain­stays are seem­ingly per­fect for the twist­ing de­scents

I do even­tu­ally slow, but the way in which Si­mon drops me sug­gests his Su­per Record brakes are far su­pe­rior, al­low­ing him to duck late into apexes with con­fi­dence, and fly out the other side. Nick is at it too, and my short­com­ings are only com­pounded by my 48x13 top gear.

When we re­group, Si­mon de­clares the De Rosa a fan­tas­tic de­scen­der. While pol­ished lugs and pan­tographed fork look the vin­tage part, the De Rosa’s stout 153mm head tube and short 408mm chain­stays are every inch the mod­ern racer’s ge­om­e­try and seem­ingly per­fect for the twist­ing de­scents. That’s not the only inch that mat­ters, how­ever.

The big draw in Tus­cany is the ster­rati, the dusty chalk tracks that have set L’eroica and the Strade Bianche one-day race apart from every event out­side the Flan­drian cob­bles. De­spite gen­er­ally ben­e­fit­ting from un­told hours of blis­ter­ing sun­shine, it rained heav­ily across Tus­cany yes­ter­day and the grav­e­li­ness of the ster­rato we’re now on is all the bet­ter for it. Two of our three bikes, how­ever, are not, and it’s all down to what’s go­ing on in­side the head tube.

To­day head tubes have more in com­mon with those mas­sive Ital­ian pep­per pots, but once upon a time they were one-inch di­am­e­ter af­fairs, where the fork and head­set were se­cured by two lock­nuts threaded onto the steerer.

Hap­pily for Nick, Con­dor built his Clas­sico Stain­less around a 1 ⅛in head tube with mod­ern thread­less as­sem­bly. Un­hap­pily for Si­mon and me, De Rosa and Bianchi have been more his­tor­i­cally ac­cu­rate and fur­nished our bikes with one-inch head tubes and threaded head­sets. Thus by the third stretch of rut­ted track the front of our bikes sound like jars of mar­bles, the lock­nuts hav­ing dis­re­garded their func­tional des­ig­na­tion and shaken loose.

It’s been such a long time since I’ve had the plea­sure of a threaded head­set that I’ve for­got­ten to pack the req­ui­site span­ners, so from here on

in Si­mon and I re­sort to what Nick calls ‘God’s own span­ners’. That is, our hands. It kind of works… a bit. If there’s a plus side, though, it’s that our bi­cy­cles are def­i­nitely the pret­tier for their me­chan­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions. Threaded head­sets mean quill stems, and while the Con­dor is pretty, we all agree its mod­ern front end is in­con­gru­ous with the rest of the bike’s aes­thetic. Some­one once told me your stem should never be fat­ter than your top tube, and I think they’re right.

Lo­cal favour

So far the vote is with the mod­ern gear on the Con­dor and De Rosa. My old-school brakes have ad­mit­tedly now bed­ded in, and I’m com­ing to terms with hav­ing to select a gear long be­fore the start of a climb, and hav­ing to sit down dur­ing shifts on said climbs. How­ever, be­yond that, all the touch points of the Bianchi feel lack­ing.

The cloth bar tape is pe­riod-cor­rect but scratchy, as well as of­fer­ing zero cush­ion­ing,

I’m com­ing to terms with hav­ing to select a gear long be­fore the start of a climb

the skinny na­ture of the brake levers and tra­di­tional bend of the bar mean hold­ing the hoods is like point­ing two pis­tols at the floor, and there’s a noise like a creak­ing tree com­ing from the Ly­cra of my bibs slid­ing on the pol­ished leather of the Brooks sad­dle. De­spite all this, I’m fall­ing for the Bianchi.

Stop­ping in the beau­ti­ful town of Castel­n­uovo Ber­ar­denga for espres­sos, we’re faced with an army of cy­clo­tourists on car­bon fi­bre Bianchi In­ten­sos. By rights th­ese are more ac­com­plished bi­cy­cles, yet all eyes are drawn to my L’eroica. Chris trans­lates some chat­ter from two griz­zled cafe pa­trons, who are prais­ing the bike as some kind of well-kept clas­sic.

In many re­spects that’s enough of a val­i­da­tion that noth­ing else mat­ters. But that’s not all. On the scales it weighs a healthy 9.39kg, a fig­ure I usu­ally baulk at, but on th­ese roads it makes for a supremely smooth ride. It seems to cut into the looser gravel to find trac­tion in cor­ners, and the steel fork bends like a leaf spring over bumps.

The De Rosa is the light­est here at 8.61kg, the Con­dor 9kg on the nose, and it seems th­ese gen­er­ally higher weights to­gether with the nat­u­ral flex of skinny tubes are pre­sent­ing com­fort­able rides and sta­ble plat­forms on which to de­scend. Climb­ing, though, is an­other mat­ter.

Where in the world

I’ve been lucky enough to ride bikes all over Europe, and while France and Bel­gium boast ex­cel­lent cy­cle paths, and Spain has stun­ning weather, I’ve found nowhere that com­pares to

this cor­ner of Italy. So great is the love of bikes that the road signs here en­com­pass spe­cially added – and per­ma­nent – turn-by-turn direc­tions for the L’eroica route. As Chris puts it, ‘L’eroica put this area on the map,’ and its in­hab­i­tants seem thank­ful for it.

Mo­torists are few and cour­te­ous, and as we as­cend a chalk track to­wards the Castello di Bro­lio I’m re­minded of an­other pearl from Chris: if you know where you’re go­ing you can spend weeks here and never do the same climb twice.

The crest of the hill on which the cas­tle is perched peers over a huge ex­panse of vine­yards and arable land, bi­sected by rows of cy­press trees flank­ing an­cient roads. It’s enough to make a vis­i­tor weak at the knees, and as I watch Nick dis­ap­pear fur­ther up the climb with his stain­less steel frame glint­ing in the sun­shine, my knees do very nearly give way.

Nick is a climber by na­ture, and Si­mon isn’t far off, and while I’d ten­ta­tively throw my hat in the rouleur ring the con­stant slip­ping of my tyres and sud­den feel­ing of my legs drop­ping through thin air isn’t just down to my lack of climb­ing prow­ess.

I have a spe­cial place in my heart for Vit­to­ria, and its new Corsa G tyres are some of the best around, but th­ese Zaf­firos just aren’t cut­ting it up the climb – as demon­strated by the way Si­mon and Nick are putting the power down through their Con­ti­nen­tal rub­ber. Si­mon is def­i­nitely the bet­ter off of the two on 25mm Grand­sports, but on 23mm GP4000 IIS, Nick is still find­ing good trac­tion.

At the top a quick eye­ball sug­gests that even though Nick and I have the same Am­bro­sio Ex­cel­lence rims, my tyres have come up sub­stan­tially skin­nier, and a few fin­ger­nail

If you know where you’re go­ing you can spend weeks in Tus­cany and never do the same climb twice

scrapes and thumb squeezes of ei­ther tyre in­di­cates that his tread and car­cass is a damn sight tack­ier and more sup­ple than mine.

Be­yond the vin­tage style com­po­nents, this is my first real com­plaint of the day. The Bianchi costs £2,700, is de­signed ex­plic­itly for L’eroica and yet comes with 60tpi, 23mm en­try-level tyres. Th­ese are fine if you’re com­mut­ing or train­ing, but I can’t see they have proper ap­pli­ca­tion here, which is the area that gives the bike its name in the first place, af­ter all.

Soul en­deav­our

Cycling in Tus­cany is pos­si­bly one of the great­est ex­pe­ri­ences you can have on two wheels. Take it slow and steady and it’s a thor­oughly en­joy­able ram­ble, but hit it hard and there’s plenty of ter­rain to test guile and met­tle. How­ever, the day-to-day re­al­ity for th­ese bikes will more likely be one of rel­a­tively smooth tar­mac and a bit of rain back in the UK.

We’re un­able to cri­tique them in the wet, but as the sun grows a heav­ier orange and the last of the chalk roads sur­ren­der to as­phalt, we’re pro­vided ter­rain to test the more gen­eral abil­i­ties of our steeds.

Si­mon dis­ap­pears down a de­scent, which would sug­gest his De Rosa re­ally is some­thing of a marvel as a road bike, fol­lowed by Nick, whose com­fort­able-look­ing progress speaks to his Con­dor’s well-rounded per­sona. I, on the other hand, need a boost to get back on to their break­away tails, and as if to re­mind me why we chose Tus­cany, the coun­try­side smiles on me.

While mopeds are de rigeur in Ital­ian cities, in the coun­try­side one ve­hi­cle reigns supreme: the Pi­ag­gio Ape, a cu­ri­ous three-wheeled truck whose en­gine sounds like a hairdryer full of bees.

A beck­on­ing hand out of his win­dow tells me he re­alises I need a free ride, and he helps me to urge the Bianchi home. We won’t be set­ting any records out here, but then get­ting mo­tor-paced by a farmer in a minia­ture truck isn’t some­thing you can quan­tify on Strava.

It’s a timely re­minder that while ex­pe­ri­ences like th­ese may come from a by­gone age, there’s noth­ing stop­ping us re­vis­it­ing them. The tools, the peo­ple and the places still ex­ist – it’s just a mat­ter of get­ting out there and find­ing them.

Above: Bikes such as th­ese tend to cre­ate a cer­tain con­vivi­al­ity, but when the road calls for it they still have a com­pet­i­tive streak. On the down­hills, the Bianchi causes a few con­cerns ow­ing to sketchy brak­ing per­for­mance

The Bianchi and De Rosa stick well to the cor­ners and deal hap­pily with the rougher stuff Be­low: Un­for­tu­nately, when the go­ing gets fast the Bianchi’s low gear­ing is de­fi­cient enough to call for a mo­tor-pace from this Pi­ag­gio Ape

Each bike fea­tures com­pli­ant steel forks, but of the three the Con­dor’s stain­less fork is ar­guably the stiffest fore-aft. Luck­ily Nick brought along his mitts

All the car­bon in the world can’t touch the glint­ing ele­gance of chrome-lugged steel, es­pe­cially when it’s pan­tographed with the maker’s name

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