Cy­clist vis­its the rolling hills and chalk roads of Tus­cany on three new bikes that hark back to a golden era of steel frame-build­ing

Cyclist - - Contents - Words JAMES SPENDER Pho­tog­ra­phy GE­OFF WAUGH

The link be­tween cycling and so­cio-eco­nom­ics is un­matched by any other sport. In the mid1800s bi­cy­cles were essen­tially play­things of the rich, but by the turn of cen­tury they had be­come es­sen­tial tools for the poor. Cycling was work­ing class, and those early two-wheeled pioneers we now look back on as great cham­pi­ons were once farm boys, chim­ney sweeps and care­tak­ers. Rid­ers took to the Tour de France not to win ac­co­lades but to earn money – every day spent rid­ing a stage came with its own food al­lowance sev­eral times the av­er­age weekly wage. The bikes were pig iron, the roads no more than cart tracks.

It’s all a far cry from to­day, with our smooth tar­mac and hi-tech car­bon fi­bre bikes. Yet look through the cat­a­logue of a ma­jor bike brand – es­pe­cially an Ital­ian mar­que – and near the back you might find they’re still mak­ing bikes more akin to those of yesteryear. So while at Cy­clist we’re typ­i­cally in favour of aero­dy­namic speed ma­chines that weigh less than a small dog, we de­cided it was time to hon­our the ori­gins of our sport by test­ing three of th­ese mod­ern-vin­tage bikes over some old-fash­ioned roads.

New for old

We’ve had con­ver­sa­tions about what ‘mod­ern­vin­tage’ means, and here’s what we’ve come up with. The ‘mod­ern’ bit means each bike on test is be­ing mass pro­duced to­day – there’s no new-old-stock, retro-fit or cus­tom. ‘Vin­tage’ means they’re made from round tubed, skinny steel with hor­i­zon­tal top tubes and steel forks, just as bikes were made for many decades. The com­po­nents are mod­ern out of ne­ces­sity – they just don’t make rod-ac­tu­ated rear de­railleurs like they used to – but else­wise mod­ern-vin­tage bikes are as close as you’ll find to the type ped­alled by Coppi, Bo­bet, An­quetil and Mer­ckx.

One thing that didn’t need de­bat­ing was where to test th­ese bikes’ abil­i­ties. It just had to be on the sprawl­ing roads of Tus­cany, home to L’eroica sportive and the Strade Bianche race, and on whose rolling hills and chalky tracks a golden age of cycling still res­onates.

Guid­ing us on this ad­ven­ture is Chris from cy­cle tour com­pany La Corsa. His broad Scot­tish ac­cent is not what you might ex­pect to find in this Ital­ian back coun­try, but hav­ing mar­ried a Floren­tine and turned a ca­reer as a squash player into that of a bike guide, he knows this area like no other English-speak­ing lo­cal and is per­fectly placed to ad­vise us against so­cial faux pas such as order­ing espres­sos at the same time as our sand­wiches. ‘There is only one thing you could have done worse, and that’s or­der a cap­puc­cino.’

Pass­ing off

My ride part­ners to­day are Si­mon and Nick, and with all three of us rid­ing the same size of bike, de­cid­ing who’s on which bike has the po­ten­tial to be some­thing of a bun fight. Yet when we un­zip the bike bags at Borgo Si­celle, a pic­ture-post­card villa serv­ing as home and ser­vice course for our stay, we each grav­i­tate to­wards a dif­fer­ent bike with­out so much as an arched eye­brow.

Hav­ing soaked in the views on the hour’s drive from Pisa to Castel­lina in Chi­anti, I feel it’s only right to go as far back in time as pos­si­ble

Within a few min­utes Si­mon is weav­ing in and out of the pool’s sun loungers on the De Rosa Nuovo Clas­sico and Nick is busy check­ing his jer­sey colour matches the me­tal­lic-lime paintjob of the Con­dor Clas­sico Stain­less. I must con­fess I had de­signs on the De Rosa, but hav­ing soaked in the views on the hour’s drive from Pisa to Castel­lina in Chi­anti, I feel it’s only right to go as far back in time as pos­si­ble, which is ex­actly what the Bianchi L’eroica is try­ing to do.

If you haven’t heard of it, L’eroica is now a world­wide sportive fran­chise that started life in this area of cen­tral Italy – Gaiole near Siena – as a re­nais­sance fes­ti­val for old-school cycling. Cen­tral to its phi­los­o­phy is the rule that only bikes built be­fore 1987 can be rid­den. How­ever, there is one ex­cep­tion, and it’s my Ce­leste­coloured Bianchi L’eroica, which the Ital­ian firm has man­aged to get the or­gan­is­ers to rat­ify de­spite it be­ing newly minted. It even comes with its own cer­tifi­cate to prove it, although

Tus­cany is criss­crossed by won­der­fully rolling roads that span ev­ery­thing from tar­mac to chalk

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