MODERN VINTAGE BIKES FOR POSING ON, AND MORE
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
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.’
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