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Calvin's Corner

Observations from Italy and France

This article will discuss various aspects of cycling that I observed while in Italy and France. After working the MTB World Championships in Val di Sole, I was fortunate enough to spend some days here with my family. I appreciate there is much history here, much culture and learning, but more importantly, there are bicycles, and that will be the focus, if that be the word, of this article.


Almazzago is one of the numerous small hamlets along the Vale di Sole. The stunning peaks and winding roads make me long for my road bike. The Giro has come through here, and daily you see people in lycra pounding the pavement.

Claudio of the Hotel Almazzago, Gaia, the race mascot and otter, and an American.


The Hotel Almazzago has a fleet of bikes for their guests. If you are thinking this is the Kyle Strait model, you have fallen for the power of the sticker.


Riccardo, like most in these parts, begins riding young. He hangs at the Hotel Almazzago, and seems to prefer the primary colors.


Riccardo's choice, and the choice of the Hotel Almazzago fleet, is the Atala.


Hard at work. No, no, really, I am reviewing some edits, as far as you know. Okay, it is the Maramoa Cafe in Alzmazzago, Italy, but the G-4 is blazing. The hard work ethic and style shows here. Open at 06.00, the working people stop by for a cup of joe before heading out. There is no huge coffee pot, each cup is hand made by the owner and is fantastic. You want coffee to go? It seems there is no such term, and it would see rude to even ask.


I would guess this gentleman would be having an espresso, a double, and plenty of sugar.



Trento is an hour's drive from the race site, down a winding mountain road. The train station in Trento, like most in Europe, proves a great place to see some bikes. The older bikes do appeal to me, as I have worked on plenty. These were never "nice" bikes but plain work horses. However, someone went to the trouble of adding some aesthetic touches and I appreciate that still.


Bikes are made to be ridden, and accidents do happen, but this always breaks my heart. A nice old bike with a bent fork. It should be replaced, but the style will be ruined.


The sense of style here appeals to me, not that I have any such sense to speak of. Another "beater" but again with stylized headlugs and a nice badge. Chesini is from Verona, just down the road, home of Dante, and of course, "The Two Gentleman." I wonder what those guys rode?


"Old Holland," perhaps not be confused with new Holland. The fully enclosed chain guards keeps dirt off the chain, and the dirt off your pants and or skirt.


This bike does not, for my mind, strike an image of Colorado. Perhaps my view is too limited, or perhaps it is simply a reference to a different Colorado.


I have found it! Eureka, I believe they say in these parts. Here is the famous "girls bike" of lore. Or in anycase, the GIRL bike. Next to it is the "Montana." Again, not exactly what I would think of as the image of the rugged wild west of early America, but perhaps it is to someone.


If you feel your bike is undersized, go to your local bicycle retailer and ask for the "Big Bike."


This never was an expensive bike, but it proves my point. That down tube could be straight, but the sweeping and graceful lines here make it a pleasure to look at.


Pointed lugged construction, but chromed. Note the front rack integrated into the front brake mounting system. Add the fenders and this is a working bike. I cannot get over those lovely chromed lugs.


Now I know I am in Italy. "Legnano," what a bike, what a head badge! Another working bike, wired for lights, racks, and plenty of hard miles. Still, did you notice the down tube shifter and brand?


Skirt guards keep your skirt out of the rear wheel. I must admit that I have never tried one, but I hear they work well. This one is made of elastic shock cord. The fender is drilled to hold the end. I have seen plenty of these, but I have never installed or repaired one, proving that I have more to learn.


Forward thinking at its best, if you ask me. This is a "yellow bike" program. A fleet of bikes is locked at the train station. You pay and take one, then return it to here or to another pod of yellow bikes.


The yellow bike baskets pivot back for locking. I would willingly spend a day or more working fleet maintenance on these. I would especially like see the staff at work.


Firenze (you may call it Florence)

The autostratte is no place to ride a bike, and I am probably lucky to still be here after my 3 hour journey in a car. However, keep your eyes open and you see sports minded people hauling what is really important on top of the car.


Don't forget the kids. Everyone loves the little kids, but this is not a little kids bike. This bike runs the smaller 600A tire (ETRTO 540), and is perfect for say the 11, 12 or 13 year old child.


Cottered cranks are held by a wedged cotter pin. If the pins are not symmetrical or one wears, the arms become misaligned. If anyone knows the owner of this bike, tell them to get this corrected. It can lead to asymmetrical muscle use and potential health issues.


SPECIAL UPDATE: I was mistaken in my orignial posting. This is for carrying your newspaper. Still, someone give that football a try. I recall seeing some kids in Belgium doing just that. (thanks to my readers for the help)


A type of brake caliper system is called the "push rod." It is a series of steel rods connected by pivots and levers rather then by cables. The hand pulls a lever, which moves one pivot, which moves a rod, which moves another pivot and so on before pads are pushed to the rim. You can measure the distance from center of the pivot to the rod connection and determine the loss or gain in leverage and force through the system. Work out all the numbers and double check your math to see if you agree with my results: it is a horrible brake.

The first of two linkages at the front end.


Two more linkages at the back, ending is some less then effective pads on the rim.


The skirt guards have caught my attention. If more time allowed, a how-to installation article might be in order, as protection of the numerous flowered pattern fabrics here is important.

No real pretense of style here, just stamped metal. This poor old horse has seen better days, and perhaps it should be retired to the bone yard. However, it is all there, and with some patient hands and a willing dispostion, it could be made to fly again.


Plastic screen, with a nice pattern. My style recommendation: ditch the white zip tie and go with black, or even add some color, say, perhaps, blue?


Very good color choice, even if the shade is on the paler side of blue. If you were wondering, like me, there are 28 cords per side. A nice choice for the relatively dryer part of Italy. The stamped full covers are seen more in Belgium and the northern countries, where rain is common.


Shock cord attachment is seen at the rim. Even with re-routing that cord over the brake pad nut, there can be compatibility issues with this sytem. Also note the valve. It is a Presta valve, and it holding air. The stem stud is not broken off, but it is missing it's cap.


Shock cords attach to a ring, which slips over the axle nut in this case. The bike may also have a build-in hook for holding the ring. This chain is badly in need of some CL-1.


A nice and practical commuter machine. Saddle bags, lights, fenders, and upright bars, allowing better use of the cell phone while riding. Unlike many riders, there is also adequate leg extension.


So this is what keeps them so young and healthy? Why of course, riding a bike as part of your life. The saddle is perhaps a bit low, but allowances must be made for age and flexibility.


After spending 10 days with mountain bike riders, I will keep quiet no longer. YOU, ON THAT BIKE, RAISE YOUR SADDLE. His knees and joints will be happier, he will use more of his muscle mass, and he will gain power and speed.


A child seat, right up front where the action is. The seat hooks over the bars, so the weight of the child is the only thing to hold the system to the bike. I am not sure if the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) as seen this one. I would hope that the adult is a skilled rider.


Life is a drama everywhere you go. I saw this note taped to the saddle and wondered what it could be. Did they want to buy it? Did the owner have a secret admirer? No, turns out someone was upset by the users parking habits: "This is a sidewalk not a bicycle parking, there were some shops here and a bike parked is not a good thing to see. Please take it away and never put it there again!"


I like what they've done with the bars. Looks racy, but then the mustache bars and their kin appeal to me.


Toscana (Tuscany)

We passed what appeared to be a junior program out training in the hills of Tuscany. One day these kids may be winning the Tour, or better yet, the Giro d' Italia.


We are fortunate to peak inside a Tuscan garage, in the town of Castagneto Carducci. This particular rider has an interesting choice of equipment. The wheel in the fore ground is a Pino Morroni. Note the nipples at the rim, six sided hex. The basic design is repeated on the Dura-Ace wheel behind it.


The role of the race mechanic, indeed, any bike mechanic, is to reflect the desires and needs of the rider by adjusting and tuning the machine. When in Tuscany, with Andy Hampsten, it is best to do this with fresh bread, some cheese, and red wine. This of course is done after the work is completed.


A team car parked at a closed grocery store. Probably just an amateur team, but this everyday kind of sighting shows that cycling is close to the heart of this country.


Bikes parked at the Conan Grocery store in Donoratico. Some nice ones? By nice, surely we both mean the mixte, the eMmeBieMme Sport, hiding behind the C40, yes?


This is the common presta valve, seen often in Europe. The nut is completely removable, and thread onto the threaded post inside the stem. It is effectively the same as the presta stems seen in the USA. The nut comes off completely but there is not a need to do this. Simply unscrew a few turns, put on the pump head, and pump away. Lock down the nut and ride. To delfate, unscrew a few turn and push down on the nut, and the that pushes in the stud inside the vavle, and air will escape.


Elba, Italy

I have not seen much TV here (not counting the Spain-Germany finals, of course). However, this caught my eye. A famous classic? Some tour? No, it local race and local racers, but with TV coverage of the entire race. You might see this guy in 5 or 6 years, who knows. This was not big time stuff, some guy getting blown out the back even waved to the camera. The following night featured coverage of a junior women's road race.


Italy is filled with rich folklore, including some by Mr. Hamspten himself. He will weave tales of a magical dust, a carbon fiber delaminating dust. It all seem very mysterious to me, but fiber products have been with us a long time. In Elba, you see much of the bamboo, certainly a fiber tubing that predates most of what we see used today. In many ways, this "natural" material and carbon fiber are the same.

You can see fibers here clearly in the bamboo. The product is strong but also heavy due to water weight. Remove the water and you do not loose the strength to speak of.


Take a dried piece of bamboo, or of carbon fiber for that matter. Score the outer fibers with a knife to create a stress riser. Failure will occur at the outer edges. This is also a useful technique when cutting carbon tubing when building a fly rod.


Stress the cut you have made by flexing the tubing at that point and you will get a clean break. Again the fibers are visble.


This is a front guard above the fender. It may be a splash guard, but the holes seems to negate that idea. However, I could be wrong, as it may also be a foot guard for a front-mounted child's seat that is now removed.


I cannot say that I like what they've done with the handlebars. It appears to be a "lifestyle bike" used to highlight products they are selling at this cosmetic and beach store. The bar and lever alignment show they know nothing of what is done with bikes. This lack of effort and credibility leads me to forego any purchase of hand cream, eyeliner, or lipstick.


I have always suspected this, but now I have proof of an international conspiracy. While on a ferry crossing to Elba, I see what I have seen too often. This is circumstantial evidence only but my interpretation is: the male gets the nice Cannondale, new equipment, no baby seat. The woman gets the cheap bike, heavier to begin with and then gets the baby seat. No doubt during a ride, we would hear; "Honey, why can't you keep up?"


Marseille, France

This is the second largest city in France. Busy, noisy, and I love the place. It is not the charming Provence village, it is tough, and so are the riders.

A welcome to France by none other then Peugeot. Marseille is a working city and this is a working person's bike. In the universal fashion of people looking for a more upright position, and the bars are creatively adjusted. Had I seen the owner, I would recommended, in my horrible French, a visit to their local retailer for new bars.


The mixtie, a classic design. Like the bike above, it uses the 650B tire sizing. It is useful here to be multi-lingual, and that applies to tire sizing. We see here the on the same tire, 650B (the traditional French designation), 26 x 1-1/2 inch (English speaking designation) and 584 (the ISO or ETRTO sizing). Of course just to keep things fun and irrational, this tire and rim will not interchange with the MTB sizing of 26 x 1.5 inch. So, in bicycle math, 1.5 does NOT equal 1-1/2.


This gal is tough, check out the gearing. On the back, basically a "corn cob," a very tight gear cluster. That is no small front ring. Oddly, I spied this bike at several places around the hills of Marseille.


A city loaner bike program. 3-speeds, simple, well thought out. These weigh in at 27 kilograms, heavy weights and strong. Use your le velo program card, hop on at one station and then hop off at another and lock it up.


The city bike program in action. He is not in a car, and he must be smiling, at least inside, and that makes me happy as well.


This machine has several things going on. There is no housing stop for the rear brake at "A." Continue on down the line to "B" and you will find the barrel adjuster, which should also the housing stop. It was placed below the bridge at "A" and needs to be refitted. The last obvious issue is at "C," where we have approximately 40cm extra cable, meaning the owner is need of the CN-10.


The owner appears to be missing the concpet of the housing stop and the barrel adjuster. Notice the large open end faces away from the housing. It should be reversed, and placed above bridge at "A."


What is this? A tank of a bike? The Hummer of the two wheeled world? No, it was a Solex, a motor driven machine, basically a moped with the engine and driving done at the front wheel.


Next to the machine, on a door, was a sign and poster. This may have been an former Solex dealer. Now it is unintended art, or at least it is to me.


4th of July

It is our last day here, and the 4th of July, Independence Day. Just another Friday in Marseille, but also the day before the start of the Tour de France. The best riders from many teams and nations will do battle on the road, searching for greatness. I am not so much worried about them, they have the attention of mechanics and handlers. I worry for the bikes I have seen, for the loose cranks, the misrouted brake cables, for the low tire pressures. These bikes carry other champions, each one taking another car off the road, each one searching for transportation, wanting to arrive at their destination, or just perhaps to enjoy themselves.


232 years ago, a fledgling United States of America received some much needed assistance from France. I was able to repay some of the debt by assisting Jean Pierre while he was touring through America some 25 years ago. His bicycle was broken, and he came to the shop I was working at in Austin, Texas. We have been friends ever since. He poses here with his Follis, along with the technical guy from Park Tool. Sadly, Follis is now out of business, but the friendships between biking friends is enduring.