no one line

The smell of Campagnolo grease
January 21, 2009, 8:00 am
Filed under: Campagnolo, the cycling world

I took a recent visit to a buddy’s new bike workshop. He’s getting started building lugged-steel frames, and in an old loft in Bushwick has a neat, well-organized, well-lit workshop. Tools hung in the corner below wheels and frames, a drafting table, and a couple big steel filing cabinets filled with parts. The walls are hung with classic racing posters featuring toned men with backwards cycling caps, or sitting at a restaurant still wearing wool jerseys. It’s a lovely room that feels like a library in a certain way. That you’re stepping into a space that takes care to preserve stories from the past.

My buddy pulled out a box of parts to show me what he’s going to hang on the first frame he build – chromed Campagnolo clamp-on cable stops, Nuovo Record. Everything polished to a shine in a way that would stand out beautifully against the inky black paintjob on his frame. He has a taste for style, and I told him that as we were going over a Colnago Super that he’s been working on, restoring and putting together as a period-correct crit bike. I told him that the accurate shifting setup for a crit-bike from that generation would have been to remove the left-side barcon and use a downtube shifter instead, and to trim the right end of the drop bars and mount the barcon closer to the curve of the drop. This led us to a conversation about bar-end shifting. His story was this: “Apparently, bar-end shifters were developed because the Italians were notorious cheats, and had a reputation for swatting other riders’ downtube shifters during climbs.” “Team Cinzano style,” I said. “Exactly. So bar-end shifters were made so that riders could shield their shifting with their hands, to prevent that.”

He also showed me a curious set of Campagnolo Record track hubs, laced to some polished tubulars. Between each spoke hole there’s another, larger spoke hole. For a moment I thought he had used tandem hubs, doing a skipped-hole lacing. “These were drilled in the Paramount factory. Campagnolo used to send out undrilled hubs to manufacturers, and in one year in the 1970s, Paramount had all these overdrilled hubs. The story is that some machinist maybe used a drill bit that was slightly too wide – maybe it was just the countersinking guage, or whatever – and spent maybe a week or so just drilling out all these hubs. And then when somebody tried to lace them up, the spokes just fell right through. So they sent them all back to Campagnolo, who drilled correctly-sized spoke holes between the holes, and then back to Paramount who sold them as special Paramount-drilled hubs. Good thing it was the 70s, and everybody was crazy about drillium.”

I enjoy people who mine the deep parts of cycling history and produce these anecdotes. My grandparents had a curio cabinet in their house, a glass-paned cabinet where they kept some trinkets, odds and ends, ceramic statues. I enjoy people who become curio cabinets for cycling, storing away unique curiousities and anecdotes. Hearing and sharing these stories with friends increases my love for the sport, and it’s particularly important in such a mass-marketed and mass-produced cycling world (“This one goes to eleven”) where there’s a danger of overlooking the personal stories, the hand-made charm, and all of the important bits and pieces that make us community-minded, archivists, physically and mentally active, not just consumers in a market of planned obselescence.

Stories will never be obsolete.

I can’t in my right mind finish this post without including a link to Ray Dobbins’ website. He is a meticulous restorer and period-corrector of bikes that would make anybody from Classic Rendezvous swoon a little bit. And his studio-style photographs, while a little bit sterile, are top-notch (the photo at the top of this post is an example – a replica of a Merckx Molteni).