… and why I love them.
Lamborghini, Maserati and Ferrari. Growing up all my friends had posters of the latest Italian super car adorning their bedroom walls, but my “super cars” were the Italian “super bikes” and I dreamt of one day owning a bike like a Colnago, Bianchi, Tommasini or a Pinarello.
From the time I started cycling in the late 80’s I have always loved the beautiful lines and intricate and sometimes completely over the top paint jobs of the classic Italian steel frames that all my hero’s were riding.
I was very fortunate in that my dad saw that I was really serious about cycling and he fully supported me in my passion and along with my mom would come every weekend to watch me race. My first “serious” racing bike was a fairly basic no-name brand bike that my parents bought from my uncle. This was destroyed when I was hit by a car (long story, which I won’t get into today), but luckily I got through it ok and with the insurance money from the accident, I got a brand new and custom built Nigel Dean bike made from Reynolds 753 tubing, complete with Suntour Superbe Pro components.
It was a great bike and ideal for me as it was lightweight (for the time) and fitted me perfectly. But even so, I still longed for the day I would own an Italian classic.
Colnago Master Piu
Then one Christmas (I forget which), I was incredibly lucky to be given a Colnago Master Piu frame in the Belgian National Colour scheme, which I immediately fell in love with and stripped all the components from the Nigel Dean and put onto it.
In the early 1990’s this was Colnago’s top of the range frame made from Columbus Gilco profiled steel tubes, which along with a typically beautiful paint job, with chrome rear triangle and straight forks, looked incredible.
Over time and with all my savings, the components got upgraded, mostly to Shimano Dura Ace. However I did at on stage buy some Campagnolo delta brakes and put them on. The looked beautiful and complimented the Master and their stopping power was incredible, but boy were they heavy and noisy!
Looking back, it was most certainly not the ideal bike for me in that I was a skinny little kid, better on the hills than the flats and the Master was more suited to the sprinters and the tough rouleur’s of cycling. Eric Vanderaerden and other members of the Buckler cycling team spring to mind. But I did not care… I loved that bike, but sadly it was stolen from my house one evening, otherwise I am sure I would still have it with me now. RIP.
I bought my late 1990’s (probably 97 or 98) Colnago Crystal on Ebay when I was living in the UK and decided that I was going to try and take up cycling again after a fairly long break. It cost me around £650 and came with full Shimano Dura Ace components.
The Colnago Crystal frameset was made from Columbus tubing that was specifically made for Colnago and was called.. you guessed it, Crystal tubing. Through some research I understand it to be a shaped version of the Columbus Brain tubing, which weighed a bit more than their SL tubing but much less than Columbus Thron, Gara or Aelle.
Like my Master Piu, it had straight chrome forks and typically beautiful Colnago paintwork. It road like a dream, was very comfortable and I think lighter then the Master and even though it was by then almost a vintage, I did go on to race it a couple of times in the UK. It always made me smile to see the reaction of the guys with their latest carbon bikes as I turned up on a steel bike! Anyway I was not taking the racing too seriously then, so a couple of grams here and there was really not going to make a difference to where I finished and I just simply enjoyed riding her.
When I left to go and study and then work in South Africa as a safari guide, I rather hastily sold it, which I now totally regret and would love to have it back again.
Pinarello Stelvio Futuro
On arriving in France, I decided that the roads here were just too beautiful not to be ridden on and as back then I had no intentions of racing and only riding for enjoyment, I decided to get myself another classic Italian steel bike. My first choice once again was a Colnago and I scoured the web, especially looking for another Master.
However by chance I came across a guy who lived not to far from me and was selling his Pinarello Stelvio and so I arranged to meet him. Fully equipped with Campagnolo’s Record groupset, I immediately really liked the look of the bike and as it was the right size for me, I think I had decided even before test riding it that I was going to buy it from him.
We agreed on a price and I bagged myself an almost mint condition classic Italian vintage bike of the highest pedigree. Remember this is pretty much the same framesets (and components) that the Banesto team used including Pedro Delgado and which the great Miguel Indurain powered to many of his Tour de France victories.
This Pinarello get’s it’s name from one of the hardest and most famous climbs in Italian cycling: The Stelvio, it was a lightweight frameset in it’s day and I think was made using a proprietary Pinarello Tubeset, around the level of Columbus SLX.
Now that I have gotten back into bike racing more seriously, I also have a much lighter (and stiffer) carbon bike, but whenever I want to ride just for the enjoyment of it this is the bike that I reach for. It has a beautiful ride that is very comfortable and even though compared to carbon it is heavy, it still comes alive whenever I hit the hills, both in and out of the saddle.
I also often take it on Sunday club rides and even though here in rural France it seems to me that classic steel bikes are not as revered as much as in the UK and US, it still always attracts a certain amount of attention and makes it doubly satisfying to drop my friends on their latest carbon bikes in the hills :-)