PezCycling News - What's Cool In Road Cycling : PEZ Cheap-Oh Goes Retro!

Now On Pez
PEZ Cheap-Oh Goes Retro!
I dream of having a bike crafted from a Hufnagel or a Zanconato or a Vanilla or some other hip builder. I can see it: steel with luscious lugs, a classic metallic-pastel paint job, relaxed geometry and a cushy saddle to soak up plenty of miles, effortless miles accompanied by a perfect sunrise. I awake and realize that I’m Cheap-Oh. Though I cannot afford such a dream, I refuse to let economic realities impede a potential PezArticle. Over the past year, I have put together a pretty noble compromise, despite a 500 euro budget.

I'd dearly love to have a new-classic creation like this Cielo

The Frame
An essential quality for any successful Cheap-Oh is having good relationships with a certain type of bike shop: the Mom and Pop sort that’s been in business over 20 years with a basement full of old stuff. While there are still a few here in Italy, they are disappearing with disappointing frequency. Like passionate mushroom gatherers, we guard the whereabouts of these shops. And it is in one such place in Tuscany that I unearth a wonderful frame. Cost: 100 euros.

Well, the head badge says Ganna

It's a Ganna, maybe
Luigi Ganna was the winner of the first Giro d’Italia in 1909 and with its financial windfall opened an officina and sponsored a team. Though never as famed as Bianchi or Legnano, Team Ganna's brightest moment came in 1951. Fiorenzo Magni won his second of 3 eventual Giro d'Italia's and his 3rd Flanders on a Ganna.

Here's Magni at the Giro presentation this year and in 1951 (he looks great at 90)

The exact providence of my find is not terribly certain, though I’m sure a little more digging on my part would have cleared up a few things. However, as one PezReader recently pointed out to me in an email, I am an idiot (and pretentious), to which I replied, "this is a forgone conclusion." Actually, I embrace ignorance as my Journalistic Angle (the pretentiousness is an unfortunate side effect). If I had bothered to learn all about the history of this frame, I would’ve had to restore it, as opposed to re-purposing it to serve my NAHBS-y needs.

Nice Campagnolo drop outs and bullet shaped stay ends

Somewhat informed sources have identified this Ganna from the late 60’s. Though the seat tube measures 27.2, it was a media gamma (middle range) model, most likely with a thicker, 0.8mm tube set. It’s certainly on the porky side compared to a Colnago Mexico. At some point in its life, this frame was hastily painted over in a burnt lipstick-ish color. The original color (seen under the head badge) was the creamy, Team Ganna gray.

Hand crimped chain stays and a fender-ready bridge grace this Ganna

The lug treatment points toward a possible Galmozzi or Bottecchia subcontracted creation. In any case, a mid range frame from long ago contains enough hand crafted quality and attention to detail to stand beside today’s custom steel creations. For example, the crimped chain stays, done with a hammer and two blocks of wood, required real artisan skill.

Hidden in this magazzino in Montevarchi is Color System

Paint It
The next step is to get it painted. After work on a Thursday night several months after finding the frame, I drive from Bolzano down to Montevarchi (a town in central Italy, near Arezzo). I arrive around midnight, get in the sleeping bag and wake up in time to greet Luigi as he is opening the gate to Color System. It’s 7:30am.

Ivo's been painting hundreds of frames every year for the past 40 years

Color System is the kind of place that warms the heart of any nostalgic cyclist. It is very Made in Italy; old and patina’d, modern equipment mingles with relics, a dust covered tradition. About 50 frames in various states of paint/finishing are hanging on racks. There are also a few restoration projects to be completed. Luigi’s two partners, Mario and Ivo arrive shortly after. They get a laugh out of my extreme punctuality. Dedication usually garners bonus points.

Cardboard tubes are used to plug the bottom bracket - white with blue or red trim seems to be in...

The three boys have been painting bike frames since the late 60’s. They began at Aquila – a local bike factory (now extinct) that made about 15,000 frames a year, mostly city bikes. In the early 80’s, they set up their own business. Their biggest clients are Viner and Tommasini. They also handle some overflow jobs for DeRosa [not lately though, the recession has trimmed about 15% off their usual production]. Color System is credited with inventing the fish net spray stencil look in the 80’s that was popularized (or stolen) by Colnago.

Luigi handles the masking

Mario and Ivo take me out to lunch. Over spaghetti con vongole and a frittura mista (fish on Friday), it becomes painfully apparent that I’m the nostalgic one in the group, despite being at least 25 years younger. I want to hear stories about the good ole days, about how there was so much more color and pin stripping and bravura and technique, whereas they are fairly optimistic about things. When carbon first appeared, the only thing to do was stucco it and put on some clear coat. Nowadays, there is some masking and white. Who knows what’ll happen in a few years, they claim. The boys would rather talk about going to the World Championships next year and assume that (being an American) I must know all about Australia.

Mario mixes "lo sciampagnia" (precisely)

After much deliberation, I decide that champagne is a more attractive, period color than the original dull gray. The only problem is that this color is no longer available, so Mario and I mix a classic Masi champagne. The spray masks were made by Gary at SSSink in the States. After sandblasting the frame, a series of primer coats, sandings, color and masking and more spraying and in between baking in the oven, the frame looks sweet.

Cost: 100 euros including lunch (they gave me the trade price, otherwise it would have been 130 euros), plus 45 euros for the masks.

Ivo's steady hand pin stripping an Olmo restoration project

The Gruppo
There is a second hand shop in Bolzano that always seems to have an old bike or two for sale. A good Cheap-Oh should walk by at least once a month to check. Eventually I find IT. Sitting outside the shop is an old Moser, converted to a city bike with fenders and a straight handlebar, crappily painted yellow. But it is wearing a (mostly) Super Record gruppo. Everything is in very good condition. It even has an old Regal saddle with aluminum rails. The original 3ttt handlebar is included. This is quite a find, especially considering the cost: 120 euros (I don’t even bother to haggle, the drool is betraying me anyway). I spend another 100 euros on a bunch of other things like a chain, brake pads, cables, tires, etc…

For chronological accuracy, I found the gruppo before the frame. Since everything is pretty much vintage, this project is turning out more Eroica than NAHBS. Which is OK, my kind of Cheap-Oh projects are more a result of patience, compromise and treasure hunting than correct-ness. I recently found a Chorus 8 speed group in excellent condition that I would have added to the Ganna without qualms. Ignorance has its advantages.

Hard not to appreciate the beauty of an old Campy gruppo

Ride It
Last year, I drove a ‘64 Corvette: thrilling, but a charming anachronism. Far too much brut power, resting on too little rubber with too little braking, handling and everything else that makes a modern car drivable – in addition to the stiff clutch, clunky shifting, ungainly pencil hoop steering wheel and decorative lap belts. Exhilarating but unpractical. I've never ridden a 45 year old bike before and it’s been many years since I’ve had to shift gears from the down tube, naturally I imagine that the Ganna will be somewhat similar to the Corvette.

Champagne with light blue bands and metallic bordeaux trim

I am completely, utterly wrong. This bike is a real joy to ride, even judged against modern bikes. A true joy. At the unfortunate risk of sounding like a Retro Grouch or a Steel is Real zealot, here are the qualities that amaze me the most:

- Quick, Yet Stable
Most bike makers proclaim mastering this quandary, but few do. I know stable bikes and I know agile ones and some that shade to either side. I also know just enough about frame geometry to be dangerous, so I’ll hold off from theorizing. Yet, this Ganna is exceptionally solid and at the same time, reasonably quick. I am amazed.

- Master of Cush
Potholes, bad roads and cobblestones present few problems for this bike. Though my regular ride, a full carbon bike, does a good job of dampening road noise, it can’t compete with the Ganna – also aided by the high bar/low saddle position, tubular tires and big saddle.

- Elasticity
It is not hard to get this bike to flex, even for a lightweight like myself. However, it’s not a noodle-y, unsettling bending. It’s an elastic, springy movement that encourages you to stand and whisk it back and forth with a childish grin on your face.

- Elegance
Though I find it quite easy to declare the universal beauty of this bike, aesthetics are subjective, so I’ll defer to my 10 year old son [according to him, the coolest bikes are time trial machines, Cervelo is a favorite]. He claims that the Ganna is also cool. Why? The color, the holes in the brake levers and that it forces you to ride in the drops (while modern bikes are more oriented to riding on the hoods). That’s perceptive, apropos…

Note: drilling is cool even for 10 year olds

SIDEBAR: My Son’s Cycling Insight

Shortly after Mark Cavendish wins the 2009 Milano - San Remo race
Me: So who's your favorite rider?
Him: Cavendish
Me: Why?
Him: Because he wins.

My personal Style Editor, Jonas, ready for a winter ride on his 20 year old, Look KG76

A day after Alessandro Petacchi outsprints Cavendish in Stage 2 at the Giro d'Italia
Me: Did you see Petacchi beat your guy?
Him: Yeah, but only at the finish.

[note: Cavendish was wearing the leader's pink jersey and riding at the front of the peleton for the whole stage]

An important message painted on the back of the seat tube, for those few who draft me

Despite grabby brakes, weighing a ton, limited gearing and forgoing the ease and safety of ergo/sti levers, this Ganna is a valid ride. Is now a good time to (contentiously) mention that the fastest Paris-Roubaix was recorded in 1964? While cars have made an incredible evolutionary leap from the 60’s, bikes haven’t [for reasons beyond the scope of this article].

I would NEVER be foolish enough to proclaim that old bikes are better than new ones (though some are). Instead, I’d like to modestly conclude that for 500 euros with some luck and patience, one can put together a great bike. And have a bunch of fun along the way.


Pez Comments

Related Stories