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The Bike

Go to: Guidebooks | Literature: what to read | Packing your bike | Your Body: getting ready for the trip | Life in Italy | Bike Friendly Hotels

Here are some general thoughts. Traveling to a foreign country with a bike is a serious effort. You want to set things up for maximum enjoyment. You want your bike to be reliable and comfortable. One question I am asked regularly is about the possiblity of picking up a custom-made bike in Italy to ride on the tour. I'm a belt-and-suspenders man, so I always recommend against riding a brand-new untested bike on a dream trip. Think about club rides you've been on. How many times have you seen a rider with a brand-new bike, fresh off the mechanic's stand, have something go wrong? Perhaps the mechanic didn't tighten a brake cable sufficiently, or didn't use a torque wrench to tighten the bottom bracket cartridge. We've all seen it, and maybe had it happen to us. A bottom bracket cartidge that comes loose 30 kilometers from Siena isn't the end of the world, but it does mar an otherwise blissful trip.

You know what saddle is comfortable. You know what tape feels good to your hands (Moda Chunky, I hope). All these things add up to what makes a bike enjoyable to ride. Test all of these things before you leave for your dream trip and leave the experimentation to others.

By the way, I speak from experience. I once very carefully spec'd a bike out to be built in Italy. Unfortunately, a supplier made a self-serving handlebar substitution, completely changing my position. It was days before I got everything sorted out. Time that could have been more usefully spent was wasted taking care of a problem that could have been avoided. I've learned my lesson.

Larry Theobald of CycleItalia sends a packet of information to his clients bnefore they leave to meet with him in Italy. He let me scan whatever I want and share it with you. I've added a few thoughts, but what Larry writes is sound advice:

"Make sure your bike has cages for two water bottles. Cycleltalia guests are cycling enthusiasts who love to bring their best equipment. Remember, however, that this is a tour through sometimes remote areas and NOT a race. Strength and reliability should be emphasized over lightness and high tech. Use reliable, mainstream components since spare parts for these can usually be found. Past guests bringing special lightweight cranks, bottom brackets or wheels have found themselves in a pickle when something breaks and we have neither the tools nor the parts to make repairs. (A word about pedals/shoes---you'll likely be standing/walking around in your cycling shoes a lot, the SPD types combined wtth a mountain bike shoe are the best for these situations, Speedplay and Look road types are probably the worst).

"Wheels 101: The Cycleltalia reliability rule especially holds for wheelsets. This is not the best place for your radial laced, 16 spoke, alloy nippled 'wonder wheels'. Leave composite (Spinergy, etc.) wheelsets at home as well; there's no way to repair these if they fail. Your bike and wheels will take a pounding during shipping and on the rough roads. It's wise to choose a wide section (23C +) tire for these roads and run a reasonable tire pressure (100 psi max). With half the pro peloton now on clinchers, the extra bother of sewups is hardly necessary. In fact, sewups have a tendency to shift on the rim from braking heat while descending on hot days. If you insist on tubulars, bring plenty of spares and be prepared to glue them on (and clean up the mess) yourself.

"We're often asked about bringing special wheels on CycleItalia vacations. Here's our philosophy:

"The classic, spoked wheel is a model of perfection. With 36 or 32 stainless steel spokes of 2.0, 1.8 or butted versions, a wheel built with high quality components will take a huge amount of punishment and require little in the way of special care.

"More spokes equal more stability and the high quality materials available today allow the use of 32 for most riders under 190 lbs. Using fewer spokes requires higher tensions and stronger components to bear the added stress. The result is added weight and a small aerodynamic advantage at speeds over 30 mph. Radial lacing offers NO aerodynamic advantage, minimal weight savings and subjects the hub to extremely high Ioads.

" 'Special' wheels usually attempt to justify their high cost and the use of special, non-standard components with either lighter weight or improved aerodynamic performance compared to 'standard' 32 or 36 spoked wheelsets.

"Lighter weight: A 'standard' road front wheel with 32 stainless spokes and brass nipples (we prefer brass because nipples of this material remain serviceable for the life of the wheel. Alloy nipples tend to crack ar seize into the rim bed, especially on rims without stainless steel eyelets) weighs around 880 grams without a tire, tube, rimstrip or skewer and costs around $125. The most popular lightweight wheel is most likely Mavic's HELIUM. It weighs 700 gms and uses 26 special radial-laced straight-pull spokes not usually stocked by most bike shops and sells for almost $300. Campagnolo's Nucleon weighs a bit less at 650 gms but goes for $350 and uses 22 special aero shaped spokes. Ever try buying a replacement rim in a local shop with 26 or 22 holes? How 'bout truing one of these babies on the road with a standard spoke wrench should a spoke break?

"Superior aerodynamics: Lots more choices here. How about Spinergy rev-X? Not very light at 835 gms, no aerodynamic advantage below 30 mph, not cheap at $365 and what happens if something goes wrong with this wheel? You'll need to do what the pro teams do that use these--go to the team truck, get a replacement, swap the tires and be on your way. Where was the team truck with the spares, anyway? Mavic Cosmic Carbon, 880 gms, $469 and only 15 special radial-laced super high-tension spokes make this one for Lance's chrono bike only! Campagnolo Shamal, only 14 spokes here and 848 gms at $300, why bother with no advantage below 30 mph? And last, Shimano Dura Ace, 720 gms at around $300 with only I6 spokes (at least they're "standard" bladed types) but these mount to the side of the rim! It IS kinda light and kinda aero. But don't need any replacement parts OTHER than spokes! How much is 100 grams anyway? An ounce is 28 grams so 100 grams is around 4 ounces or 1/4 lb.

"One final note about aero wheels. How often on your rides are you heading straight into a headwind? Isn't it more often a 3/4 head/cross wind? Or sidewind? In these cases, aerodynamic, high profile rims actually are less efficient and the weight is concentrated at the rim with these low spoke counts, making accelerations (one of the benefits of light wheels) more difficult!!!

"So, after all the 'don'ts' what about the 'do's'? We like high quality, forged hubshells from Campagnolo, Shimano, etc. with 2.0 or 2.0/1.8 butted stainless steel spokes from any reputable maker (DT, Wheelsmith, Alpina) and brass nipples laced in a 3 cross pattern to any box or semi-aero section rim, preferably with double stainless eyelets (ferrules) as they seem to reduce cracking around the spoke bed and reduce corrosion. Uniform, high tension on the spokes makes a long lasting, trouble free wheel and just in case, replacement parts can be found just about everywhere in the civilized world!!!

"Here are some tips 'borrowed' from VeloNews to help you enjoy your trip:

"Replace your chain. The chain is THE part through which any power you intend to transmit into forward motion must pass. If the new chain does not skip on the cogs, you changed it soon enough---in other words, before ruining the cogs and chainrings! You can check for chainwear with a wear gauge or simply with a ruler. A chain is made with half-inch pitch, meaning that 24 links should measure precisely one foot. If those links are longer than 12 inches by 1/8 of an inch or more, the chain is worn out.

"Replace your cables and housings. You hardly notice the decrease in performance that happens over time as they wear and get sticky, but braking and shifting are compromised if your cables are not running freely. You also cannot modulate your brakes well if you have to pull hard to get them to come on. If you cannot feel precisely when brake pads touch rims so that you can subtly decrease speed as needed, you might lock up a wheel and crash.

"Replace your brake pads. Chances are, they're way past due for replacement. You'll do more braking on descents with us in a week or two than you usually do in an entire season.

"Replace your handlebar tape. This doesn't seem so important, but it is. The tape covers the part that you least want to ever break on your bike. Inspect your bar and stem for corrosion and cracks. Replace it immediately if you find any. Riders who sweat a lot or live near the ocean should consider replacing bars/stems every couple of years regardless.

"Inspect your cogs, especially the small ones, for wear. Same goes for the chainrings. If you can lift your chain up enough off the cog/chainring while the chain is engaged to expose the tooth 'valleys' it's shot. Hook-shaped teeth are a dead giveaway. Replace any that are suspect.

"Replace your shoe cleats. Mark the position of the old ones first so you can put the new ones in exactly the same position. Grease the new screws when you install them and recheck for torque.

"Replace your rim strips. They can split or wear through and give you a flat at the most inconvenient times. Might as well replace your tires and tubes while you're at it, unless you've done that recently.

"Regular maintenance you might do now: Overhaul bottom bracket (note on cartridge BB's, if it's over a couple of years old, replace it, why wait until it starts making noise in the middle of your trip? Greasing the inside of the BB shell and wrapping teflon plumber's tape around the threaded areas on both cups will usually prevent the dreaded 'creaks'.) If you're not the mechancal type, consider taking your bike to your favorite wrench, explaining where you're going and what you'll be doing and letting him (or her) suggest what needs to be done.

"We don't understand why, but many guests think we're exaggerating when we tell them to bring low gears. We've found it much better to have gears lower than you might need than vice/versa. We recommend at least 39 x 25/26, lower if you can get it. Think seriously about one of the 'triple' mini groups now widely available. You'll usually just need to swap the crank, BB and derailleurs. We haven't found a guest yet who regretted bringing low gears. Make sure you've ridden with the new gear combination before your bike is packed and arrive with the gearing you'll use for the entire trip already installed. There will be little time for changing cogsets during the trip and with modern 16 to 27 speed drivetrains, little reason."

Chairman Bill's note: This is so very true. One time I picked up a bike from Mondonico to ride and I laughed at the gears, asking Antonio if he thought I were a sissy. The first switchback climb we came to with Mauro dancing up the hill wiped that smile off my face.

A last, and important piece of advice. The component manufacturers have torque specifications for the assembly of their components. No matter how good you think your mechanic is, or how confident you are of your own mechanical abilites, go over the major parts like the bottom bracket with a torque wrench. You can't tell by feel how tight 'tight enough' is, that's why they make torque wrenches.

Then, ride your bike for a 100 miles to make sure everything is perfect.

More travel chapters:

Guidebooks | Literature: what to read | Packing your bike | Your Body: getting ready for the trip | Life in Italy | Bike Friendly Hotels