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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Back in the Eternal City

The heat and humidity of recent days has subsided so Larry took this photo across from the Fontana Grande looking out over the city of Rome. Clicking on the photo make enlarge it enough to pick out a few landmarks, but in any case it was a gorgeous day in the Italian capital city. This vantage point is just a minute's walk from the American Academy.

Heather worked on her academic projects while Larry went to his first Italian-language class. They are now evaluating his language skills to decide what to do with an almost 60 year-old man who speaks Italian like a 4 year-old boy. Can they improve him? Can he improve himself? Only time will tell.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Under the Tuscan.....clouds.

Photo: Pappardelle con ragu, Signora?

We took a quick trip up to Cortona the other day to attend an academic conference. "We" as in Larry drove the car, but in the end they kindly let him attend the conference and enjoy the meals as well.

We'd been around this area before but never bothered to venture up into the hilltown made famous by the popular and enjoyable novel (and awful movie) Under the Tuscan Sun. Why? Because we feared it was (or would soon be) another San Gimignano, full of foreign tourists and shops that cater to them, most of its authentic charm flaking off under the steady onslaught of modern tourism, only to end up a "Disney-fied" replica of what was once a charming village.

We parked our car and hiked up the STEEP, cobbled road and around to find our B&B, then off to the evening's reception, where our fears were realized. While we didn't see copies of USA Today for sale on every corner, we heard more English than Italian being spoken and even saw Frances Mayes herself the following day at the conference. As you might guess she's kind of like the Pope up here, being responsible for putting a lot of tourist revenue into the pockets of the locals and receiving bows and accolades from those who recognize her.

At the conference we enjoyed some excellent Tuscan food and learned a few things (especially Larry) about archaeologic sites like Pompeii and Herculaneum, especially relating to what is original and what is restored in sites like these. The converted monastery now housing the University of Georgia Residential Center is (once you hike up there) thankfully free of the tourist influence below and offered stunning (despite the cloudy, hazy weather) views of the surrounding countryside.

We're now back in the Eternal City, getting ready for our next adventure while looking forward to having some bicycles to play with. The local park looks like it might be a fun place to play with MTB's!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Room - with a view

Photo: View from our window into garden (not ours)

Photo: View from same window looking onto the street

Heather has won a Rome Prize for 2014/2015. This prestigious fellowship includes room and board at the American Academy here in the Eternal City. And she's letting Larry join her!!!

She's been here for a week already while Larry just arrived. We spent a month here back in 2005 and enjoyed it immensely, so of course we were thrilled when she was awarded the prize, which lets us again live in Rome, but this time for much longer than a month.

Larry will be studying Italian while Heather will be doing a variety of different things during our time here.

Meanwhile, reservations are coming in for CycleItalia 2015, so don't wait too long before making yours.

More soon from ITALIA...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tires, tires, tires.

Photo courtesy of Challenge Tire

After going on in past posts about a floor pump for putting air in your tires, what about the tires themselves? Larry's hands-down favorite tire is Vittoria's cotton casing "Open Tubular". But our friends at Challenge have one of the most informative websites about tires and their construction that we know of. Check it out HERE. Their tires are nice too, though we have yet to try their cotton tire. Their SuperPoly casing feels not quite as supple as Vittoria's cotton but the difference is small. Riding on handmade, "open tubular" tires will spoil you, so don't try 'em unless you dare spending more money than on cheapo, vulcanized tires. Even if you upgrade only to a higher thread-count vulcanized tire, say 150 tpi instead of 60, you'll feel the difference and enjoy the ride much more.

The current marketing trend seems to be towards "road tubeless" tires these days, though many of the venerable tire makers have stayed out of this market. Fans tout a great ride, no flats and the ability to run much lower tire pressure with no fears of the dreaded pinch-flat, also known as a "snake bite" since it leaves two holes in your tube like it was bitten by the fangs of a snake. The drawbacks seem to be much more challenging mounting, the need for some sort of liquid sealant that eventually dries out and must be replaced and the resulting mess if a major hole causes failure, meaning you have to insert a tube to get home. This means you need tools to swap out the valve stem and will need to carry a spare tube as well.

Larry's been doing some experiments with lower tire pressures since receiving the Silca Ultimate Super Pista pump with its 1 psi +/- accuracy and has been enjoying rides with Challenge Strada 25 mm tires inflated to 75 psi in back and only 65 psi in front. A comfortable ride, no pinch (or other) flats with none of the expense or drawbacks of the "road tubeless" setup.

Experiment for yourself with tire pressures. Larry bets you'll find more comfort and control with pressures far less than you've been led to believe are optimum. This assumes you're using a reasonable sized tire for your weight (at least a true 23 mm width) and that you don't blindly crash through massive pot-holes in the road. Anything less than 23 mm is asking for trouble, while doing nothing for rolling-resistance or comfort.

Disclaimer: CycleItalia gets nothing free or discounted from either Vittoria or Challenge, we buy 'em!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Air Pleasure

Those of you who have joined us for a guided tour in Italy know that Larry's a bit of a nut when it comes to high-quality cycling-related stuff, whether it's Campagnolo-equipped Italian bicycles (he'll pretty much ride nothing else) roof racks custom made by the same guys who create them for the Italian pro teams, amazingly high quality workstands, tools and even floor pumps.

More than efficiency, some things just feel right and are a joy to use, making tasks that are sometimes repetitive or unpleasant almost a joy to perform. These things just look right too, Larry likes to call 'em eye-candy.

When he learned Josh Poertner had purchased the venerable SILCA name, he scrounged up an email address and sent a message of encouragement, even though at this time his only products were spare parts for the venerable Italian-made floor pumps. While a LOT of venerable Italian cycling company names have been purchased over the years only to have their products made cheaply in Asia while trading on the heritage and passion of Made-in-Italy, Poertner seemed different. Larry asked Josh if there might be any way he could help him promote the new SILCA, which started an email conversation.

We didn't do anything promoting the company right away, feeling the product line was just too narrow while knowing sales of the classic, Italian-made pumps were not benefiting the new owner.

Now the SuperPista Ultimate has arrived. As you may have seen HERE we posted a feature recently on this gorgeous piece of functional art. While not Made-in-Italy, we think the founders of SILCA, all three generations of them who have now passed on, would be proud of this product.

I won't (and you shouldn't) stick this on a shelf just to admire. Just like a fine Italian bicycle, a Ferrari (Enzo Ferrari was said to hate the idea of his cars being purchased as trophies, only to be admired and rarely if ever driven, let alone RACED!) or any high-quality tool, it begs to be used.

Using this is truly a pleasure. There really is something very satisfying about using the best tool money can buy and any cyclist (as long as you pump your own tires!) will enjoy using this tool for a lifetime. Of course Larry would like a bit more tricolore in the color scheme and for this kind of dough he thinks perhaps each pump should be individually serial-numbered, but otherwise this is a hit, very likely to join the iconic bike tools on the list of cognoscenti worldwide.

At present we have our pump's base plate down at a local trophy engraving shop, putting our name on it, just to discourage any borrowers who might not want to return it!!

(This product was provided to CycleItalia under a special demo program.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

RIP Alfredo Martini

Photo: Alfredo Martini (in the shirt and tie) holding court at l'Eroica 2010

Alfredo Martini has passed away at 93. To Italian cycling fans he was like Vince Lombardi was to NFL fans. More details on his career HERE. In his later years he became sort of an oracle that riders and those taking over his position as national team director would visit at his home in Tuscany, hoping to glean a bit of his legendary wisdom about all things cycling. Larry's sure there are a few Italian authors out there with book manuscripts that will finished soon. With luck one of the better ones will be translated into English so the wider world can understand Martini's influence on the sport.

RIP Alfredo Martini

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

NOT Made-in-Italy, but...

Photo: The world's finest bicycle pump?

Italy's not the only place great things are created. This is a fine example. Larry doesn't have one (yet) but other than lacking a green-white-red paint scheme he sees little room for improvement. Before you say WTF? and say we're nuts, read a little background:

Italian Silca floor pumps have been the gold-standard for pretty much ever. Larry can still remember buying his first pro-quality bicycle and looking at an Italian pump that was 3 or 4 times the price of the typical sporting goods store item with its tin barrel and flimsy hose. The shop guy said "A Silca is the last floor pump you'll ever buy. They last forever and you can buy replacement parts if it ever needs service or rebuilding. Truly a lifetime investment." Larry took the advice and STILL has that pump and it still works, more than four decades later.

When we began CycleItalia we had bike-industry friends who wanted to help us with equipment. We created an "Official Supplier" program and happily let one supply tire pumps. These Asian-sourced pumps died a quick death and were replaced with pumps from another "Official Supplier". These too died a quick death while not doing a very good job of inflating tires. 

Being a CycleItalia tire pump is no easy task - not only do we use 'em a fair amount during each season, but some folks insist on pumping their tires every day, quite often not bothering to "burp" the Presta valve to loosen it from its seat. Trying to push that valve off the seat, against the internal air pressure of 100 psi or more, would often cause the pump hose to swell like a balloon or stress the connectors to the point of failure.

After these failures, we decided to "bite the bullet" as they say, pull out our wallets and purchase the finest, most durable pumps we knew of, which were still the venerable Silca PistaSince then we've replaced a broken gauge (caused by the pump falling out of the van a time or two) and taped up a damaged hose (from being jammed under a van seat track) but that's all - they continue to work just fine, all after more than 10 seasons of abuse.

The Italian owner of Silca passed away awhile back, leaving no heirs to take over the venerable company. You can read the rest of the story here, and those great pumps are still available, though production has ceased. 

Now, with the new owners of Silca, comes the new work-of-art in the photo above. We're certainly not going to suggest you throw away a perfectly good, original Silca Pista and replace it with one of these, but if you're not happy with your current floor pump (and we know there are a lot of poor ones out there!) and you appreciate finely-made tools and equipment, you might want to put this on your holiday gift list.

Or, if you have an original Silca Pista in need of a new gasket, etc. you can find all that stuff and more here.

Buon lavoro Josh!