Sunday 17 October 2010

A Herd of Tin Donkeys: c. 1987 Chesini Olimpiade

My latest acquisition was a rather unexpected one.  I discovered that here in Düsseldorf, around 6 kms from my apartment, a gentleman who refurbished older steel bikes as a hobby found there was such a demand that it became a business and he is now operating as Eisenherz-Bikes ("Eisenherz" being German for "Ironheart").  One of the bicycles he had available recently was a Chesini Olimpiade, a mid-level racing bike produced in a small shop in Verona, Italy.

Here is some history of the brand, courtesy of Angel Garcia and his excellent Italian Cycling Journal blog, and he actually interviewed the current owners of the shop in 2007 here.
Chesini was founded in 1925 by Gelmino Chesini who had been a bicycle mechanic before he began building bicycles. The first business location was in Nesente on the outskirts of Verona, later moving to Verona. He developed what became a well known slogan in Verona,"O Chesini o cammini". The son, Gabriele Chesini, continued the business. Chesini built bikes only for their own brand and were not a sub-contractor for another brand at any time. They also performed their own pantographing. Photos of their manufacturing facilities in the 1980s show a very impressive capability.

Large numbers of Chesini's were sold in Europe, particularly in Austria, Germany, and other European countries through representatives. A much smaller number were sold to the USA.

Four world championships have been won on Chesini bikes:
Juniors, 1963,
100KM race 1964,
100KM race, 1965,
Juniors, 1990
Verona's Roman Amphitheatre (photo Wikipedia Commons by Chensiyuan, 2009)
My Olimpiade is made of Columbus Cromor, rather than the higher-end SL or SLX of the period, and the parts are a mishmash of predominantly Campagnolo parts, but spanning 25 years.  There is nothing to definitely establish when the bike was built but judging from various features of the frame, it is probably around 1986-87.  The frame is marked as 56 cm in size but has no serial number; there is some pantographing on the chainring and some very nice detail work elsewhere on the frame, such as the Olympic rings on the downtube above the shifters. The Chesini brand name and logo, Verona's famous Roman amphitheatre (constructed in AD30 and now used for opera performances) are cut into the headtube rather than in the form of a badge or decal.

The workmanship is very neat and the fancy paint job convinced me that I needed an espresso pick-up bike, along with the condition of the frame.  There is only a bit of pitting in the chrome chainstays and fork and only some minor marks in the paint.  Unlike my Raleigh SBDU bike, which is pristine, I would not be worried about riding the gravel roads of Chianti for L'Eroica next October on this bike.

I picked it up on October 10 at the shop and discovered I could not get my feet into the clips and straps, but after some adjustments, I managed to get underway.  My maiden ride took me into the Grafenberger Wald on the outskirts of Düsseldorf where I discovered several things.  First of these was that the right shift lever was not quite tight enough, so the Campagnolo Nuovo Record rear derailleur proceeded to shift for me, in the wrong direction naturally.  I tightened this up easily, so one problem solved.  Of course, I discovered this on what must have been a 15% grade in the forest, so I actually had to walk for a moment or two to a spot where I could straighten things out.

I learned that not only is the Grafenberg Wald impressively hilly, it has about the worst roads I have seen anywhere, with massive potholes that I had to carefully pick my way around.  Of course on the descents, I also discovered that the brake levers were positions exactly where I could not really reach them, so that was exciting too.  Again, a minor adjustment as I only had to reposition the handlebars when I got home.  The bike rides superbly and the mixed componentry works well enough.  The vintage Sella Royal Superleggera saddle looks great and is quite comfortable as well.

When I did return to my apartment after my 15 km maiden ride, I checked out the bike more carefully.  The front brake is a bit weak, the rear freewheel cogset of 13-21 is probably not going to work too well in Chianti, and I was astonished to see that the Continental tires were 18 mm, a size I was not aware was even produced.  They are impressively narrow and will probably be replaced with Continental Grand Prix 24s sooner rather than later.  In terms of other parts, I would like to switch the Tange headset (the only non-Campy part besides the bottom bracket) for a Campagnolo one, and possibly change the recent Campy front derailleur for a more period-appropriate one.

A friend near Cologne has recently purchased his own L'Eroica bike, an early 1980s Faggin in tricolore as well, so the fever is contagious.  I will loan this bike to a colleague who is interested in riding a lightweight bike (although I will suggest clipless pedals and shoes for him) to introduce him to the sport and ensure I have a riding buddy!  Viva Italia!

Thanks to Klaus Hogrebe of Eisenherz-Bikes, here are excellent photos of my latest Tin Donkey:

And who could resist this 1951 picture of a young amateur, Adriano Zamboni, proudly standing with his Cambio Corsa-equipped Chesini?  Signore Zamboni went on to compete in the Giro d'Italia six times, winning a stage in 1961.


Anonymous said...

Nice blogpost about an excellent bike. What a find!

Richard said...

Beautiful Chesini... what a head turner. I especially love the Italia tricolour and chrome forks & stay. Enjoyed your post!

BlankCrows said...

That is a sharp looking Chesini. I have a X-Uno model from the 1990's with chrome on it as well. They are easy to like!

Anonymous said...

Great looking Chesini, they often have all the extra pantographed componentry.
Great colour too.