Tuesday, November 1, 2011

La Mafia e Biciclette

Moocher: [laughs] Since you won that Italian bike, man, you've been acting weird. You're really getting to think you're Italian, aren't you?
Cyril: I wouldn't mind thinking I was someone myself.
--from Breaking Away

I remember the first time I saw a pure road bike, an Italian beauty from back in the days when the best bikes and components were actually made somewhere on the Apennine peninsula. Everything on the bike was made in Italy, from the cow whose leather graced the seat and bar tape to the rubber of the Vittoria tires to the elegant Campagnolo chainrings. An elegant geometry, it coiled from the ceiling, poised, both round and edged, as erotic as a boa draped over the heaving bosoms of some Mediterranean goddess emerging from a warm sea--oozing with olive oil magnetism and elegantly rugged, dangling with seemed Roman aureus hauled from a sunken trirene from the bottom of the Adriatic in a diver's vest by Al Pacini's cousin, a tomatoe red Bianchi of lugged steel, handmade in Italy with mechanics from Campagnolo, shifters on the downtube, and Sella leather as rich in luster as licorice.

The steaming summer air came in with me as I, only a boy, entered the shop in 1992 and Phil Collins' voice wailed "Sue-Sue-Sue-dio" on the shop's molten warm tube-amped sonic system, each strike of Collins' Korg DK-3 MIDI-enhanced snare kit rippling through my chest as if my heart's beating had been hijacked by a tinny imitation snare.

I reached out to stroke its box-rims with their crisp Campy hubs, 36 spokes, and reached and spun the sprocket with its elegant toe clip pedals. So clearly designed for speed, the slight ticking as I spun its crank backwards, its, to me, obscenely large front crank of 53 teeth, seeing, as I had only seen, Japanese-made mountain bikes with their childish chainrings made for tottering through dirt on cushy tires.

"Boy," it said to me with in pure Italian-accented English, reeking of musk and Campari, "the days when a bike was a toy are gone."

The shop's resident pseudo-pro could not be bothered with me, instead he stared at a betamax recording set to John Tesh's incomparable electro-drama brass and drum orchestras; the pro sat agog, crotch splayed, lounging in black bibshorts, jersey of unspeakable lewd colors as manufactured as the drums now driving the beat competing with Tesh's one-man inspiration factory.

I turned to the Bianchi, examining its seal, seeming chivalric, its aluminum components and light weight only possible in a world of advanced metallurgy and sounds made by computers, not strings or striking wood or hide.

All around, strung up dead and soul-less, there were Japanese bikes with welded functional joints and gun-metal gray frames, churned out in factories by a folk who, it was told us, in examinations on every news show from 60 Minutes to 20/20, were well on their way to making America obsolete thanks to their increased efficiency, tighter welds, cheaper labor costs, unlimited focus and dedication to accuracy, and nimble--god, so nimble--Asian fingers. These were a people without souls content with living in closets, perfectly suited to factory work.

I looked at their bikes dutifully.

Then I looked to the red Italian machine, hand-crafted by artisans who ate spaghetti, who could seduce an American woman with a single "mama mia," our Don Corleonis, our Al Capones, our Jake Lamottas.

Heart racing, I looked to the price tag, red felt pen on paper, a hand-written and, for me, impossible $650.

Momma mia! The music played again, but this time the words were strange, taunting, tearing my heart as I turned to the door, the pseudo-pro almost seeming to glance my way, his eyes never leaving the action, as if, in good taste, to ignore the tragic bit of hope and dashing of hope he had just willfully ignored.

"Kid," he finally said, just as I opened the door to leave, "that one ain't for you." He gave me a knowing eye, finally, and, as the door swung shut behind me, the music of John Tesh receded, and in its place there played an unfamiliar, Romanesque tune.


CGM said...

Hmmmmm.... Bianchi. My first road bike, my introduction to cycling was a Bianchi, steel frame, with campy components, back in 2004. A Bianchi Eros; how could I not fall in love with cycling if I had a bike named after the Greek god of love?

Calvini said...

Damn right, C. Glad to know I'm not the only one who's swooned for an Italian sex symbol.

sobe 1ktogo said...

My husband just made me read your article. It's like porn for the cyclist : )