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Columbus, Cinelli, Campagnolo

Old 06-19-21, 04:05 PM
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Columbus, Cinelli, Campagnolo

Hi there,

There is one question that comes to my mind once in a while:
Most good Italian frames from the 1970s / 1980s were made from pretty much the same material: Columbus SL tubing, Cinelli lugs and Campagnolo frame ends and fork ends (Colnago, Gios, Bianchi...). To my knowledge, anyone else who had the money could buy these ingredients, too.

Of course, frame geometry does make a difference. But apart from that, is there really a difference between a frame from a "cult" brand and one from a small, unknown but experienced producer who used the same ingredients?

I don´t expect to find out "the truth" but I would like to read some opinions. Thanks!

Cheers

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Old 06-19-21, 04:39 PM
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There are many smaller, lesser known frame builders that produced a just as good, if not better, product. Both in Italy and other countries.

The difference is they didn’t sponsor the big name riders at the time.

(IMO, YMMV, etc)
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Old 06-19-21, 07:18 PM
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Could it be just an 'alphabet thing'? It seems that the quality Italian bike alphabet starts with "C". Columbus, Cinelli, Capmagnolo, Cipollini, Colnago, Ciocc, Chesini, etc., and it goes down hill from there.

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Old 06-19-21, 07:29 PM
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Yes, some smaller some builders made frames every bit as good, if not better, than the name brands. There are also smaller builders whose product was not as good. Ya pays y'r money and ya takes y'r chances.

Another complicating factor - personal preference. The De Rosa or Cinelli frame (or the frame from a lesser known builder, or from an American, British or French builder) that sends me into rapture may feel meh to you, and vice-versa.

With the name builders, there is enough literature and other info out there that you can get some idea how it will ride and, thus, an experienced rider can get a fair to middlin' (but still not perfect) idea of whether he or she will like it. The smaller, less well known builder's frame won't have that info base, so it represents a bit more of a risk. That's part of the excitement.

At the end of the day, it really is impossible to say who made the "best" frames because the possible criteria vary so greatly. About the best you can hope for is figuring out who made the best frame for you for a given application. And even that is not easy to figure out without riding a lot of different bikes. But boy, the process sure can be a ton of fun..
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Old 06-19-21, 07:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Gary Fountain View Post
Could it be just an 'alphabet thing'? It seems that the quality Italian bike alphabet starts with "C". Columbus, Cinelli, Capmagnolo, Cipollini, Colnago, Ciocc, Chesini, etc., and it goes down hill from there.
Some owners of Bianchis, De Rosas, Masis, and Pogliaghis (to name a few) might beg to differ.
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Old 06-20-21, 05:39 AM
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What else would make a difference in framebuilding apart from the ingredients (C,C, and C) and the geometry?

I can only think of the soldering. I know a couple of terms that get mentioned when it comes to that, like silver solder, microfusione etc. Probably the temperature is important.

Can that really create a difference?
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Old 06-20-21, 05:49 AM
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It really does come down to geometry in large part, that’s not a minor aspect.
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Old 06-20-21, 08:53 AM
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Originally Posted by bikingshearer View Post
Some owners of Bianchis, De Rosas, Masis, and Pogliaghis (to name a few) might beg to differ.
sweeping generalizations are just troll fodder.
or a lack of awareness.

Rapture... “go eating bars where the people meet”... channeling Blondie you must be.
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Old 06-20-21, 10:16 AM
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Originally Posted by Nuovo Record View Post
What else would make a difference in framebuilding apart from the ingredients (C,C, and C) and the geometry?

I can only think of the soldering. I know a couple of terms that get mentioned when it comes to that, like silver solder, microfusione etc. Probably the temperature is important.

Can that really create a difference?
In a word, yes. Temperature matters a great deal - heat the tubes too much and the joint is brittle and weaker. Don't miter the tubes right and the joint is weaker. Alignment matters a lot.

Keep in mind that subtle differences in geometry (half a centimeter here, half a degree there) can make a perceptible difference. Also keep in mind what I said above about personal preference and what the bike is to be used for. You don't buy a Colnago or a Masi for touring, you don't buy a bike designed for loaded touring to use in a criterium, and so on. Vive le difference.
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Old 06-20-21, 11:35 AM
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It’s important to collect as many as possible and try them out in order to find the answer
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Old 06-20-21, 12:51 PM
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Are there Italian frames (or frame builders) that are to be avoided? I know that Mexican-built Benottos had quality issues. Are there others?

The general background of my question is: I have been looking for a C-C-C frame for quite some time now (ideally 50 cm seat tube / 49 cm upper tube, both center-center), and I would, of course, love a Bianchi Specialissima, Masi, De Rosa, or Cinelli frame, but I can´t seem to find one. Plan B is to buy a frame from some lesser known maker who used the same components.
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Old 06-20-21, 02:16 PM
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I worked for 20 year with a fellow who learned his frame building skills working for Chas Roberts and Holdsworthy Co.

Mention Italian built frames he'd make a face and mutter something to the effect that they "mitered their tubes with hack saws...". Lol...
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Old 06-20-21, 03:28 PM
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For my body type, the very early Treks can't be beat. I have never ridden an Italian bike.
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Old 06-20-21, 05:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Nuovo Record View Post
Are there Italian frames (or frame builders) that are to be avoided? I know that Mexican-built Benottos had quality issues. Are there others?

The general background of my question is: I have been looking for a C-C-C frame for quite some time now (ideally 50 cm seat tube / 49 cm upper tube, both center-center), and I would, of course, love a Bianchi Specialissima, Masi, De Rosa, or Cinelli frame, but I can´t seem to find one. Plan B is to buy a frame from some lesser known maker who used the same components.
Patience and persistence are key, especially in your (small) size. I had the opposite problem; I need big frames (at least 62cm, 64cm is better). Frames at the outer edges are out there, but you have keep at it. Your efforts will be rewarded.

Reputable names include, in no particular order: Daccordi; Bottechia; Basso; Rossin; Faggin; Fiorelli; Viner; Battaglin; Willier-Trestina; and Mondonico. There are more, these are just off the top of my head. Also, Billatto (sp?) Brothers and Biemezetta (BMZ) both did a bunch of contract builds for other builders; they made a good product. And as previously mentioned, De Rosa, Masi, Poghliaghi and top-end Bianchi frames are high on many grail lists.

Others may want to chime in here, but I have to go now.
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Old 06-20-21, 05:52 PM
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Originally Posted by Nuovo Record View Post
Are there Italian frames (or frame builders) that are to be avoided?
When you're buying second hand bikes/frames, usually their condition is more of a deciding factor than the marque. I mean, sure, by all means get one that will start conversations at the cafe, but if it's been stored outside near the ocean then it's probably not going to be a sound purchase.
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Old 06-21-21, 12:11 AM
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Originally Posted by satbuilder View Post
It’s important to collect as many as possible and try them out in order to find the answer
Sig worthy.
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Old 06-21-21, 06:56 AM
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Back in my road racing days (mid-late 80s) I rode a Bianchi Specialissima with Columbus SL tubing. Bucking tradition, I outfitted it with Dura-Ace 7400. I've owned other Italian bikes throughout the years, including Paletti, Giordana (Billato built), and Torelli. Lusted after but never owned Galmozzi, Pegoretti and Mondonico.

These days I own those crazy French bikes, mostly made with Reynolds 531, with names like Peugeot, Gitane, and Liberia. I no longer lust after Italian steel. But then I'll be 55 next month; could be a testosterone thing.
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Old 06-21-21, 11:36 AM
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Would you say that there was a difference between the Bianchi Specialissima and the other Italian bikes from the same material that you owned?
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Old 06-21-21, 12:24 PM
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Originally Posted by bikingshearer View Post
Another complicating factor - personal preference. The De Rosa or Cinelli frame (or the frame from a lesser known builder, or from an American, British or French builder) that sends me into rapture may feel meh to you, and vice-versa.
Originally Posted by satbuilder View Post
It’s important to collect as many as possible and try them out in order to find the answer
This and this.

Bikes appearing virtually identical can ride and respond to your specific size, shape, and needs very differently. I have been through maybe 40 bikes in my size, buying, fixing up, riding, and selling the majority. The keepers are ones that jibe with me the most. I have some very nice Italian bikes, but my number one C/C/C bike is a '78 Trek 930. It just wants to go.

This is also why I'll never plunk down $$$ for a custom frame. Even if the specs look right, it may not work as well for me as a $150 Craigslist fixer-upper.
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Old 06-21-21, 02:01 PM
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Honestly, I'm not even certain that a given Bianchi Specialissima wouldn't be different from another one made later the same day. Certainly it would be different than another one that's a different size. The comments above about trying as many different bikes as possible are part whimsy but also part gospel truth. It's fun to read about other people's experiences with various vintage bikes, and it provides useful data to help in your quest. Certain brands, tubing, components, and geometry emerge from the crowd, but there are always more factors to consider.

I think this is part of why we're all such cheapskates here. It's foolish to invest a large amount of money in a vintage bike you haven't ridden unless you're buying it purely for its aesthetic qualities (and that's a perfectly valid reason to buy many vintage bikes, especially Italians). I've had a high-ten Japanese-built entry-level Gitane that I loved. I have a once top-of-the-line Columbus SLX Pinarello that I don't think rides better than an average bike. Vintage bikes are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.

If you don't overspend on a vintage bike, you can ride it for a while and sell it if you don't like it without losing much money. My problem is I tend to like them all well enough to keep.

In all seriousness, there's a traditional story that J.D. Salinger used in "Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters" that applies perfectly to selecting a vintage bike. The key line is this, "A good horse can be picked out by its general build and appearance. But the superlative horse — one that raises no dust and leaves no tracks — is something evanescent and fleeting, elusive as thin air." The whole story (which is very brief) is worth reading. You can find it here: https://bigthink.com/Think-See-Feel/salinger-buddhist
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Old 06-21-21, 03:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Nuovo Record View Post
Would you say that there was a difference between the Bianchi Specialissima and the other Italian bikes from the same material that you owned?
What Andy_K said, above. The Specialissima was a great bike, and it served a very specific purpose. Also, I owned it when I was a much younger and zealous man. It was comfortable, back then, anyway. The other Italians I owned later in life, when I was no longer racing. The Giordana, made with a more exotic tubeset than Columbus SL, was most definitely a straight-up racer, handled like a criterium bike, and I really didn't like it. Same thing with the Paletti, it was all action. I don't remember much about the Torelli, because it was too small, so I didn't keep it long.

One of the favorite bikes I owned was a 1983 Trek 760, made with Reynolds 531. That was a sweet ride, and probably one of the reasons I gravitate towards Reynolds 531 bikes today. The French bikes that I own or have owned made with Reynolds 531 are sublime, both fast AND comfortable.
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Old 06-21-21, 03:30 PM
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Originally Posted by jeirvine View Post
Bikes appearing virtually identical can ride and respond to your specific size, shape, and needs very differently. I have been through maybe 40 bikes in my size, buying, fixing up, riding, and selling the majority. The keepers are ones that jibe with me the most. I have some very nice Italian bikes, but my number one C/C/C bike is a '78 Trek 930. It just wants to go.

This is also why I'll never plunk down $$$ for a custom frame. Even if the specs look right, it may not work as well for me as a $150 Craigslist fixer-upper.
Ouch, I don't believe some random cheap frame somewhere is going to be superior to one I could specifically make for you! Let me a custom builder (actually teacher but whatever) present an alternate point of view. Not everyone wants to buy and sell hundreds of bikes in hopes of finding the right one. A good builder (there are mediocre and bad ones) is also a fitter and can find the customer’s best pedal, seat, handlebar relationship. The frame can then be designed around those points so the frame fits the rider and his purpose instead of the cyclist adjusting to the frame. In addition, a custom frame can have lighter tubing and a lower bottom bracket height than would need to survive the heaviest possible customer. The purpose of the lighter tubing primarily relates to the feel of the ride (and not to lower overall weight).

A custom frame can be a lot more than just how it rides. I became a builder/painter because aesthetics are very important to me. This is a lot more than just choosing my own colors and graphics. I can design and cut my lugs and finish them to a quality not found in production frames.

Eventually I can explain the details of how a custom builder can improve the quality of its ride.However listing all the possibilities would make this post too long for people to want to read. Of course if someone says my budget is limited and a custom frame is not an option, I can certainly understand that.
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Old 06-21-21, 03:53 PM
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^ What Doug said. For all the money I've spent on vintage used steel bikes, many of them great bikes no doubt, I probably could have at least one or two really great custom bikes. If fact, my next bike will be a custom, possibly a Woodrup, but I'm considering many options.
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Old 06-21-21, 04:56 PM
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There certainly is a difference and the difference is workmanship based .

Entry level lug work on an Italian bike (file marks and sloppy brazing)...



Same brand but top of the line lug work (not quality but much better)...


True quality lug work...


I have owned sloppy top of the line English, Italian, French and other bikes. Usually, Japanese top dogs offer top quality workmanship.

Drops offer the same kind of comparisons. File marks, poor or even uneven joints and even different length stays,

So, there is nothing special about brands (I have owned one Cinelli and it did not blow my kilt up). In general, I have never seen a sloppy Trek road bike.
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Old 06-21-21, 08:57 PM
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I tend to agree with the OP's general premise... when everyone was using the same tubes (mostly) and same components (almost entirely), what made one bike better than another?

The folks in the marketing departments weren't afraid to fall back on the usual answers... make it look good!! In the early 80's, that might mean chrome and pantographed components! My Olmo Competition certainly includes these embellishments!







but I like my Raleigh Team bike with Reynolds 753 tubing better.

Steve in Peoria
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