It all started with a pretty red Basso Gap Pista fron 1987. If you can trust that the pictured Dura Ace track hubs were soon after replaced with a set of Record Pista hubs, this would be my first quest to build a bicycle entirely of close-enough-to-period-correct Camagnolo components. Not long after a friend offered to sell me the blue number that follows, a Basso Gap road bike in the same size and from the same year. Of course, there was no way that I could say no.
I sat on that frameset for months and months and months, slowly acquiring pieces and pinching my pennies until I bought a brand new Campagnolo Athena 11-speed group. It would actually turn out to be my first-ever road bike. You know, one with gears and brakes and all, and there was no way I could possibly allow myself to let any moving part touch it that wasn't branded with that beautiful Campagnolo script. Just weeks after being put together, though a good twenty years after the frame had brazed together, that bike would take me through my first criterium and continue to carry me through my first season of road racing, atrocious handlebar angle and all.
From that time on, nearly every race bike I owned would continue to be dressed in nothing other than Campagnolo. From a handful of road bikes to a cyclocross bike that carried me through a season of UCI cross racing, Campagnolo has always felt right. From the entry level Athena to Record EPS, I've put it all through its paces and it has never let me down.
I'm sure you might be wondering what this history lesson in the life of this completely mediocre bike racer has to do with anything. Well, nothing really. However I did feel it was important for you all to know that over the years, and despite trying, owning and racing everything else, I have forever been a lover of all things Campagnolo. And all of this is only important because I'm sure it will help you realize how incredibly excited I was to get the opportunity to pass through the doors of the Campagnolo factory and see the birthplace of so many of my favorite things.
Driving up the E70 into the industrial outskirts of Vicenza, a big blue sign appeared across the side of a building. We knew we had arrived and I couldn't wait to get inside. Greeted by our friend (and Campy's global marketing guru) Joshua Riddle, we joined him for a bite for lunch, and then he gave us a tour. They preferred to keep a lot of our visit under wraps, so we were limited on what we could photograph and share, but continue for a peek at what we could!
Just past these doors is a wonderland of machinery, history, and a surprising amount of people doing things by hand.
Many parts come from solid stock of aluminum that are gradually whittled down. Here you can see how Ultra Torque bottom brackets progress from infancy into adulthood. Clearly, a huge percentage of the metal is cut away, but nearly all of the scraps are gathered, melted down, and reused for the next batch.
We were very limited on what we could photograph, but just out of frame from this rack of fresh rims was the very machine they were rolled and tacked into circles.
A fresh batch of Pista hubs, still in production in all of their polished glory.
It's true. Campagnolo is working on a disc brake system! Or maybe this is really just a Super Record chainring in it's early stages. As for the disc brake research, I'm not allowed to actually comment.
This is a machine holding a giant ribbon of steel. This ribbon of steel would eventually turn into plates of an 11 speed bicycle chain.
See, I told you!
Chad was very impressed by the production of 11 speed bicycle chains.
Quality control monocle.
Much of the machinery is custom made. Because of that, they can make them out of whatever they want...for example, a vintage Record freehub. So cool.
The art of handbuilt wheels is not lost.
One of the most impressive things of the factory is how much work was still done by people. Machines can do a lot of things, but it's nice to see a company that appreciates the human touch.
Thor's hammer. This is an original hammer and anvil that Tullio Campagnolo used to shape metal into some of the very first Campagnolo parts.
We finally finished making our way around and it was time for us to go. Far too short of a visit to satisfy all of my itches, but I was grateful all the same. I wish I could show you more, and that I could have been shown more, but I hope you've enjoyed this little taste.