You must go and see Rodolfo’s basement, Peter the tour guide told me. Peter rides a De Rosa Protos for his guiding duties at the Hotel Belvedere, with brand new Super Record, and Rodolfo is the man he trusts to tweak things when things need tweaking. The bike shop, Cicli Tonti, has been in his family since 1949. His father, Antonio, started it up. Now Rodolfo is in charge.
It’s a big but unassuming bike shop on a corner in Cattolica, not far from the Autostrada. Rodolfo is a small but unassuming host, with a broad smile.
The top shelf around the edge of the store is littered with team bidons and trophies, and Rodolfo has just added another: he won the Rimini provincial road race not long back, attacking out of a selection of three to take the win on the final climb. He poses for a few pics in the winner’s jersey.
Walk into Rodolfo’s shop and you’ll have walked past windows full of De Rosas and Colnagos, and in the entrance you’ll see Garmins and Campag EPS groupsets. But you don’t have to walk far to find something a bit different.
In this cabinet there’s a boxed Super Record rear mech from, when? Some time in the 1980s? But it’s as good as new.
Over here there’s another cabinet, just full of bolts, and clamps, and mechs, and brake blocks. And atop the bolts, a Marco Pantani ‘Il Pirata’ saddle. This is Pantani country,after all.
The whole of the back wall – and it’s a big wall – is packed with boxes. Some of it is new stuff. Lots of it isn’t. Rodolfo is happy to help riders like Peter with the latest bikes and the newest gear, but you get the feeling there’s not a bike been made in Italy in the last fifty years that he wouldn’t be able to find a part for, somewhere. And that’s just in the shop. Peter asks him to show me the basement and his wife walks down with me to lift the roller doors.
The basement is as big as the shop, and it’s a big shop. There’s plenty of new stock racked up down there, from cheap runabouts to full carbon race bikes. But the futher back you go from the door, the further back in time you venture. There’s racks and racks of steel machines, full bikes and frames, in the far corner where the fluorescent strips don’t work. I wonder what’s hidden in there. Rodolfo appears. He asks me: you want to see some bikes?
He pulls a red, yellow and black machine from the ranks. It’s a French TVT carbon frame in full Lemond livery, decked out with Campagnolo’s fabulous Delta brakes and with Z-vetements and Tour de france winner decals.
Is it one of Lemond’s bikes? If it is, it’s not a 1990 race bike, as the high-modulus race frame was subtly different as this excellent blog post explains. But it’s a fantastic machine.
For a start, it has Delta brakes. Anything with Delta brakes is fine by me.
Carbon, when it was first used, was often only available as tubes. Many early carbon bikes were lugged, as this one is. The alloy, which was polished when new, is oxidised and faded a bit now. But aside from the tyres, it looks ready to ride.
Here’s a Look KG196. It was the French manufacturer’s first foray into monocoque frames, in 1993.
Look have always been innovators. The adjustable stem allowed a rider to fine-tune their position, and the way that the front fork continues in front of the headset is reminiscent of some of the new crop of TT bikes around now.
I’m not sure that routing the cable internally through a big sticky-out port in the down tube is more aero than just having it run externally. But hey, they were trying new stuff. This bike is running an original Dura Ace STI groupset; Many bikes still had down tube shifters in 1993, it makes more sense when the bike is specced like that.
There’s a Molteni Colnago hanging up there too. a Merckx bike.
It’s showing signs of its age a bit. The drilled brake levers are in good condition but the rubber hoods have partly disintegrated with the years.
It’s all decked out in Campagnolo Nuovo Record…
…and even the pump and bottle are from the same era as the bike
That’s not the only Colnago down there either, not by a long stretch. Rodolfo found this one in an old country house, in a bit of a state but, as far as he could tell, unridden. So it’s entirely specced as new...
...right down to the Colnago Servicio Corse tubulars.
Rodolfo tells me it’s like the bike that Colnago gave Pope John Paul II. It’s very much the same era; that bike was fully gold plated whereas this one saves the gold – and it’s real gold, he assures me – for the fork and the chainstays.
But as much as these bikes are extraordinary classics, there’s some stuff down there that’s both completely unique and intimately tied with the history of the shop. Bikes that bear the Tonti name.
This is Rodolfo’s father’s bike. Antonio was a racer, and clearly both a tinkerer, and an innovator. It's that spirit that Rodolfo has kept alive.
The most obvious oddity with Tonti Senior's bike is that the shift levers are on the top tube, not on the down tube. The cables were routed internally.
There’s no normal route from the top tube to the rear mech internally, so Antonio brazed on a cable run to bypass that junction.
It exits from the chainstay just above the rear mech.
Antonio also drilled out his inner chainring to save a bit of weight. And the arms of the spider. As every hillclimb racer will tell you: every gram counts.
And then there’s stuff the like of which we won’t see again. Vicini still make bikes in Italy, just up the road from Rodolfo’s shop, in Cesena. But they don’t make any like this lo-pro TT bike, that’s for sure.
If you’re suffering in the 53 ring you could always drop to the, erm, 50…
This was an era when the TT position was still very experimental, and mostly invloved getting as low as possible. So it wasn’t an issue that the aerobar were set almost as wide as they could go. You had a 650B Tecno 5-spoke aero wheel keeping you low at the front.
Still, it has some nods to the future of time trialing. The seat tube forms itself around the wheel, even if it’s not very close and it’s still very round. And there’s a bar end shifter, at least for the changes at the back.
Each bike, and each frame, down there, has a story, some more prestigious than others. I’d love to come back and hear them all sometime, but I’ve only popped in unannounced on Peter’s suggestion and Rodolfo is busy finessing Peter’s gears and chatting to other customers, so it’s time to roll out and leave him to it. The bikes of the Adriatic, both new and old, are safe in his hands.
road.cc Italy Week 2014
road.cc is in Italy from 4-11 October at the Belvedere Hotel in Riccione.
Visit the Italy Week page to find out what we’ve been getting up to
Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.