Coppi, Bianchi, Campagnolo, pasta, espresso... yes, Italy is the spiritual home of cycling. There’s a high appreciation for Italian road bikes among passionate cyclists, and for some people, nothing says cycling more than an Italian bike, preferably equipped with Italian components. We've picked 14 lovely examples from 3T, Bianchi, Colnago, De Rosa, Legend, Bottecchia, Sarto, Cipollini, Olympia, Pinarello, Wilier, Scapin and Cinelli.
The mystique of Italian road bikes is grounded in decades of technical innovation and cross-fertilisation between the bike industry, the great design companies and even motorsport companies such as Ferrari
Generally sunny weather, and great food and coffee haven't hurt either
Founded in 1933, component maker Campagnolo is still based in Vicenza, Italy
The great Italian racers have never been dull: think of Cipollini, Pantani, Chiappucci and Coppi, and if you want a true hero of World War II look no further than Gino Bartali
A multitude of bike brands emerged out of the embers of the second world war, including Pinarello, Colnago, and De Rosa, producing bikes which have been ridden to many race victories over the years.
It’s fair to say the Italians have built themselves a reputation for road bikes that are special in a way that no other nationality has managed. If you own an Italian road bike, you tell people that you own an Italian road bike. Nobody boasts about their bike being from any other country in quite the same way. The fact that a bike is from an Italian brand gives it a certain degree of reverence, which is why Italian manufacturers rarely miss the opportunity to stick a tricolore on a frame tube.
This then is a collection of some of the finest Italian road bikes we've ever featured on road.cc or just drooled over at shows. These bikes aren't necessarily manufactured in Italy, though some are, but with Italian design and the heritage of Italian companies they carry on the tradition of Italian cycling stile.
From his atelier in Milan, Luciano Passoni offers custom-built bikes in titanium, steel and an intriguing carbon fibre and titanium blend.
When he tested a Passoni Top Force a few years ago, our Stu Kerton soon discovered that it "needs to be ridden hard - it is a race bike after all. The pedals need to be stamped on, corners taken with full commitment, hard on the brakes, all while shifting your weight around like a MotoGP rider on a flying lap – it seems to settle the bike down. With this new found courage the remainder of the test miles were completed with a manic grin on my face as I pushed harder and harder to find the Passoni's limits, thankfully without ever finding them."
With some of the most striking lines of any recent bike launch and that amazing 'black chameleon' paint finish, the new Basso Diamante SV is a real head-turner, though just which way it'll turn your head was a topic of debate among our readers when it was launched.
With the ten grand psychological barrier well and truly smashed in the last couple of years, brands like Pinarello are taking off into the financial stratosphere with ultra-high-tech frames and the latest electronic shifting, in this case SRAM's brand spanking Red eTap AXS 12-speed groupset.
Pinarello says the latest Dogma "achieves the best aerodynamic efficiency values of any Dogma model to date" and comes in two distinct versions for rim and disc brakes.
Launched to celebrate Olympia's 125th birthday, the Boost is the company's disc-braked flagship, and a great example of the brand's dramatic styling. The tubes are shaped to minimise drag, the fork crown is recessed into the down tube and the seat tube hugs the rear wheel. The seat clamp is concealed inside the top tube and the cables are internally routed. It's a bike that looks ready to pounce, and judging from the poise and panache of other Olympia bikes we've ridden and own, it should be a rocketship.
The 3T Strada blew us away. It's a truly stunning bike with breathtaking speed, impressive smoothness and fine handling balance. If this is the future, as some people have speculated, we're sold. Take our money, 3T. This is one of the most exciting road bikes available right now.
The Strada certainly won't be for everyone. And that's fine, there are plenty of fantastic performance road bikes currently available if the disc brakes and tight clearances frighten you. None are as radical as the 3T, though. What the Strada does with its unique design is offer another choice. It achieves the same aim – of being stupendously fast – but takes a different path to get there.
With its single-chainring-only design, the original Strada was subject to a certain level of scepticism from performance-orientated riders; this incarnation will take a double chainset.
The bike of Team BikeExchange (formerly Mitchelton-Scott), the new Specialissima CV Disc retains the rim-braked version's buzz-damping Countervail technology, a structural carbon system with a viscoelastic resin that’s embedded within the frame’s layup, in one of the lightest disc-brake frames around. And what else are you going to equip it with but Campagnolo's top groupset?
It might look traditional beside more modern carbon road bikes, but the hand-built tube and lugged construction of the C64 ensures the performance and ride quality is one of the most refined we’ve ever ridden here at road.cc. It might be eye-wateringly expensive but the ride is simply superb and it really is in a class of its own.
De Rosa has collaborated with legendary design firm Pininfarina to develop the latest version of its Super King road bike, its first proper aero road offering. The frame is all curves and it’s been shaped in a wind tunnel and is made from a mix of 60, 24, 40 and 30-ton carbon to balance the needs of stiffness and comfort.
The Filante SLR, the newest aero bike from Italian bike maker Wilier, is available in a number of Shimano and Campagnolo builds. It’s a bike that mightily impressed tech editor Mat Brett, a man who's ridden enough bikes of all nationalities over the years that he's not easily impressed.
Mat wrote: "The Filante should be pretty amazing given the price, but this one really is a bit special. The Filante's acceleration is really impressive. From a standing start, getting up to speed after a tight turn, or simply when you're trying to put some daylight between you and the rest of the bunch, you're rewarded with easy speed when you flick the pedals. Let's not over-egg it, but this bike feels taut and keen when you hit the power, rather than sloppy and reluctant. If someone tries to get the jump on you, they'd better have planned it well because the Filante is up for getting on their wheel in an instant."
If you’re a weight weenie, look no further than the Emme4 Superlight from storied Italian brand Bottecchia. It’s the company’s range-topping model and has been designed for competition, so the geometry is definitely race focused. The frame is handmade in Italy using a monocoque process and it’s packing the latest features. It has a pressfit 86 bottom bracket and this latest version routes all the cables and hoses through the head tube, hence the 'Integrated' tag.
Bottecchia is a great example of the mystique of Italian cycling. Ottavio Bottecchia was an illiterate Italian shoemaker and bricklayer who became a professional cyclist at the age of 25. In 1924 he was the first Italian to win the Tour de France, winning the first stage and wearing the yellow jersey right to the finish — and beyond. He wore his yellow jersey all the way to Milan on the train, according to Wikipedia, travelling third class to save money.
The bike company that bears his name was founded in 1926 by Bottecchia and framebuilder Teodoro Carnielli, but Bottecchia didn't live to see it succeed. On June 3 1927 he was found by the roadside outside a village near his home, with a broken skull and other broken bones. He died on June 14.
There was no evidence of a crash, and there are still many theories about Bottecchia's death: that he was killed by followers of Mussolini because of his anti-fascist politics; that a hitman had killed him on the orders of a Mafia don; and, based on a deathbed confession, that the farmer who found him had attacked him for trampling his grapes.
Not the most instantly recognisable Italian bicycle brand but Sarto has been hand building frames since the 1950s and has a long track record making frames for other premium bicycle brands. More recently it has emerged from the shadows to market its own products. While the large majority of Italian brands have shipped carbon frame production to the Far East, Sarto prides itself on making its own frames. The Asola here is a lightweight frame with pleasingly traditional round tube profiles but thoroughly modern details like internal cable routing and a tapered head tube.
It's loud and rather representative of its creator, Mario Cipollini. When Stu reviewed the NK1K he said "it is a pure performance machine that also happens to be stunning to look at, with a real focus on the details. It's an engineering exercise that seems to bring passion to the mix, so if you want a frameset you can thrash about on and your pockets are deep enough, the Cipollini should find a place in your shed."
One of a small handful of bicycle manufacturers still manufacturing in Italy, Legend work in most frame materials but it’s their carbon fibre frames that are the highlight. They’re based in Bergamo and head framebuilder Marco Bertoletti has been building frames since the 80s and started in carbon in 2003. The HT 7.5 is a custom built carbon beauty made using the tube-to-tube manufacturing process where mitred tubes are bonded together and the joints wrapped with carbon.
Fabled Italian brand Cinelli brought back an iconic bike from their past in the shape of the Laser which came out in the 1990s. With fillet-brazed steel tubes and curved lugs, it was a track back that looked futuristic and like it was made from carbon. The Laser Mia is that bike reimagined, in carbon fibre this time and with gears, and the same metallic blue finish. The original bike was built in response to the UCI's declaration that aerodynamic features must be an integral part of the frame and fork. Aero features that are still being talked of as revolutionary in 2020, Cinelli were doing 20 years ago.
Okay, so it's a bonus Bianchi for you, but we felt we just had to include the Oltre XR4. It's a bike built for racing and pure speed, with a frame shaped to be extremely aerodynamic to maximise your pace when pushing serious watts. But thanks to the use of the company's patented CounterVail technology, the Oltre XR4 won't beat you up on imperfect roads.
These are all money no object bikes, so if you won the lottery which would you pick?
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As far as possible that means recommending equipment that we have actually reviewed, but we also include products that are popular, highly-regarded benchmarks in their categories.
John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.