First of all, a very special word of thanks to Eric Hoyer of Downey, California for this most recent addition to the Legnano Collection. Eric first contacted me about a year ago with some pictures of his late father’s Roma Olimpiade. I told Eric what I knew of the bike and mentioned in closing that should it need a new home down the road to drop me a line when the time came. I added that his father’s bike would become a permanent part of the Legnano Collection and that it would not be ‘parted out’ to the anonymity of eBay. A month back Eric touched base, we agreed to a fair price, discussed how to best disassemble and pack the bike, and then enlisted the services of BikeFlights to handle the shipping.
I have dated this Roma based on the serial number and a few key components, most notably the narrow rail Campagnolo 1045 seat post and the corresponding Brooks B17 ‘Campagnolo Model’ saddle that was only produced for a few short years between 1958 and 1961. The frame on this saddle is stamped D 58 on the cantle, indicating that it was produced in December of 1958. However the leather top of the saddle is in extremely poor condition and Tony Colegrave in the UK has been kind enough to bring out the old tools and make a proper restoration.
Below the homemade denim covering is what remains of the Brook B17 ‘Campagnolo Model’ saddle. You can just make out the oval stamping of the Campagnolo designation on the top of the saddle. Tony Colegrave suggested that I take a good look at where the seat rails meet the cantle as they were prone to fractures and apparently the reason why this model was discontinued. While the narrow rails did provide less lateral stability or strength, they did provide a great range of front to back adjustment, something that many of you will know is very limited with a standard Brooks saddle on a standard Campagnolo post.
At some point in the early 70’s, Eric’s dad decided to part with the Campagnolo tubular wheel set and fitted the bike with a pair of French made Schwinn 27 x 1-1/4in clinchers. This was not an uncommon practice for amateur riders in North America as the price of tubular tires were very expensive by today’s standards, many people didn’t like the whole glueing process and also preferred the Schraeder tube valves that would let them ‘pump up’ at gas stations. Not to mention that there were still a lot of unpaved roads in America that were neither comfortable or practical on tubular tires. On the up side, I acquired a pair of 1960 Legnano-engraved, Campagnolo Record hubs on Fiamme green label, tubular rims from Bikeville that were the standard spec on Roma models. So plus or minus a year on the wheels, this Legnano is now 99% original to the day it rolled out of Jones Bicycles on 969 Long Beach Boulevard.
I decided to check the internet to see if Jones Bicycles is still around. To my surprise, Jones has been in continuation operation since 1910 and is one of the oldest bike shops in America. Frank Samuel ‘Bicycle’ Jones founded and operated the business until 1959 on Long Beach Boulevard. According to the historical account on the Jones Bicycle website, Ben Lawee purchased the business in 1959 and became a distributor for Legnano and Bianchi bicycles in the USA. Knowing that, this Roma Olimpiade was probably one of the first Legnano bicycles that Lawee brought in to the country.
The Roma was also fitted with a full Campagnolo ‘gruppo’ with the exception of the brakeset that did not come into production until 1968. Most if not all of the Campagnolo parts are first generation components including the Record Strada crankset (151mm bc) that has the raised lip on front face of the crank arm and the press fit cap on the back side of the crank arm for the shorter pedal spindle. Both were removed by Campagnolo in 1962. It is worth noting the 57T outer chainring that would have required a good set of legs to turn over, and there is some good wear on the teeth to suggest is wasn’t an occasional shift.
It would be almost a decade before Campagnolo would release their Record brakeset and this Legnano like most competitive road bikes from the 1950’s through early 1960’s were fitted with Universal Mod.51 sidepull callipers and levers. The Ambrosio handlebars and stem were also standard equipment on Roma models through to the early 1970’s.
This Roma is also fitted with Campagnolo ‘Gran Sport’ bar end shifters (1012/3) that are shown in Catalog 12, published late in 1953. However I have an original 1952 Legnano Catalog that shows bar end shifters on the Roma-Campagnolo model for that year. I believe the Campy bar end shifters remained in production until the advent of STI shifters in the early 90’s however for much of that time, they found their place with touring cyclists rather than with competitive riders.
So it’s time to have some fun and completely disassemble this old Italian stallion, clean up all the bits and pieces, wash down the frame, polish the chrome work, pack the bearings and bring this Roma back to it’s former glory. The paint is in pretty good shape with all the markings of many good days on the road, and I have no intention of repainting this Legnano however I may have Noah Rosen at Velocolour give it a light clear coat to preserve it for the next 50 years.
Disassembling the bottom bracket provided a special moment to reflect on the beautiful first-generation Gran Sport spindle in gently worn but otherwise excellent condition. I have seen the occasional cottered version of this Campagnolo spindle on eBay but not the cotterless type. What is unique to this GS spindle are the ‘flanges’ on the inside face of the bearing races that I believe were meant to help retain the grease packing and perhaps also to keep any ‘crap’ that may have fallen down the seat tube or down tube from fouling the bearings.
What brings a smile to my face is the engraving (Campagnolo Made in Italy Patent) on the flanges that rarely see the light of day, and yet time was taken to perfectly execute this detail. As a former tool and die maker, my mind quickly filled with the sequence of turning, facing, drilling, threading, milling, hardening, annealing, grinding and polishing that was required to produce this spindle. I can almost see the shiny stack of finished spindles next to the arbour as the grease flanges were pressed on to both ends to complete the work.
Knowing the time, steps, skill sets and experience necessary to make this spindle creates a connection between you and the maker. You have never met the person, however you do know them in ways. Perhaps not as celebrated as the frame maker’s work, the quality of the spindle (form and function) is appreciated each time you push off down the road. With the advent of computer controlled machining in the late 60’s all of this came to an end.
We can still marvel at the design and technology of the modern bicycle (and I have one of these machines), however with hands and heart removed from the making it is somehow not the same, there is a ghost in the machine and a sameness that seems contrary to cycling, or a part of what bicycles and cycling is all about. Time will tell I suppose.