Wednesday, May 22, 2013

2013 Cirque du Cyclisme interviews continued

Michael Shiffer :

Michael tells us about his passion for Olympia cycles.

 Olympia is celebrating its 120th year in the bike business. Founded in 1893 by Carlo Borghi, it is the second oldest bicycle manufacturer in Italy (behind Bianchi, founded 1885), and probably third in the world (behind Raleigh, 1887). It is unique in having been owned by just two families. The Fontana brothers bought the business from the Borghis in the mid 1950s, and passed it on to their sons who run the company today.

Unlike the better-known Italian marques, Olympia never showed much interest in developing an international reputation. Consequently, their name is barely known in the U.S. Their local reputation is excellent, and rests on their superb build quality, handsome graphics and beautiful paint schemes. Olympia had a vigorous road racing program between the wars and has recently fielded a successful mountain bike team.

They are a small factory, but they produce everything from city bikes to CF racers to hydroformed aluminum frames. They recently bought Scapin so as to keep their hand in the lugged steel high-end frame business.
In the early 1970s I worked as a bike mechanic in a shop near NYC. The owner grew up in Italy with the Fontanas and managed to convince them to sell him about 500 bicycles, to compliment our stock of Peugeot Raleigh and Ross bikes. As a result, I wound up assembling a significant percentage of the few Olympias that grace our shores. The low-end bikes were a tough sell. In spite of being better equipped and finished than the UO-8s and Records, they had no brand recognition. We had only a few of the higher-level perlescent white bikes, whose extraordinary beauty made them an easier sell. I wound up with a couple of them which I still have.

I keep my eye out for Olympias. The two I showed were eBay purchases. The white one was the second in line model called Special Piuma. It came as you saw it: Campy Record derailleurs, Sport crank and small-flange Nuovo Tipo hubs; Universal Super 68 brakes; Sheffield pedals; TTT bar and stem; tubulars and the most uncomfortable plastic saddles ever turned out by an Italian factory (mostly Frecchia d'oro). The frame is Falck double-butted tubing.

The track bike is from the Borghi era. It dates from 1948-52 and came to me incomplete. I built it up with cranks, pedals and wheels from a 50s Frejus track bike. The cosmetic damage is from storage in a humid environment rather than wear. I cleaned off a lot of grime, but did no other cosmetic work. The decals are incredibly detailed, the paint still shows some pearlescence and the lug work is intricate and masterful. The delicate arched seat stay bridge and the unusual seat lug/binder bolt treatment show great design sense and attention to detail. It rides wonderfully, as do my other Olympias. 

Jon Williams :

Jon's black anodized Milled and Drilled 1973 Masi in Samontana Colors painted by Keith Anderson.

Johnny Coast :
Johnny Coast brings two new bikes for the Cirque and a frame in progress designed to use the new wireless S.O.N. generator hub.

Jack Lautsbaugh :
Jack brought three bikes to the Cirque, one of which, his 2010 Bilenky, won "Best Road Bike" in the Craftsman Showcase "Keeper of the Flame" category. Here, he talks about his beautiful red and black Tom Palermo two-speed which he finished building up about a month before the Cirque. Palermo Bicycles is out of Baltimore, MD.

Elton Pope-Lance :
 Elton decided to give the 650B experience an evaluation and is now a convert on his new Peter Weigle.


Chris Bishop : Bishop Bikes  
Chris always makes his own act hard to follow each year. After Dan Artley's beautiful rando last year, I was interested to see what he would bring. I was not disappointed.

Michael Fern :

This was Michael's first Cirque. He brought his NAHBS 2012 Best Road winning bike made by Chris Bishop.

Mike Triton :
Mike came to the Cirque for the first time from Milwaukee, WI with his brand new Weigle 650B rando.

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