Friday, December 31, 2010

On the Perfect Martini and Other Myths

For this New Year's celebration, I had a simple task: To prepare the perfect Martini. Not one of the many impostor drinks that have posed as "martinis" over decades past - but a true, traditional one. I enjoy the art of making drinks properly, and what better time to practice this than on New Year's Eve?

At the heart of a real Martini is elegant simplicity. Sugary syrups and exotic garnishes have their place, but that place is elsewhere. Neither does Vodka belong in this most classic of cocktails. A traditional Martini is gin and vermouth in just the right combination - swirled delicately over ice, strained into a classic cocktail glass, and garnished with three olives. And that is all.

But the minimalist recipe is not free of ambiguity. Even among the purists, debates rage regarding which brands of gin and vermouth are best, and what proportions are ideal. After much soul-searching, I opted for Hendrick's and Noilly Prat, at a 4:1 gin to vermouth ratio. And I found traditionally cured Perugia olives - with nothing stuffed inside and no vinegar used in preparing them.

Perfect! But, not so fast... No sooner had I happily surveyed my ingredients, than my friend - an Edwardian history specialist - informed me that I was doing it all wrong. I was fixing to create a 1920s version of the drink, whereas the "real" original is from the early 1900s and requires a different approach entirely. Furthermore, I should not be calling it "the perfect Martini" as it creates confusion with the "Perfect Martini" - which is a separate version of the drink altogether. Ah, academics... How we love to get it just right and spoil all the fun!

Well, I am sticking with my original plan - I've grown emotionally attached to the idea of making it this way. And besides, who is to say that the very first iteration is the "perfect" version of the drink? Maybe the 1920s Martini is considered classic for a reason!

There is really no such thing as a perfect anything, just our personal version of it. It's the version that we will have the most fun with, the version that happens to be just right for us - even if it's not what others consider perfect or correct. Here's wishing you all a beautiful New Year full of such experiences - on the bicycle and otherwise.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Snow Queen!

My Gazelle "Linda" has now been updated for the winter, with new tires and woven dress guards. She is a beautiful sight to behold against the snowy landscape!

The tire replacement was something that had to be done anyhow, as the original ones were cracked and I did not want them to fail in the winter. And of course, I was only too happy to replace them with my favourite cream Schwalbe Delta Cruisers. As for the woven dress guards, there was no reason for them what so ever, other than aesthetic caprice. I thought that Linda looked somewhat generic with the solid black vinyl dress guards, and I wanted to personalise her. We purchased the woven dress guards from Mike Flanigan of ANT and installed them by drilling holes directly into the fenders. I have close-up pictures of the installation and will write a detailed tutorial in a separate post, for those interested.

Riding the Gazelle with the new tires, I immediately noticed that she became a bit faster and quicker to accelerate. This echoes my experience with Delta Cruisers on other bikes - which is one reason I love these tires so much. They are the best combination of city/ sporty/ cushy/ all-weather I have found so far. And okay, it does not hurt that they are available in cream!

It was interesting to cycle on the Gazelle after such a heavy snowfall, and to compare her handling to the Bella Ciao - which I rode immediately after the previous snowfall. Somewhat to my surprise, they handle similarly at slow speeds (under 10mph)- which is the speed I stick to under winter road conditions. The Bella Ciao's superior responsiveness and the Gazelle's superior cushiness are considerably less noticeable when cycling gingerly over slush and ice patches. Their common qualities, however, are all the more noticeable: Namely, how well-balanced and stable they both are. The Pashley I rode last year had these same qualities as well - so I think that all three are great winter bicycles.

The Gazelle does have a bit of an edge when cycling over large formations of hardened snow, due to its wider tires. On the other hand, the Bella Ciao has a considerable "winter cyclocross" advantage: It is easier to drag, lift and carry when road conditions necessitate getting off the bike and moving it over heaps of snow or patches of ice. Overall, I am honestly not sure which I prefer, and I see the two bikes as representing different ends of my winter comfort zone spectrum. The Gazelle has a rack and lights, so by default I ride it more. But once I install these on the Bella Ciao, that may change. For those who have tried different upright transportation bicycles in the winter (i.e., Pashley vs Workcycles vs Retrovelo vs Rivendell vs ANT vs Abici, etc.), I would love to know what you think of the handling.

After the first two snow storms of the season, I can already tell that I will have an easier time cycling this winter than I did last year. Nothing has really changed in a drastic way, but maybe my balancing skills have gradually improved and my lungs have grown accustomed to cycling in freezing temperatures. And as far as aesthetics go, I really do think that it helps to have a bicycle that you are excited about as a winter bike, rather than a "beater". This helped me last year and it's helping me now. The winter landscape is so beautiful, that cycling through it on a bicycle I love (and feel safe on) makes it all the more special.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Get in the Bunker, It's Snowing Out! Our Relationship with 'The Elements'

The blizzard that has swept over the East Coast in the past couple of days has left everyone stunned. After Boston received over a foot of snow within a 24-hour period and another half a foot the next day, life came to a halt. The street plows were quickly overwhelmed, a snow emergency was declared, public transportation ceased, and drivers were asked to stay off the roads. What had been a perfectly functional city only a day earlier quickly turned into a desolate snow-covered landscape. Our Cambridge/Somerville neighbourhood in particular resembled a Siberian village by Sunday evening, with only the rooftops and the tips of pine trees peaking out under a thick blanket of white, as the darkened sky continued to dump more powder onto the abandoned streets. 

Our family phoned to ask how we were coping. Did we have enough food and was our heating working? I had to giggle at the imagery of being trapped in our home, eating canned food next to a space heater. After all, I had just returned from a mile-long trek to the grocery store, somehow managing not to perish in the process. I sympathise deeply with those whose travel plans were derailed because of the storm, and even more so with those who are stuck in airports. But I am surprised by the mass panic and the "hide in the bunker" sentiment of those who are merely staying at home in the city. We are not being bombed. The snow is not radioactive or poisonous (well, at least not significantly so). We can conquer it by... walking! and by wearing really warm clothing!

It seems to me that at least part of the problem, is that "dressing for the weather" has become a novel concept for so many people after years of driving. Despite living in a cold climate, a number of my friends simply do not own warm clothing. A thick wool coat and proper winter boots are not necessary for getting in and out of the car and walking across a parking lot, so why spend money on them? It makes sense, given an automobile-reliant lifestyle. But as soon as the car is unavailable or non-functional, you are trapped - and that is a horrible feeling for those who like to be independent.

I do not subscribe to the "you're not made of sugar and won't melt " line of thought: We can get sick if we go out in bad weather dressed inappropriately. But dressing appropriately is not difficult, and can vastly improve our relationship with nature. Remember the fun of "snow days"? A walk to the grocery store during a blizzard can be just as nice. There are parts of the world where this weather is normal and not a "snow emergency" at all. I have lived in such areas and found my winters to be more enjoyably spent there. But in Southern New England, the winter months are treated as something one just needs to tolerate until they are over - which, to me at least, is rather sad. While I miss cycling on the days the roads are impassable, I don't want to contribute to that mentality. I love snow, and I love the magic of winter. And I did see a mountain biker on my way to the grocery store! The streets were abandoned except for me, him, and the occasional snowplow. We waved to each other across the vast expanse of white and silver, each encouraged by the other's presence.

Monday, December 27, 2010

15 Years Under the Chaincase

With a blizzard raging outside, what better way to spend an evening than working on bikes?  The Co-Habitant agreed to help with my Gazelle (and by "help" I mean "do most of the work"), in exchange for which I prepared lavish portions of a dish that is sort of a cross between French Toast and a Croque Monsieur - only larger, fluffier, more generous on the cheese, and with some secret herbs that make it special. He likes my cooking, I like his mechanics: win-win! 

Though I bought new tires for my Gazelle months ago, we had been procrastinating with their installation, as it required dealing with the formidable chaincase. Removing it seemed complicated. And who knew what was under there after all these years?

The Gazelle's chaincase is a vinyl casing that is stretched over a metal support structure. It is clipped and fastened at several attachment points - including an amazing system of clasps along the bottom, the likes of which we have never seen before. I am not certain how closely the current-production Gazelle chaincase resembles the one on my 15-year-old A-Touren model, but mine was not exactly easy to remove and install - not a project for beginners at least.

Once removed, this is what was inside. It's entirely possible that the drivetrain has not been worked on since the bicycle was first purchased by the original owner. The metal structure supporting the vinyl casing was covered in surface rust, as were parts of the chain itself. But otherwise, there were no apparent problems. These bicycles were built to be used and abused for years without any need for maintenance. 

We were disappointed to see that the chainring did not have little gazelles carved into it like the older ones did. But I suppose that would be too much to expect from a '90s model. The metal chaincase support structure disassembles into several parts - allowing the rear portion to be removed without taking the whole thing apart.

The main chaincase attachment bolt is on the chainstay - a more secure method than attaching chaincases or chainguards to the bottom bracket. Another point of attachment rests on the rear axle. While more difficult to tinker with, the benefit of the vinyl chaincase design, is that it is less likely to rub or knock against the chain. It also weighs less than plastic or metal chaincases - though somehow I doubt that was a concern for the makers of Gazelle.

The Co-Habitant was thoroughly impressed by the design of the Gazelle A-Touren's rear triangle, and believes it to be a better (more integrated) system than that of the vintage Raleigh DL-1 or of the modern Pashley

Everything on the Gazelle fits together just so, as if the parts were all custom-made for each other.  And once the chainguard is off, the fork ends are cut in such a way, so as to facilitate wheel removal. The 28" wheels with the stainless steel rims weigh a ton. 

The routing of the tail light is entirely internal: The wiring comes out of the chainstay right next to the fork-end, and snakes along the inside of the rear fender invisibly. These are the kinds of design elements that make this bicycle a fully integrated system - almost an organism - that experiences very few problems. There are fewer things to shake loose, break, or fall out of adjustment, which is what makes it so low maintenance. 

I know that some enthusiasts would have next taken the whole bike apart, scrubbed off the rust, polished the frame and components, and put it back together - but we prefer to let functional bikes be. Having checked the drivetrain, none of the components seemed to be any worse for wear despite some cosmetic degradation, so we just cleaned them up a bit, greased everything, adjusted the brakes and shifter, and closed the whole thing back up. I will replace the chain soon just in case, but that is about it. Changing the tires on this bike was easy, and the cracked originals are now replaced with new Schwalbe Delta Cruisers. We also removed the vinyl dressguards and are replacing them with something more personalised. The snow continues today, but by the time it is over the winterised Gazelle will hopefully be ready for her test-ride. Working on this bicycle has made us both appreciate just how well it was built. I know that the current-production Gazelles differ in the way they are constructed, but I hope that they retained at least some of the ingenuity of the original design. 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

25th December, 25 Degrees... First Attempts at Winter Road Cycling!

Rejoicing at the empty roads on Christmas Day, the Co-Habitant and I decided to give winter roadcycling a serious try. Once the snow arrives, I find riding a roadbike to be inherently more challenging than cycling for transportation, and have not succeeded in doing it until now. One major concern is the slippery road conditions. On an upright step-through bicycle, navigating winter roads is fairly easy: If there is slush or snow, my tires can usually take it and the bike is sturdy enough to remain upright even if the wheels start to slide. But on a roadbike, my weight is distributed differently and the handling is "twitchier" - making for a potentially hazardous situation under the same conditions. When cycling for sport, I am also going quite a bit faster - giving me less time to react to slippery patches ahead.

The other challenge of roadcycling in winter, is figuring out how to dress. On an upright transportation bicycle, I can simply bundle up in my regular winter clothes and potter along at whatever speed I am comfortable with until I reach my destination. But when cycling for sport, it is more difficult to regulate body temperature: Most of my body warms up almost immediately once I pick up speed, so bundling up will cause overheating. At the same time, my hands and face are more vulnerable to the windchill than on a transportation bike because of how they are positioned on a roadbike. To find the perfect balance is tricky and can only be done via experimentation.

After resisting "technical wool" for as long as I could, I finally gave into it, because nothing else was working for me. I hope to write a comparison review of some popular wool brands soon, but basically what I am wearing in these pictures are just a couple of thin layers by Icebreaker and I/O Bio, an old wool hat, and a wind-proof cycling jacket. I am embarrassed to admit that the jacket is Campagnolo, but it is the best athletic jacket I have worn, ever, and I should write a separate review of it as well, as it certainly deserves it.

But my most interesting (as in "bizarre") acquisition for winter road cycling are these Gore Bike Wear "lobster gloves". After mentioning in a previous post about my hands freezing when riding with drop bars, I received suggestions from readers for this style of gloves, and the Co-Habitant got them for me as a gift. The concept of "lobster gloves" was new to me, but I was willing to try anything to keep my fingers from going numb when positioned on the brake hoods. These gloves really do make your hands look like enormous, mutant lobster claws, and whether you consider that cute or unacceptably grotesque is a matter of taste.

The ideas is, that, unlike regular mitten shells, "lobster gloves" make it possible to squeeze roadbike levers while still keeping at least your pinkie and ring fingers together for maximum warmth. There are different variations of this style, and some versions keep the index finger and middle finger together as well. We went to a local Eastern Mountain Sports store to look for these gloves, and I tried several versions by different manufacturers. I chose the ones by Gore Bike Wear (called "Radiator Gloves"), because they were the only ones that allowed me to freely squeeze the brake levers on the floor model roadbikes they had in the store. Similar-looking gloves by Pearl Izumi and other manufacturers constrained my hands too much and interfered with lever squeezing motions. The sizing of the Gore gloves was unisex, and size 6 fit me perfectly. Normally I wear I size 7 in women's gloves.

Once I wore the "lobster gloves" in action, I had to make some adjustments to how I positioned my hands on the brake hoods. Braking while wearing the gloves was more difficult than without, but do-able. And they did keep my hands warm, as well as dry. The inside material is soft and silky, and the outside material is textured, preventing slippage on the handlebars. Of all the available choices, I am glad that I got this version. But I would recommend that those looking for gloves in this style try them on in person if at all possible, especially if you have brake lever reach issues on a roadbike.

As for the handling of the bicycle itself - the Bianchi was great, except when encountering patches of ice or snow, at which point it was not great at all (think ice skating) and I had to get off and walk. After doing that a few times on the Minuteman Trail, it became clear that the trail was no longer usable at this time of year and it was only really possible to cycle on the main roads. A pity, as the roads leading out of town are usually heavy with traffic and unpleasant to negotiate. By the time I get through Arlington on my way to the more open countryside areas in Lexington, I am usually in a bad mood from competing with the aggressive drivers - not a situation I want to put myself in under slippery winter conditions. The additional difficulties of decreased visibility from my eyes tearing up, and a constantly running nose, contributed to my feeling of extra vulnerability on the road.

Although this is the closest I've ever gotten to winter roadcycling, it was still far from an actual success - especially since the the emptiness of the roads on Christmas Day is not something I can normally count on. From a logical standpoint, I don't think it's worth it to cycle for sport in the winter under these conditions - particularly for someone like me, whose bicycle handling skills are still relatively poor. But from an emotional standpoint, I am afraid I'll go nuts if I have to stay off roadbikes until late March; I had not realised until now how addicted I've become. Maybe I should snap out of it, be an adult and wait till Spring. Or maybe I should get goggles for my eyes, stuff wads of kleenex in my sleeve for easy nose-wiping access, consult with local cyclist about the safest winter routes, and try again. I guess we'll see how much I really want this. I am not big on setting goals or making resolutions, but I am curious about what will happen next.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Memories of an Italian Christmas

In the winter of 1989-1990, my family and I lived in Rome. It was an unstable and nomadic time. My sister and I - then aged 5 and 10 - were home schooled and spent most of our free time in the nearby park. We picked up a bit of Italian from the local children and were able to play with them. But mostly we observed. 

It's funny the things we notice as children. I remember being stunned by the presence of snow and palm trees in the same landscape. I remember being upset about how ugly the road around the Coliseum was. I remember a man pushing a fruit cart outside our window every morning, singing "Arance! Mandarance!" And I remember the sight of several glamorously dressed women sitting on a park bench with their infants, breastfeeding while smoking cigarettes with a synchronised rhythmic energy. I have since been to Italy a number of times as an adult, but these childhood impressions of Rome remain prominent.

And then, of course, there was Christmas - Natale! The lavish holiday decorations, the lights, the musicians on the streets and the general festive atmosphere, served as an antidote to the stress of being in a foreign country. We were living in a small apartment, in a building full of other apartments - and between mid-December and the first week of January, there was a constant stream of gifts (mostly cakes, fruit baskets, and beautifully packaged bottles of alcohol) left outside of our door by our neighbours. These were accompanied by "Buon Natale!" notes, but no names or apartment numbers. We did not know whom to thank, or for whom to leave return gifts. When my parents asked our landlord about it, she assured them that this was normal: "They know that you are foreign and don't want you to be lonely." We were impressed and cheered by this thoughtful gesture that seemed to be such a matter of course for our neighbours. Most importantly, we felt wanted in the country, despite being strangers to it.

And I think ever since that childhood Christmas in Rome, that has been my association with Italy: feeling welcome and comfortable, despite not really belonging there. (Kind of like I feel on my Italian racing bikes, come to think of it.)  I always remember Italy around Christmastime, and this year even more so - as I ride my sleek Italian beauties through the wintry landscape.

I have noticed that I tend to be most interested in bicycles whose country of origin holds significance for me. Their history is more relevant that way; they evoke warm memories. Happy holidays to everyone and happy winter cycling.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bicycle Quarterly: The Art and Science of Velo-Fetishism

[Edited to add: Bicycle Quarterly became a sponsor of this website in December 2011. This post was written 1 year prior to that time.]

As a holiday gift, I received a subscription to Bicycle Quarterly and a set of back-issues containing articles I had been wanting to read for some time. The Winter 2010 issue and the older set arrived a little while ago, and I have been in a BQ-induced trance ever since. To describe this publication is challenging, as it defies easy classification. Part quasi-scholarly journal, part illustrated adventure book, something like this could only have been created by somebody with the mind of the relentlessly tenacious scientist and the spirit of the boy explorer. The result is wild, spectacular, engaging and maddening all at once - which is probably more emotion than any periodical has gotten out of me, ever. For that alone, the Bicycle Quarterly is worth every penny of its $30/year subscription fee.

Bicycle Quarterly focuses on randonneuring and cyclo-touring, and on the classic and vintage bicycles designed for these forms of cycling. Its content includes elaborate bicycle reviews, detailed historical articles, technical articles on frame building and ride quality, travel stories, book and product reviews, and much more in the same vein. But to leave the description at that would be to understate the unique nature of this magazine. First, there are the hand-drawn black and white illustrations. And then, there is the inimitable narrative voice of Jan Heine - both the publisher of Bicycle Quarterly and the author of most of the articles. Dr. Heine writes like a research scientist who, without the pressure of having to publish in peer-reviewed academic journals, has given free reign to his poetic side. With scientific phraseology interwoven with florid descriptions and subjective assertions, it is like some fantastic tapestry that draws me in with the eccentricity of its patterns.

To be sure, the Bicycle Quarterly contains a wealth of carefully researched information, which I find invaluable to my own learning experience. The author is detail-oriented and analytical, conducting in-depth research and getting to the very heart of the matter in every topic he explores. In particular, I have found the rare historical information, and the many articles examining the geometries of classic bicycles extremely useful. The information provided is not something that can easily, if at all, be found online, and so it is a priceless resource. I will be storing these back issues carefully and using them as reference material in the future.

At the same time, Dr. Heine has a very distinct perspective, which must be kept in mind when reading his assertions, reviews and critiques. He favours a specific kind of (1950s French randonneuring) bicycle design and is convinced of the superiority of this design to a degree that, in my view, makes him deeply biased. He also has a number of theories - such as that on "planing," on the virtues of low-trail geometry, and on the superiority of flexible frames - which he tends to treat as fact, or at least as self-fulfilling prophecies. As a trained researcher myself (psychology and neuroscience), I cannot agree that the tests and reviews printed in Bicycle Quarterly are "scientific" - Yet they are presented that way to readers, and that is my biggest criticism of the magazine. Bicycle Quarterly has much to offer - as long as the author's assertions are not taken as gospel by the eager novice.  It is the art and (pseudo-)science of velo-fetishism at its best, and I am addicted.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

First Snow Report

I have been looking forward to testing my Bella Ciao ("Patricia") in winter conditions, and with the arrival of the season's first snow I finally got my chance. Before I go on, I will preface with the disclaimer / mini-announcement that I have begun collaborating with Bella Ciao on a special edition bicycle, which will be sold by Harris Cyclery in Spring 2011. I will have more details about that soon, but just wanted to make that affiliation known in the meantime.

Though I love the way my Bella Ciao "Corvo Citta" model handles, I don't ride it as often as I'd like, because I haven't yet installed a rack and lights. Now that winter has begun in earnest, that will be my next project - I just wanted to first make sure that I'd actually be able to ride this bicycle comfortably in snowy conditions. At just over 30lb, the Bella Ciao is considerably lighter than the likes of Gazelle and Pashley, and - justifiably or not - I am weary of lighter bikes when it comes to cycling in poor weather. To my relief, I had nothing to worry about and Patricia handled just fine after the first snowfall: She remained stable on slush, on slush mixed with salt, and on thin layers of packed snow.

As with other bikes I have ridden in such conditions, I switched to a lower gear and went slower than usual. The bicycle remained sturdy and cooperative. When braking in slush, I used the coaster brake only, which I find easier to modulate on slippery surfaces. The bike also did well cycling on the slippery stretch of brickwork that was part of my route. As far as safety goes, I feel comfortable using the Bella Ciao as a winter commuter in Boston and will get on with the lights/ rack installation so that I can use it more this winter.

While the brave Patricia performed admirably, my first snow commute of the season was not entirely stress-free. Driver behaviour was chaotic and there were few cyclists out on the roads. Several times, I got spooked by a car's ambiguous maneuvers and ended up cycling through a mess of wet snow by the curb. Based on last winter's experience, I know that things will get better once drivers get into their "winter mode". Meanwhile, perhaps there is a reason why most cyclists seem to have chosen to wait it out!

What I found fascinating about the Boston "bike scene" last winter and also noticed yesterday, is that often the only bikes on the streets seem to be those that are least suited for winter cycling - for instance, aggressive roadbikes with narrow tires and no fenders. Where are the fully equipped city bikes? Where are the rugged vintage 3-speeds?

It could be, that the aggressive roadcyclists are the ones most likely to brave these conditions, while, ironically, having the worst possible bikes for doing so. That's too bad, because winter is the time when features like fenders, stable handling, wide tires, internal gearing, and an upright sitting position, really make themselves felt. Last winter, I was extremely appreciative of the Pashley I used to own, and this winter it looks like I will do equally well on the Gazelle and Bella Ciao.

Though Patricia and I did not have many companions on our first snowy commute of the season, we hope that the winter wonderland will coax more cyclists outside soon. Once the drivers calm down, it is really not so bad: Just take it easy, dress warmly, ride a sturdy and properly equipped bicycle, and enjoy the beautiful landscape!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Celeste e Bianca: Nice Day for a Ride!

Having finally nursed my celestial beauty back to health, I was ready to take her on a proper test ride... And the snow decided to pick this day of all days to arrive? It felt like the final act of an Italian tragicomic operetta. But since the forecast did not predict snow until late morning, I set off early in hopes of beating the odds. After all the drama with this bicycle, I was not willing to forgo a test ride!

For the past few months I had been patiently hunting for one of these, but having no luck finding anything in my size and budget. Finally, an online bike-friend found something that seemed perfect and I pounced on it immediately. When the bicycle arrived, it initially seemed that my worst fears about sight-unseen deals were realised and the purchase was a disaster: Not only did every single component seem to require work, but the frame was a larger size than advertised - possibly too large for me. I considered just re-selling the bike as-is to save myself the heartbreak. But after much debate and some outside mechanical help, things began to look up and I decided to keep it. Once the wheels were in ridable condition and we put the tires on, the moment of truth came: I did clear the top-tube sufficiently, and so continuing the renovations was deemed worth the risk.

And now here she is: a 54cm Bianchi "Nuovo Racing", circa 1983. Made in Italy, Columbus tubing, some Campagnolo components. When I got the bicycle, everything was original - right down to the water bottle, which I promptly removed.

We replaced the handlebars and brake levers with modern Nitto Noodle bars and Tektro short reach levers. (The original bars and levers were damaged. But even if they hadn't been, I have trouble using vintage ones and am only really comfortable with the Noodle + Tektro combination.)

The original Ofmega stem was 11.5cm long - which felt scary, since the bicycle was already larger than what I was used to. We replaced it with a 7mm stem.

The original 23mm tires were torn to shreds and we replaced them with 28mm gumwall Panaracer Pasela Tourguards. I might eventually switch them with the cream tires on one of my other bikes, but maybe not. The original Modolo Flash brakes on the bike were damaged, and for now we've fitted it with a set of modern Tektro brakes - but they are not an ideal fit, and I am waiting to get a set of vintage Campagnolo brakes from a bike friend which I hope to replace the modern ones with. That should look much better, so I am hoping they work out.

Otherwise, the bicycle is original, including - for now - the foam racing saddle, the shape of which feels surprisingly comfortable. The handlebars are wrapped with white cloth tape and covered in two layers of clear (not amber) shellac - which gives them a nice vintage-cream appearance. The end result is not "period-correct" by any means, but I don't think the modern parts look offensive either. It is subdued and evokes a sense of the early '80s, at least to me.

When you romanticise a particular bicycle and look forward to it too much, there is bound to be disappointment. For me, the disappointment was with the aesthetic aspects. I don't know what I was expecting, because I had poured over catalog pictures of this model before, so nothing should have been a surprise. But I guess, appearance-wise, the bike was more bland than I had anticipated.

I think that I hoped to see "Italian flare", and there simply isn't any. It's a very ordinary-looking early 80s lugged bike, painted turquoise, with a bunch of blue Bianchi decals. Well, that's okay, I thought: Now I know that there is nothing magical about these bicycles. I will either enjoy riding it, or not; either way, it will be a learning experience.

It was not until I rode the bicycle that I began to get attached to it. And make no mistake, get attached to it I did! - How could I have taken these snowy, romantic photos otherwise?  I first tried the bike a couple of days ago - with the long stem and faulty original brakes - for just long enough to determine that the stem was too long and the brakes were too faulty, but the ride quality was lovely. After having replaced the stem and brakes, I finally test rode the bicycle properly, just hours before the snow storm arrived. The Co-Habitant was worried about the bike's performance and about the weather, and so he extracted a promise from me to stay close to our neighborhood. And I did - riding for 45 minutes in loops until my hands went numb from the cold (winter glove recommendations for a road bike, please?) and the snowflakes started to fall.

First impressions: The ride quality is nicer than I had expected. There was no harshness at all, and the bicycle was surprisingly stable at low speeds for a racing-style roadbike. The 54cm frame feels large, but I like it - I hope that I will be able to go back to 52cm bikes after this! The lean, even with the shorter stem, is more extreme than what I am used to. But I think I am okay with expanding my comfort zone in this respect. I was able to use the drops and the downtube shifters without feeling too unstable. And most importantly, this bicycle has the same "smooth and comfy" feel that I love so much about my Moser.

Because I have now shown a preference for several bicycles with Columbus tubing, while not being as crazy about my Reynolds 531 vintage Trek, it has been suggested that I might be a "Columbus person and not a Reynolds person". I don't know about that - or at least, I don't think that I have enough experience yet to determine such a thing. But I do know that I will be keeping this Bianchi and that I will be selling the Trek in the Spring. I won't make sweeping generalisations, such as that "I like Italian bikes" - but I do very much like the ride on the Bianchi, so far. And as beautiful as the snow is, I do hope it clears up and gives us a chance to ride together again this winter.