Last year I received a 'Corvo Citta Donna' bicycle (shown above with stock everything, other than the saddle and kickstand) from Bella Ciao as part of a barter exchange. My impression of the bicycle (you can read the review here) was very positive, but of course not without criticism. Basically, I absolutely love the frame design, the quality of construction, and the handling. But were it my bike, my choice of components would have been different. There was some debate about this between myself and Bella Ciao, and they did not agree with my criticism. But they found my point of view interesting. And after some back and forth, they invited me to put together my own version of the bicycle - and I gladly accepted. Bella Ciao has now made a deal with Harris Cyclery, who will sell the bicycles in the US. If all goes according to plan, they should be available by May 2011. My role in the project is that of a consulting designer.
[the "Maestro," image via Bella Ciao]
About Bella Ciao
Describing their take on bicycles as "the poetry of freedom," Bella Ciao is a small company based in Berlin with an attitude that is both serious and tongue-in-cheek. Bella Ciao frames are handbuilt in Northern Italy by a family of framebuilders who have been in business since 1898 (see image above). They are then powdercoated and built up in Germany. The standard line-up includes cro-moly men's and lady's city models, deluxe men's and lady's models with Columbus tubing, and a single speed/ fixed gear model. There are occasional special edition bicycles as well. You can read about all of these on their website in German and English.
Why I like Bella Ciao bicycles
While I find the bicycles beautiful, what really attracts me is the performance. Of all the upright bicycles I have tried, I have found my Bella Ciao bike superior for long rides, and especially for hills. I do not say that lightly. It is an easy bike in every respect: easy to ride, easy to carry, easy to own. Additionally, I like it that Bella Ciao frames are fully lugged , including the fork crown. And they are handmade. There are other terrific details, such as the proprietary handlebars and wheels (yes, they make their own). All this is becoming increasingly rare even with classic modern bicycles.
The Bella Ciao 'Superba' (pronounced: "su-PAIR-bah") will be a special edition lady's bicycle with a lightweight cro-moly frame, a Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub, cream Schwalbe Delta Cruiser tires, dynamo lighting and a rear rack. The specs as they currently are:
frame, chaincase, fenders
Based on Bella Ciao's cro-moly Corvo Citta Donna (lady's) frame with the classic "Frascona curve" of the top tube, with the additional feature of internal routing for the dynamo lighting; complemented by a full (two-sided) chaincase with opening at the rear and fenders.
The frames are 54cm and will fit ladies 5'5" - 5'10." To give you an idea of fit, I am 5'7" and this is how I look on my bike. The model in the pictures here is 5'10".
The colour will be custom to this edition, most likely some shade of pastel green. Not the same green as you see on my bike (I think it's a bit too military for most people), but perhaps some version of sage. Or maybe not green at all and I'll have a reader's vote at a later point?
wheels and tires
700C proprietary Bella Ciao wheel rims of light, high-polish alloy, with cream Schwalbe Delta Cruiser tires.
gearing and brakes
3-speed Sturmey Archer hub with coaster brake, classic trigger shifter; front caliper brake with classic chrome city brake lever.
"Deluxe" (high polish) alloy Bella Ciao bars. The model I like are a sort of hybrid between Porteur and North Road style bars. Posssibly my favourite handlebars for a city bike thus far.
Brooks B72 saddle in antique brown, special grips TBA, brass bell
Internally routed, hub-generated dynamo lighting, front and rear, with standlight feature; classic look.
There will be a rear rack that will elegantly suit the frame, and I am currently working out the details. If all goes well, it will be a custom handmade rack - fingers crossed!
Including rack and lighting, total weight is likely to be around 33lb.
The price of the complete bicycle will be $1,490
The 'Superba' will be at Harris Cyclery by May 2011. There will be 12 bicycles available. Harris Cyclery will take pre-orders with a non-refundable $300 deposit. If you would like to pre-order, please contact Elton Pope-Lance at 'elton[at]harriscyclery[dot]net'. I believe that
Will you like this bicycle?
As someone who does not believe in "the" perfect bicycle, I can only say that it depends. What are you looking for? What features please or disappoint you in your current or previous bicycle? Or are you just looking for something different? Bella Ciao bicycles are light, elegant, nimble, and easy uphill. They are also comfortable and very simple. If you live in a hilly area and struggle with a Dutch or English Roadster-style bike, a Bella Ciao could be the perfect solution. However, if you need to transport 50lb of groceries and two children as part of your daily routine, I think there are more appropriate options. You might also find it helpful to read this post, comparing the different categories of upright bikes that are currently out there.
[edited to add:] As for my version of the bicycle specifically, please understand that it is exactly that - my version. Obviously it will not suit everyone's tastes, but I hope it will appeal to a dozen people in North America who cannot find what they are looking for elsewhere. If there is popular demand for an alternative version (non-coaster brake, diamond frame, etc), there could be another batch later. Also, for those interested in the standard production Bella Ciao models, there is a possibility that Harris Cyclery may be selling them in future - please express your interest to them directly.
I will post pictures once the 'Superba' prototype is built up, but realistically that will not be for at least another month. I will also write in more detail about being involved in this project, as some might find it interesting to know more about the industry. This has certainly been an educational experience for me so far, and I hope you like the end result. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.