A Raven Flies Through the City: The Bella Ciao Corvo Citta Donna

A couple of weeks ago I received a Bella Ciao bicycle as part of a work-related trade. I have never been compensated for anything in bicycle before, but I think I could get used to this if absolutely forced to (at least for the benefit of providing test ride reports for my readers, right?). The bike was assembled with my preferences in mind, and I was invited to offer an honest critique.

The bicycle is a Bella Ciao "Corvo Citta Donna". The model name translates into something like "urban raven" and donna indicates that it is the lady's version. The colour (chosen by me) is "verde arsenale" - a pastel army green. Half a dozen other colours are available as well. The "Corvo Citta" models can be ordered as single speeds, 3-speeds, or 7/8-speeds, with or without coaster brake. I asked for a 3-speed coasterbrake version.  The accessories are either honey or black, depending on the frame colour, and mine came with the black accessories package.

Bella Ciao frames are individually hand-made (brazed and lugged) by a small family-owned manufacturer in Northern Italy that has been building frames for generations. The standard models are cro-moly steel, though there are also limited editions made of Columbus tubing. Standard features on the Corvo Citta Donna include the classic Italian frame construction, 700C wheels with alloy rims, body-coloured fenders, an enclosed chaincase with a rear opening, leather saddle and grips, rear reflector, and a brass bell.

The frame is made in size 54cm (21.5") only, measured the "standard" way. This is an important point, especially if you are trying to compare the Bella Ciao to the Abici, whose sizing is measured differently. I would say that the Bella Ciao frame is slightly larger than the bigger of the two Abici frames.

With its hardy tubing, modest lugwork, and thick powdercoating, the "Corvo Citta" is attractive, but decidedly utilitarian.

It is not a delicate bicycle by any means; the frame feels as if it can take anything that life has to offfer.

The lugged fork crown warms my heart; very nicely done. And look at the body-coloured cable guide braze-ons.

The only part of the frame that is not lugged, is the connector between the curved top tube and downtube. But if I have to choose between this and the fork crown, the latter is infinitely more important to me. (The connector on my Pashley was not lugged either.)

I like the elegant chaincase, and the interesting thing, is that despite being steel it is absolutely silent.

Somewhat disappointing though, was the choice of the Shimano 3-speed hub and gear shifter for such a classic bicycle. The Shimano certainly works fine, but the excruciatingly high-tech looks of the hub and shifter disrupt the bicycle's classic charm. Personally, I feel it would have been better to use the Sturmey Archer hub and shifter on these bikes - though I suspect others will disagree.

The Bella Ciao has straight fork ends, which I prefer on an internally geared hub bicycle. There are also chain tensioners installed - a detail the Co-Habitatant found especially exciting.

The bicycle arrived to me with a Brooks B17S saddle, but I immediately replaced it with a B72. I am not sure why both Bella Ciao and Abici use B17 saddles on their city bikes, but I think they need to rethink this choice - it is not an appropriate model for an upright ride, especially for women. The B72, on the other hand, feels absolutely at home here.

As long as I am doling out criticism, I will also mention my perplexity over the choice of brake lever: I believe it may be an interruptor lever, because it is very short. The Tektro front caliper brake provides excellent stopping power and the lever is squeezable, but it's just not the right one for this type of bicycle. A normal, full-size city lever would be more suitable.

The minimal insignia on the Bella Ciao include a small headbadge on the head tube featuring the black raven logo,  the "Corvo Citta" model name inscription near the bottom bracket, and a "fatto a mano in Italia" sticker on the seat tube.

And one thing I should definitely mention is the handlebars - which are proprietary Bella Ciao. They are shaped similarly to Porteur handlebars, but with just a tad more flare-out to them. The shape is super comfortable for my hands and seems perfectly matched to this bicycle's geometry.

Moving on to ride quality... The most notable sensation I got from the Bella Ciao, was that it did not feel like a new bicycle. It felt very familiar, like an old bike that I have always owned. Lovers of classic bicycles complain that "there is no such thing anymore as a simple, well-made, lugged steel 3-speed bike". Well, I think the Bella Ciao is exactly that. It is easy. It is comfortable. It is uncomplicated. It is not as laid back as a Dutch bike, but definitely not too sporty either (more relaxed than an Abici).  It is maneuverable but unaggressive. It is just a bike. A very nice bike that anybody can ride, and that is light enough for anybody to lift.

When a bicycle is this easy, comfortable and undemanding, you end up riding it all the time... which, ironically, ushers in my next complaint: Where are the lights? And more importantly, where is the rack? I would love to ride the Bella Ciao regularly for transportation, but there is nowhere to attach my bag and all the other stuff I take along, which is frustrating. The design of the bicycle will accommodate the VO Constructeur rear rack, and when I have the money I might get one. But I think that a rack in the style you see on some of these bicycles would be more appropriate. Anybody know where I could source one?

The Bella Ciao "Corvo Citta Donna" might just be the closest I have tried to an "all around, normal" bike out there today among classic lugged bicycles. And that was rather unexpected, given the quirkiness of the manufacturer's self-presentation. Free-association collages, stories of resistance against fascism - it is enough to raise the eyebrows of some and to make others wonder whether Bella Ciao is in reality a contemporary art project rather than a real bicycle company. Well, I suppose there is no reason it can't be both...

Though currently only sold in the EU, Bella Ciao is considering North American distributors and the bicycles may be available for sale in the US sometime in 2011. The Corvo Citta Donna would certainly be welcomed by women looking for more options in classic city bicycles.


  1. I like the ride of Italian city bikes based on my limited experience with Robert. It's more aggressive than a dutch bike, but slightly more laid back than a Raleigh sports. The Raleigh sports (like Gilbert) is the closest I've found to the ride, but it's a tiny bit more aggressive, especially in turning.
    And I love the "army green"

  2. cycler - It's funny that you mention the Raleigh Sports, because that is exactly the comparison I would make. A Raleigh Lady's Sports, only lighter, with 700C wheels and excellent braking power. The Bella Ciao is just as aggressive though, not less. (You are welcome to try the bike BTW!)

  3. http://www.amsterdamer.fr

    I saw some interesting accessories here and maybe one of these rear racks could match (or be altered to match) that bicycle. However I don't know if they accept orders from overseas.

  4. That is one nice looking bike, and the fact that it felt "like home" right away means this is a bike for you!!

  5. Jazzboy - Hmm, I don't see that style in their "Porte-bagages arrière" section. The style I mean is a very distinct type of rack, consisting of one continuous curve. Velorbis and Retrovelo offer it, for instance (see here), and I see them on old Austrian bikes all the time - just never sold individually in stores.

  6. I should add that this is the first production single cog bike I've seen with a properly tensioned chain, and excellent (not just decorative) chain tensioners. It has a very clever, completely silent (due to properly tensioned chain but also thanks to great design) chain case. Superbly done.

    The high bottom bracket with ample space for the rear wheel is excellent. I didn't even have to cut-down the kickstand. The chain stays are long, wonderful. You could fit a pump behind the seat tube. The fender clearances are great.

    The bike feels very solid and you could pick it up and bounce it off the floor without hearing any noise. I think Velouria reports that the bumps are felt on this bike, and I noticed that the front end is a little light in the steering, but maybe that's just me. She thinks the bike is super stable, so apparently Bella Ciao did the right thing with the geometry.

    My usual comments with regard to ugly modern cranks (and also pedals here) apply, but I am beginning to accept that as a consequence of keeping production price affordable. The headset could be a little more elegant (Tange is great inexpensive option), but I have no idea what brand Bella Ciao used and whether it is a good one.

    If I may: Bella Ciao--please pre-bend your front fender before you ship the bike (or better yet before you paint it) because installing the fender as-is is tough and it interferes with the front brake until I bend it in the fork, which is hard to do with a steel fender (and thus should be done @ the factory in controlled conditions). As Velouria mentioned above, the interruptor brake lever with a MTB->Road shim is bit silly.

  7. MDI - Regarding bumps: I feel the bumps on this bike more than on the Gazelle, about the same as I did on my Pashley, and less than I did on the Abici I test-rode. I wonder whether some nice Delta Cruisers would impr.... (no! no more Delta Cruisers, enough!)

  8. She is a true beauty! As for those single piece curved racks, I ran across a rear rack as you describe here:


    Strangely, these racks are meant to go on American-style cruiser bicycles sold in Spain!

  9. Good deal! I could see getting compensated in bicycles for work. Great color too. I love olive-ish greens.

  10. Amanda - Thanks, that's the one! (And strange indeed that it is from a Spanish company selling American cruisers!)

    Amy - The colour makes me feel as if I am riding an army bike... though I don't think those were ever made with step-through frames : )

  11. MDI - I think you're wrong about the cranks. I know that at least in Germany, you can order classic steel cranks (like the ones on modern Pashleys) for 15 euros.

  12. Herzog--wrong in what sense?

    I think Becca Ciao is concerned with weight, hence the ugly alloy cranks. Pashley uses similarly ugly cranks on their Guv'nor model. Uh, my eyes after seeing them.

  13. I like the looks of this bike, and the color is lovely--it looks like a very peaceful green to me, more artichoke than army! But I can't quite adapt to the curve of the top tubes on these Italian bikes--very distinctive but more angular and paper-clippy. And my one other design wish with many of the newer bikes with chain cases--I wish they looked more "complete" and not as if someone had snipped off the end. I've always loved the look of a complete chain case--or even a traditional chainguard that neatly follows the curved path of the chain. But it's still lovely--needless to say, you're lucky to be able to test ride all of these bikes!

  14. Okay, I have received a couple of emails asking specific questions about Bella Ciao - Abici differences. I will summarise them here, so that I can just point readers to this info:

    frame geometry:
    Bella Ciao is more relaxed, Abici is more aggressive. Not a huge difference, but noticeable.

    frame construction and lugwork:
    Bella Ciao has a lugged fork crown; Abici has a unicrown fork. Bella Ciao has straight fork ends with chain tensioners in the rear; Abici has derailleur-style dropouts. The seat clusters are different, and Abici's top-to-downtube connector is lugged, but not Bella Ciao's.

    frame sizing:
    Abici and Bella Ciao use different sizing systems. Bella Ciao's 54cm frame is in fact slightly larger than Abici's 56cm frame.

    Abici's and Bella Ciao's chaincases are different. See here vs here.

    Abici's handlebars are similar to North Roads. Bella Ciao's resemble Porteur bars.

    Abici's are retro-marbled plastic. Bella Ciao's are a padded synthetic/leather blend.

    Abici uses Sturmey Archer for their 3-speeds. Bella Ciao *I believe* will be offering a choice between Shimano and Sturmey Archer. My bike has a Shimano hub and shifters.

    Abici has no headbadge; they have a sticker on the chaincase. Bella Ciao has a small headbadge.

    about the same, as far as I could tell

    Hope this helps. I think the two are different bikes, despite their looks being superficially similar. Geometry and ride quality are the main differences, since that can't be changed about the bikes no matter what.

  15. Very informative review for a very elegant bike. Lovely photos.

  16. All this perfection, and it only weighs 14 kg according to the website. Very, very impressive. Velouria, is this the best paycheck you've ever had!?

  17. I think Germans weigh their bikes for "spec" without saddles, pedals and who knows what else (maybe single speed?). Realistically, it's around 35-37 lbs.

  18. MDI - have to disagree with you; even if the saddle & pedals were unaccounted for (which we do not know for sure is the case) I'd say it's 33lb tops with them on.

    Carinthia - Quite : ) Now which of my bikes will be sold off to pay the rent? (Anybody need a vintage Reynolds 351 Trek? Oh, don't cry Seymour! Stiff upper lip!..)

  19. Johnny Loco is a Dutch company based in Amsterdam - which just happens to have also a Spanish version of their website. But I think their rear carrier would be a bit too crude for the Bella Ciao. I'll have a look for a more elegant solution.

  20. Straying off the subject, keeping only to green, I am noticing a missing green in your collection....... http://www.cyclingnews.com/features/photos/north-american-handmade-bicycle-show-2010-part-six/109192haps
    Perhaps this should be the next green?

  21. I am going to buy you guys a bike scale, so you can post actual weights ;)

  22. If I were to muse on the projected arc of your bicycle flings, acquistions and de-accessionings, I would guess that after acquiring a fleet of different and interesting bicycles, the urge towards minimalism may set in, and that the idea of the simple, does many things well bike will be more appealing than a specific bike for each activity. In the end, if you have one or two great bikes that between them do most things, life becomes less not more complicated, and the bike becomes the means to the end--the uncomplicated life. Just a thought. Seems as though this might be a contender. And who else in Boston will have this shade of green, which seems to perfectly match the background wallpaper of your blog?

  23. i agree, the chain tensioners are very nice on this bike!

    the nice thing about the chaincase that doesn't go quite to the end is that it makes removing the rear wheel so much easier!

    i'm surprised the bike weighs in as high as you state, given the chromoly frame material, and presumably aluminum rims. are the fenders steel or plastic? i think it's about time you finally bought a digital hanging scale so you and MDI don't have to disagree over these little details :-).

    as for the cranks, is should be easy to find more vintage-y looking ones, probably used, to replace them.

    so this one's a keeper? and what's your reasoning behind considering selling off the trek? it's a totally different type of bike... i would expect you to sell off a more similar bike... like the DL1.

  24. MDI - I forgot to think about the weight! (Surprise, surprise.) :)

  25. hi velouria, hi all.

    thanks for the detailed review, the interesting discussion and some extremely lovely pictures of our BELLA CIAO Corvo Città Donna.

    if i may, i would like to comment on a couple of points:
    firstly i'd like to clarify some misunderstandings. for a number of reasons we do not plan to change over to Sturmey Archer gear hubs instead of Shimano. we are strongly convinced of Shimano’s qualities regarding reliability and maintenance. and there is something else too: Shimano hubs allow shifting of gears when the bike is standing still. and this i believe is a big plus compared to S-A.

    we are however, testing a promising and rather unique S-A hub at present which might be used in a special model in the future.

    concerning the Brooks B17 compared to the B72... well, as many things, this in the end comes down to a question of philosophy and personal taste. when one looks into the market in Europe the B17 is clearly the more widely accepted saddle, but - more importantly - the ladies of the gents at BELLA CIAO voted for the B17. what then can we do?

    as for your surprise with the Tektro brake lever... - we are always happy to surprise!

    MDI, hi, good talking to you! headsets on the Corvo Città are Neco. Tange headsets are indeed used in a number of other models. - as for the front fender... sorry for causing you some extra work! usually our bikes are shipped fully assembled. in this case we made an exception your co-habitat kind of had agreed to...

    FYI – as in a previous post the prices for this bike have been discussed - Corvo Città Donna in the Euro zone is EUR 745,- as single speed and EUR 845,- with Shimano Nexus3 hub. – light sets with hub dynamo system are optional, starting at an additional EUR 50,--
    racks are also available whereas not yet displayed on our website.

    thanks again velouria for straightforward feedback. - we at BELLA CIAO would be extremely glad to see it in your service for many long and happy years. we know the Corvo Città certainly is ready for it...

    thanks also for this precious blog in general. you know how much we like it.

  26. Hey - just because *some people*'s Pashley Roadster weighs 185lbs and they think 10lb give or take is nothing on a bike, does not mean my petite female readers have the same blase attitude!

    But in all seriousness: weight does matter to me and to many ladies I know, because it can be difficult to carry a bicycle up and down the stairs if that bicycle is half our weight. In that sense, 50lb is too much for my comfort. I can do it, but I don't enjoy owning the bike. Maybe when I have a house with a barn and I can just wheel the thing out, it will be realistic, but not now. 30lbs, on the other hand, is an enormously different feeling. To a 200lb man with good upper body strength it might be a marginal difference, but not to me.

  27. Thanks jens and I hope my rantings against Shimano hubs and short brake levers did not offend. For what it's worth, these things are integrated/disguised on your bikes better than on others I have seen : ) Oh, and you misunderstood MDI about the fender; I will email you about it to clarify.

  28. "To a 200lb man with good upper body strength . . ."

    I'm out.

    "i'm surprised the bike weighs in as high as you state, given the chromoly frame material. . ."

    Steel weighs what steel weighs, whether 1020 or 4130. Racing bikes and the racing wannabe bikes take advantage of the extra stiffness of 4130 to make the bike lighter by using LESS steel - at considerable sacrifice of durability and longevity.

    Personally I think a city bike needs as much steel as a city bike needs to stand decades of rough and tumble without getting all dinged up or cracking a down tube (the extra stiffness of 4130 comes at the cost of extra brittleness); and if Bella Ciao have opted not to use silly thin tubing gauges on their 4130 frames despite the extra weight I can only applaud them for it.

  29. kfg-- with all due respect, i understand that steel is steel and weighs what it weighs. i also understand that chromoly bike frames are generally lighter because they use thinner tubing than is required to achieve the same strength with the softer, "hi-ten" steel from which many lower-end bike are made. but it still doesn't jibe with me why a city bike with chromoly frame (even straight-gauged, which this bike presumably is) and aluminum components should weigh 35lb. please explain, then, why my bike friday tandem, with enormously oversized chromoly straight-gauge tubing (designed to carry 400+ lb), two cranksets, four pedals, two saddles, two stems, and two handlebars... and a rack, weighs in at about 43lb?

    i could understand a 35lb chromoly city bike if it were outfitted with full city kit, including lights and racks, bu considering that this bike isn't even fully equipped yet, i still maintain that the weight seems high.

    "Racing bikes and the racing wannabe bikes take advantage of the extra stiffness of 4130 to make the bike lighter by using LESS steel - at considerable sacrifice of durability and longevity."

    what about full loaded touring bikes? the better ones use double-butted chromoly, with slightly thicker tubing to withstand the extra weight of touring gear. yet, the weight difference amounts to a few ounces... not pounds. the fact is, you can make a chromoly bike as strong and durable as a hi-ten bike while shaving a good 5 lb off the weight.

    i guess i wouldn't have raised this point in the first place if bella ciao didn't specifically choose the word "lightweight" as the very first word in their specifications for this bike :-). without giving an actual value (what is "lightweight"?), it's misleading at best, deceptive at worst.

  30. jens--I am sorry that you misunderstood me. What I meant to say is:

    On bikes with steel fenders, the front fender is typically crimped at the factory because they can do it better than a bike shop can (or than I can at home) and they can do it before the fender is even painted. This way they can get the bend right for a perfect fender line. Aluminum fenders (like Honjos) may come without a bend because it's easy to do against the fork, but it's much harder to perfectly bend a steel fender without creasing it in a way that's not perfect. That's all I meant--It's however not a major thing, so I don't want to direct anyone's attention to this needlessly.

    Oh, and while I think many people now think that Shimano hubs have superior quality to the "new" Sturmey Archers, you should probably know that the ability to shift gears while the bike is standing still is not unique to Shimano.

    Lest you think I am criticizing, did you also read the parts where I mentioned how nice we thought your bike is, and how well put together the drive train/chain/chaincase is? It's a beautiful bike.

  31. somervillain--the Bella Ciao is light! And 35lbs is light for a city bike with steel fenders, where have you seen a lighter city bike anywhere?

  32. somervillain - This bicycle has steel fenders and a steel chaincase.

    To augment my earlier comment about weight: I think 30-40lb is pretty much the perfect weight range for city/transport bicycles designed for women. And just as I wouldn't be comfortable with a super-heavy bike, I also would not want something considerably lighter than this range. When it comes to upright city bicycles, there are benefits to a heavier bike that have been discussed ad nauseum, and I am a believer in those benefits.

    Yet another point, is that the balance of a bicycle can be just as, if not more important than the weight itself. Not to keep ragging on my dearly departed Pashley Princess, but there was something about that beauty that made her *very* challenging for me to pick up and carry, even though the weight was 45lbs - which is not entirely outrageous. My Gazelle is actually a slightly heavier bike, but I find her easier to wield.

  33. Lest anybody get the wrong impression from some of my recent comments, if somebody invents a material with the properties of 4130 steel that costs less than 1020 and weighs just a bit more than helium (so as not to have to tether the bike to the lawn) - I'll be standing in the line for some of that stuff.

  34. Shimano vs Sturmey Archer--I am glad this bike is not another faux vintage bicycle but a relevant and elegant bike with modern components.

    And just think of all the wonderful Italian naming choices...Adriana, Alessia, Alessandra, ...just to start with the As.

  35. Anon - My bicycle's name is Patricia Imel. German pronunciation on both.

    Re SA vs Shimano hubs and shifters. I expected that some of my readers would criticise my criticism of the Shimano choice. I think either preference is valid, and it is just a matter of taste. Personally, I prefer not just the looks, but the feel of the SA trigger shifter. Shimano twist shifters feel too rubbery/plasticky for me, and I also dislike it that they necessitate shortening the grip area on the right handlebar.

    Having said that, if I were founding an imaginary bicycle company (let's call it Ideal Bicycle Co), I would give customers I choice between the two hub & shifter packages.

  36. i guess the steel fenders contribute weight. i can see how the decision for steel fenders was based on durability and dent-resistance, but personally i would prefer powder coated aluminum, simply for the weight savings. and lest people think i am a "weight weenie", i have a very valid concern for bicycle weight: i have to carry my bikes up 17 steps each and every time i come home. and most of the time, i have to carry some form of cargo up those stairs as well.

    right now, my "city converted" touring bike (with front and rear racks, wald basket, aluminum fenders, and heavy duty 40 spoke touring rims/hubs, front and rear battery lights, and 3x7 derailleur drivetrain), clocks in at about 31 lbs. in many ways it is the perfect "city" bike because it was built to carry loads and its wheelset is very durable for city streets. i don't necessarily buy into the argument that a bike can be too light to ride stably, as this bike is far more stable than other "heavyweight" city bikes i've owned. if its tubing is more vulnerable to getting dinged by abusive city living (which i'm skeptical of), so be it-- the weight savings is worth it to me. others may not care as much about weight, but for me it's a significant factor in any bike consideration. it's one of the reasons i sold my 46lb dutch bike and rarely ride my 50lb raleigh DL1.

    kfg-- no one needs to reinvent the wheel just to create a robust, lightweight (30 lb) city bike. it's been done, and i think it should be feasible at the price point of this bike.

  37. "no one needs to reinvent the wheel"

    The point I was trying to make was that I am not ADVOCATING weight.

    "i think it should be feasible at the price point of this bike."

    It's perfectly feasible. In fact, 25 would be quite easy and 20 doable. Pacific could do it and retail it for a hundred bucks.

  38. MDI, you know how it is... when you make things, you make decissions - often complex ones - and then you move on from there. shimano vs sturmey archer... , hey, i like that the discussion is coming up here and on next occasion we will give S-A and others another close look again. - in general though we think, there is a fine magic about industry standards - about those kind of products or components by which a whole industry is measured. there is to the right of them and there is to the left of them and there is always greenwich mean time. greenwich mean time is where the true classics are. and this is kind of what we are looking for and this is kind of what fascinates us.

  39. It is a beautiful bicycle but stops just shy of being excellent for its range.

    The aesthetically poor choice of brake lever and the manufacturing shortcut of not fitting the front fender until after manufacturing are the main problems for me. After the care it appears they took in creating the frame, the issue with the fender seems sloppy.

    The fact it comes with chain tensioners is a nice thoughtful touch too seldom seen.

    Ideally, I would like to see a heavier sprung saddle, a longer, more elegant brake lever, a SA hub due to the shifter design and parts manufacturing completed before the bike is assembled.

    I strongly disagree with the statement that a SA hub implies a faux vintage bike. If so, the use of a leather saddle, steel fenders, an upright position, and chaincase would imply the same as well.
    Some designs of a bike just do not change that much and the SA hub has had little need to make major changes.
    Good designs last. Viewing them as a venue for creating a faux vintage is misdirected.

  40. Though I am somewhat surprised by the heated turn the discussion here has taken, I have to say that it's pretty exciting to see this type of dialogue about a 3 speed lady's bike. A few years ago, nobody would have cared one way or the other; this would not even be on the radar of what was considered important or interesting in the industry. I think this pretty much illustrates what motivates me to keep Lovely Bicycle going.

    I also applaud Jens (one of the founders of Bella Ciao) for getting involved in the dialogue. I hope you are not put off by any of our critical comments. We all have our own ideas of where the Greenwich Mean lies, and ultimately it is your company and your vision. All things considered, I love the bike and wish it was sold in the US when I was shopping for my first bicycle a year and a half ago. And the Co-Habitant was impressed as well, which is considerably out of character on his part : )

  41. ". . . the heated turn the discussion here has taken"

    Bearing in mind that some of the heat is residual from something else that hasn't had a chance to cool down yet. Presumably this too shall pass.

    " . . . a 3 speed lady's bike."

    Well, to be honest, I keep imagining it taking off it's gears.

  42. ". . . the heated turn the discussion here has taken"

    it's the heat of the rim brakes, pulling all that extra weight to a stop :)

  43. Oh you people are very naughty.

    But speaking once again of weight: One other thing I forgot to mention, as this review was already too long, is that the "Frascona curve" has the unexpected benefit of making the bicycle very easy to lift - by the rear, "loopy" part of the top tube. It must be a weight distribution thing, because I was never able to lift the Pashley by the loopy part, and the Dutch bikes don't seem to like it either.

  44. Anon to Anon...what I meant about the SA hub is not that I think it should not be used but that there is no need to be a slave to "the way it was" if there are equally valid or preferable current choices. I am not a fan of bicycles that self-consciously copy an era when they could instead keep evolving. I think this is one of the things that makes Italy alluring as a place: it has not made itself a pastiche of the Renaissance but continues to forge an artistic identity for itself that is current and valid.

    Anon to Velouria--she does not even get an Italian middle name ? unfair with those curves!

  45. Evolution is not progress. Sturmey Archer hubs are not the way they were.

  46. why the B72 saddle and not a B67 ? Just curious. I'm debating which one to get for myself.

  47. Speaking of racks, on these bikes, how much do they typically hold? When I was looking at bikes a few years ago, I noticed that most of the racks were attached to the frame below the seat and then to a little piece of metal a few inches above the hub, so they could only hold 20-40 pounds. I was used to the bikes in the Netherlands, where the rack was attached to the hub, the spokes on the rear tire were more heavy duty, and as a result, the rack was strong enough to hold a the weight of a person. Is that design feature coming over now as well?

  48. Anon 8:27 - Patricia/Patrizia is an Italian name too. Imel is after the bicycle's father's family. She needs to remember where she came from.

    Anon 10:52 - Good question regarding the saddles. The B72 worked so well on my mixte, that I thought it would work here as well. The B66/67 seems more appropriate for super-relaxed Dutch bikes and English roadsters. But you know, these things are so subjective...

    Melissa - I think those heavy duty racks need an equally heavy-duty Dutch bike to accommodate them. The frame on these bikes is probably best suited for the racks that can bear <50lb loads.

  49. I think the ideal would be a Roadster built with light tubing - now I was able to transform my Pashley Guvnor into one and its still a good ride with all the added weight. I believe Reynolds 531 is superior to the traditional hi-ten tubing used in Pashley's Roadster line like the Soverign and Princess.

    Of course, that makes the bike still more expensive.

  50. Norman, I think I read about your Guv'Nor-into-Roadster account some time ago after I bought my Pashley. It's certainly an extravagant way to do it.

    I rode the Guv'nor a bit and own the hi-ten Roadster. I often considered what it would be like if I used the Guv'nor's frame as you did. It lacks a few small things (mainly dynamo + fork wire routing, 3-speed vs 5-speed, a couple braze-ons here and there, kickstand plate, etc.), but I think it wouldn't be too hard to outfit with the same stuff as my Roadster, albeit in a 3-speed version and with battery lights. But if I don't purposely use lighter components (in order to make it still look like a Pashley), I wonder what the final weight savings due to frame material (and lighter hubs) would be, perhaps you can tell me about your ride?

    One concern I have is that hi-ten is tested frame material for these roadsters, and I am not a light rider and sometimes carry heavy stuff on it over bumps.

  51. "One concern I have is that hi-ten is tested frame material for these roadsters . . ."

    So is 531. It is also tested in high performance automobiles and fighter/aerobatic aircraft, BUT - it is heavier 531, perhaps just as heavy as the hi-ten.

  52. That looks like a beautiful bike. Besides asthetics, there are several practical reasons why this might be a good ride. First is the light weight tubing. Second is the front rim brake. I purchased a very heavy Dutch bike about a year ago, but wound up not keeping it because, thanks to the high tensile steel tubing, it was just too heavy to ride more than 6 or 7 miles and, living in hilly SW Portland, the roller brakes were not strong enough to slow the bike when it was loaded with groceries. I have also owned a vintage Raleigh. This bike was much lighter than the Dutch bike, had decent brakes (with an rim rebuild) and a wonderful ride. Between the newer technology components, light weight and rim brakes, this Italian beauty looks very promissing. The were many things about the Dutch Oma bike I liked, not the least of which was the high quality. But in the end, it didn't fulfill my needs.

  53. I should add that the rims on this bike are polished to a mirror glass finish! I admit that when I first saw them I exclaimed "What--no--steel rims?!" but sure enough it is just nicely done alloy. I need to pull the tire off one day to examine the rim inside, but I suspect it's a double-walled construction, has washers around the spoke holes and it looks and feels like a fairly high quality rim. It's made in Germany.

  54. Anon - I agree with you in many ways. I have a semi-vintage Gazelle from the 1990s with a coaster brake and a front drum brake, and the front brake is almost decorative. Same story with a 2009 Pashley I used to own, and with a heavy "Waffenrad" bike I rode in Austria. I have to say that the 90mm front drum brake I tried on a bike recently was much, much better than the standard 70mm brakes - but I am not sure that the weight is worth it. Front caliper + alloy rim is a good way to go, IMO.

  55. the thing about drum (or "roller") brakes is that they really are preferred for long, sustained braking with a very heavy load. the reason is that the friction from any type of brake generates heat. on rim brakes, this heat is conducted through the rim and into the tube. we all know what happens when moist air heats up, right? lots of people have popped their tires from long, downhill descents on loaded bikes with rim brakes. it is for this reason that tandems often have roller brakes instead of rim brakes. however, drum brakes don't seem to have the same ability to stop a bike as quickly as a rim brake. i think the primary advantage really lies in the way the heat is dissipated. for regular city bikes that won't see long downhill descents carrying an extra 100 lbs of cargo, i don't see any compelling reason to have drum brakes (well, okay, they are also more weather resistant than rim brakes and keep the rims cleaner, but these are only a minor advantages).

  56. somervillain said...
    "for regular city bikes that won't see long downhill descents carrying an extra 100 lbs of cargo, i don't see any compelling reason to have drum brakes"

    That pretty much summarises the conclusion I have come to after owning several bikes with each type of front brake.

    For me, however, on an upright city bike the front brake does not really matter and I use it only when stopped at intersections, to keep the bike from rolling forward. Otherwise, it's coasterbrake for me. But by "upright" bike I mean relaxed loop frames and step-throughs only, not the more aggressive mixtes. On the latter a front brake is essential.

  57. If I lived in a city where I had long descents and life punished me by regularly having to cycle these routes with 100 lbs of cargo, I'd probably want hi-end disc brakes and a good front fork. And a custom frame.

  58. MDI - I agree with that too - at least the disk brake part of it. As for going custom, I'd be very careful about getting a custom frame and fork with disk brakes - I've read and heard some horror stories. The builder needs to have a lot of experience specifically with disk brakes - ask for references of clients, etc. Otherwise, I'd go with a reputable production frame designed for disk brakes if I were getting them.

  59. Surely ANT, IF and Seven forks/frames can be trusted? :)

  60. I love my DL-1 better than any bicycle I have ever had, but sometimes it is too much bike and I want something simpler and more straight forward.
    I must admit I have some major bicycle lust for the Corvo Citta Uomo single speed in green(verde giardinin). That is one uncomplicated and elegant machine.

  61. I hope they do decide to sell in the US. I have looked at Abici in person, but prefer the seat stay attachment of the Bella Ciao Corvo, and that it comes in taller sizes which suit me better.

  62. a small correction: bella ciao is based in berlin, germany (the frames are manufactured in northern italy though). they don't make their own handle bars but the hand polish stock ones (thus the hefty price).

    a very nice blog - congrats.

    my approach on bikes: buy vintage ones w/ the right geometry and then build them up with the appropriate parts. i collect mostly road bikes from the 80ies (all with Columbus Sl or SLX tubing - you can't top this nowadays) but i have found a wonderful Motobecane frame made out of Reynold 531 with original Strongligh cranks and have found all the necessary parts on ebay. Berthoud makes wonderful 40mm fenders - the whole bike looks stunning. i can mail pictures later if you'd like.

    kind regards,

  63. Hi,

    I'm late to the party but have a newbie question, please. Between the Bella Ciao and the Pilen Lyx, which would you buy?

    I live by the sea in an area of paved and dirt roads, flat seawall and hills. I'm not especially fit so need help tackling the inclines, and think weight (the bike's, not mine) is a big factor. I'm eyeing off the 7- or 8-speed versions of both brands for this reason. My loads will never be more than a DSLR, lens, water bottle, and maybe a bag of groceries. I favour dresses over Lycra and the option to ride in normal clothes is important to me.

    Thanks in advance for your advice. I live in Australia so will have to factor in shipping too.


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