Cyclists intone the name with reverence and affection: Campagnolo, or Campy for short.
Italian racer Tullio Campagnolo needed to change a flat tire during a race on a snowy mountain pass in the winter of 1927, but his frozen hands couldn't undo the screws that fastened the wheel to the frame. The experience led to the invention of the quick-release skewer, the story goes, and other bicycle parts followed.
By the 1960s, Campagnolo components were the standard of excellence for racers around the world. From about 1966 to 1986, Campy derailleurs, chainrings and the rest were "clearly the highest quality stuff available," according to Michael Kone, editor of Vintage Racing Bicycle Newsletter.
A virtual shrine to the Campagnolo company exists in Mitch Gitkind's basement in Westboro. A physician with a practice in Worcester, Gitkind is part collector, part broker of vintage European cycling parts, particularly Campy components from the company's heyday.
Campagnolo was eclipsed in the past decade by the influx of inexpensive, lightweight Japanese components, namely Shimano, that made indexed shifting the new standard. "Campy prices became out of sight for most people," said Gitkind, 35. "It became very exotic, almost. You might see it on a $3,000 De Rosa, and you could get Shimano Dura Ace, the top of the line, for half the price."
Campy makes indexed shifting systems now and continues to capture a share of the racing market, but it's the old parts that inspire worship -- and are appreciating in value.
For example, a top-of-the-line Super Record derailleur from the early 1980s that cost $80 or $90 new might go for $175 now if it's in good condition, "and it will be $200 plus soon," Kone said. "Just the crankarms go for about $150, without the chainrings," he added.
Doing business as Campy Rehab, Gitkind buys parts from old bikes going unused or being updated, and sometimes resells them to dealers such as Kone, owner of Bicycle Classics, a mail-order company that opened a store in Denver last spring. Kone's "primary business is older Campy, and we have about 1,000 people on our mailing list," he said.
For Gitkind, it's a hobby. "I'm not looking at it as a great business opportunity. To me it's just kind of fun to dig the stuff up," he said.
Even the old Campy catalogs are valuable, with their fractured English and glossy photos diagramming every bolt, spring and washer. Gitkind got a 1970s-vintage Catalogue N. 17 for $30 and has been offered $80 for it.
He likes it when he finds someone restoring a classic bike who needs something he has acquired. But some items he's keeping, in the locked glass display case in his basement -- part museum, part mechanic's shop -- or to put on his own Basso, which he rides every Tuesday evening with a group from Fritz's Bicycle Shop in Worcester.
Gitkind admires Campy's craftsmanship -- he points out tiny metal parts that are cast, not stamped -- and the durability of plain old steel. No titanium bolts for him. Campagnolo at its best "was really simplicity, and not to sound sentimental, but it's the beauty of the pieces themselves, the elegant swoops and curves and circles,'' Gitkind said.
Vintage bikes also make a more affordable hobby than, say, Ferraris, which also happen to fascinate him.
The jewel of the Campy inventory, one that Gitkind does not yet possess, is the 50th anniversary group, made in 1983. It's a set of components similar to the Super Record group but featuring gold accents along with the distinctive Campagnolo script logo. Only 15,000 sets were manufactured, each numbered. A used set in reasonable shape goes for as high as $1,200 to $1,600, Gitkind said.
"The story is that the company is in possession of the No. 1, and No. 2 is in the possession of the Pope," he said. "I think it's true."
Vintage bike aficionados are motivated by appreciation for quality and by nostalgia, Kone said. Many were coming of age in the 1970s when the Schwinn Paramount, a little flashy with a lot of chrome, was a top racing bike going for about $1,000, "and now they've come into their own financially and they can buy the bike they couldn't afford then," he said.
Gitkind bristles at the label "retrogrouch," cyclists' own tag for those who shun the latest gizmos, although he shares the Bridgestone Owners Bunch's adoration for all things retro: friction shifting, steel frames, wool clothing, leather saddles.
It's the "grouch" part that rankles, for he is not averse to technological advances. "I'm not against the new stuff, and if I raced, I'd need it," Gitkind said.
"The technology is infinite, but some of it I don't think will really catch on," he said, waving a Super Record crankset for emphasis, "whereas this is timeless."
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