My Italian Affair

by: Guri Randhawa @The_PRW
December 31st, 2014

Back in July I had the honour and privilege of being invited by Wilier to visit their headquarters in Italy. The purpose of the trip was to test the new Zero 7 to be launched this coming season and also get a sneak peek at other 2015 products. July is a crazy time at the shop but I could not pass up an invite of this caliber. Riding in Italy for a week? SIGN ME UP.

Myself along with select International dealers from Canada, Australia, Japan, Korea, China, and Spain were put up in an amazing resort/spa for our stay. The International mix made for some interesting conversations over a (couple) beer and wine, the perfect backdrop to a Euro reality show. The food was typical Italian, which equates to great wine with a hint of amazing and hospitality fit for royalty. It was a 5 star trip to bike nerdom.

So besides drink and eat what else did I do? Well I got to ride some amazing terrain on an amazing bike, spent a lot of time just hanging out with the owners of Wilier and their importers and engineers. Not many bike brand owners would spend a week having Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner with shop owners. Yes the atmosphere supports their undivided attention, allowing them to fill your brain with product info but at no time did I feel like I was getting the hard sell. If anything it was the complete opposite. They wanted to know about our market and clientele. Some of the best conversations I had with the owners were late night poolside over some cocktails, Cinzano truth serum.

After the few days of testing product we were transported to Trento so we could participate in the Charly Gaul Fondo which Wilier was a sponsor of. If you have never done a Fondo in Europe you are missing out. This was the qualifier for Master Worlds and part of the UCI tour. We are talking full teams here, camera motorbikes, helicopters and all. It’s a bigger deal than most Pro races in Canada. Climbing, climbing and more climbing to finally finish on Monte Bondone, which was used in the Giro in 1956 and 2006. The 6 o’clock wake up call came way too early, as with most nights it was a late one prior. Had our breakfast washed down with a few espressos and off to the starting grid in the town square. Being a part of the Wilier Corporate Team allowed us a first row start, something that was nice but a little freaky as well. Some Euro looking pro’s wondering how I earned that start spot. Once they fired the gun it was the Thunder Dome. No piano pace it was 50-60 km off the start and these legs took awhile to grab a train that I could even hold or trust.

I thought to myself, “this will ease in once we hit the first climb.” Nope. Fortunately I did settle in and rode on some good wheels. The descents were another story, guys/gals bombing past you at 70-80 km/h. One guy came so close to me on a descent as he blew past that we touched elbows on a hairpin, he didn’t even flinch. Leading up to the last climb I got in a great group that pulled me along and once we hit the climb it whittled down and I came upon the guy who brushed my elbow on the descent prior. The man was fit, like ex pro fit. Road the last bit of the climb with him to the finish. As we got to the top and grabbed a bevy I turned to talk to him and noticed it was no other than Ex Cross World Champ Erwin Vervecken… I have met him before and he is one of the most approachable racers out there, a super nice guy. He now works for the UCI and one of his roles is to evaluate all the Fondo’s that make up the UCI tour. What better way than to ride them himself. Chatted for awhile about Cross and such and then he was off. All in all it was a good day for bicycle practice.

The next day we were off to what I believe is the ultimate cyclist pilgrimage, a visit to the Campagnolo Factory. Campy does not just hand out visitor passes to common folk like me. But luckily Wilier and Campagnolo are tight knit. I was granted a rare behind the scenes look at what they do and how they do it. It was only recently that Campagnolo started letting journalist into the facility for tours. The theft of intellectual property is huge, Ebay is full of fake frames from many Italian brands that are pretty much made of yesterdays newspaper. This is one of many reasons Campagnolo chooses to get everything made in Europe so they can better control and protect their manufacturing process. Walking through the facility is truly amazing with the technology used to make everything from chains to cranks. Some areas such as the carbon room is not open to public eyes, gotta protect some secrets. Seeing the various stages of the electronic EPS groupset was a highlight. Many forget that Campagnolo was working on and testing electronic shifting some 20 yrs ago. It got put on the back burner to develop 11 spd shifting before it was “officially” launched. The end of the tour was wrapped up with lunch in the staff cafeteria with all the employees. The lunch put most restaurants to shame in the choice and quality of fine Italian foods available to staff.

The last day of the trip was a visit to Wilier’s HQ where along with design and engineering, many bikes are assembled. The facility also houses a museum to show Wilier’s 100 + yrs of history. From Pantani’s bikes to Cunego’s, tonnes of race history and technology is present in one room. A lot of R&D is done there with prototyping performed with actual to scale replicas made out of low grade carbon to evaluate the design elements and compatibility with components and such. Things a CAD drawing can’t always predict or factor and sometimes you just need to see something in real life to judge how cool it really is. When we think of large manufacturing facilities in North America we picture a vast industrial area with no trees only buildings. Wilier is far from that; located in Rossano Veneto it is surrounded by farms and residential houses. Like many Italian businesses of old the owners typically lived near by and at the time of the visit one of the owners was building a new house for his family across the street. Old school. That’s what I really like about the brand and those behind it. A big company that feels like a family and still places value on the relationships they build and not just how many units they sell. When we started carrying Wilier over 13 years ago it was a name very few knew. Compare that to today and it is one of the top Italian bike brands in the world something we are proud to have helped co-create. With this growth the brand has still kept its unique identity and traditional values. I know the family on a first name bases by their choosing, something that is not that common in our industry where sometimes a shop is just another number. These traits are something I try to portray in the store day to day. Our customers are more like friends and as an owner I am always here to share insight on bikes or how to make a good Moscow Mule.

If all goes well I will return next year to experience a bit more of what Wilier and Italy has to offer. I love my job.

tagged:

Wilier, Campagnolo

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