Monday morning started bright and early as we caught a train to take us from Rome to Campagnolo’s headquaters in Vicenza. It’s a good thing that we were on a high speed train as the cities are over 300 miles apart. Still exhausted after a busy weekend, we easily crashed on the train for the duration of the trip. Soon enough we were in Vicenza and ready to cruise the town. Quickly, we came upon this bike. Yes, we are in the land of Campy!
After being in the hustle of Rome, a more low-key stroll through Vicenza was a welcome change. Vicenza felt like a wonderful family town even though it is also Italy’s third-largest industrial center as measured by the value of its exports making it one of Italy’s wealthiest cities.
After a few hours of wandering the streets, we decided to head back to the hotel to meet up with the rest of our group for dinner. We were 100% convinced that we jumped on the right bus. Well, turns out that bus took us “somewhat” in the same vicinity of the hotel. However when the bus shut down to wait to get back on schedule and return to town, we realized that obviously we weren’t on the right bus. With my two words of Italian, I tried to communicate with the bus driver. Luckily between Google maps and many hand signals, he figured out where we needed to be. Everyone always seems to complain specifically about Italians and the French being rude when you don’t speak an ounce of their language. My experience has always been the exact opposite. As long as you try, usually everyone is happy to help. I am constantly amazed how far a smile and nervous laughter can get you.
Once we were back in town, the driver helped us get on the right bus to head back to the hotel. While waiting for the bus, we found out that one word apparently doesn’t translate from Italian to English very well. While checking out the ads at the bus stop, we found out there is a fairly successful band name “Pooh” that would soon be playing in Vicenza. Too bad we weren’t going to be in town on November 2.
The following day we toured the Campagnolo factory. We’ve seen several different manufacturing facilities in our day. Whether it is TIME’s RTM carbon facility or Pinarello’s paint facility in Italy, it is always impressive to see how each of the products we use out on the road are made and how much work is involved. In our visit to the Campagnolo factory we saw an immense amount of machinery and equipment dedicated to building bicycle components to carry on their 80-plus year old heritage. Unfortunately, I can’t share any photos inside the factory as they asked us not to photograph while inside.
One of the highlights of the tour was seeing the testing facility that is centrally housed within the factory. In this area Campagnolo does everything from running random quality control checks on current product to testing new products and prototypes to seeing how other brands’ stuff stands up and performs. We saw a few products that were obviously prototypes such as a new wheelset or a redesigned crankset. We saw some brand S parts and some of the other brand S stuff too. The most interesting part was how much testing they were doing with their electronic shifting group, or EPS. There were EPS drivetrains being tested in just about every capacity imaginable. They had batteries being tested at extreme temperatures and groupsets running in a humidity chamber or in a constant spray of a muddy sludge. They even had a groupset operating at one meter under water! Point taken that Campy tests this stuff to the extremes!
Another highlight was a timeline of the development of Campagnolo’s electronic shifting. In the entrance to the factory, they had a handful of actual prototypes on display ranging back to an 8 speed version in 1992. If you think of what cell phones or any personal electronic device looked like back then, you can only imagine how archaic an electronic groupset would have looked. While they say that the version released last season was the sixth iteration, it is hard to imagine that the design wasn’t constantly evolving.
Seeing how Campagnolo manufactures chains was amazing solely on the amount of equipment needed for what seems like such a commodity item. From machines to stamp each plate to the machines that sorts and orients the links for assembly, the automation was endless. There was a lot of steps along the way that were simply to double check that things had been done right. We all think that a chain is a simple piece, but in reality it is a collection of over 500 pieces and to get every link to behave perfectly is a necessity in today’s complex drivetrains. Now I know why Campagnolo’s chains are known for their durability and shifting performance.
Finally, we need to mention Dino from Campagnolo. He could not have been a more gracious host. Ryan and I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with him both in Rome & Vicenza. We even took a “selfie”. I can not believe that I am both using the word “selfie” and posting a “selfie”. But as they say “when in Rome”. Hopefully we can help him plan a camper tour for his family throughout the national parks of Utah next year.
At the end of a tremendous trip, it was apropos that on our last night in Vicenza we came upon the following in the main square. Celebrate Life with Joy. Thank you Campagnolo.