By Paolo Facchinetti and Guido P. Rubino
Size: 9.5×11.75 inches (24×30 cm)
Photos: about 300, color and B&W
Source: website, bookstores, bike shops
How obtained: review copy
RBR advertiser: no
Campagnolo: 75 Years of Cycling Passionis exactly what it sounds and looks like, a coffee table book commemorating Campagnolo’s contribution to cycling from its beginning in the back room of the family hardware store to today. It’s the story of founder Tullio Campagnolo and his ingenious inventions and ideas that helped define road bicycles as we know them today.
These include the original quick-release hub, a derailleur that really worked, bringing space-age materials and quality control to cycling, complete integrated component groups that finally optimized shifting and braking performance, and some surprises — super-light magnesium wheels for Formula One cars (in 1964!) and body parts for a NASA satellite. It’s all depicted in beautiful photos and illustrations, many vintage, and many of which this bike collector had never seen before.
It’s also the story of how Campagnolo and his products and shrewd marketing sense helped resurrect cycling in a destroyed Italy and Europe after World War II, then set new standards in racing bicycles in the years to come. And how the company, now under Tullio’s son Valentino (Tullio died in 1983), continues to promote and influence the sport as Campagnolo components and cycling race into the computer, carbon and maybe electronics age. Campy, like Shimano, has an electrically shifted drivetrain in the works.
In my opinion, the book is at its best when it’s describing Tullio and what he was like running his company. Alberto Masi of Masi Bicycles recalls, “I remember him as a volcano. Talking with my father, he’d take out a piece of paper and a pen and start drawing. . . . He had an idea every minute, and when he thought it was something important he’d do whatever it took. For example, Eddy Merckx had a Masi and was using Universal brakes. Two days before the world championship Campagnolo went to my father and said, ‘I made new brakes, you’ve got to put them on Merckx!'”
Also fascinating are the behind-the-scenes racing anecdotes. We learn that, especially in the early days of derailleurs, having the right components really did decide whether you won or lost, like Fausto Coppi‘s secret weapon in the 1950 Paris-Roubaix, a 5-speed Campagnolo drivetrain that let him ride off the front for the win. Another tale speculates how Merckx, who felt a strong allegiance to Tullio, may have conspired to stop a Shimano-equipped Freddy Maertens from winning the Barcelona Worlds in 1973 in order to keep Shimano off the podium.
Unfortunately — unlike Campagnolo components — Campagnolo the book suffers from pretty poor quality control.
There are some embarrassing mistakes likely related to the English translator (it was originally published in Italian). For instance, we’re told that Fiorenzi Magni, who raced the 1956 Giro with a broken collarbone, did so by tying an inner tube to the handlebar and gripping the end in his mouth. That isn’t what happened (it was handlebar tape) and wouldn’t even work because tubes stretch. And it says that Campagnolo made handlebars and Cinelli didn’t make frames.
There are other problems, such as a missing page or section that should begin the Merckx chapter; some glaring bicycle history factual errors; a misplaced timeline of the derailleur (it should have been with the gearing chapter); and some strange redundancies. It’s as if the book was written by committee and no one checked the other person’s work to see what he wrote about.
Still, unless you have a key to the Campy archives, you won’t find the stories in this book and the vintage photos and illustrations anywhere else. If you have an interest in Campagnolo or the history of cycling, I think it’s well worth the asking price and that you’ll enjoy owning and reading it, even with its shortcomings.
Be aware, though, that this isn’t a comprehensive history of Campagnolo and all its products and accomplishments. We’re going to have to wait for that.