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Dispatch from Italy: Part III

2006 Pinarello and Opera Bike Sneak Peek

In time we came down from the foothills of Montello and rode the last km’s back to the hotel. Given that these would be the exact roads we’d take back to Treviso for the final miles of the Granfondo, I knew their flatness and the slight tailwind that accompanied them would be a big help. After cleaning up and eating lunch, I had the opportunity to review the 2006 Pinarello and Opera Bike bike line in detail. Normally, I wouldn’t see these bikes until the Interbike trade show in October. Getting an 8-week head start was one significant bonus of my invitation to Italy.

The most important development for Pinarello in 2006 is already known. By introducing the F4:13 in late spring 2005 they let the world know that venturing into carbon fiber was a top priority. Given the $2700 price of the F4:13, it was strategically positioned to get into the fray with the best-selling carbon bikes on the market -- the Scott CR-1, the BMC SLT 01, the Cannondale Six-13, the Orbea Orca, the Cervelo R2.5 to name a few. While this is a critical price point, there’s undeniably a respectful rivalry amongst the top echelon of Italian frame manufacturers when it comes to a higher class of carbon bikes than these. It was probably predictable, then, that in 2006 Pinarello would introduce the cost-be-damned Paris Carbon. It’s designed to take on bikes like the Colnago C50 and the DeRosa King X-Light in the fight for ‘luxury class’ frame sales. We heard noise, though, that the Paris Carbon would come in at $3600 -- 25% less than a C50 or a King. If this price indeed bears out then Pinarello can rightly expect to gain a stranglehold on Italian segment of the US high-end bike market.

The tubing profile differences between the Paris Carbon and the F4:13 are easy to discern. As we mentioned earlier, the Paris makes use of subtle changes in tubing shape throughout the length of the tube, with the same sort of scalloped reinforcements at vulnerable areas not unlike the hydroformed Paris aluminum frame. The F4:13 is built with bolder transitions in tubing shapes. The top tube, for example, is T-shaped near the headtube to resist the torsional flex you can get in a sprint or standing climb. As you move to the middle section of the tube, it flattens out to a size that’s much greater in width than height, and when you reach the seat tube it morphs into a tall oval shape.

Perhaps even more critical than tubing profiles, though, a critical distinction between the Paris and the F4:13 is the composition of the carbon itself. You’ll see a downtube decal on the Paris that reads ‘Carbon 46HM3K.’ The key here is the number 46. This signifies that the carbon used can withstand a pulling force of 46 tons per square mm. The F4:13 is made from 30 ton per square mm carbon. This ‘elongation factor’, as Luciano phrased it to me, speaks directly to the weight and to the ride characteristics of a bike. The quality of the 46HM carbon allows Pinarello use less material in building a frame with optimum stiffness and durability. You can build a frame of equal stiffness and durability from 30HM carbon, but it requires more material so it’ll weigh a bit more. This is the central reason why a medium sized Paris Carbon will weigh in at 950g, but an F4:13 is more in the realm of sub-1100g.

The ’3K’ designation specifies the finish of the frame itself. The Paris’ 3K finish means that each visible square of material contains 3 carbon ‘strands’. The F4:13 has a 12K finish. The analogy between carbon fiber and expensive dress shirts is useful here -- the more tightly you weave a fabric, the higher its quality. The tighter weave, in fact, goes beyond aesthetic concerns. A more tightly woven carbon provides superior strength -- again, allowing the builder to use less material -- one more reason why the Paris weighs in a nice bit less than the F4:13. Luciano illustrated this point by explaining how Fausto’s orange Paris Carbon was actually made from 1K carbon, and it weighed in at close to 850g. In looking at the latticework of Fausto’s frame, it was indeed amazing that each carbon square was the size of a pinpoint. Luciano must’ve seen my eyes light up when I took my up-close look, because he emphasized that 1K carbon is tough to source and quite cost-prohibitive. They had no plans to manufacture the 1K version of the Paris for retail sale (a boy can dream, no?)

One sexy variant of the Paris Carbon we saw was a one-off ‘Silver Carbon’ version. Luciano said the final stages of production of this version of the Paris are slightly different, mainly in that the last layer of material is fiberglass. Like Fausto’s 1K Paris, this is another model not destined for production. It’s apparently substantially more costly than the standard Paris Carbon, and the fiberglass adds 150g-200g to the weight of the frame. It was gorgeous from a distance, though like all ‘White Carbon’ products its small imperfections were easy to discern up close. It’s an ideal attention-getter for a trade show booth. But Pinarello’s judgement seemed correct -- as an in-line bike it would definitely be a white (carbon) elephant.

Pinarello is rightfully anticipating continued demand for their carbon bikes, and they’ve made some strategic choices in order to accommodate the production capacity they’ll devote to their carbon frames. The magnesium Dogma FP will continue to be their flagship bike, and whatever ProTour team Pinarello sponsors in 2006 will ride them (as many of you know, the Fassa Bortolo team is folding and Giancarlo Ferretti can’t find a sponsor willing to pony up the 30 million Euro he asking for&) They’ll also continue manufacturing the Paris FP aluminum frame, as well. They’ve given the Galileo a facelift -- it’ll be a triple-butted Dedacciai 7005 aluminum frame with the same carbon fiber Onda fork and seatstay that you get on Pinarello’s top-end bikes, and it’ll be available as a full Shimano Ultegra-10 bike for $2299, or as a Shimano 105-10 bike for $1999. But production on the non-FP Dogma and the Prince SL will halt. Not unlike the Prince, the Marvel, and the Surprise (all models whose production ceased in 2004), we’ll likely still have decent inventory on the non-FP Dogma and the Prince SL for another year. Ultimately, our hope is that this streamlined production will have two positive effects: (1) It’ll give us the ability to maintain decent levels of the frames (and sizes) in highest demand, such as 53cm and 55cm F4:13′s. (2) It’ll reduce the turnaround time for custom frames. In the past we’ve had no choice but to quote leadtimes of 3-6 months on a custom Pinarello. We can reasonably expect to provide you with a custom in 8-12 weeks beginning in 2006.

In terms of Pinarello’s little brother, the Opera Bike brand, you’ll see three frames in the US market for 2006. At the top of the heap is the Leonardo FP. While the Leo FP was theoretically available in 2005, very few of them made it to the US market. This is primarily due to the fact that Pinarello had a great year in 2005 (thanks in large part to the F4:13) and allocating production capacity for a new Opera Bike model was limited. Furthermore, Opera Bike has a much higher profile in Italy than it does in the US. Squeaky wheels get the grease, so the clamoring demand in Italy meant that the Italian market got the bulk of the frames that were made. In 2006 the frame is getting some key modifications, the most noteworthy of which is the move from external to internal lugs. Internal lugs with carbon are just like internal lugs with steel -- it leads to a cleaner look with slim tube profiles. Just like the Pinarello Paris Carbon, the Leo FP is made from 46HM carbon with a 3K finish. It’s the exact bike used by the ProTour Illes Balears team, most notably under Alejandro Valverde in his mountaintop victory over Lance Armstrong in Stage 10 at Courchevel in the 2005 Tour de France.

Just as the Leo FP is analogous to the Paris Carbon, Opera Bike is releasing a new model for 2006 in the same vein as the F4:13. It’s called the Canova, and just like the F4:13 it’s made from 30HM tubing with as 12K finish. What intrigued us most about the Canova is that its monocoque front triangle is produced in the same structural mold as the Leo FP. The Canova comes with the same Opus fork and seatstay as the Leo (the Opus is the Opera Bike equivalent of Pinarello’s Onda system), so from more than just a few feet away the Canova looks identical to the Leo. The central difference between them is weight and, of course, price. Visually-speaking, it’s a sublime bike. If carbon is generally appealing to you, but the more aggressive lines of the F4:13 don’t turn you on, the value and the beauty of the Canova could well be ideal. A final detail about the Canova worth mentioning is the weave of the carbon itself. Unlike the conventional grid you see on the Paris, the F4:13, and the Leonardo, the Canova features larger swatches of carbon (not a technical description, but it’s nevertheless accurate). Do you recall the difference between the first generation Campy Record carbon fiber crankset and the second generation? Campy claimed it was going from uni-directional carbon to multi-directional carbon. The finish of the Canova has an appearance reminiscent of that second generation crankset.

The third model in the Opera Bike line is unchanged from 2005, the Giorgione Hydro. Its hydroformed aluminum construction in combination with an Opus fork and seatstay along with a MOst-style bottom bracket makes it identical in many ways to the Pinarello Paris aluminum.

Treviso

I spent just a bit more time reviewing the ’06 bikes, then I took a walk into downtown Treviso. Almost immediately I came upon the train station, and for a brief moment I considered taking the 45 minute trip into Venice. Despite a lifetime of adequate success with American commuter timetables, for the life of me I couldn’t make any sense out of the train schedule tacked to the wall. I imagined myself accidentally hopping on the express to Bosnia. Not unlike my fear of twisting an ankle or getting food poisoning, finding myself on the far side of nowhere the night before the Granfondo was something I was eager to avoid. The airport was as close as I ever got to Venice during my stay in Italy, and crossing a short bridge across the few small canals that wind through the Treviso city center was the extent of my Venetian experience.

Treviso is a remarkably gorgeous place. It was built as a walled city in the 1500′s, and most of the wall and its gates still remain. The twisty, skinny avenues that snake from the central piazza are postcard perfect -- the essence of old-world Europe. Near the middle of town is a massive 900 year old cathedral radiant with Renaissance-era frescoes. Staring up into the sky-high domes gave dizzying testimony to the majesty of the Roman Catholic tradition, while somber candlelight near the altar led underground to a spacious crypt that was lightless, cold, and certain to punish the claustrophobic like never before. Many buildings near the cathedral seemed to take some inspiration from it, because frescoed exterior walls were everywhere.

Nevertheless, modernity aggressively asserted itself in Treviso. Countless Mercedes, VW’s, and BMW’s were packed into parking lots so tightly it seemed as though entry through the sun roof would be the only way into the car. Cafés, gelaterias, and boutiques occupied every inch of first-floor real estate throughout the city. And the ultimate distraction of the modern age -- stylish women -- has infiltrated the place like a menace. The sensitivity of Italian women to fashion is clearly something they develop at a young age, and it’s not a trait they lose as they grow old. Their summertime style of dress ranges from tastefully alluring to next-to-nothing. Depending on who walked in, something as simple as getting an ice cream could unexpectedly turn into a molten session of show and tell. Where hip bones officially turn into pubic bones, I don’t know. But I had ample time to assess the tan undulations of Treviso’s finest thanks to skirts whose waists topped out at sub-dimple-level. Even more of a spectacle was the popular ankle length white dress. ‘Ankle length?’ you say. What could possibly be enticing about that? It was never a silken-quality fabric. Rather, it was more like a thin linen tablecloth woven in semi-transparent white, and the owner judiciously chose a pair of black thong panties every time. The little that was left to imagination was very little indeed.

My sightseeing eventually led me to the Pinarello retail bicycle store. It was 1000 square feet at best, but the contents were like the perfect distillation of what we’d like Competitive Cyclist to be. Maybe a dozen bikes were in stock, all Pinarello. The only apparel on display was Assos and Sidi. Inside the countertop glass display was nothing but carbon Record components, Assos chamois cream, and various sorts of embrocation to ensure that your skin looks (and smells) the part before the big ride. A choice selection of ZeroRH eyewear and Giro Atmos helmets filled out a far corner. The wall was hung with decades of framed news clippings about the Pinarello family and the riders they’ve sponsored, and above the main doorway was the Montello track bike on which Miguel Indurain set the World Hour Record. The shop was the tip top of the high end, with the right balance of memorabilia to give it the perfect personal touch.

Across an alleyway was the Pinarello clothing boutique. More cycling jerseys? Absolutely not. It looked more like a store in Greenwich Village, with enough shabby (and not-so-shabby) couture to definitively rehab an army of fashion-challenged bike racers like yours truly who, at the moment, was wearing a 10-year old ‘Ibis – Handmade by cyclists in Sebastopol’ tee. Next door to this was the tiny Pinarello bike repair shop. All repairs were done here -- a clever tactic, I realized, for keeping the retail store tidy, and for keeping surly mechanics in quarantine. Other than tires and tubes, repair parts first had to be purchased at the retail store and then brought with the bike into this one-car garage sized room. It had staggered racks of bikes with service tickets attached to them -- all of them Pinarellos. While I’m sure they work on other bikes, my sense is that the treatment you’d get if you walked in with a Cannondale wouldn’t be memorable in a good way.

I walked into each store 2 or 3 times, trying to sense the rhythm of business and the extent to which the clientele crossed over between them. As I did so, an old man slowly rode up and down the street a handful of times. He looked fragile in the way that thin, elderly folks do, and I could soon discern that he was going from the retail store to the repair shop and back with small items apparently needed for repairs. The bike he pedaled was a ragged Bike Friday-looking thing with 20′ or 24′ wheels -- an alien machine on a city block where the average bike price towered at $5000+. He passed by again and someone next to me pointed at him and whispered ‘Giovanni.’ It was the patriarch himself, Giovanni Pinarello. He’d bought a hunk of this city block more than 50 years back, and despite his age and the worldwide fame of his name, he was still involved with the operation by lending a hand to the mechanics in the shop.