After a few weeks of silence on the Bianchi front, this weekend saw a flurry of activity!
Some time ago I'd committed to joining a few friends for the RetroRonde in Oudenaarde in Vlaanderen, and had hoped to have the Bianchi ready for its inaugural outing. However, work and other life things kept me from being able to devote a lot of time to progressing with the bike over the last few weeks, save for ordering and receiving parts. But... when this weekend rolled around, I actually realized we wouldn't be leaving Amsterdam for Belgium until mid-afternoon. I had Saturday morning to get in a few more hours before we had to take off!
So, by 9:30am I was at a friend's bike shop for the last legs; fresh cables, new chain, adjusting the drivetrain, a host of other little 'check this, adjust that' business. After having done the bulk of the work on the bike in my apartment's living room, it was great being able to have some actual time in a well-equipped workshop, especially one where there's a secret basement stashed with old parts and an Italian mechanic cooking pasta with shrimp and zucchini for lunch
With the hour of departure looming, I ended up getting things done in the nick of time - 15 minutes before our departure, I walked into my front door with a fully functioning bike! Admittedly, the 3 minute ride from the shop to the house didn't amount to much of a shakedown run, but I figured I could iron out any kinks in Belgium should they appear. We arrived in Belgium just in time on Saturday evening to check the criterium races while we plied ourselves with some good beers, before heading to dinner and a good night's sleep at the hotel afterward.
Sunday morning broke, freezing, moist and overcast, but with a good breakfast behind us we headed to the start of the Ronde for registration and general retro malarky. At that point, hearing the chatter about the wet cobbles, the climbs, etc, the realization that I was a complete novice at this cycling business started to set in a bit. Was I completely nuts, having only started cycling late last year, having only done 6 or 7 easy flatland 30-40km rides in Holland? Doing 70+km, untested rider, untested bike and untested route, seemed a bit daunting. Then again, what's riding if not pushing yourself a bit, eh, so off we went! And of course, in the end it resulted in a truly momentous experience. Brutal cobblestone climbs (which I succeeded to walk up quite rapidly), one novice "oh shit, I'm not gonna get my foot out of that toe clip in time" moment, and about 80km of fields, castles, farm manors, sun breaking through clouds, and a cheshire grin were the result.
The bike itself performed without a hitch, and was a revelation... Supposedly, at 1m92 tall, this frame is too small for me, but it felt more than comfortable enough. By the time we were midway through the ride, I had sufficient confidence in the handling and brakes to follow some groups on 50-60kmh descents, and was getting ever more amazed at the ride quality compared to any other bike I've ridden to date. Smooth, light, fast and silent. Even my riding buddy (who rides like a beast) was surprised at the pace I was able to maintain compared to our previous rides. What an experience!
It's no surprise that today I'm sore as hell, but I'm psyched to have done my first group ride, my first ride in the hills, my first stretches of pavé & mud, and to have done it all on the Bianchi! Save for a little drift in the rear derailleur toward the end of the ride, she performed flawlessly. There are still cosmetic and elective things to do (repainting flutes on the panto'd parts, finding year-correct cranks and derailleur), but at this point it's a working bike