Bikes of the Bunch: Colnago Saronni for L’Eroica and a Dancelli for training

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Building your dream bike is a passion project that often requires little more than money and patience. However, what if that bike is from another era? Wanting to build a bike to use in the original L’Eroica that travels through the hills of Tuscany, Sydney-based rider Daniele Vanolini didn’t just have a vision, patience, and a flexible budget, but also luck on his side when it came to creating not one, but two Italian-made steel rides.

Vanolini clearly lives and breathes Italy and all things on two wheels. He comes from an Italian family, runs annual cycling tours to the Giro d’Italia, and teaches cycling skills on the weekends. And with a background in racing superbikes, Vanolini now fills his weekdays working for the Australian distributor of Ducati.

The Saronni, the definition of new old stock (NOS)

As a Sydney Eastern suburbs local, and member of the Randwick Botany Cycling Club, Vanolini is a long-time shopper at Europa Cycles, an iconic shop that was the natural choice for Vanolini’s pursuit of a ride for L’Eroica. Opened in 1973, and with a deep history in Italian framebuilding, Europa is exactly what you’d imagine when thinking of a time capsule of a store that also offers modern stock. It’s certainly rather unique amongst the many newer single-branded stores of Sydney.

The equipment requirements for L’Eroica aren’t quite as narrowly defined as many might think, but Vanolini definitely didn’t want to push the envelope, seeking a vintage steel bike with down-tube shifters and toe-clip pedals. According to Vanolini, it was Alan Abeni, the grandson of Europa co-founder Ezio Abeni, who was largely responsible for this bike coming to be.

“Alan said he might have something either in the shop or back at the family farm,” Vanolini said. “He had a look out the back and brought out this Colnago fluoro-painted Saronni, which was in my size 50cm, too! Apparently it had never been built up and was sprayed this colour because the frame had started to corrode while it was just sitting in the shop.”

Colnago Saronni for L'Eroica
Giuseppe Saronni’s face appears on the head tube. It’s unclear whether this is authentic to the original paint or not, with other examples showing Colnago’s clover logo instead.

A signature product of the early ’80s, Colnago produced frames under Giuseppe Saronni’s name to commemorate his 1982 world road championship. Saronni’s palmares includes the Giro d’Italia in 1979 and again in 1983, and Monuments such as Milan-San Remo and the Giro di Lombardia. His career closely overlapped with fellow Italian Francesco Moser.

“It was sitting in the shop the whole time,” said Vanolini of this historic frame. “The Saronni stamp on the seatstay is one tell-tale sign that it’s proper.”

Finding a suitable L’Eroica frameset is hard enough; finding parts to match is another matter entirely.

“The hardest thing is finding the size for you,” Vanolini said. “Once you’ve got that, and you’re happy with the brand you’re getting, then you’ve got the connection and you want to go further with it. The hardest part is if you’re building something to the period like this, then finding these old derailleurs, shifters and similar is hard.”

Colnago crankset for L'Eroica
This beautiful Colnago crankset was taken off a once-loved donor bike.

“[Luckily] Alan discovered the perfect donor bike, which was an old Abeni frame [made by Ezio, the grandfather] from which we could take the stamped Colnago chainset, brake levers, quill stem, and wheels to complete the bike. The original lever covers had perished, so unfortunately, the black ones are not original.

“The Campagnolo shifters and derailleur they just had in stock, brand new. The (Cinelli) bars I actually had from another bike, and conveniently, Europa had the matching stem. The only thing we don’t have is the original fork; this uses an Abeni.”

Vanolini’s surprisingly iconic and rare bike was coming together far easier than expected, and clearly, the strong Italian history had caused a spark. The frame was sent off to Peter at Star Enamellers for the paint to be stripped and replicated to its original glory.

“The pedals are not from the right time period; they’re just a modern replica product,” Vanolini said. “The wheels that were on it weren’t as good quality and I wanted this bike to do the 200km+ of the L’Eroica and not have any issue. I had these wheels (older Campagnolo hubs built onto newer Mavic Open Pro clinchers) made up as something I wasn’t willing to compromise.”

As nice as it would be to stay truly period-correct, though, Vanolini was more realistic when it came to tyres. Even if you could find NOS tyres, time waits for no one, and rubber is one thing that often doesn’t hold up well to years in storage.

“I’ve done some of the Strada Bianche over in Tuscany when I’ve run my tours, and a few of us have gotten slashed tyres. You need to do it (the gravel roads) with more robust tyres, something like a Continental GatorSkin. There are some big climbs, and this older gearing is going to be difficult.”

A modernised Dancelli for training

Dancelli steel
Built as the training bike, Vanolini’s Dancelli is a fusion of classic Italian steel and more modern Japanese components.

As it turns out, the Saronni wasn’t the only frame Alan Abeni had. But unlike the Saronni, this one had the original paint and it was only ever used for display.

“To my amazement, he also had this other frame in my size and until then I hadn’t heard of this brand name, Dancelli,” said Vanolini. “I only had the budget to build one, but then I couldn’t resist, and I thought, well why not? Then I had this older Shimano (Dura-Ace 7800) groupset laying around, and I figured it wouldn’t take me much to build it up. It also provided me with a backup while the Saronni came together.”

Dancelli steel
Italian racer Michele Dancelli had his own brand for a number of years.

Dancelli was the eponymous brand of Michele Dancelli, an Italian professional racer from the ’60s and ’70s. In addition to winning the 1970 Milan-San Remo, he also has 11 Giro d’Italia stage wins and a Tour de France stage win to his name.

Folklore suggests that Ernesto Colnago, while working as a race mechanic for Dancelli, was inspired by his Milan-San Remo win to create the now famous ace-of-clubs Colnago logo. The history is rather sketchy, as well as widely debated, but whether true or not, it’s a nice connection between these two Italian bikes for Vanolini.

“This is my training bike,” Vanolini said of the Dancelli. “I used it at the Randwick Botany Cycling Club’s retro day where they celebrated the 40th year of racing at Heffron Park (a race which Vanolini won). In November, they’ll do another retro day at Heffron Park.

“It rides quite nice; it’s just not as responsive (as a modern race bike). You can feel the weight and the wheel flex. I will have to do a bit of training on the Saronni, but most of my time will be spent on the Dancelli. You do have to learn the gears, and the smaller brake hoods drop down a lot further, and the brakes don’t work quite as good.

“When I do the [full course] event, I want to go over with the Saronni, because you know, it’s got the 1982 World Championship. It’s a talking piece. I know there are bikes there with more original stuff, but this is pretty close. It’s going to give me that feel. The next step for me is maybe getting a more retro jersey, and an old fashion-styled helmet. You need the cap, too.”

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