How Hard Did Cycling Use To Be? | Modern Cyclist, Retro Bike, Classic Climb

How Hard Did Cycling Use To Be? | Modern Cyclist, Retro Bike, Classic Climb

– The Passo Croce d’Aune. At 8.5 kilometers long with
an average gradient of 7.8%, it’s a nice climb but it’s
nothing to write home about. I mean, it’s never been decisive
in the Giro, for example. But legend has it that it was the scene of a pivotal moment, not in a race, but for cycling as a whole. (emotional music) We’re getting near to the top now and it can’t come any sooner. Oh, god. Look at my cadence! Were it not for the Croce d’Aune, then I’d not be riding this but this. It’s just a shame that this
pivotal moment in cycling couldn’t have occurred on a climb that’s bathed in year-round sunshine. (old time music) (epic, crescendoing music) Let’s rewind a little bit. How has one climb changed
the whole of cycling? Well, Campagnolo, Tullio Campagnolo. (brisk, brooding music) So legend has it, Tullio Campagnolo was leading a late autumn
race over this road in foul conditions in November, 1927. In those, changing gear
meant removing your wheel and swapping between one of two cogs. However, the snow had frozen his hands and he wasn’t able to remove his wheel. Shouting “bisogna cambià
qualcossa de drio” into the wind, he set about doing exactly that. It translates as something
must change at the back. He invented the quick
release and from there, the modern groupset. What misery has he helped us escape? Well, I’m going to find out just how hard was climbing before
the invention of gears. Wish me luck. (mellow jazz music) You may notice that I’m not
riding a real 1920s bike but Jon Cannings has done an excellent job of accurately recreating one and the intention was that Sy
would come here and ride this but two things have meant
that’s not happening. Firstly, over the years at GCN, Sy has broken a lot of
priceless historical artifacts. – No problem mate. No, I think we’ve got a real problem. – And it was considered that it was no time to break anymore. And the other reason is that well, Sy is allergic to the rain. But fear not because this
bike has all the hallmarks of one from the era. So we’ve got a rubbish,
heavy flexible steel frame, tick. Weird handlebars, tick. Really, really crap brakes, tick. Toe clips, rubbish! And (grunting) and I’ve got gears, though, two of them and they’re both massive, meaning that I’m just grinding away up these horrible gradients. (tribal drumming) The early sections of this climb average just over 10%, which is considered
steep by modern standards with modern gearing but on this, it’s something else. I’m kind of learning that you just have to pedal differently. It’s all about strength and just trying to turn the gear over but it’s definitely slower
and it’s more painful. I’m just going to have to hope that the gradient eases a bit so that I can keep going
and make it to the top. (grunting) Oh, I must just die. (somber Italian music) Back in the day, they would’ve
never made it up climbs like the Angliru or the Mortirolo, not because they were lesser athletes, far from it, just because
with this gearing, it would’ve been impossible. They would’ve walked. (panting) (tranquil music) The legendary Campagnolo moment came in the Gran Premio della Vittoria and not the Giro d’Italia. But it’s worth talking about
the Giro d’Italia of 1927 to give some historical
context to the invention. The Giro that year was won
by a certain Alfredo Binda, who had incredibly
impressive career stats, 41 stages of the Giro d’Italia and 11 Grand Tour victories in total. But what’s all the more remarkable is the nature of the race then. So in 1927, the Giro was
3,758 kilometers long and that was spread over 15 stages. In 2018 when Froome won, it was 250 kilometers shorter and spread over 21 stages. Now, it gets really stark when you realize that
Binda’s average speed was 26 kilometers an hour and that meant that his
average time per stage was 9.6 hours. If you compare this to Froome in 2018, well, his average speed was 40K an hour, meaning that each stage
was just over four hours. In total, to win the Giro, Binda rode 55 hour
longer than Chris Froome and this means that the
Grand Tours back in the day perhaps had more in common with the ultra endurance
events we have now, like the Transcontinental. (grunting) An amazing feat, amazing. (tranquil music)
(panting) At the top of the climb is a monument to Tullio Campagnolo. I’m going to pay my
respects when I get there, if my knees don’t explode. (brisk Italian music) Right, I’m going to do a gear change now to show you what they had
to do back in the day. On the back, we’ve got these wingnuts. We’ve got a cog on this side and a slightly easier cog on this side. It’s completely pointless. This one’s like what, a 16
and this one’s like a 17. Good range. (grunting) Oh god, it’s stuck. See, I’m finding it really difficult now to get that unstuck and this is exactly the problem
that Tullio Campagnolo had. His hands were cold, my hands were cold, and we’re on the same climb. There’s something very poetic about this. Now I need to push it out of the dropouts. Let’s get the chain back on, if I can. Now I’m just trying to
tighten up this wingnut on the back on both sides. God, this is difficult. Well I can tell you that now I’ve switched into my bailout gear, it feels positively magical
riding up this climb. For god’s sake. (inspirational music) There’s Tullio’s monument. Oh god, that was really hard. I don’t think these brakes are very good at going downhill either. Can I swap back to my bike now, please? (exhaling) Thank god for that. Well, I’m sure it’s probably heresy to bring a SRAM-equipped bike
to a monument for Campagnolo but I’m sure Tullio would
approve of some eTap action although it is slightly ironic that my bike doesn’t even
have quick releases on it. It’s got thru axles. Sorry about that. (quiet, somber music) Now when we think back earlier to our story about
Campagnolo’s light bulb moment, the fact that his very words
are recorded in history should make you immediately
slightly skeptical as to how much of that is actually fact and how much is poetic license. That skepticism could be well-placed. According to research by the
eminent cycling historian David Herlihy, there was no snowy Gran Premio della Vittoria in 1927 and Campagnolo wasn’t
even listed as a favorite in any of the editions
of the race in the 1920s. More damningly than that,
according to Herlihy, there isn’t even a patent
for the quick release in the 1930s. Campagnolo does have them but they’re for smaller
improvements to the original design and the same is true for
derailleurs after that. However, let’s not deny
Campagolo his place in history. He was a visionary, a true innovator, someone who took existing
ideas and made them better. He’s also responsible for creating the concept of the groupset, something we couldn’t imagine
cycling without today. Now I hope you’ve enjoyed
this video, if nothing else, just for how cold and went I got making it and if so, please give it a
thumbs up and subscribe to GCN. And to see another video where we take on the
epic Passo di Nivolet, the climb from the Italian
Job, then click down here. (restrained music)

About the Author: Michael Flood


  1. We used to think those racer bikes in the sixties were the business ,Anything with 5 gears or 10 was considered high tech .I had a Walvale touring bike ( a 10 speed racer with plastic mudguards ) built by Walvale cycles Liverpool .If you were well off you had compag gears most of us in the real world had Hurret or Benelux derailleur gears .No body heard of Shimano in those days ,The bike I owned before that had no gears ,until a Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub was laced into the real wheel ,I was peddling up all kinds of hills on that .If you gave up on any hill on any 10 speed racer ,back in the day you were branded a cissy .Raleigh bikes were seen as one of the best mass produced bikes value for money. Modern bikes are not built as well & the bearings are poor quality & components flimsy .These fancy carbon plastic frames might be light but they are not as solid as the old quality steel frames & the derailleur has cheap tacky plastic jockey wheels that snack up .& I much preferred the old friction gear leavers ,you could feed in smoother gear changes .Also it was great to relax & have a smoke after a long ride up hill ,you don’t see that now with the Sunday Lycra brigade !

  2. What a visual treat — beautiful scenery, historically informative, pitch-perfect on the musical selections with humor and humility infused throughout. Recalling drooling over Campy groupos in the early 1970s and wondering who could afford such jewelry? Had to settle for Simplex, Universal, Dia-Compe and Champion "Gentleman" on my affordable Italian "Frankenbike".

  3. Is it just me or did the gears on both sides of the bike in the black and white shot look nearly the same size?

  4. Wool jerseys and spare inner tubes wrapped around your shoulders as you climbed The Stelvio on your two-speed bicycle. Men were men in those heady days of The Giro…and sheep were scared.

  5. People of the modern era are a bunch of pussies that’s why they can’t handle a real steel bike.

  6. I hurt my eyes watching this… Ollie freely torturing himself like this. But the video was made beautifully. Great drama, music and scenery! Compliments!

  7. @GCN 8:33 If you tink about it, the reason why both gears were so close to each other [like 16 and 17 teeth] is because there was no chain tensioner device, so the chain lenght was limiting the size of the cog wheel. So nothing stupid there…

  8. When I raced in the 70s we trained on a fix gear lol . I still have my Colnago bike, beautiful bike which at the time was state of the art . I saved my money up for the $500 price tag which was outrageous price. My dad said you could have bought a car for that money. Fond memories of those days

  9. And then all the hipsters with their unbelievably heavy art-deco looking fixie's say "90 years of progress? Bah, it's all about the experience… And not actually getting anywhere on time."

  10. Of course, caged pedals would be used for only another 55 or so years after 1927. I mean, I started out with them and hated them. I think the first Dura-Ace "Look" type pedal I bought the month they came out in 1986 (?) was the most significant cycling improvement there was for me in 40 years of riding.

  11. I swear Two Steps From Hell tracks are like that "Ariane" girl who's in every stock photo ever: Once you're aware of them, you see/hear them everywhere.

  12. "Positively magical" that cracked me up hard! 😀 Props to Ollie for enduring this grueling cycle! It was well worth it (for us), we all have an awesomely made video to enjoy now 🙂

  13. Not a mention of Hub Gears. I recently had a 1939n Raleigh bike restored. It had an original Sturmey Archer 3 speed (of which the middle one was un reliable). Interesting that the technology isn't dead.Some modern tourers have it. I guess it's less to prone to damage. I recently did a 3 day tour on it. Not the Alps but Malvern and Cleeve Hill.

  14. I could walk up the mountain faster and easier than that. It's ridiculous to have a bike race on hills that steep with that type of equipment. I remember back in the 60's, it was something to have a 3 speed bike. In the 70's, it was a 10 speed. In the 80's it was 18 or 21 gear ratios.

  15. Hey GCN, they still wrapped their bars back then. You could have obtained some leather tape and knocked some bottle corks into the ends. B- simulation 😅

  16. Coming back time and time again to laugh my guts out as Ollie says "It feels positively /magical/ riding up this climb!" This with the new old-Tour challenge really are entertaining.

  17. Yes, the technology has advanced in many areas of life but the World was 1000 times better back then compared to now…like a trade off of some sort. You people are The Frog in the Boiling Water and the water is boiling right now. You do not realize this because you were either born into it or gradually, incrementally introduced to it.
    Great video anyway. I love these guys!
    The 1980s was when society died. After the 80s, around 1992. Maybe it will self correct and heal one day. Maybe not. The only way you people could understand is to travel back in time with a time machine with your bicycle and ride around town…whatever town you may be in anywhere in the world. You would see immediately what I'm saying.

  18. You could at least put some handlebar tape on those handlebars. Or wear some gloves.It's not like we didn't have handlebar tape back in the day. Having a bad grip, or being afraid that you'll lose your grip, makes it harder to really yank on the handlebars and really push down on the pedals.

  19. I think bar tape (cotton then leather) was invented in 1920. Very hard to ride in the rain without it!

  20. I got short of breath and dizzy just by listening to Ollie narrating for MINUTES while grinding away on that climb.

  21. The difference in time from giro 1927 from the 2018 edition is the needed time to "change gears'' hehe!
    All jokes aside this was one of the best videos of historical tributes to the grand master of cycling innovation Tullio Campagnolo

  22. Ollie you always belittle your riding abilities…but i'm not buying it, you actually look like you know what your doing…may not be a sprinter but you do things like Everesting which is a dead giveaway.

  23. Interesting stuff, gears are useful lol, though I still grind up those hills on my old 70s racer , it's coming down the other side that's scarey with those crappy brakes and zero grip tyres lol.

  24. Much respect for riding that bike and gear up the mountain. I feel like a bitch complaining going up a mountain on a 42T chain ring back in the day with a 23T cog.

  25. He made it harder by not tightening up his toe straps. I think I have permanent grooves on my metatarsals from racing track with toe clips and double straps through the 1980s

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *