17 November, 2014

Dad's Custom Altieri, Sicily's Best

by Mark

In 1985 I was ten years old, living in Sicily. My father was stationed at the US Naval Air Station, Sigonella. Times were good for an American cyclist there: the exchange rate was drastically in our favor so it seemed everything in Italy was on sale. I got a fully functional road bike, an Atala, with 24 inch tubulars, not bad for a kid.
My dad commissioned this bike from a local framebuilder, who went through a lot of trouble to make it extra nice. The lugs are smoothly thinned, and I have yet to find a file mark on it anywhere. After my father got orders to the Washington, DC area, the framebuilder insisted that he "show the bike to President Reagan" as it was the nicest bike he had ever built. I have my suspicions that he made that claim more than once.

My dad rode the bike off and on for a decade, when it was more or less hung up for good. It wasn't in good repair at that point and became just another garage nuisance for close to twenty years. I approached my dad several times to let me clean it up but he always said to not worry about it.
 My father died this September. I took the bike home and finally got my mitts on it. It was rough, down to a malfunctioning freewheel and tires that had separated from their basetapes. I spent a couple weeks going over it very slowly, cleaning black Sicilian lava dust out of everything, cleaning Guards Red overspray from all the surfaces that had been horizontal when the garage was used as a Porsche paint booth, cleaning Tubasti glue that was all over the fork from my ham fisted 15 year old attempt to glue on a fresh tire. It was a bittersweet labor but I'm really glad I did it. A lot of my best memories of my father are connected to this bike and they came back in a steady stream while working on it.

I left the cracked brake hoods, the tattered toe straps, the scuffed saddle, and the flaking gold lacquer as they were. The cheapo tubulars were pulled out of his ancient stash. It's the evidence of his use of this bike and means nothing to anyone but me and my family but it's how it will stay as long as I have a say in it. I don't plan to ride it a lot, but I have been doing a number of short hops. It's as smooth and responsive as you might expect, and looking down at a gleaming gold, custom built, classic Italian bike of the first order feels pretty damn good. My dad would be happy that I'm getting the enjoyment out of it. 

The rest of the photos can be found on Igor's Flickr: https://secure.flickr.com/photos/eccentricvelo/sets/72157648928516410/


Anonymous said...

Beautiful. The last improvement is to ride it enough to get signs of wear on the bar wrap.

Mikko Nieminen said...

I have another similar installment of italo-steel from 1982, in the beautiful shape of Bianchi Specialissima built around super-leggera specs. It's a lucky strike for me that I have similar bodily proportions as my father-in-law had in the 80's. =)

The bike had seen better days when it arrived to my hands: rotten brake hoods, tubulars separating from the base tapes and nearly every once moving part either stuck and/or rusted. With the flaking celeste paint revealing the shiny chromed armor underneath, the bike needed some love. Now, after about a year of (gentle) elbow grease and replacement parts where needed, the bike hasn't transformed to a new one, and it never should.

Instead, it's again a ready-to-ride bike attached with fond memories from my wife's childhood. It's a bike that has survived three decades of triathlon/endurance/commuting usage and has the "scars" to prove it. And boy, it's still a bliss to blast through some smooth winding roads with that thing. I do that only occasionally and in good weather, of course, but with a smile that's combining generations.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear of your father's death, but happy that you have something this nice to remember him by.

MK1375 said...

I love your description as to the history of it. Kind of got choked up while reading the "show it to the prez" paragraph. Your dad was all about his cool stories and I've heard most of them many many times! The way he would tell it would some how gravitate you to wanting to know more. I can still see his facial expressions while telling his great stories. And don't let me get into the corny jokes and how he would think they were the funniest thing ever. I can hear his laugh. I miss him and I'm glad to see you are keeping his memories alive!

somervillain said...

Lovely story, and I'm sure your father is smiling from the heavens. What a great way to remember your dad. I hope you ride it a lot and hang on to it long enough to pass it down to your kids!

Matt Kuligowski said...

I too was stationed in Sigonella during the mid-80's and bought a Moser 10-speed from Tino Vasello in Catania while I was there. Like your father's bike, mine hung in my garage for at least 10 years until this summer when I took it to Syracuse Bicycle and Melo Velo in Syracuse to refurb it. I've put about 300 miles on it this summer and can't wait to get back on it in the spring.
May your father rest in peace, and his memory live forever in your mind!

Anonymous said...

Great story and beautiful bike! Wish I still had the ride I cherished from that era. One small point: 24 inch tubulars?

VeloOrange said...

Not a typo. 24" tubulars are a thing. Look it up!- Mark