Thursday, February 21, 2008

Story - AKI Gipiemme Cycling Team

There was a team sponsored by Gipiemme in the 90s. Zenon Jaskula (3rd in the Tour while racing with MG) raced for them, as did Gilberto Simoni, and I'm sure a host of other pros. The main team name was AKI (some Spanish company, I had the pleasure of seeing a huge AKI billboard in Madrid a few years ago). Why is this significant? Well, AKI happens to be my (nick) name.

Naturally as soon as they were available I bought the jersey, shorts, caps, gloves. The other sponsors of note was Pitti (they made shoes) and the aforementioned Gipiemme.

The jersey

Gipiemme was a component manufacturer in the 80s, making Campy knockoffs. They used softer materials (or construction techniques - I think their cranks were heat forged, not cold forged, based on how easily the square taper elongated). Because of this the parts were less expensive. Since much of the "custom" work back then revolved around machining and pantographing components, knock off companies tried to do the machining themselves. For example the Gipiemme crankset had its five spider arms molded with a slot in the center of them. Campy fans, for many years, had the spider arms machined out by a local machinist, or they bought them from component modifying shops who specialized in making such alterations.

A picture of a stock Campy crankset - see the little indents on each arm? Serious enthusiasts had them drilled/machined out.

Gipiemme took care of the "machining" on the arms and did some fancy drilling on the rings.

I thought it was appropriate to wear the jersey since I'd used Gipiemme components for a number of years, having great success with their pedals and getting compliments on the cranks.

Not everyone agreed with my enthusiasm for the not-quite-the-best parts offered by Gipiemme.

One guy at the shop, a true euro-snob (and I mean this in a good way - last I saw him a few years ago he was doing some shakedown runs on his 1984 Lancia) guy with a very crackling sarcastic sense of humor, told me the "myth" of why I shouldn't buy Gipiemme. As background he jokingly called Dura-Ace "Durah Che", Cannondale "Cannon Dah Lay", tell people "Mah-Lard's a duck. Mahyar is a froowool." (for the customers saying "I have a Mali-ard freewheel".

His story "explanation" of the team:

An Italian guy walks into a shop, an outlet shop for a manufacturer looking to break into the component business. Says to the guys behind the counter, "I hearda abouta your greata team" (that's supposed to be an Italian accent btw). "I wanta to getta alla de good stuff from you guys. I want Campy stuff, nice shoes, everything. Help me out here."

The shop sets up the guy, beautiful cut out crank arm spider, cool pedals, nice shoes, etc etc. "This stuff is all prototype stuff, not Campy, but it's the same, just cheaper. Try it out. It's great stuff."

"What's it called?"

"No name yet, they're still working on the marketing."

Guy feels special, leaves all happy after laying out a lotta cash, goes home.


Stuff starts to break.

He's furious. He storms back into the shop.

"I wanted CAMPY", he yells, "not this bafangule piece of your blankety-blank's crap that you gave me! You gipi me! you gipi me!"

The shop guys are cringing and ducking behind the counter.

The customer throws the sorry shoes at the shop guys. "And these shoes are pi-ti-ful. Your mother wouldn't wear them".

And storms out.

The cringing shop guys looks at the owner. The owner looks at the guys. He brightens up. "Hey, I have an idea. We should sponsor a team..."

And so was born the AKI Gipiemme Pitti shoes team.

(End of story)

The story came out when Mister Lancia looked at my pedals.

"What, they couldn't pay for a full axle?"

Gipiemme "half axle" pedals

Note the shortened axle

I tried to explain that I could pedal through really sharp corners with these things. The scary part is that I've dug the pedal in turns - well, technically the toe strap, but still, I hit them in turns.

His response?

"Yeah, just wait till the bearings crumble into little pieces of broken steel."

I didn't have the heart to tell him that the toe clips always wiggled around due to a not-so-bright way of mounting them. I figured that would only give him more ammunition.

He bregrudgingly gave them a bit of credit when I won a race on them, but he insisted that the technological advantage was not fair, and therefore it wasn't necessarily a true win.

Of course, when we all got Aerolites, with similar cornering angle clearance, such an "advantage" suddenly became acceptable to him. His conservatism drove him to go to Time or Look though, because that's what the pros used.

His adherence to pro parts could have been construed as snobby or picky but it came down to what he thought a bike should be - reliable, solid, and predictable. With true cold forged parts, pedals that have float and which don't fall apart spontaneously, he spent a lot less time fiddling and fixing with his bike than I did mine.

Ultimately his habits taught me the value of having reliable, solid, and predictable parts. My cranks loosened up, and though I went to Aerolites before my Gipiemme pedals failed in any way, I went through probably a dozen Aerolite pedals as they did some final "testing" on their customers.

Nowadays you won't find any weird brake calipers or unusual cranks on my bikes, not any more, not after having various things fail on my bike at critical times (1/2 lap to go in a race Aerolite pedal came off, in the middle of Gimbles when my titanium BB axle broke in two, not being able to brake well on super light brakes and therefore stack it up into an already happening crash at 45 mph, etc).

Mister Lancia's car bug bit me as well - I helped install a bored and stroked engine in his late BMW 2002, hung on for dear life as we slid through turns in said car, drove it (my first fast car with brakes and suspension to match), and learned how to heel and toe by watching him drive to and from races.

He also contributed the "Sh" to the Shartkozawa Classic, one of four people whose partial names make up the name of this (not held in 2008) February "race".

But for me, he'll always stick in my memory as the guy who told me about the AKI Gipiemme Pitti team story.

1 comment:

suitcaseofcourage said...

Another great story AKI - and I can attest to Gipiemme's "sexy cheap" chic. My first (so far) racing bike - a Cannon DAH LAY R900 came stock with Gipiemme Parade Grecal wheels. Sexy as h---, and I got a lot of compliments on them (more than on everything else combined, such is the state of my kit I guess), but the spoke nipples started fracturing after only one season or racing. Cannondale stood behind them though - since they couldn't get replacement parts, they gave me new Mavic Aksiums instead. Great company - hope their reputation remains intact despite the new ownership.

Sorry for the comment-drift...