I have been riding an aluminum frame road bike for years. The bike, a LeMond Reno with its Shimano 105 group set, was satisfactory for my recreational style of riding; long weekend rides, and an occasional Gran Fondo or duatholon. It was a good workhouse that performed its job dutifully. Why then were my fellow riders, who were riding their far more expensive carbon-framed bikes, sending me derogatory sneers? Did their ride belong in an entirely superior echelon?
Realizing I had slipped to the back of the bike ownership pack, and determined not to be the very last one riding an outdated bike, I began fantasizing about a new bikes. First came Cervelo. Their Canadian roots, aerodynamic design and rising acclaim at the time, peeked my curiosity. It seemed like a good choice until a year or so later when everyone seemed to be riding a Cervelo (particularly in the outskirts of Toronto). The proliferation of that brand watered down their desirability for me. What might have been a special occasion marked with the corking of a bottle of champagne, was now more like a having a beer on a regular weeknight. Next up Pinarello; precisely the same story unfolded.
My search finally led me to Wilier, pronounced ‘Vee’-lee-air’.I had stumbled across an advertisement or two in cycling magazines, but I didn’t know what to make of these bikes. Upon closer examination, I learned that the bike company has a long and distinguished racing pedigree with its origins starting in Italy in 1906. Yes, that’s right Italy. Like me, you likely wouldn’t have associated a name like Wilier with an Italian bike. Wilier is an acronym. It stands for Viva Italia Libera & Redenta. Loosely translated this means; long live Italy, free and redeemed. The letter “W” is absent from the Italian alphabet and is often used to abbreviate the word ‘viva’. The Wilier bikes nicely blend cutting edge technology with beautiful Italian design. Throughout their long history, the company has been no stranger to racing wins, with Giro d’Italia and Tour de France wins dating back to 1948 and 1949 respectively and more recently in the 2011 Giro d’Italia.
I zoomed in further and set my sights on the Gran Turismo. The Gran Turismo takes full advantage of trickle down technology from its more expensive peers in the Wilier line-up, such as the Cento 1SR. Perhaps more importantly it synergistically marries up racing pedigree with comfort and style for long rides. The price point of the Gran Turismo was also an important factor. Not being a racer, I am not interested in paying a hefty premium for what are often small marginal advantages. Depending on the components that the bike is equipped with, the GT rings in at a nice mid range of about $3,000, plus or minus several hundred dollars.
The Wilier Gran Turismo comes in three colors; Nero Opaco, Dark & Rosso. The Nero Opaco is a matte black color scheme, one that is quite popular as of late. It highlights the predominantly black matte frame with red accents and the use of white to emphasize the Wilier name and its halberd logo. The Nero is predominately glossy black with even fewer red accents than the Nero Opaco. The Rosso (Italian for red) is actually more white than red, accompanied by black accents including bold black lettering for the Wilier Triestina brand. In each case, Wilier has accentuated the frame’s lines with a tri-colored paint theme that follows through to the crankshafts and the seat post giving the bike a head turning appeal.
I picked the Rosso. Upon seeing the bike for the first time at pick up, I noticed nuances that were not evident from viewing photos of the bike. Two shades of red are actually used to make the sleek lines ever more dramatic. The bike’s lines and paint job even afford a good view from the rider’s perspective. Additional features such as the internally routed cables give the bike an elegant and clean look.
Firstly, let me extend my apologies to the group of riders I have been mildly critical about concerning their propensity to go out and buy swanky new bikes even though the do no need one. I understand now that it’s not purely about need, its about the excitement and feel of the ride. Sure a K-car will get you from point A to B, but not in the same way a Porsche will. The Wilier Gran Turismo delivers a sufficiently stiff frame and a lively ride without sacrificing comfort. Every once of cranking power feels like it is effortlessly driven to propel you forward. It invites you to keep moving at a good pace and rewards you by negotiating fast turns with its stable front end. Throughout the ride the Wilier GT remains lively and responsive, helping to keep the long rides interesting and fun.
In spite of the fact that the Wilier GT rides very much like it is focused on racing, it also manages to seriously dampen road vibration. Wilier attributes this to the design of the narrow and streamlined rear seat stays. Regardless of their claim to how this is engineered, it works. The bike feels very firm and responsive but not at the expense of a hard ride.
I find shopping for a bike an intriguing and somewhat mysterious journey. The challenge that most of us have when shopping for bikes and components is that we are usually unable to take a bike out for a weekend ride and evaluate whether its worth dropping a sizeable chunk of cash. So we rely on articles and word of mouth opinions, many of which contradict each other, in order to make a decision. I found this mysterious process to be even truer for the groupsets. People seem to attach greater personal bias and brand allegiance to groupsets.
The groupset question for me was; Shimano or Campagnolo? Wilier will equip the bike with whichever you prefer, including SRAM or even electronic shifters, so the choice is yours. After some research I went with the Campagnolo Athena gruppo for two reasons. Firstly, I found that available reviews tend to favor Campagnlo groupsets over Shimano groupsets, although opinions vary widely. The second reason is more personal in that I simply wanted a change from riding Shimano and SRAM components.
My decision to go with Campagnolo has been rewarded by the experience of riding with this gruppo. Unlike some bike enthusiasts who may claim that a choice between Shimano and Campagnolo makes for striking and fundamental difference in the ride experience, I do not share their opinion, although I do prefer the Campagnolo gruppo for a number of reasons. The hoods offer a better ergonomic fit. This may vary depending on your size. I found the Campagnolo hoods to be far more comfortable than Shimano or SRAM hoods. This is in no small part due to the configuration of the hoods. The position of the drop shifter is on the inside of the hood near your thumb. I gentle push with your thumb will result in a decisive gear change. To move to a larger ring, an inside leaver requires a swing push towards the center of the handlebars. The result is that when in a riding position with your hands on the hoods, your index is virtually touching the up shifter and your thumb is ready and in position to click the down shifter. This may seem like a small matter, but for a rider like myself, interested in efficiency and comfort for long rides this advantage carries a significant weighting.
The other noticeable aspect of the Campagnlo gruppos is how quiet they are. Shifting is smooth with no discernable clanking during shifting. When taking short breaks from pedaling, no sound is produced (unlike Shimano Ultegra). I like the stealthy silence of the gruppo. It makes me feel like I am unobtrusively slicing into the air with minimum disturbance.
A New Connection is Forged
Aristole tells us “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. I believe this to be true for a bike. Looking at a bikes constituent parts to describe it cannot define the overall look and feel of a bike and thus the experience you have when riding the bike. Several rides on my Wilier Gran Turismo to date have already started to forge a connection between myself the ride that the bike has to offer. It has left me re-energized about cycling and wanting to get out there and ride more than I ever have. I’ve learned that it’s not just about having a satisfactory ride. It’s about the experience of the ride and your connection with the ride through your bike. It’s a very special thing. An element of the derogatory sneers from my fellow riders carries some truth in that they recognize that they are experiencing a higher level of riding. I promise myself to enjoy that newer level of riding, but without the sneers.