Friday, November 4, 2011

Initial Ride with the Bella Ciao Superba

My sincerest apologies go out to anyone waiting for my post about the Superba. I know that I had said I would get a post up early this week, but it just wasn't in the cards. I keep starting posts to talk about the Bella Ciao, and then find myself stopping and coming back, only to begin again. Part of the continual re-starting is that I'm not entirely certain what to say about the bike just yet, and in part it is that I'm not sure I'm really ready to evaluate her, even initially. But, I also believe it's important to have first thoughts, as well as longer use opinions, and I've promised these initial impressions, so I'm going to attempt to give this a go. Please do keep in mind, however, that I've only ridden this bike less than 10 miles total.
On Saturday, I finally had the opportunity to take the Superba out for her inaugural ride. The snow had cleared enough and the weather was pretty warm (considering the time of year and cold temps of just a few days prior), so it seemed an appropriate time to get outside. We decided to ride to breakfast. Sam had a gift card to use, and I wanted out of the house for a bit.
Just looking at this bicycle anyone can see that it's quite beautiful (In fact, I was actually stopped while photographing the Bella Ciao by a woman who was curious about it). The color combination, the lugged frame, the elegant rear rack - what isn't there to love about this ride? I especially appreciate that it visually stands out in a more subtle manner (is that an oxymoron - 'subtly stands out'?), rather than screaming, "Here I am - look at me!" Of course, there's more to a bicycle than looks, so it was time to get out and ride this little lady.
Before I get into the actual ride I would like to note that at 5' 3 3/4," I am probably about as short as a person would want to be for this bike, unless the individual has long legs. As you can see from the photos, the seat post is nearly all the way down, with only about 1/2" of post showing. I would say if a person is under 5'3", particularly if she has shorter legs, I'm not sure this particular bike will work. Proportionately, I do have shorter legs than torso (not absurdly so, but slightly shorter), so that may be beneficial to a person wondering about this 54cm frame size. I am also unable to touch the ground while sitting on the saddle (I like to have full leg extension, rather than be able to touch the ground), so if this is of importance to a rider, it's something to keep in mind.
But, getting back to the bicycle ride... The ride to breakfast has a variety of hills and flat land, but as a whole, the ride out is mostly a gradual incline, and for the most part is a slight downhill return. "Mostly" being the key word. I thought it would be a great test route because it does have hills (both up and down), flat land, and some slightly varying terrain depending on the route choice. As you'll soon read, however, I won't really be able to evaluate fairly the ride because I was distracted for most of it with other items. Beginning our ride, things weren't off to the best start. The Superba felt difficult to pedal and fairly heavy, which is odd considering I've owned far weightier bikes, and even the Hillborne is heavier in its current set up. I fully expect that a city bike won't ride the same as a road or touring bike, but I felt as though something was pulling me in the opposite direction (a severe dragging feeling), and I just felt very slow and as though I was putting forth a lot of effort with little results. I kept wondering what was wrong with me. Was I tired? Was it that I hadn't been on a bike for a few days? I struggled the entire short 4-mile ride out to our stopping spot. We discussed my problems over our morning meal while I tried to think of what could be wrong. Sam seemed to think that it was perhaps the chain because it was extremely tight when it arrived, leaving no give at all, or that perhaps it was the weight of the dynamo hub in the front, which does put a bit of drag on the wheel (though not nearly to the extent I was experiencing). I wasn't completely convinced it was the hub because I've had bikes with the same type of hub and not had issues. The chain? Well, I honestly couldn't say if that was causing problems.
On Sunday, the house mechanic (aka Sam) had some additional time to spend with the Bella Ciao. He was able to get a bit of give (relaxed some of the tension) in the chain, and fix some of the noises that were taking place (the chain was dragging inside the chainguard, driving me absolutely insane, and there was some clicking in the crank), likely from shipment and movement of parts during this process. All of the rattles and strange noises were resolved with his tweaking, and I was happy that the Bella Ciao wasn't as noisy as it started out to be the day prior. A couple of laps around the block and I could see that it was more of what I'd expected from this bicycle, however, that dragging feeling still hadn't disappeared. To date, I still haven't quite figured out what it is. It's possible that I've just grown used to riding the Hillborne and the Pacer and I need to re-adjust my mindset for a city bike again, or perhaps there is actually something taking place here that we haven't quite determined as of yet.
The odd thing to me regarding this initial impression is that I generally either immediately love or completely dislike a bicycle the first time I ride it (of course this can change over time), but after the first ride, I was left feeling a bit ambivalent. I also don't know that I can offer a fair initial assessment of this bike because of our rocky start, and I cannot help but feel guilty writing anything even remotely negative about the Bella Ciao. I suppose in my head I don't really view it as "negative" impressions, but rather just initial feelings, and my thoughts of being unsure of this bike during my first experiences with it. I think that I, more than anyone, am surprised by my feelings about the Bella Ciao, and hope that more riding will prove to remedy any doubt about this bicycle.
Some of what I found most enjoyable about the Superba during our inaugural ride was the riding position. It's nice to have that more upright posture again, as I have missed having that over the last few months. I also love the saddle selection of the Brooks B-72. I've had this particular model on bicycles in the past, and I have found it to be one of my favorite saddles for the appropriate bike, such as this one. Also, although they are perhaps not the most beautiful thing on this bike, I appreciate that the pedals are a kind of grippy/non-slip pedal, so I am able to ride if my shoes are wet or get into the snow (such as was the case on the day we rode).
I should also state that I am merely sharing my initial feelings/experience with this bike, and others who have ridden this bike, and those who own this bike absolutely loved it from the start, which just goes to show that individuals have different ride styles, opinions, and experiences. What is great for one person may not be the same for another, and vice versa. It's also nice to be able to test ride a bicycle on multiple occasions to have first impressions before committing to a specific bicycle, though I certainly was aware of the potential risk in buying without test riding. Additionally, after some more tweaks, I may absolutely love this bicycle and wonder what I was so worried about initially. It's difficult to know after one fairly short ride, and my experience has been that rarely does a bicycle arrive perfectly suited for me. Adjustments almost inevitably follow any initial ride, and I will freely admit that I tend to be rather finicky about the way my bike is set up, so it can take a good deal of time for me to find comfort on a new bicycle.
I am intentionally avoiding discussing the specific components on this bicycle in my first thoughts because I really don't think I've had enough time with the Superba to comment on elements such as lighting, braking, functionality, and so on. This is not to say that I find them in any way bad or unusable, but simply that I haven't had the time with the Bella Ciao to form even basic opinions. Over time, I believe I'll feel more comfortable discussing these areas, but for now, as I had promised initial thoughts, I wanted to offer those up (for what they may be worth - which, probably isn't much).
Above all, I believe the Bella Ciao Superba is a beautiful bicycle and Velouria did a great job with her color selection, rear rack, and design. Though I am aware my first impressions may not seem overly encouraging or positive to an individual considering this bike, I hope that anyone thinking about purchasing the Bella Ciao (or any bike) will take the time to explore on their own and determine whether or not this will be a good choice for him/her. Certainly, I am not speaking for a large population of bicycle riders, but rather in regard to my first experiences with the Bella Ciao. I am also not stating that I dislike the Superba by any means, but rather that our short initial ride together was not my most pleasant first ride on a bicycle.
I do, however, look forward to spending more time with the Superba and determining whether or not she is a good fit for me. If anyone has had the opportunity to ride this bike, or if you have thoughts on what the dragging sensation might be, I'm hoping you'll chime in with your thoughts, as I don't want anyone to think that my short initial ride is by any means what everyone will experience, nor what I will find to be true in the long term. I look forward to sharing more as the rides continue.


  1. Thanks for your review. I am not in the market to buy a Superba, but was very curious about this bike because of the story behind it.

    I did test ride a Superba, but for less than one mile. For me, first impressions of a test ride will be the same impressions I have after many miles on the bike (hope that made sense).

    Like you, I experienced that dragging sensation. I asked at the bike shop and they said it could be because the dynamo lights were on.

    On my old Dutch bike, which I ride daily, I can't say I really notice the same kind of drag sensation when the bottle hub is on.

    Part of my problem when I test ride city bikes is that I always compare it to my Dutch bike. The Dutch bike always wins!

  2. The dragging sensation sounds like the chaincase rubbing; there should be no feeling of drag from the dynamo lighting.

    Please don't feel guilty writing anything negative about the bikes; they are not for everyone and whatever honest feedback people provide is informative.

  3. I should clarify about the dynamo hub (very much echoing Velouria's statement) by saying that the dynamo light is technically always "on" in a manner of speaking. It's merely the switch for the light that gets turned on and off, so there shouldn't be a difference when the headlight/taillight is on or off. It's one of the things I like about this type of hub vs a bottle generator, which would cause more of that dragging when turned into the on position.

    Maggie - it's interesting to hear your thoughts about a similar sensation with the dragging. I'm still curious if it's the geometry and the muscles I'm using, or, if as Velouria stated above, it's possible there's still some dragging taking place inside the chaincase. I am determined to figure it out though. :o)

    Velouria- Thank you for your thoughts. I know that I appreciate honest feedback on my endeavors, but I also know there can be a fine line between constructive feedback and becoming offensive to the creator/designer. Certainly no offense was intended here.

  4. I've heard from one person who had a problem with the chaincase rubbing, and I've experienced the same after my own bike was knocked around while being transported from place to place. Being metal, the chaincases are easy to adjust bak into shape by hand, and I'll write a post showing how to do this soon.

  5. I enjoyed reading your comments, and look forward to reading more as you use this bike more. It is certainly beautiful to look at. I am 5'5" and only through being sized for a rental bike on a trip, have discovered I also have a longer torso, and a shorter inseam (or legs). Finding the just right bike, isn't very easy.

  6. Isn't it strange to learn that you have short legs?! I know I'm not tall by any stretch, but I never thought of myself as having "proportionately short legs" until I was having a bike sized several years ago. The woman working in the shop (who was maybe, at most, half an inch taller than me) said, "You see, I have very long legs, so I have to get much taller bikes." We stood next to each other and her waist was almost to my chest! I was in shock. Although she had especially long legs, it made me feel freakish. It is what makes the world interesting though, knowing that we are all so different. :O)

  7. G.E. I hope your dragging is fixed by adjusting the chaincase. Keep us posted.


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