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)