Like a child in a candy shop, Isaiah beams as we drive through the hills surrounding Lake Como. Cyclists everywhere! Mountain bikes and road bikes galore! In particular, a little hilltop known as Ghisallo plays an important role in the history of cycling in Italy. Not only the site of the Museo del Ciclismo, Ghisallo is home to the patroness of cyclists: Madonna del Ghisallo. A small sanctuary houses a shrine to the patroness, officially declared so by the Vatican in the late 1940s, and attracts cyclists from all over the world.
Moreover, Ghisallo has been an important climb in many of the most famous Italian races. In fact, the whole region of Lombardy is known for its long competitive cycling tradition and numerous clubs and organizations dedicated to the sport.
Just a few hundred meters away from the sanctuary is another gem that makes Ghisallo a special place for cycling enthusiasts: Cerchi Ghisallo. While surfing the internet recently, Isaiah had stumbled upon this family-owned and -operated wooden rim company. Eager to tour their facilities, Isaiah contacted the owner to arrange a meeting. When we arrive, we are surprised to find their workshop at the back of an auto shop. (Since we haven't an exact address, it takes some asking around that involves me using the phrase, "Conosce lei un negozio dove si vende [pointing to a bike wheel] in legno?" - "Do you know of a business that sells [gesture] made of wood?")
Giovanni (imagine a white-haired, short, grandpa-like man), the second generation to run the company with his father being the first generation and his son, Antonio, being the third, offers to give us a tour of the laboratory, as he calls it. The well-worn look of their workshop makes it very clear that making wooden bike parts (rims, mudguards, handlebars, chain guards, and even frames) is in this man's blood. Our tour is casual and familiar. However, it's in Italian. I joke that Isaiah understands with his eyes, and I understand (about 25% of) Giovanni's words. Together, we get the gist of his explanations.
Since their most popular products are the wooden rims, or cerchi in legno, Giovanni takes us step by step through the production process (which is all done in-house, from design to manufacture) starting with selecting the wood, then cutting the strips, molding and shaping the strips, and on to the final result. Along the way, he also shows us some new products they have been working on. Antonio joins us later, and both couldn't be happier to share with us their passion for artisan work. You see, they are also mechanics, and fixing cars pays the bills, but making wooden rims they do out of love. Of course, it's a business that makes some money, but artisan work like theirs is under-appreciated, unfortunately.
|Piazzale del Santuario at Ghisallo|
|View of Lake Como from Ghisallo|
|Statue dedicated to cyclists|
|Sanctuary of Madonna del Ghisallo|
|Inside the sanctuary|
After checking out the "laboratory," we head to the museum. It's important to note that it's not a bike museum, but rather a cycling museum that highlights the history of cycling as a competitive sport with special emphasis on the most famous cyclists from all over the world. (I am particularly a fan of the old-fashioned cycling jerseys made of lightweight wool, which today would make adorable retro mini dresses...)
|Here is a bike with wooden rims similar to those that Cerchi Ghisallo manufactures.|
|Love this photo of a tandem bike and the "eccentric" bike on display below it.|
|Look closely. Can you tell what's so eccentric about this bike?|
|Isaiah reading up on famous cyclists.|
From the museum we hop back in the car and head to Bellagio for a late lunch. I had heard from others that Bellagio can be very touristy, but I think it's just lovely. Plus, Giovanni had recommended it, and he's a local. So there.