The Cycling Hall of Fame 2019: the case for Tullio Campagnolo
Campagnolo. A religion, a byword for design, beauty, heritage, class and Italy. Pure elegance from the very sound of the word to the iconic logo and products themselves.
It all started with Gentullio Campagnolo. The probably-apocryphal legend has it that he was leading a race in late 1927 and stopped to change gear. His fingers were too cold to remove the wing nut and turn the flip-flop hub over. Bisogna cambiar qualcosa dietro – something’s got to change at the back – he cursed. That experience pushed him to create a quick-release skewer for easy removal three years later.
So smart, yet so simple. This brainwave set Campagnolo on the road to success as a company and epitomised the founder’s personality: both visionary and hard worker, mechanic and creator.
A derailleur revolution soon followed, with his parallelogram-shaped Gran Sport in 1950 setting the tone for appearance and function since then. The business boom came iwhen they adopted the now-common principle of kitting out full bikes – no more mixing and matching different manufacturers’ brakes, pedals or seat-posts.
For decades, Campagnolo ruled the roost. Some of its products have changed cycling (the Nuovo and Super Record groupsets), some were aesthetically stunning (Delta brakes), a few did both. Little wonder their full tool-kits are catnip for cycling collectors.
Despite the most prominent photograph of Tullio making him appear curmudgeonly, hands on hips and scowling as if you’ve just given him a five-minute monologue about the virtues of Shimano, the founder was a vigourous force of nature. He was integral to their prevalence in racing circles too, staying close to generations of top riders while running the company from his home city of Vicenza. He died in 1983, passing on control of the company to his son Valentino.
Since then, a certain Japanese company has bridged the gap in terms of excellence and functionality. Few things in the sport are as tribal as the Campagnolo-versus-Shimano divide, or create such enjoyable, exaggerated stereotypes (yes, Campagnolo users are all passionate, cappuccino-drinking aesthetes who tinker with their bikes while Vivaldi plays in the background.)
But there’s an interesting conclusion to be gleaned from that: it is a hell of a marketing success for Campagnolo to evoke thoughts of Italianate sophistication, craftsmanship and loyalty.
Read: Q&A with Campagnolo’s Lorenzo Taxis
Campagnolo may have been caught and even surpassed by Shimano in some areas, but their 12-speed groupset launch last year shows how deftly they can evolve. They’re old, but still gold.
So yes, it’s not “just” a derailleur with them. Or “only” brakes and a seatpost. Campagnolo have engineered both paragons of many functional products and a visceral feeling about them in cyclists like no other manufacturer.
That’s the real shift, and it’s all thanks to Tullio.
Over the coming months the Rouleur team will be making the case for each of the 18 Cycling Hall of Fame nominees. Vote for Campagnolo – or any of the other nominees – below.
Read more from our Cycling Hall of Fame 2019, “The case for…” series:
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