I just moved to Paris and want to buy a road bicycle. Do you know of any good brands in Europe? Megan Paris, France
Slap me with a bike pump somebody, oui. I'm only kidding. After all, I think the Europeans INVENTED bicycling—and bicycles—and remain far more into it than Americans. The Tour de France will still rivet that continent's attention long after Lance Armstrong has retired and Americans have forgotten all about it, not to mention countless other big road races we've barely heard of. Anyway, I will make a Herculean effort to get over my insane jealousy at your casual "I just moved to Paris" statement, and bring you the good advice you crave.
One certain bet is to buy just about any bike made by Bianchi (www.bianchi.com). That company's Veloce, which sells for about $1,600 in the U.S., is the epitome of a fine, well-priced European bicycle—aluminum frame, carbon front fork, Campagnolo components (no Shimano allowed on a good European bike!). It's a race-ready bike, but one that winks at you a little by incorporating a triple chainring. Meaning, you can crank it up nearly any hill without blowing out your knees.
Bianchi makes a full range of bikes in a full range of prices, so you're sure to find something there. Besides, I like Italian bikes for the same reason I like Italian wines—just the idea of them makes me supremely happy.
There's also a little Belgian company called Eddy Merckx (www.eddymerckx.be), founded by one of the great all-time road racers. They're awfully serious bicycles, though. The Alu Cross is a frame that's meant for cyclo-cross racing but suitable for all sorts of riding—the frame sells for $1,000 in the U.S.; you probably can find a built-up bike for about twice that.
Then, for sheer beauty, you'll never beat a Colnago bicycle (also Italian; www.colnago.com). You pay for that beauty, though—even its entry-level Active frame is $3,000 by the time you hang components off it.
Anyway, here's my advice: Find a Parisian acquaintance who is reasonably knowledgeable about bicycles, then take him or her along as you visit three or four shops in Paris. A bike in one of those shops will speak to you, softly, with a European accent. Buy it.
Grab a copy of Outside's April 2005 issue, on newsstands now, for a glimpse of cycling's handcrafted, carbon-fiber, tricked-out future in "St ate of the Art".