Gear Guy

Should I go to Italy to buy a bike?

Have I got an expensive proposition! I'm planning a trip to Italy and thinking it might be the perfect time to buy a new road bike straight from the factory, say Pinarello, De Rosa, or Colnago. Are there any advantages to doing this, such as incredible savings, or seeing the bike in progress and test riding it in the mountains? Are there drawbacks, such as duties, taxes, exchange rates, warranties and language that would make this way more trouble than it's worth? Thanks for your wisdom! Bob Foster St. Louis, Missouri

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The advantage to this can’t be measured in dollars, or by any other objective criterion. The advantage is that when you are out on your bike, you will say these words to yourself: “I bought this bike in…Italy.” At which point you will feel so warm and good you’ll think you wet your pants. Four years ago I stood in a bike shop in Rome and hefted a Colnago frame in translucent shades of blue and red in a model that was not yet available in the States. And it was a good price —- under $1,000. But, I’d just gotten a new bike, and couldn’t justify it. I still regret not buying it.

In any event, you’ll probably save a few bucks. After all, when you buy a bike in the States, it has been shipped from Italy, and that incurs costs. So depending on the dollar versus the Euro, you may save 20 to 30 percent. And while you may have to pay some duty on it when it comes into the States, that shouldn’t come anywhere near to sopping up those savings. As for where you’ll buy it, it would be fun to tour the factory, but I don’t know if Colnago or other makers have retail outlets. Besides, that would be frame only, so you wouldn’t be able to ride it. But there are plenty of good bike shops that will help you out. And language is no barrier -— just know your size, have a rough idea of what frames or built-up bikes cost here, and be ready to convert currency.

That said, the fact is that the U.S. has become an absolute hotbed of top-end frame making and finish. Don’t overlook the idea of getting an Erickson or some other U.S.-made bike. That would be a true custom bike, specifically for you —- the Italians are all off-the-shelf.