Old World Craftsmanship, New World Technology
Updated: Oct 15, 2020
The Oldest Bike Shop in Italy’s Mountain Bike Heaven.
Finale Ligure has garnered a significant amount of attention in recent years for its awesome mountain biking. There are no chair lifts here, just ‘up-lifts’ and plenty of companies ply this adrenaline-laced trade. With a spectacular Mediterranean backdrop, it is known as the “Italian Eden of Mountain Biking” . For over 90 years, Oddone Bici, has been served the community. Located in the town center, a few steps from the beach, it is a true gem that blends tradition and technology. Don’t miss it.
A Fine Balance
In his classic book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” Robert Pirsig focuses on the concept of ‘quality’, using the analogy of motorcycle maintenance. He laments today’s focus on technology and science alone and suggests that only by balancing the technical and emotional sides can true quality be achieved.
Quality, as Pirsig observes, is becoming a thing of the past. Technology drives modern society and we have lost touch with the emotional side. Fewer people truly care about their work. Many are simply ‘punching the clock’, ‘doing time’ and ‘getting though the day’. Occasionally, you stumble on someone who combines the technical skills and passion to create a quality experience.
This happened to me recently, quite by accident. I was walking in the Italian seaside town of Finale Ligure when I spotted a person carrying a bicycle rim. Curious as to where they were going, I followed. Technology clearly navigated them to Oddone Bike Caffe. The Caffe was open, the service side was closed. I noted the location and vowed to return.
The next day, I met a very pleasant owner, Giovanni Vizzini. We chatted as he tuned the latest downhill bike and I asked if he worked on older bikes. The rear derailleur on my vintage mountain bike was acting up. He invited me to bring it in to see if it could be adjusted. I was surprised that a shop full of the latest mountain, road and e-bikes would even consider looking at my 30+ year old bike. Most shops laugh me out the door.
Giovanni opened the door promptly at 9am the following morning and wheeled my bike in, placing it on the stand.
“It’s been a long time since I see a Diamond Back,” he said in accented English. “Let’s take a look.”
The Oldest Bicycle Shop in Town
Oddone Bike Shop was founded in 1928 by Guido Oddone. Guido rented and repaired bicycles and operated a small taxi service. With the onset of WWII and rationing, the taxi business slowed but bicycle rental thrived. And when the war ended, the shop remained an established fixture in the community.
Thirty years later, as Guido eyed retirement, his son Giancarlo took over the shop, adding a hardware store in the second half of the building. For three decades, Giancarlo and his wife ‘Gina’ rented, sold and serviced bicycles, raising their three children around the trade.
Giancarlo’s daughter, Giovanna, recounts many fine memories of growing up in that environment. Although she studied English in London, worked for Piaggio Aerospace, the local post office and more, she never forgot her roots in the family business. Little did she know her destiny lay there.
It’s a Family Affair
A chance encounter in a disco with an old classmate kindled a love affair that set the stage for the future. Giovanni Vizzini, a barman and chef, offered his childhood schoolmate a drink. The rest, as they say, is history.
Giovanna and Giovanni were married in 1992 and soon after, their son Andrea was born. Shortly after their wedding, they opened ‘Garibaldi’, a shop specializing in local dishes.
Sadly, four years later, Giovanna’s father Giancarlo fell ill and the two decided to close “Garibaldi” to help in the bike shop. Giovanni learned the trade over the course of the next year from his father-in-law and in 1997 the young couple took over the shop continuing the family tradition.
Andrea’s sister, Adele, was born in 1999, and another generation grew up in the family business. Today, Giovanni and Andrea work side by side in the bike shop and Giovanna runs the café. When Adele is not studying the saxophone at university, she works in the café alongside her mother.
Attention to Detail
Giovanni has honed his skills over 23 years and is a skilled craftsman. He wields his tools as an artist handles a paintbrush; with precision and purpose. As a mountain bike rider, his work and lifestyle blend seamlessly.
With my old bike up on the stand, he smiled and said: “Let’s see what we can do.”
Following a series of speedy adjustments, lubing the shifter, shortening the chain and installing a new shifter cable, he frowned and proclaimed the derailleur ‘caput’.
“The bushings are worn. With Shimano, you cannot change the parts.”
“Do you have a derailleur for old 7-speed bikes?” I asked.
“I do,” he replied, “but I am not sure if it works with the old shifter. Let’s find out.”
He quickly removed the old derailleur to install the replacement. I was impressed by his dedication to designing a solution and noted the small details. Re-boring the rusty threads on the frame so the new part mounted perfectly, resetting the chain length again, and taking extra care to go through the cable adjustments a second and third time.
Fine tuning the throw on the derailleur, the chain glided up and down the cogs smoothly with each click of the shifter. Running it through the gears repeatedly, Giovanni stopped for the occasional final adjustment. This care made all the difference. It shifted flawlessly.
While Giovanni worked his magic, Andrea came in to chat. He walked me through the arch to the café and accessories side of the business. He told me that International Studies was not for him. As an enthusiastic rider who grew up in the trade, his heart is in the family business.
Oddone Bike Caffe
The café is one year old, and business was booming. Andrea introduced me to his mother, Giovanna, who served me a delicious coffee.
“Coffee is part of Italian life,” she said with a charming smile.
In between my barrage of questions, she served regulars and tourists with gentle kindness. An assortment of baked goods, wine and craft beer, lined the shelves and the menu offered a variety of meals for any time of day. A wide selection of tea, perhaps a nod to her year in England, graced a sideboard in the seating area. Magazines and newspapers complemented the vintage posters and miscellaneous memorabilia.
Accessories were mounted on the wall in an uncluttered, artistic style. The shop had a classic sense, in spite of being filled with the latest clothing, bikes and technology. Old school class in a new world.
I climbed aboard my bike to climb into the hills behind town. It was as though I had a new machine. The gears shifted without fault, even in the middle of a steep climb. The following day I returned to the shop to thank Giovanni for his excellent service.
I had noticed that my rear tire was held together by threads and needed replacement. It was so old that the rim tape was fused to the rim. Giovanni selected a tire and when I asked for replacement tape, he searched an assortment of boxes.
“Sorry, I don’t have 26. Use this electrical tape - two times around,” he said, handing me a roll of tape. I tried to pay for the tape, but he smiled, waved his hand in the air, accepting only payment for the tire. We shook hands wishing each other a great day.
If you don’t know the name Oddone, it doesn’t rank high in online search. But what it lacks in online presence is surpassed by quality technical service performed with care, a friendly atmosphere and a genuine welcome. The customer experience is unparalleled.
Finale Ligure has become a mountain bike mecca. A host of shops have opened to capitalize on the fame that hit a few years back. They have online presence, promoting ‘up-lifting’ and guided tours to the young, adrenaline-laced downhill crowd.
But there is only one shop with a rich history, a family welcome for cyclists and coffee drinkers, food lovers and craft beer aficionados – Oddone Bike Caffe.
Do not miss a visit to this iconic shop when visiting Finale Ligure.
Via Cristoforo Colombo 22 17024 Finale Ligure (SV)
Tel. 019 694 215
About the Author: Tim Morch is a chronic traveler who dreams of being a writer when he grows up. Whether in the saddle of a bicycle or motorcycle, the cockpit of a sea kayak, riding a wave or trekking a backcountry trail, Tim has a love of adventure and a passion for discovery. You can learn more about him at timmorch.com