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What We Ride: Joe’s lovely alloy Cinelli Experience

20 Apr 2022

Digital editor Joe’s first ever road bike has been rebuilt into his ultimate ride

Words: Joe Robinson Photography: Mike Massaro

There are many Cinelli Experience road bikes but this one is mine. My Cinelli is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my Cinelli is useless. Without my Cinelli, I am useless. And so on, and so on.

This Cinelli Experience was my first bike, it’s my only bike and I think it’s the only bike I will ever really need. Here’s why.

Why the Cinelli Experience?

The year was 2014. I wanted to buy my first road bike. My budget was £600. I looked at the usual suspects, your Specialized Allezs, your Ribbles, your Tribans. I was left uninspired.

Then there it was, £499 on Wiggle, the Cinelli Experience. The only one left was 54cm which was a size too small, the box section Miche wheels supplied weighed a tonne, it had skinny 23mm tyres and had a massive white saddle. But it had a 10-speed Campagnolo Mirage groupset, the frame was Colombus Airplane and Cinelli was an Italian dynasty. I was sold.

I rode that bike almost every day for three years. Through 120km solo out-and-backs to Box Hill where I finished in the dark, to the Paris-Roubaix sportive.

It guided me to my first Strava KOM and helped me shed 25kg. It was the Clyde to my Bonny, Dec to my Ant, Garfunkel to my Simon.

Then I upgraded. I sold my soul to the devil and went for carbon fibre and got a ridiculously sensible Orbea Orca. The Cinelli went in the shed, gathering dust, being used to hang gardening gloves. It was bound for the scrap heap.

When the pandemic came our lives changed. We were bound to our homes, and we all took up new hobbies such as baking and stamp collecting. Or, in my case, bike restoration.

My Experience build: An ode to a great man

Inspired, I dug the Cinelli out of the shed, determined to breathe life into this bike once more. I stripped it of its rusty old parts, I used T-Cut on the frame to freshen the paint and assembled my fancy new components, all shiny and new, ready to dress my old pride and joy.

But there was an issue: I don’t know my bottom bracket standards from my torque screw tolerances – I needed someone to build the bike.

Enter my local bike shop, Welling Cycles, owned by local mechanic and all-round top bloke Peter Elliott. Pete knew his way around a bike and loved his job, especially when he got to build old Cinelli frames up with Campagnolo groupsets or wrap stubborn leather bar tape around aero carbon bars.

It reminded him of his days working for racing teams as a professional fettler instead of his usual bike shop duties of trying to order in out-of-stock Shimano cassettes and fixing punctures on endless kids’ bikes.

Pete was also a rider. Come into his store and before long he’d have Michelin road maps of France out on the table, showing you back routes up the Galibier or quiet mountain passes that are much more scenic than Alpe d’Huez. He was a man that utterly loved cycling.

I entrusted him with the job, he delivered. The Cinelli was once more. Gears perfectly indexed, bar tape expertly wrapped, a better job could not have been done.

Photo: Welling Cycles 

At the beginning of 2022, Pete sadly died following a short battle with cancer. He was only in his late fifties and didn’t know he was ill until it was too late.

Up until he was physically too weak to work, Pete was in his shop, fixing bikes and talking cycling. The loss of Pete was felt not only for the cruel taking of a human life before its time, but for the void it left in the local cycling community. A man to be relied on, to be trusted. In a way, this bike is partly his and I’m proud to say he built it.

Italian stallions only dress in Campagnolo

I think this bike must be allergic to Shimano because every time I went near it with an Ultegra groupset it came out in a rash.

The Experience was never having any other groupset besides Campagnolo. The Italian groupset giant was the reason I bought this bike eight years ago and I would be betraying it if I didn’t keep things homegrown. I just cannot get enough of a thumb shift clunk.

Now I wanted to fit Campagnolo Super Record EPS but you'll notice there are no provisions for internal cabling to the rear derailleur, which restricted me to mechanical Campagnolo shifting. I opted for Chorus because it’s very good, and I think ‘Chorus’ looks better than ‘Record' written on the crank arm.

The only non-Campagnolo part of my groupset is the cassette, which is Shimano 105. Campagnolo cassettes are very expensive to replace and despite what anyone says, Shimano 11-speed cassettes work absolutely fine with 11-speed Campagnolo groupsets. And if you don’t believe me, then listen to Rob Hayles.

Aero touches

That naughty 105 cassette is attached to a very swish set of Hunt 50 carbon wheels.

Hunt is a Sussex-based wheel manufacturer that does good wheels at sensible prices. These 50mm carbon wheels weigh a respectable 1,537g for the pair, have a clean aesthetic, are fast, can be converted to tubeless if you want and have the best carbon brake track of any carbon rim brake wheels I have ever used. In the wet, these are fantastic and further proof to me that I don’t need disc brakes just yet.

Mounted to them are a set of special edition Tour de France tan-wall Continental GP5000 clincher tyres, another aesthetics-first choice that is paying off. In two years, I’ve yet to puncture (touch wood).

The next aero nod comes in the form of my Bontrager XXX carbon handlebar which is light and said to ‘save up to 23 seconds per hour’ over a traditional round bar.

This is mounted to my 130mm Zipp stem which I need due to having exceptionally long arms in comparison to my torso, not because I think it makes me look pro.

Devil in the detail

Every now and then I will add a few things to the Experience to make it that little more unique.

Most recently, my best mate Ewan bought me a Cinelli top cap for Christmas which has really helped bring the cockpit to life. Then there was the out-front red Prime mount I picked up for 20 quid last summer which accents the red in the frame to perfection.

The Elite Ciussi bottle cages look classic and their colour matches the frame. I was very happy to pick up the pair for just £28.

Then the Brooks Cambium C13 saddle isn’t the most comfortable, I will admit, but I love how it looks and it’s light so that’s enough to sell me. I may sub it out for a snub-nosed Selle Italia though, so watch this space.

Also, note the seatpost clamp which has partially melted because I left it against a radiator in Belgium. 

What’s it like to ride?

A plank of wood being dragged over corrugated steel by an incandescent silverback. No, not quite that bad, but it’s not far off.

This was a £999 bike off the shelf from 2014 that I got for £499. Comfort was not something I assume Cinelli was all too fussed about in frame development so this thing has never really felt all that smooth. Add to that my choice to swap in a carbon aero handlebar and rigid carbon saddle and I’ve hardly helped myself either.

But I couldn’t care less about comfort because what I care about is excitement and fun and this bike is just that.

It corners like a shoplifter trying to evade the police, wags its bottom bracket from side to side as you force yourself uphill and keeps you as honest as any bike you will have ever ridden.

This bike has got me through Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders with not one mechanical. It breezed through both like any £12,000 superbike, just with oodles more class.

Sure, I couldn’t sit properly for a week afterwards but I was certainly the envy of all those riders out there on 30mm tyres and endurance framesets.

In a straight line it’s fast, uphill it’s fast. It catches the eye of other cyclists at the café stop. It’s brilliant. Without me, my Cinelli is useless. Without my Cinelli, I am useless.

Joe’s Cinelli Experience spec

• Frame: Columbus Airplane aluminium
• Fork: Cinelli Experience carbon
• Weight: 7.45kg
• Groupset: Campagnolo Chorus 11-speed, 50/34, 11-28
• Wheels: Hunt 50 carbon wide aero wheelset
• Tyres: Continental GP5000 clincher, 25mm
• Cockpit: 42cm Bontrager XXX aero handlebar, 130mm Zipp Service Course SL steam, Rapha Classic bar tape
• Seatpost: Bontrager XXX
• Saddle: Brooke C13 Carver
• Pedals: Shimano Ultegra w/ Favero Assioma Duo power spindles
• Accessories: Elite Ciussi cages, Wahoo Elemnt Roam w/out-front Prime mount

Joe’s Cinelli Experience

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Photos: Mike Massaro