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Vintage bikes add flair to Santa Fe Century

May 21, 2017 GMT

Jeff Della Penna rides his bicycle to work every morning at the Santa Fe Spa, where he is a personal trainer. But the bike isn’t just a means of transportation for Della Penna, 60, a two-time New Mexico off-road mountain bike champion in the mid-1990s.

It’s also a tribute to 1980s Italian bike races. Dell Penna has customized the 1986 Bianchi over the past six years to pay homage to those races, adding to the bike’s all-steel, handcrafted frame several features used by Italian racers of the era.

On Sunday morning, as a couple of thousand bicyclists gather at the Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center parking lot for the start of the 32nd annual Santa Fe Century — the final event in eight days of bike-centric activities across the city — Della Penna and other vintage bicycle enthusiasts will join the ride on their decadesold bikes.

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While many Century riders will be pushing for record times in the race, the ride will be more of a relaxed cruise for vintage bicycle riders. “We’re trying to go with as much style as we can,” Della Penna said.

He said he expected about 60 riders with vintage bicycles to participate in the Century, a 103-mile loop through the villages of Cerrillos, Madrid, Cedar Grove, Stanley, Galisteo and Lamy. The event includes 20- and 50-mile routes, as well as timed races. It’s being held this year as part of more than a week of activities, including Bike to Work Week events and the three-day Outside Bike & Brew Festival.

On Saturday, as hundreds of bike riders pedaled to activities around the downtown area and to the Santa Fe Railyard, where an Outside Bike & Brew bicycle expo, beer garden and concert were held throughout the day, Della Penna and other vintage bike owners gathered at the Christus St. Vincent lot, where Century organizers held a celebration of vintage bikes while riders registered for the annual race. Dozens of enthusiasts participated in the pageant, some wearing ’80s-style jerseys.

Della Penna said he has pushed for such a pageant for the past few years. Collectors appreciate the craftsmanship that went into making bicycles in the ’80s, he said.

He started racing bicycles four decades ago. “Now I’m into a different kind of riding,” he said. “I got my cool bike, and I want to see other bikes, and I’m going to ride and enjoy myself and say ‘Hi’ to my friends and stop at the rest stops.”

Gary Yara, 50, of Denver brought a 23-pound, red-and-yellow Tommasini to the Century’s vintage bike celebration. He said he has spent $6,000 customizing the bicycle.

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He started riding bicycles when he was 12, Yara said, and grew up idolizing Italian bikers.

“We as bike riders grow up, we see all these classics and we immortalize these riders,” he said. “We want to be like them.”

Della Penna got interested in vintage bicycles seven years ago, when he read about a now 20-year-old Italian vintage bicycle festival called L’Eroica of Gaiole. The event is held each year in October in Chianti.

He was teaching a cycling class at the time and told his students that one of his goals was to get in shape to participate in the festival. One student had an old bicycle from the 1980s and gave it to Della Penna, his first vintage bicycle.

Della Penna had signed up to participate in the Italian festival, he said, but because of a family emergency, he was unable to go. Instead, he hopes to cultivate a similar vintage bicycle culture in Santa Fe.

Like the Italian festival, Saturday’s event in Santa Fe had guidelines for what qualifies as a vintage bike: The model should be from 1987 or earlier; if the bicycle is geared, it should have shift levers on the down tube of the frame; the pedals should have toe clips or straps; the brake cables should pass outside and over the handlebars; and tubular tires are appreciated but optional.

According to the Italian festival’s website, it was started by Giancarlo Broccie, who has inspired bicyclists such as Della Penna to revive 1980s-era bicycles. Broccie created the festival because he “admired the values of past cycling so much that he wanted to reconnect others to the heritage that inspired much Italian history, literature, culture, and music,” according to the festival’s website.

Tom Candelaria, 33, brought three vintage bicycles to Saturday’s event, but the one he rode was from 1971.

He said he got into bicycling for fitness, but then he started researching vintage bicycles and grew to appreciate the craftsmanship of the classic Italian bicycles.

Sunday would be his first Century ride, he said, predicting it would be challenging because the vintage bicycles don’t have as many gear shifts as modern ones. But “this is just for fun,” he said. “It’ll be a laid-back ride.”

Contact Uriel Garcia at 505-986-3062 or ugarcia@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @ujohnnyg.

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