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What We Ride: James's Cinelli Laser dream road bike

Retro-modern Italian carbon tribute to the most beautiful steel bikes ever made

James Spender
27 Jul 2022

The first book about cycling I ever had was Richards’ Bicycle Repair Manual, given to me by my dad. Note the apostrophe.

It was written by two whole Richards, Richards Ballantine and Grant.

Judging by Richard B’s beard and sweater he was an eminent cycle journalist of his day, and I learnt everything from that book, from the difference between cotter pin and cotterless cranks (square taper BBs were weirdly referred to as ‘fag-type’ – a reference to FAG bearings, perhaps?) to how to stuff a tyre with grass and sticks to get you home (I have still never tried this but one day I’m going to impress the heck out of somebody with it).



I still have this book, though I have no idea if the Richards still exist. I hope so, they gave me a deep love of cycling maintenance, if not precisely Bicycle Repair Man abilities.

The second book I ever had about cycling was Cyclepedia: A tour of iconic bicycle designs. It featured the personal bike collection of an Austrian architect called Michael Embacher, 100 bikes in all – which it turned out wasn’t even half.

Many moons ago I visited Michael in Austria and he showed me a collection of more than 200, which had to be housed in a rented warehouse.

In Cyclepedia, amongst the original Molteni Merckx, the twin-tubed Colnago, the two-wheel drive, belt drive Subaru bike, Mike Burrows' Lotus 110, the Bob Jackson racing tricycle and the French folder that turns into a boat trailer boat, there on page 204 was the Cinelli Laser.

From that moment on, that bike was all I ever wanted, lifted from those pages and filed under ‘dream bike’.

The reason was solely how it looked. Steel, slim, smooth and electric blue. At this stage in my road bike life I could barely tell you the difference between Shimano and Campagnolo, but I somehow knew this was the best bike I had ever seen.

My very own Cinelli Laser

Fast forward eight years and I now own one. Sort of.

The first Cinelli Laser was drawn on the back of a napkin by current president of Columbus tubing, Antonio Colombo, after he saw a French aerodynamic bicycle at a trade fair in Japan in the late 1970s.

Wind-tunnel testing and CFD? No way mate, just make it look fast.

The first prototype Cinelli Laser appeared in 1979, by 1981 official production started and by 1983 the bike had made its racing debut at the Pan Am Games in Caracas (for this last tidbit of information I thank the researchers of Embacher’s book).

Cinelli says only around 300 official Laser frames were ever produced, from 1981 to 1991, and in that time Laser bikes notched up 28 Olympic golds.

It’s impressive stuff, but the bit I like more is the legend of Andrea Pesenti, the man at Cinelli who pioneered the TIG welding techniques that allowed these gusset-junctioned Lasers to exist. Pesenti, they say, welded every single Laser ever and has ‘Laserman’ tattooed on his forearm.

And there were a lot of Lasers – Lasers with handlebars coming off the fork crown, Lasers with no down tubes, Lasers with fairings over the whole frame, Lasers with chainrings bigger than serving platters.

But there was always one unifying factor, the colour: Laser blue.

(Albeit I have seen one official red Laser, an experimental Hour record machine with front and rear suspension, designed to lower rolling resistance... ironic given tracks are designed to be train-rail smooth.)

Pesenti also sounds like a top bloke who, along with Cinelli's now COO, Paolo Erzegovesi, helped establish a programme where substance misusers were retrained to weld bikes. After four years, Pesenti had trained 30 framebuilders who went on to fabricate bikes across Italy for the likes of De Rosa and Carrera and, of course, Cinelli.

But enough misty-eyed romance. Because this is my modern day carbon Cinelli Laser and frankly there is no nobility here, it is every bit a project of vanity.

First up, the geometry. Cinelli offers custom, but having once made a custom bike I know that while custom geometry fits great, it can look crap – we all need taller headtubes than we ride, sorry to say.

So not wanting to end up with a gawky looking bike, I opted for a size 55, reasoning that I couldn’t abide the idea of a 170mm headtube of the next size up. This bike needed to look the business.

Thus when it arrived from Italy it was clearly too small. (On that note, these bikes are made for Cinelli in Italy by a fabrication partner just down the road.)

Initially it came with a matching set of Cinelli Ram 3 one-piece bars, which I admit are kinda silly and aren’t really that light, and when do you really go, ‘I wish my bar and stem interface was stiffer?’ The stem was 110mm. But what’s that you say eBay?

Cinelli also does a collaboration Ram bar with New York graffiti artist Mike Giant that has skulls on (so Cinelli), and on eBay I found one at half price, beacuse clearly no-one buys a 140mm stemmed, one-piece bar in a 42cm width. But I did.

I swapped them in. The bike looked, well, ridiculous, and a million miles away now from the elegant masterpiece of the original, but I didn’t care. It now fitted like a moderately back-breaking glove, and given the slightly small size, the 980mm wheelbase meant it swivelled on a sixpence.

In terms of performance this is where this bike shines, handling. It is lightning. But I could not fault the ride quality either, although I could absolutely point fingers at the frame and say the gussets just make the thing heavier without adding any aero benefit (claimed weight for a frame is 980g – quite a lot when I bought this in 2018) and that the skinny tubes were quite prone to flex.

This last bit is ironic, because as much as the gussets have that aero look the truer story is they were initially employed to strenghten tube junctions. This allowed more acute frame angles than traditional brazed construction could provide, thereby affording a rider a more aero body position.

That is where the Laser project gets its aero wings.

However, in this carbon reissue these design tropes lend the Laser a steel ride quality, making it corner like a bendy dream, wheels hugging the road like a parent sending their kid off to camp. The bike skips and pings. It sings on tarmac. Really, it does. I wouldn't fancy it in a sprint though.

I have never ridden a bike I’ve loved to ride as much – but I am extremely biased.

The build kit had to be Campagnolo Super Record because it is one above Dura-Ace so it is the best groupset in the universe. I know this because Campy (yes I said 'Campy' – fight me) tells us that Chorus is equivalent to Ultegra, Record to Dura-Ace and thus Super Record has no equal, even though it looks identical to Record only with one more word written on it.

Eagle-eyed viewers will have spotted this is the previous generation of Super Record, the last beautiful groupset Campagnolo ever made. I did say I'm biased.

The wheels also had to be Campagnolo, Boras, obvs, because Boras were the first pro-raced carbon rim wheels, because Team Telekom and Jan Ullrich rode Boras (and I think Lance did too, before buying his own Lightweights), and because the clinchers in the Bora Ultra edition weigh just 1,420g.

At the time was incredible for a 50mm-deep carbon clincher, and if I had the guts I'd have loved the tubs – 1.275g. Wowsers.

Boras are also the best accelerating wheels this side of Lightweight Meilensteins, being insanely stiff in the rim, if again not really being very aero.

The pointy rim shape was drawn by someone asked to draw what they thought was an aero rim shape.

The newer Campagnolo Bora WTOs, on the other hand, now they're wind-tunnel fast.

Rounding things off is a seatpost I couldn’t care less about, an aluminium Cinelli Vai that costs about six quid and as such is an absolute insult to this bike, except it is colour matched.

In my defence I did ask Cinelli for its top end carbon Neos post, but they said once painted it wouldn’t fit the frame. I do care a lot, however, for the thing attached to the seatpost.

It is a Selle Italia SLR and it has steel rails so it is significantly heavier than other saddles, which would again be insulting were it not for its colour: honey brown.

Selle Italia still makes three honey brown – or Nubuck to its fans – saddles: the SLR, the Flite 1990 and the Turbo. I confess I didn't know which would look right so I bought them all. Again, thanks eBay, and thanks people who don't want slightly too heavy, dated looking saddles.

Then, tan walls. Had to be cos that's what the original Lasers had.

These are Vittoria Corsa Graphenes, only the first version which must somehow not be as good as the 2.0s because of time and money. Still, I adore these tyres, here, there and everywhere.

In my book they are the best clinchers going, a 320tpi cotton casing and open tubular in construction. That is, they are like a tub just not sewed up. This makes for the smoothest, supplest ride out there, especially with latex tubes. 

However, a word of warning on latex tubes. They go down on their own as latex is basically quite porous, which does leave one scratching ones head when it comes to thing designed to hold air and certain types of liquid. 

What that means is you need to pump them up before every ride, and sometimes in between, to prevent the tyres walls from eventually splitting – casings don't enjoy being creased.

Latex tubes eventually also just burst themselves, bits of them seem to get thinner and thinner because of the slightly unveen way they inflate, and even the smooth rim bed of the Boras has texture enough from the carbon weave to gently rub a hole in a tube. It's why I currently have a butyl tube on the friont wheel. When the rear latex finally goes, that's it. 

Sad times as latex tubes are more supple than butyl so the ride quality is better. Hey ho.

In another world I'd be running tubeless tyres, and in fact the tubeless versions of Corsas are even better, but (a) these Bora wheels aren’t tubeless ready and I can’t afford the newer tubeless versions, and (b) the tubeless Vittoria Corsas only come in grey or black wall, Corsa Speed TT tyres excepting.

OK, Veloflex, Challenge… there are tan wall tubeless tyres if that’s so bloody important to you. Better start saving for those Bora WTOs.

So that’s it, my dream bike. It took some work and there are better performing dream bikes out there. But I don’t care because I look at the Laser every day – it's hanging next to this very desk I type at – and every time I ride it, I love it.

OK, it is a carbon replica of the bike I fell in love with, and at the time I did toy with trying to buy Embacher’s off him – he sold all his bikes at Sotheby's a few years back as the warehouse situation became untenable.

But in the end his Laser went for nearly €16,000, and though he and I got on well, we didn’t get on that well.

So I know a steel Laser is still out there for me one day, but for now I this will do nicely.

Appositely, the full name of this bike is the Cinelli Laser Mia, and Mia translates as ‘mine’.

James's Cinelli Laser spec

  • Frame: Cinelli Laser 55cm
  • Groupset: Campagnolo Super Record 11-speed
  • Brakes: Campagnolo Super Record rim
  • Wheels: Campagnolo Bora Ultra clincher
  • Tyres: Vittoria Open Corsa 25mm
  • Cockpit: Cinelli Ram Mike Giant, 420mm wide, 140mm stem
  • Seatpost: Cinelli Vai aluminium
  • Saddle: Selle Italia SLR Nubuck
  • Pedals: Look Keo

Photos: Mike Massaro

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