The two Italians in my basement are working again

IMG_0444When I think about computers, I don’t find myself longing for the good old days. The Mac SE, the Quadra 605, the blue bubble gum iMac (still in the basement), heck, the flat screen iMac I’m working on right now–they’re all obsolete.

Each one was invaluable to me at one time, but when I’m done with them, I’m done. I wouldn’t call it planned obsolescence, but even if unplanned, Apple has gone beyond the wildest fantasies of the 1950s automotive industry in making last year’s model ancient history.

Which is yet another fine reason to love the world of bicycles and today, specifically, the Italians who made Silca bicycle pumps beginning in 1917 and the American entrepreneur who’s making it possible for the rest of us to celebrate the company’s centenary in three years.

If you value things that are built to last, you have to value a Silca pump, even if you don’t own one.

I’ve had the pump on the right since at least 1977, when I bought it used. When I got it, I had a bicycle the same color, a Motobecane Team Champion, I wore a leather-strap helmet and wool jersey and shorts, and I nailed thin steel cleats onto the bottom of leather shoes to keep my feet pointed ahead, ever so slightly pigeon-toed, within Christophe toe clips bolted to steel Campy quill pedals.

So yes, the pump is rather old.

I think I bought the pump on the left to replace the other one, but here they both are, still, and now they both work, thanks to replacement parts from the new American incarnation of the old Italian Silca company.

I replaced the inner valve assembly, plunger cup and presta chuck gasket on both pumps. I also replaced the gauge on the orange pump, though true to form, I’m not throwing out the old gauge with its smashed bezel.

The parts for these fine old pumps were shipped from just one state over: Indiana. Josh Poertner, former Zipp wheels engineer, seems to be taking a thoughtful approach to reviving the Silca brand, maintaining some supply chain connections to Italy even as he introduces an entirely reformulated presta chuck gasket and gets ready to launch a new pump.

Bicycle Retailer wrote a great summary on Silca and Poertner. It’s definitely worth your time.

IMG_0432The end of the plunger is on the left. The leather cup on the right has since replaced whatever that black rubbery thing was.

IMG_0428Guess I didn’t realize how long ago I last used the orange pump. Note “USA” on the new presta chuck gasket.

IMG_0436The finish of the orange pump is what Rivendell’s Grant Petersen would call “beausage,” a portmanteau of usage and beauty.

Beats calling it what it is: the blasted surface of a top-heavy pump that fell over just about every time it was used. After several years of consistently failing to anticipate the next swoon, I began laying the pump down after every use to formally acknowledge its special relationship with gravity.

IMG_0426The inner valve assembly now comprises American and Italian parts—and still fits Silca pumps that are decades old, even older than mine.

IMG_0431Here’s the proper orientation of the gasket within the chuck at the end of the hose. The chuck is like the rest of the pump: simple. Push the assembly onto an open presta valve and get pumping. When you’re done pumping, pull the chuck off the valve.

There’s no clamp or quick-release lever to keep air pressure from blowing the chuck off the valve prematurely. The gasket was designed to retain the valve of the inner tube by itself.

Of course design and reality often parted ways. In the old days, I’d only get through so many inflation cycles before I’d be holding the chuck in place with one hand and pumping with the other.

I have high hopes that the gasket’s new elastomer formulation will let me use both sides of the pump’s handle for a long time to come.

Hard to say what computer I’ll be using to make my long-term usage report, though.

Have a Silca pump? If your shop doesn’t have new parts in stock, you can probably get what you need straight from the company. Hey, anybody speak Indianapolese?

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About 16incheswestofpeoria

Former bicycle mechanic, current peruser of books, feeder of birds.
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9 Responses to The two Italians in my basement are working again

  1. Marlon says:

    I love this juxtaposition. My 14-year-old Silca pump is still doing its job with no maintenance, so far, though I’m glad to see there’s a source for parts. Meanwhile, I’ve been working on salvaging an Apple PowerMac G4, which is slightly younger than the pump. They’ve made it difficult, with the prevalence of content requiring Adobe Flash, and after some light tinkering, it’s still a noisy, but mostly functioning machine.
    Note that certain enthusiasts insist PowerPc-era Apples will never be bettered. I’m still learning, and optimistic, but I don’t think I’d bet on the computer outliving the pump.

  2. Craig Burgess says:

    Would that I had had the patience to wait for the American Intervention. My orange Silca has been gone for years now – almost as many years as it gave in service.

  3. Mine is blue and I still use it in my shop. It turned 30 last year and has been overhauled a few times. I think that the chuck got a new gasket about 4 years ago. Russells had a few parts in a drawer.

    • Feels good to be flying the Silca flag again. I’m as democratic as the next rider, but back in the day, I felt there was a difference between people with Silca pumps and people who clamped a presta chuck into whatever pump they had laying around. Turns out they were usually taller than me.

  4. lardavis says:

    Still got my Silca – and yes, it’s usually the first to fall over. Parts used to be available from Colorado Cyclist, and Third Hand/Loose Spokes. I got a replacement chuck, and the innards quite a while ago – seems the threads on the stems rip up the gasket (thanks Sam for the photo guidance), and threadless stems (damn them Michelin tubes) are useless without the extra hand grip. Also note that the base will leave rust stains on your carpet, so beware. [Current pump d’jour is Joe Blow Sport, of which I have a couple – upstairs/downstairs, and have replaced at least one of their hose/fitting assembly tortured by my less-tool-sparing relatives.]

    • It will be interesting to see what the new owner does with the company to reestablish the brand. Other companies have moved into the space–I also have a Joe Blow pump–and it’s going to take more than spare parts to sustain the business, so I’m really looking forward to new product.

  5. Pingback: The ANTI-Planned Obsolescence Tool | the frugal cyclist

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