By Bruce Hendler
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of cycling history? It could be a great rider like Eddy Merkyx or classic races like Paris-Roubaix and the Giro d’ Italia. When it’s narrowed down to cycling equipment, the bike that best conjures up images of history is the Italian company of Bianchi, which boasts an amazing 121-year history, not to mention one of the most recognized paint colors in all of sport; the unmistakable “Bianchi Blue” or “Celeste.”
The history of one of the world’s top bicycles started back in 1885 when then 21 year old Edoardo Bianchi opened his small bicycle shop focusing on repairs in Milan’s via Nirone. After just 3 years in the business, he created his first bicycle and as soon as 1896 began using his bicycles in races as a testing ground, which was a totally new concept at the time. Within 3 years of entering the racing scene, Bianchi Bicycles had their first international victory in the Grand Prix of Paris, the prelude to the Tour de France.
He is also credited with originating a manufacturing concept called “Reparto Corse” which literally translates to: “racing department.” This revolutionary process intends to “create for the purpose of winning.” By utilizing the race environment to rigorously test his products, Bianchi was able to dramatically improve the bikes that reached the average rider. In Italy today, you see the revolutionary and highly effective “Reparto Corse” process applied in companies like Ferrari, Ducati and Alfa Romero. Using this philosophy to guide the development of his bicycles, Bianchi became “the” brand of bicycle racing in the early 20th century.
Bianchi was frequently ahead of his time. For example, he was the first bicycle manufacturer to create a bicycle with pneumatic tires (air). He is also credited with creating the first women’s bike in 1895 as a special commission for Queen Margherita, at Villa Reale in Monza. Bianchi travels to court to present the bicycle and provide riding lessons to the Queen. He invented the first mountain bike in 1915, which was developed for the “bersaglieri,” the elite Italian light infantry division during World War I. With these achievements, Edoardo Bianchi became known as the grandfather of the modern bicycle, just as Henry Ford is considered the grandfather of the automobile.
In between the World Wars, Bianchi continued to develop his line of bicycles and win many races, like the Giro d’Italia and Giro di Lombardia. In 1940, the great Italian Champion Fausto Coppi began to ride for Team Bianchi. During World War II, the factory was destroyed by bombs, but was eventually rebuilt in 1946.
Where’d That Bianchi Bike Blue Color Come From?
Around this time their famous bluish-green color “celeste” or “Bianchi Blue” was created. There are some of the theories (or myths) as to where this highly recognized color came from:
• Eduardo created the color in honor of Italy’s Queen Margherita’s beautiful eyes.
• It was Eduardo’s homage to Milan and its beautiful sky, or “celeste”.
• Bianchi had so much surplus green paint from Mussolini’s WWII reign that they mixed it with blue to create a unique color.
• Edoardo created it to be a unique standout in the peloton and through a few different variations, the color naturally developed to what it is today.
• Still another story was that celeste was a complete paint mixing mistake done on the team bikes only days before the Giro d’Italia. Fausto Coppi and his teammates thought the bikes were purposely painted that way for good luck.
Wherever the color originated (it looks more green than blue), it remains one of the most recognized and sought after colors in sport.
Today, Bianchi bicycles continue their use of the “Reparto Course” concept and outfit the best professional riders in the world. They currently sponsor the Pro Tour team Liquigas, led by 2005 Pro Tour winner, Danilo Di Luca and 2004 Paris-Roubaix champion Magnus Backstedt. 2005 World Mountain Bike champion Julien Absalon rode a Bianchi on route to his world title.
Bianchi USA, based in Northern California (Hayward), realizes that continuing their successful history requires a lot of hard work and dedication. Keeping up with the aggressiveness of other manufacturers like Trek and Specialized is a difficult task.
“As a world-wide company, the main message that Bianchi wants to get across to its consumers is that it doesn’t matter if you are a pro racer or a club rider. Our new bikes, the pro level, technically advanced 928 SL or the more recreational Coast to Coast model meet all levels of need. The bottom line is that Bianchi has a bike that’s right for you,” said Mark Ashley, Bianchi USA’s National Sales Manager.
With more history than any other bike company in the world comes the experience needed to design a superb product. “Our experience has given Bianchi a great foundation for moving forward and is why Bianchi continues to design products that are at the technological cutting edge while simultaneously meeting consumer demands,” said Ashley.
Sometimes having a great history causes a company to fall back on their past achievements: Bianchi, however, feels compelled by their history to continue creating the best products available and ones that would make Eduardo proud.
Bruce Hendler is a USA Cycling Coach and owner of AthletiCamps in Northern California. For the past 9 years, he and his experienced team have helped athletes of all levels achieve their goals in the great sport of bike racing through cycling coaching and performance testing.