In bike racing terms there really has never been anything quite as iconic and recognisable as the Celeste green branding colour of the great Italian manufacturer Bianchi’s bikes. Other manufacturers have come and gone, and their trademark designs and colours changed with the winds of time, yet 120 years on and Bianchi is still as recognisable as ever by it’s famous pale green colouring and royal eagle head badge.
The story started some 120 years back when Edoardo Bianchi, an engineer by trade, decided to venture into the world of wheeled transport production. From a humble bike shop in Milan Edoardo went on to produce motorbikes, cars, boats, and even their engines, as well as the familiar Bianchi bikes we all know and love. During those early days many of the great Italian motorcycle racers of the era rode for Bianchi, as well as the early champion cyclists.
As romantic as the history of Bianchi it’s self is the legend of the Celeste colour; it is believed that after making a custom bicycle for, and teaching her to ride it, that Edoardo became so enchanted with the Celeste eyes of the Italian queen that he decided to make it the Bianchi trade mark colouring. This is a colour that has seen various incarnations and designs during its time, but it is as clear and recognisable now as it was in the early days of Bianchi’s great champions.
There were champions in the earlier days of Bianchi, but it was a certain Fausto Coppi who first thrust the Celeste brand to the forefront of professional cycling, a great and legendary champion, who would undoubtedly have achieved an awful lot more had WW11 not broken out during his prime years, forcing him into military service, and ultimately to become a prisoner of war. Even so he still won an amazing 5 Giro’s and two Tour de Frances, no mean feat!.
During the war the Bianchi factory was bombed heavily, and in 1946 Ernesto passed away, and it took several years for the company to clamber back to the top of the bike racing tree, and that was largely due in thanks to a certain Felice Gimondi. Gimondi was a champion in the mould of Coppi, and equally as talented, and carried off victories in all of the grand tours during his career.
The years that followed on from Coppi and Gimondi saw greats like Moreno Argentin Gianni Bugno and even Mario Cipollini carving out their chapters in the Bianchi history book; but it was perhaps the late great Marco Pantani who enchanted a whole generation with his charisma and incredible mountain performances, and for many of us Pantani is the iconic Bianchi champion of all time.
Great champions and Bianchi seem to go together, and can make a significant impact on brand sales and awareness – a figure such as Pantani or Ulrich can increase sales by up to 20% for a manufacturer, as well as help greatly in developing the product and it’s credibility.
For the past few years Bianchi have worked with the Liquigas team, and in particular with Danilo Di Luca, in developing their range. It’s true that some pro bike riders can ride on farm gates, but riders like Di Luca are known as perfectionists – which is great for manufacturers, and ultimately for all of us, as they help test and develop the cutting edge limits of the bikes we all ride.
Bianchi are one of the few major manufacturers that offer custom options on their high end frames, and the facility of actually going to the factory for a measuring in the same lab and by the same expert that has customised the positions of riders like Ulrich and Pantani. In fact it was this lab that revolutionised Ulrich’s position while he was riding Bianchi bikes.
With a team such as Liquigas there will be 2-3 road bikes and a time trial bike for each rider, and choice of model and material is largely down to the riders. Di Luca is a very precise rider, who likes responsiveness, and almost always chooses to ride aluminium, a choice that has influenced many of the lesser technically precise riders in the team. On the other hand many riders chose carbon frames for their comfort, while the giant Magnus Backstedt almost always rides titanium for its strength and flexibility.
As with many manufacturers the bulk of their bikes are now made in the Far East, where Bianchi also have their own facility and staff on the ground. But, the high end none carbon models and custom options are still built in the factory, which is close to Milan. The site is quite impressive, and they are currently in the process of building a museum there. Tucked away in a storeroom beneath the offices is a jam-packed room, which every cyclist would kill to wander around. This is where just about every classic Bianchi bike from the last century is housed; it is truly an amazing and humbling labyrinth. You name it, it’s there – from the early Oz geared bikes to those of Coppi, Barteli, Gimondi, Bugno and Argentin and the entire team set up of Pantani’s squad. The later of which were being pulled from storage to be ridden by actors who were in the process of making a movie about his life.
Although Bianchi are at the time of writing not confirmed as sponsors of a Pro Tour team for next year, they are still heavily involved in the sport, and as well as sponsoring many leading female and amateur squads they are also long term supporters of the AIS South Australia squad, who are based a couple of hours way in Varesse, and you can rest assured that it won’t be too long until yet another great champion is seen on the