THROWBACK THURSDAY, 2008: INSIDE THE BIANCHI FACTORY

With news of a newly built 325,000 sq ft. Bianchi factory coming to Italy sometime next year, we thought it might be time to re-visit the exclusive inside look  we got back in 2008. 

INSIDE THE BIANCHI FACTORY

Here’s a rare team bike that was built specifically for Paris-Roubaix in 1995 using a suspension system that mimicked the Action-Tec and HeadShok designs used on mountain bikes.

It was a gray and rainy day when the RBA caravan pulled into the parking lot of the Bianchi factory. Luckily, fresh memories of a fine dinner the night before in the upper (old) town of Bergamo with RBA’s resident gourmand, Tim Maloney, prevented the glum weather from getting me down. Besides, we were at the gates of the fabled Bianchi factory – a brand so steeped in cycling history that tifosi the world over know it for one thing – the company color Celeste. As our factory guide (Product Manager) Lars Svalin told, the color was originally derived from the eye color of Queen Margherita of Savoy whom Mr. Bianchi once delivered a bike to.

 

Here’s the Bianchi that Giovanni Tommaselli rode in the 1899 Pisti GP of Paris.

Founded over 120 years ago in 1885 by Edoardo Bianchi himself and the later day home of such racing icons as Fausto Coppi, Felice Gimondi, and Marco Pantani to name but a few. Bike building at the current factory was begun in 1960. Although the landscape of large buildings looks all but under used these days, inside one large building there is a whole lotta bicycle building going on. In fact, the main building is split between all the bikes that are assembled from Asian made frames and all the bikes that are hand built from scratch. Within the latter you’ll also find their QC center, a custom fit room and of course the famous Reparto Corse race shop. In a separate wing there’s a small gallery of historical artifacts and a variety of business offices. But, on to a virtual factory tour of Bianchi Bicycles….

 

The racing exploits of Fausto Coppi were what put Bianchi on the map and due reverence is paid to the Italian champion throughout the factory. This is the bike he rode at the 1953 World Championships in Lugano.

 

Lest we forget that during the years  1897-1967 Bianchi made some really cool motorcycles as well. The poster on the wall was easily one of the coolest images in the whole factory…where was the gift shop?!!?

 

With a gallery of past champions on the wall looking on, this guy came all the way from Russia to get personally fitted to his Bianchi by Mauri Giacomo. Mauri started working at the factory when he was 16 and has been fitting riders to their bikes for over five decades.

 

The assembly line of the Asian made frames pumps out about 175 bikes a day (versus the 55 frames on the handbuilt side). Our hosts divulged some cool trivia regarding the inside code behind the Bianchi 928 model name which breaks down as follows: the 9 and 2 come from the years 1949 & 1952 when Coppi won the Tour de France and the 8 represents the year 1998 when it was won Marco Pantani.
This is a computer aided frame jig where all the geometry gets punched into the computer which then creates the custom angles on the jig. It takes about 20 hours for each custom frame to be made. This particular bike was built using Pro rider Manuel Soler’s geometry but with a different size frame.

 

Carbon is king sure, but Bianchi still  has some share in the titanium and steel market and the higher end versions are welded at the factory.

 

Stacks of the radically shaped Chrono TT bike work their way through the production line.

 

Here’s a nice pre-Celeste fixed gear Bianchi circa 1885 that should remind the modern day fixed gear gurus – it ain’t nothing new and it was much more of a challenge back in the day!

 

What color of Celeste did you want that frame in?

 

Here’s the tube to tube carbon wrap process taking place – one frame at a time.

 

Much like the time I toured the Pinarello factory and Fausto Pinarello said that I would find some old race bikes upstairs from the race shop, only to find a treasure trove of two-wheeled jewels, the same thing happened at Bianchi. Squeezed tight up in the rafters were some fantastic old TT and road bikes. Buried in the back here was a rainbow striped Y-frame bike once ridden by Gianni Bugno.

 

One of the most radical TT bikes we’ve ever seen was stacked in the rafters. Can you imagine the UCI official’s reaction when this bike with dual disc brakes was rolled into tech inspection?
As unconventional as the disc brakes are, how about the steering system that mounts directly to the forks?

 

Just when you’re about to be overcome with Celeste, a pretty in pink TT bike once ridden by the equally pretty Mario Cipollini jumps out at you. This was the bike that Cipo rode on April 26, 2005 to say farewell to racing and celebrate his record 42 stage wins at the Giro. Like Pantani, Cipo was a high maintenance rider who required up to a dozen frames with slightly different geometry before he chose his actual race bike built. On the opposite end of the spectrum was 2004 Paris Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt who one year used a single Ti road frame for the whole season and wanted to use it for a second year.

 

Never one to court publicity, Cipo (r) made sure that his farewell was as extravagant as possible. (Bettini photo)

 

Talk about an Italian power couple, where Colnago teams with Ferrari, Bianchi has an exclusive deal to produce the Ducati line of road and mountain bikes.

 

Forza Italia!

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