An interesting post from my archives of interesting posts:
Article from Cycling Plus magazine, #113, Christmas 2000, page 20 / - Pete Biggs
Highly recommended website for Bike Racing Slang: http://www.members.tripod.com/geert_pc/slang.htm
DESIGN CLASSICS - 1940s/50s Bianchi Road Bike
Made famous by the race winning exploits of *Il Campionissimo* Fasusto Coppi, HILARY STONE looks back at the Bianchi road bike of the 1950s.
To keen cyclists the colour celeste blue has a special meaning and will be forever associated with Bianchi. And one rider - Fausto Coppi - almost certainly one of the greatest cyclists of all time, is linked above all others with Bianchi. Although Coppi 'only' won the Tour de France twice - like the truly great riders such as Eddy Merckx he was a great all-rounder. As well as his two Tour victories he notched up five in the Giro d'Itailia and numerous one day Classics - and the hour record. And if his career had not been interrupted by World War 2 it is almost certain that he would have won several more Tours.
He achieved all these victories on Bianchi bikes, and even if the bikes themselves didn't represent a technological breakthrough, their association with Coppi and their record of victories achieved is enough to make them a design classic.
Bianchi had started off making bicycles as far back as the 1880s but by the 1930s were also making cars and commercial vehicles, and by the Forties included motorcycles in their output. They were not a small specialist manufacturer but rather a large industrial concern with most of their bicycle output actually being pretty run of the mill models.
Their road bikes did not really stand out from the crowd either. In all the catalogues of the period the tubing used on the frames was not specified - it was just described as 'finest quality steel tubing' - though British importers added that the tubing was double butted. The frames are not especially light, nor are they particularly heavy. Like the tubing, the frame geometry was also not specified though all the examples I have seen would indicate that they use something pretty close to 73 degrees parallel. Nicely shaped cast lugs with single points were very modern at the time. The head lugs were special to Bianchi - the head races were not pressed in place but were more akin to the slightly floating races of British headclip style headsets, with adjustments carried out using a screwed top race. The forks were generally half chromed with a chrome plated crown; head lugs and half the rear triangle were also commonly plated.
Fausto Coppi's victory in the 1950 Paris-Roubaix gave it's name to one of the classic Bianchi road bikes of the Fifties. Coppi's performance using what was latter called the Campagnolo Paris-Roubaix gear - resulted in an awesome victory. Coppi was in a two man breakaway with the French rider Diot from the Mercier team. Diot was instructed by his manager not to work as his team mate Van Steenbergen was coming up behind. This was like a red rag to a bull to Coppi - who simply rode off Diot's wheel and won by over two and a half minutes. Coppi's rivals were magnanimous: 'Coppi was the strongest,' Van Steenbergen said, 'there's no question about it One way or the other, he would have dropped me.'
Looking back it's probably fair to say that Coppi won despite using the Paris gear rather than because of it. The Paris-Roubaix did not feature any tensioning sprockets or rollers. Back pedaling was necessary to change gear as the fork to move the chain was in the top run of the gear. To say that gear changing was a slow process was an understatement. The Bianchi Paris-Roubaix model bikes featured the special Campagnolo dropouts for this gear until at least 1954, though Coppi used Campagnolo's new Gran Sport gears for his later wins.
Bianchi Paris-Roubaix model was imported into Britain by Matt Newton of Middlesbrough and there are a surprising number of survivors in this country. Universal brakes, Bianchi steel bars and stem, Regina chain and special 4-speed freewheel with shaped teeth, Nisi sprint rims, Campagnolo hubs and Pirelli tyres completed the original specification. By 1954 two models were offered: the Campione Del Mondo celebrating Coppi's 1953 World Championship win was very similar to the Paris-Roubaix model but with standard Campagnolo ends and aluminium bars and, of course, the Campag Gran Sport gear was standard; the Paris-Roubaix model was still listed but was also now fitted with the Gran Sport gear and steel bars.
Thanks to David Carpenter for the Bianchi Paris-Roubaix model featured [in photo]. He is the V-CC's Marque enthusiast for Bianchi and would welcome any information readers have on Bianchi bikes. He can be contacted on [+44] 023 8081 3474.
[notes...] CELESTE BLUE Celeste in Italian means sky blue the the colour has varied a little over the years - sometimes being quite blue and sometimes veering towards the green.
CAMPAGNOLO PARIS-ROUBAIX GEAR This was a single lever version of the original Campagnolo Corsa gear first patented in 1933. To change gear on the P-R the rider first loosens the wheel's quick release with the extended lever and, via an internal cam, the lever will also turn the gear changing fork in the top run of the chain. Pedaling backwards he flips the chain onto the required sprocket. The whole wheel moves backwards or forwards with a splined wheel axle rolling on toothed dropouts to take up the chain slack. The wheel's quick release is then locked before starting to pedal forwards again. Ingeniously it also incorporated a ratchet to ensure that the chain was not dead tight after the wheel was locked in place.
FRAME SIZES The Paris-Roubaix model was only made in two sizes for ordinary mortal folk - 57cm and 59cm - though Coppi's frames were bigger. The Campione Del Mondo was offered in four frame sizes: 55, 57, 59 and 61cm.
CAMPAGNOLO GRAN SPORT GEAR First introduced in 1950/51 by Campagnolo this more than any other was the gear responsible for popularizing the parallelogram design. It was naturally fitted to all the top Bianchi road bikes as soon as it was introduced. Strong and easy to adjust it was very popular with the pro riders though it didn't change gear as well as the Simplex JUY 51 gear - though the Simplex was both more fragile and far more difficult to set up.