The Milanese gift of exceptional craftsmanship, invention, engineering and commerce was instrumental in the making of a legendary brand of bicycle. Bianchi bicycles, a company that 127 years old crafted machines of such excellence that they became legendary. It's innovation shaped the modern bicycle as it is today.
Really good design is timeless, which tells you something about the bicycle, which remains as useful, as fashionable and if not even more relevant today as when it was first invented. The precursor to the modern bicycle was of course the 'High Wheeler' with a very large front wheel and a smaller rear wheel with a high saddle and high chain crank. The contraption was extremely difficult to cycle and very dangerous.
Via Nirone, Milan
A 21-year-old Edoardo Bianchi started a workshop on via Nirone, Milan in 1885. His first innovation was to reduce the wheels to equal size and lower the seat and pedal crank, thus pioneering the 'safety bicycle' that was the blue print for the modern bicycle we use today. The company expanded quickly and in 1888 he moved the shop to via Bertani where he employed more people. He started using pneumatic rubber tyres which had been invented by Scotsman Dunlop and was the first to do so on the bicycle.
From the 1914 Bianchi catalogue
In 1895 Bianchi was invited to Court, at Villa Reale in Monza where he presented his original bicycle to Queen Margaret. The Queen was most impressed and was ken to learn how to ride it, so Bianchi created, especially for the her, the first lady’s bike. He was rewarded by being permitted to use the royal crown insignia on the company logo where it can still be seen today.
Bianchi was interested in competition and from the beginning used bicycle racing as a test ground for new innovation and improvement. His involvement in sport was to reap many rewards and he much success and fame – the 'Little Blacksmith' as he was known was developing a leading brand in a global industry as well as a sporting legacy. The first great champion to be associated with the brand was Costante Girardengo – widely considered as one of the greatest road racers in the history of the sport and at the time said to be more popular than Mussolini.
The fold-up military bicycle
In 1915 Bianchi designed a military bike with suspension in front and back wheels, wide section tires and folding frame. It was the first mountain bike and was used by the Royal Light Infantry Corp, the “Bersaglieri” who used it as an off-road vehicle from the Alps to the African deserts. The company produced cars and commercial vehicles from 1900 to 1939 and motorcycles from 1897 to 1967.
Sales continued to boom and by 1935 the company was a world-leader in bicycle manufacturing producing 70, 000 per year. However the company did not rest on it's laurels and sporting achievement was as important as ever. At this time the relationship between Bianchi and Fausto Coppi started and the names of these two cycling legends became wedded for all time. Coppi won the Giro d'Italia five times, the Tour de France twice and the World Championship.
Fausto Coppi promotes Bianchi
Bianchi's success continued apace throughout the boom years with an association with some of the most talented riders of their day including Felice Gimondi who won the World Championship in 1973. This year the Tour of Lombardy will start 29th September in Gimondi's birthplace – the city of Bergamo to celebrate the legendary rider's 70th birthday. This year at the London Olympics, Bianchi supplied Lieuwe Westra (Netherlands,), Sergey Lagutin (Uzbekistan), Tomas Gil, (Venezuela), Jackson Rodriguez (Venezuela), Miguel Ubeto (Venezuela), Fabio Duarte (Colombia) to copete on the biggest sporting stage of all.
Today Bianchi continues to manufacture all types of bicycles of the highest quality, from professional racing bikes, fixed gear, city bikes and off road mountain bikes. The bicycle has never been more important and relevant, and it looks set to become even more so. Bianchi is one of the industry's brands of excellence that has been there from the beginnning and well always be around.
By Hugo Mc Cafferty