BY MATT WIEBE
HAYWARD, CA—U.S. retailers can expect to see a 125th anniversary logo splashed on Bianchi bikes, as well as special anniversary clothing, jerseys, hats and socks as the Italian brand celebrates the milestone this year. However, they will have to wait five years for special anniversary bikes from Italy.
“In Europe, Italy especially, they do not look at the mid-century date as the celebration year,” said David Reed, Bianchi USA’s vice president of marketing and communications. “In America, we celebrate the 25th and the 75th as special years, but it’s more the rounded off number that Europe enjoys. So Italy is looking towards 2015 and its 130th year to celebrate.”
The slight cultural difference does little to dampen the anniversary of the company started in Milan by 21-year-old Edoardo Bianchi in 1885.
The first bike Bianchi sold out of his small shop in Milan was his “safety” bike. The name may not mean much today, but at a time when high-wheelers were the norm, coming out with a bike that allowed riders to distribute their weight between two same-sized wheels was a huge improvement in safety.
News of Bianchi’s bikes reached Queen Margaret, wife of the Italian King Umberto I. And in 1895 she asked Bianchi to teach her how to ride a bike. To make it easier, Bianchi developed the first women’s bike for her cycling lessons.
“It is incredible to work for a company with so much history and which has made so many innovations important to the development of the bike,” Reed said.
Bianchi claims to have brought to market two of the most important industry inventions—the safety bike and the mountain bike. “We professed in the ’80s that Bianchi made the first mountain bikes and brought them to Interbike at that time. But they were pretty much ignored,” Reed said.
Italy is a long way from Marin County, considered the birthplace of mountain biking. But the mountain bike Reed referred to is Bianchi’s 1915 military bike with front and rear suspension and fat tires. The bike was designed to move troops through the Alps or across African deserts. It even folded up, allowing infantry to carry it on their backs.
Bianchi’s more recent history is marked by famous cyclists it sponsored—from the legendary Fausto Coppi to Felice Gimondi, Moreno Argentin, Gianni Bugno, Marco Pantani, Alex Zulle, Jan Ullrich, Julien Absalon and Magnus Backstedt.
As Bianchi grew, it picked up other cycling brands including Legnano, Puch and Chiorda. In 1997 the Swedish owned Cycleurope group acquired it, and to this day, still owns it.
Though much of Bianchi’s production has moved to Asia, the company still produces all of its titanium and many of its high-end aluminum models in Italy.
“While carbon bikes are big sellers in Europe and here, Bianchi USA sells a lot of steel bikes and only a few titanium bikes. Over in Europe it’s reversed, titanium bikes sell well, but not steel,” Reed said.