We can count on our fingers and toes the number of 20-, 30-, and even 50-year-old manufacturers crafting well made and uber-engineered bike frames. But we can think of only two such brands that eclipse a century of innovation and still have all the cache and lust-factor of their whippersnapper counterparts, specifically, Bianchi and Wilier. And even among those two brands, Bianchi has a certain bragging right that trumps even the time-honored scabbard of Rossano Veneto: in 1885 Edoardo Bianchi created the first "Safety," the chain-driven, low-center-of-gravity bicycle as we know it today. In short, Bianchi is where it all began.
Consider the following shortlist of Bianchi innovations: the first use of two identical sized wheels, the first use of rubber tires, the invention of the front brake, the first full-suspension frame, the first mountain bike, and the first city bike. It's not much of a stretch to claim that Bianchi has single-handedly changed the history of human transportation and it leaves us scratching our heads wondering if all other cycling innovations have been mere footnotes to Bianchi's inventive prowess.
It's certainly no stretch to claim that Bianchi has forever stamped its authority on the sport of competitive cycling. Already in 1899 -- before Fausto Pinarello and Ernesto Colnago were even twinkles in their fathers' eyes -- Bianchi was racing, winning and creating a legacy of colorful characters and Celeste branded bikes inextricably bound for all ages: Anquetil, Argentin, Coppi, Bugno, Gimondi, Pantani, and Ullrich constitute a partial pantheon of cycling legends who brought Bianchi a collective palmares that includes, among numerous others, 7 Paris-Roubaix, 19 Milan-San Remo, 12 Giro d'Italia, 3 Tour de France, 5 Fleche Wallone, 4 Amstel Gold, and 4 World Championship victories.
To further engineering and race-specific improvements in their products, Bianchi started a practice that would be emulated by the auto industry nearly three decades later, namely, a separate engineering and tuning division for high-performance products. Bianchi's Reparto Corse, or "race division," specializes in the use of the most advanced designs, materials, and construction practices and is today as it was 100 years ago manned by the most adept and specialized craftsman in their trades to assemble the very best performing machines. To this day the ultimate in Bianchi performance bikes, like the 928 SL, bear the signature Reparto Corse badge.
In a world where carbon fiber and now even electronic shifting seem almost commonplace, it's easy to lose perspective on the truly revolutionary advances made in bicycling over the last century. And that's partly why we have such wistful tenderness for the Bianchi badge; it's also partly because we remember historical Bianchi moments like monstrous Magnus Backstedt's tearful victory salute at Paris-Roubaix in 2004. As the progenitor of every single contemporary racing bike, Bianchi's name is firmly, immutably etched in the history books of our beautiful sport.